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Saturday, 31 January 2009

Language Teaching?

I have a background in Speech and Language Development, having taught profoundly deaf children for almost 9 years. About 10 years ago I was also involved in helping the staff in our ESN department establish 'Video Diaries' as a means of recording pupil progress. - It also had the added bonus of showing parents how teacher support could be emulated at home. This all came as a bit of a flashback to me as I read the blog as described below.

The short but fascinating blogpost by Daniel Craig caught my attention not so much for the clip 'Medieval Helpdesk', profound as it is, so much as the theme of his blog, 'Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL) for Korea and beyond'. My response was as follows:

Yes, how I agree that the technology, whatever it is, needs time, patience, and an understanding of where the student is coming from. I am very interested in your 'CALL'. I would venture to suggest that the e-Portfolio is an excellent way of documenting one's progress in language learning. What do you think?

Portfolios can be made to be user-friendly for any age or ability, from '5-95', ie Lifelong and Lifewide. Being able to combine written text with MP3/4 files means that students can review and reflect upon their progress and even invite peer assessments or (I've never thought of this before!) MP3 corrected formative recordings - however short from a teacher back to the individual learner!

It seems to me that the e-Portfolio, having the facility to be a very private 'corner' of one's learning, is the very place to submit examples of the spoken work as a recording of progress and also as a means of the teacher providing examples of correct pronunciation etc.

Plenty of room for expansion of ideas for the e-Portfolio?

Friday, 30 January 2009

A Teacher's Questions

Recently, through a blog that I came across, some searching questions were asked to which I have attempted to give some answers.

Could an e-Portfolio be used by educators and learners as an enabler towards education and learning?

Very much so! I appreciate that teaching and learning varies around the world. For instance, the Americans often refer to ‘instruction’ whereas that grates a bit as sounding too didactic for UK teachers. Have a look at my slideshow for something of how education is moving in the UK.

But even with a ‘liberated’ teaching and learning environment, accessing work remotely through the VLE and having laptops at home through the Home Access programme, this sort of work can still be seen by the learner as belonging to the school – the very interface and organisation of files is ‘school’.

The use of the e-Portfolio firstly underlines the ‘ownership’ of the learning as belonging to the learner. The look of the interface in terms of colour schemes, fonts, colours, avatars and rich media etc along with web 2.0 tools and widgets all go to a representation of ‘ME’.

Secondly, the style of learning, anytime, anywhere and anyhow (ie what devices are used) lends itself to a spontaneity as opposed to the regimentation of most school timetables. In contrast to the formal classroom situation, the e-Portfolio allows for collaboration between peers from different classrooms or even different schools. So often, schoolwork has to be produced to preferred grammatical standards and layout whereas through the e-Portfolio it is possible to collaborate quickly and creatively in their own patois.

But thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, the teacher or other mentors can communicate privately through the e-Portfolio at a time convenient to the teacher and is more able to provide considered formative comments which is not always possible during the hurly-burly of a busy class.

Fourthly, because the e-Portfolio is seen as owned by the learner and representing their own perspectives, it is inevitable that the teacher will understand things about the child’s home life, their informal learning and experiences, their relationships etc, all of which help the teacher to better appreciate the learner’s needs and expectations.

How could one integrate e-Portfolio as evidence and records of competency and as a learning reflection tool to ensure its aims towards the achievement of life long and life wide learning goals?

I view the e-Portfolio as sitting alongside the institution’s VLE. The user’s own area on the VLE will inevitably contain a large amount of incomplete work, the ‘debris’ from short tests, work in progress etc as well as completed exercises which have been assessed and from which the learner has moved on. Within that VLE will also be a number of assessment tools and capstone assessments which will be recorded by the MIS providing support to both Real Time and end of term reporting. However, the e-Portfolio is that place in which the learner can place selected artefacts from the VLE as representing evidences of significant achievements. As W.J. Popham clearly explains in his book, Transformative Assessment, both the teacher and the learner need to understand which items are to be assessed and their significance within the learning processes. Again, reflection should not just be a matter of introspection but one of peer assessment, collaboration and reference to mentors.

Your second part to the above question, that of Lifelong and Lifewide learning, almost requires a thesis by itself. No one can predict the future so well as to be able to identify beforehand which artefacts will be significant in later life as milestones of one’s learning. As much as one might have kept old exercise books in a tin box and photographs in an album, I think that in this digital age we still need to archive ‘unwanted’ artefacts on CD ROMs or similar storage devices ‘for posterity’.

I do not see the e-Portfolio as being the ‘pantechnicon’ of all of ones learning and life-experiences but rather an open home for the time and ‘place’ one’s life has got to. Certain ‘childish’ things might be put away when other adults are our audience and yet, in another setting, time or place, it is right and proper to share our reflections with others. The whole beauty of a well constructed e-Portfolio system is that these different audiences could all be seeing different views of the same e-Portfolio all at the same time!

For some novice educators and adult learners, preparation of e-portfolio requires mentoring and development. It also takes consideration time and efforts for the learner to appreciate the importance and application of e-Portfolio.

Again, you have two implicit questions here. Yes, there are some complicated e-Portfolio systems out there that might not let you do what you want or others that require an advanced knowledge of Macromedia or others that are downright expensive which cause people to go down the DIY route. There is no need for this. A simple system such as I promote is all that is needed to present even the most mature and technical of e-Portfolio presentations.

Again, I do not think that there is any problem with learners wanting to represent themselves to a variety of discrete audiences. I believe that experience in schools has proved that even the 5yr-old can select artefacts for showcasing, for discussion, reflection and planning for future activities.

Given the emergent knowledge and complex nature of learning and the dynamic changes in the learning ecology, does it also require a continuous planning, implementation and review cycle in the e-portfolio to ensure its successful implementation and sustainability?

Yes, but that is the whole principle of teaching as I see it. We often refer to the Plan-Do-Review cycle or enhanced versions of it. The e-Portfolio is the perfect vehicle to demonstrate a collation of artefacts, including initial drafting of ideas, research questionnaires, MP3/4 recordings, photographs, a team blog, transcripts of interviews, brainstormed concept maps, along with a final report etc all dragged from a variety of sources into the e-Portfolio.

What do employers think?

Electronic portfolios can help applicants stand out.
This was the title of a blog that Google found for me today. Short and sweet, it's worth looking at, but then... it set me thinking. How many employers in the UK have even heard of an e-Portfolio?

I've already referred to the fact in other posts that the very institutions that might be using e-Portfolios (ie HE) in general have not even considered requesting the e-Portfolios of potential entrants.

As much as I believe that the Government should be explaining to all parents what the benefits to their child(ren)'s learning are concerning VLEs, Home Access, Real Time Reporting and e-Portfolios, surely it is time for Government to get off its backside and explain to employers what are the benefits of e-Portfolios?

We have a real chicken and egg or push/pull scenario here. Schools don't even begin to see the point of e-Portfolios if employers don't demand them. As long as employers don't see the point why should schools begin to demand them - and in the process discover the real educational benefits as well?

If anyone can suggest employers' organisations that might be willing to discuss this, please let me know!

Thursday, 29 January 2009

e-Portfolios and Personalisation

For well over a year now I've been trying to think through what 'personalisation' means in something more than just the technical specifications of what some may call a PLE.

Yes, I've had several attempts at defining the functionalities that make learning personal. I really think that the e-Portfolio is that pinacle of personal ownership of learning and a potential summary of all aspects of formal, informal and experiential learning.

However, it was not until this week, I feel embarrassed to admit, that I came across a most powerful document, published in 2004:
Personalisation through participation
A new script for public services
Charles Leadbeater March 2004
Published by Demos (100pp)
Although the document is primarily written as a case study based on Health Care in the UK and with some illustrations of school scenarios, almost every paragraph could be applied to how we should think about e-Portfolios. I quote just two early paragraphs to illustrate:

First, personalisation could mean providing people with a more customer-friendly interface with existing services: 24/7 call centres, booked appointments, guaranteed fast response times, better basic customer service.

Second, personalisation could also mean giving users more say in navigating their way through services once they have got access to them. Thus in the health service, ministers talk about ‘patient pathways’ through the system, and in secondary education, children will be given more choice over the pace and style at which they learn.

I have taken the liberty (after checking copyright details) of extracting just four pages of selected notes with an adequate margin to add your own reflective comments:

I found this to be a most salutory document, considering it is now almost five years old!

Comments appreciated.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Future-Gazing: Subjective or Objective?

This last week has been a tumultuous time of opposites. My reading has been taken up with a completion of W.J. Popham's book, 'Transformative Assessment' and T.D. Green et al's 'Making the most of the Web in your Classroom'.

The first I found to be an outstanding analysis of four different aspects of formative assessment - a real eye-opener. The second I personally found to be a real disappointment in that it assumed that the students all wanted to be expert html programmers. It was certainly not about USING the web in the classroom but merely about how to create websites and blogs. Apart from quoting Hebert's book, the only reference to e-Portfolios was a single reference to using a blog as an e-Portfolio.

In summary, Popham's book MUST be read by all teachers; on the other hand Green et al's book might be commended for youngsters wishing to become teachers of ICT, but not much else!

Before Christmas I also read the OfSTED Report 'Virtual learning environments: an evaluation of their development in a sample of educational settings.' Technically, as the publication of research findings I found it to be a very poor document, having no statisitcal integrity, full of weak subjective statements and offering no real advice or commending good practice. I shot off several strongly worded comments about the use of only two ordinary comprehensive Secondary schools as the basis for judging the whole of Secondary education. Others joined me in this criticism and yet others pointed out that this was a good report insofar as it pointed up the issues. Rather, I would say, 'Washing dirty laundry in public.'

Many good things have happened this week in terms of blogging. Contacts in New Zealand are looking at eFolio. Jamin, in particular, illustrates the present level of intelligent thinking about e-Portfolios. Allison Lee writes intelligently and has a lot of depth to her insights, well worth a read. However, Leigh Blackall speaks forthrightly but with apparently little sensitivity towards those of us who are trying to understand the benefits of e-Portfolios. Sarah Horrigan in her article 'e-Portfolios are not just for Christmas...' again is trying to understand if there is any value in e-Portfolios but appears unwilling to step outside her comfort zone. Perhaps my most encouraging discovery of the week is the blog run by Colin Becker and his thread on Emerging Readers. Echoes of the past and 'Video Diaries' come back in fresh guise using an e-Portfolio. Helen Whitehead in her blog 'Periodic Fables' gives a refreshingly concise perspective on e-Portfolios. David at St Paul's (Barnes) lays down a marker for ICT teaching and learning that all should study. Perhaps OfSTED could include St Paul's in a real set of Case Studies?

By the end of this week I hope to have published some simple videos explaining the setting up of the new version of eFolio. So, 'back to the grindstone!'

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Why so many confusions re e-Portfolios?

Two recent blogs got me going. In essence both questioned why there was so much confusion, and even in-fighting, about what purposes an e-Portfolio should serve. I repeat some of my responses here:

I wrote a paper, Who's Hijacking my e-Portfolio? almost two years ago, identifying this situation and asking that e-Portfolio users and designers should not hijack the e-Portfolio concept for their own individualistic purposes.

It all depends on where an organisation is starting from. The universities have generally started from a content delivery system, a tool for PDP and job-searching or a minor mandatory course in ICT competencies. Careers counsellors use their versions of an e-Portfolio specifically for just the one subject of 'Careers'. The 14-19 Diploma portfolio concept has evolved out of the paper-based portfolios of work in Design and Technology and ICT classes, many of which still produce a ‘digital portfolio’ as a PowerPoint or web-page presentation with none of the security features or control of audience that a proper e-Portfolio can provide. Many Primary schools have appreciated the immense value of a paper-based portfolio as a tool for teaching and learning and some have moved on to encouraging their pupils to ‘collect’ samples of best practice and present the same on their VLE. At the other extreme, and possibly coming to a state near you, is the concept being developed in some European countries that the e-portfolio should be a tool expected of all adults to assist in data-mining by the state in order to manage skills training in areas of deprivation.

There is one other ingredient to add to this boiling pot of confusions, that of the function of an e-Portfolio when contained within a VLE or close-coupled to an institution's MIS. Here in England Becta has clearly mandated that all schools should have a VLE installed by last year ie Spring 2008. Some VLE vendors have provided some form of e-Portfolio with their VLE which apparently ignores any possibility of transition or portability beyond the institution.

That said, it has always been my contention that we should all step back from our immediate situation and look at the concept of Lifelong, Lifewide Learning and Leisure:

IF Lifelong Learning, ie from ‘5-95’ and thus owned for life, then it must be simple to use and transportable through all the transitions of compulsory schooling and the ‘Seven Ages of Man’

IF Lifewide,
then the e-Portfolio should be capable of configuring, by the learner as owner, to represent the image of ‘ME’ that the learner chooses to express at that time as I attempted to illustrate through the five learning phases of an imaginary student.

IF Learning is the prime focus of the e-Portfolio then why not include ALL aspects of learning, including a space for every different subject, access for collaboration by permitted peers and mentors, places for planning, reflection, collaboration, formative assessment etc etc. Again, one page from a popular SlideShare must suffice.

IF Leisure is a recognised part of learning, of doing and sharing, then the e-Portfolio should be able to recognise all the extra-curricular, informal and experiential forms of learning that are not normally included in one’s credentials. The present work in Recognition and Assessment of Prior Experience and Learning (RAPEL) begs the use of this sort of e-Portfolio.

Perhaps one of my first documents, trying to explore what are the fundamentals of any e-Portfolio system were defined some two years ago in my ‘Ten Prime Directives’

Concerning interoperability my immediate reaction is, “Don’t hold your breath!” I am a member (well, fringe member) of some of the interoperability groups – and they all have different agendas and appear not to be talking to each other! We just cannot wait another 10 years before interoperability between e-Portfolio could become a reality. I am also a member of two suppliers’ groups SALTIS (schools) and ‘The Information Authority'(FE). The problem is that all the different parties have not agreed exactly what interoperability is. Is it about passing data from one VLE to another? Is it about passing data from a VLE to an e-Portfolio? Is it about e-Portfolio-based assessments being passed back to the MIS? Is it about translating the learner’s e-Portfolio from one system to another? Is it about exporting and importing content? And without degradation????

Quite simply, if the e-Portfolio is to retain all the features, including the tools that the learner prefers, the cosmetic image, templates and accessibility functions, the audience controls, access to on-line support etc, if the hosting service is to be maintained (not just archived), if it is to ‘transition’ from institution to institution, if it is to be ‘portable’ anywhere throughout the European Union, never-mind the world, then an independent hosting service is essential.

I know that I’ve quoted it before, but one further piece of reading might help, notes supporting a presentation that I gave almost a year ago, my Paris Thesis.

Also some 12 Slideshare presentations at:

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

A proliferation of e-Portfolios?

I was recently impressed by an article written by an American academic who had certainly got a good understanding of the present confusing situation. See his article.
However, I thought it worthwhile to repeat my response here:


Thank you for an erudite and provocative article, much appreciated. However, There are several points with which I would disagree.

Yes, you are right to question whether an e-Portfolio should be modelled on a system several hundred years old. So my first question is 'Why not go back to basics and question what are the overriding requirements of an electronic Portfolio?'

Secondly, Yes, you are right to suggest that education is about process, so, 'Why not devise a system that supports and encourages an understanding and identification of the processes involved in any assignment?'

Again, I agree that the e-Portfolio is not the right place for the repository of all of one's life-works - a 'pantechnicon' of all that we own. So, 'Why not encourage students to present only 'work in progress' and selected 'showcase' items that are relevant to any phase or capstone?'

Reflection is a transient thing. The reflections of a 5-yr old may be very different to those of a PhD student or Senior Citizen. However, in order to support reflection one should be capable of re-presenting some evidences that might have been removed from the e-Portfolio and archived on a DVD or memory-stick. My point here is that the e-Portfolio should be learner-owned and easily managed by the owner, whatever their age. Chameleon-like, the e-Portfolio should be capable of adapting to its background so as to be equally presentable to a whole range of audiences - and ALL at the same time.

Finally, you opened by referring to the wide variety of e-Portfolios available. Perhaps one of the main causes for this is that they have short-sightedly established institutionally-based systems that do not truly support transition through all of life's stages or across territorial boundaries?

For more on my ideas please see or or my demonstration portfolio at:

Friday, 2 January 2009

Style, Substance or Process?

Over this Christmas holiday I have been catching up with my reading and updating my own e-Portfolio.

Generally, searching the Internet for fresh gems of insight into e-Portfolios is a dispiriting activity. Most of the reports are several years old, refer to narrow introspective research or wishful project planning with no further outcomes published.

However, one fresh gem did come to my notice just now and I felt that I must comment on it. The report. 'A Review Of The Literature On Portfolios And Electronic Portfolios' by Philippa Butler, of the eCDF ePortfolio Project, Massey University College of Education, New Zealand raised many issues. Chief of these, my usual complaint, is that desk-based research inevitably quotes from older sources, many of these no longer standing up to the latest criteria based on the latest tools available or shifts in educational psychology. Secondly was the premise of the brief that, somehow, the e-Portfolio should be of concern only to those in Higher Education. However, a slow and careful reading of the following extract was joy to my soul!

'Very simply put, a portfolio is a collection of evidence that is gathered together to show a person’s learning journey over time and to demonstrate their abilities. Portfolios can be specific to a particular discipline, or very broadly encompass a person’s lifelong learning. Many different kinds of evidence can be used in a portfolio: samples of writing, both finished and unfinished; photographs; videos; research projects; observations and evaluations of supervisors, mentors and peers; and reflective thinking about all of these. In fact, it is the reflections on the pieces of evidence, the reasons they were chosen and what the portfolio creator learned from them, that are the key aspect to a portfolio (Abrami & Barrett, 2005; Klenowski, Askew, & Carnell, 2006; Loughran & Corrigan, 1995; Smith & Tillema, 2003; Wade & Yarbrough, 1996). In that way, those compiling portfolios are active participants in their own learning (Wade, Abrami, & Sclater, 2005). Kimball (2005, p. 451) goes further, arguing that “neither collection nor selection [of pieces to be incorporated into a portfolio] are worthwhile learning tasks without a basis in reflection. Reflection undergirds the entire pedagogy of portfolios”. Two other key elements to portfolios are that they measure learning and development over time (Barrett, 2000; Challis, 2005), and that it is the process of constructing a portfolio, rather than the end product, that is where the learning takes place (Smith & Tillema, 2003).'

The whole article can be found at: