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Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Progress in NZ

For quite some time now I have been enthralled by the activities in New Zealand concerning their Digital Strategy. Perhaps it is the combination of the size of the population of the country and its scattered townships and diversity of cultures, but it seems to me that the country is peculiarly ready for digital change.

See 41 page .pdf report: ePortfolios - Celebrating Learning

Also see Milestone Report on the Otago Schools Virtualisation Project

As a 'world-watcher' in terms of e-Portfolio developments I have inevitably been a bit more 'vocal' than other observers or 'lurkers' and have more than once been known to chip in a few ideas of my own. Certainly, for some time their MLE Reference group has had some interesting conversations which are worth reading.

However, one such contribution by Peter Hills, in particular, is worth relaying here and, with his permission, I have interspersed a few observations of my own:

"We are part of a Collaborative schools project involving ALL year 7 - 10 schools in our city (all 4 intermediates and all 10 High Schools). 3 years ago all city schools shared the desire to make it easier for a student to go from Year 8 to Year 9 - wherever that might be. Real Collaboration in a tomorrows schools context!! Quite a coup to get all schools to agree on that as a project - and actively commit to it.

Yes, this certainly seems to be the best way to get things going - a 'shared desire' is something that I have not yet heard of in the UK!

"One of the first things bought up by the leadership group was to investigate a method to allow a student to take with them a portable set of data - so that a student could capture what they wanted from their year 8 environment (and before) and therefore go from any contributing school to any of the high schools in the city - and take the relevant information with them - eg their class books, as TTle results, samples of work, qualifications (yes some had them), videos etc etc

Sounds like the Middle School to High School transition issues we have in some parts of the UK, but Great! This is just the vision that that we need - not so much about 'data', that is already cared for by our Local Authorities - but the portability of artefacts and supporting narrative etc.

"This project has continued on for 2 years - with all schools meeting regularly to share the focus areas each is taking.

Yes, 'Rome was not built in a day' and neither can an e-Portfolio be bought in 'Just like that!'

"We used ePortfolios (part of the Editure suite) - at our high school. But students came with a mixture of stuff - some with huge amounts - some with none or little - of which most was unuseable or able to be imported. Too hard. The idea of gathering what students wanted to bring electronically was way too hard. We immediately went back to paper and dropped the formal ePortfolio idea. This was never going to work fast enough for us or effectively or equitably. Dreamers we thought.

I cannot dare to criticize the vendors of this particular MLE or VLE but is this not the sort of experience that many schools around the world have gone through? Salesmen telling us one thing but we assuming that they meant something else?

"Not wanting to be quitters we started gazing forward. Google Education Apps (documents/websites) in combination with Moodle was our winner - and we can sync them all in with our SMS/AD/LDAP etc etc. Simple. All schools in our city agreed to use Moodle as the preferred environment for students and teachers etc - and we are now running classes and mentoring programmes via Video Conferences from and for all high schools small subjects. It works.

Well, I have my own reasons for not going down the Google Apps route, but, as with the impressive work of Helen Barrett, we can only wait and see what the outcome will be.

"We are dealing with vendors, ECE, Year 0-6 and Year 7-8 and high schools, area schools PTE, Tertiaries ....and the students, whanau, families... not to mention an ageing workforce.

A class book in my day was bound blank pages - that later developed into lined pages.

Yes, I remember it well! School is just not about teaching and learning but about so many other stakeholders who need to be considered all at the same time. I just wonder how many UK institutions have considered the whole host of their stakeholders - and even involved them - when considering the introduction of an e-Portfolio system.

BUT, as Peter remarks, will the e-Portfolio be just an improvement on the blank exercise-book or will the e-Portfolio actually change how we teach and learn?

Thanks Peter!

Saturday, 25 July 2009

The Forgotten Learners

Last Friday, July 24th, I attended the NIACE meeting in Leicester. It was only supposed to be a half-day seminar but wow! the amount of detail covered could have easily been spread over a two-day residential course.

Of late we have been considering the case for helping digitally deprived children in the UK. But Rachel Thompson's presentation really set me thinking. One of her slides in particular raised the issue of who are not as yet included in a 'Digital Britain'. So, apart from disadvantaged kids, who else should we be considering as 'digitally deprived'?

  1. Adults aged 55+
  2. People in rural areas
  3. People in areas of multiple deprivation
  4. C2DEs (ie lower potential employability)
  5. The disabled and those with learning difficulties
  6. The unemployed and low-income households
  7. People affected by mental ill-health
  8. Homeless/vulnerably housed adults
  9. Itinerant workers and services personnel
  10. 'Delegators' (ie those who pass on any ICT work to others)
  11. Those detained in Prison (both staff and inmates)
It soon became obvious that we need a wide variety of approaches to meet the needs of such people, all 17 million of them. But, consistent with all of these groups is the potential that an appropriately scaffolded eFolio would be of exceptional help to them.

Another point that came across, most strongly, was that of motivation. Where a person sees little need to log on and communicate with others, where they can see no practical purpose for using many of our common applications, when they see no need to save time or money we have a problem.

Those of us who provide support and training really need to advertise and communicate the ways in which ICT can improve the quality of life of each of the groups listed above. We need to identify how best to reach out to each of those groups and to design materials which they can understand and respond to. We need to invest time and effort in order to attract these people to the services we want to provide. Perhaps, also, we need to look at our delivery styles and provide attractive and challenging materials which are more relevant to the learners' needs.

This goes for eFolio as much as any other product. For each group as listed above, the eFolio can be that means of communication, of involvement of ownership and motivation which is the basis of any learning environment.

If people reading this have any desire to reach out to any of the above groups then please let me help by providing a simple, low-cost, eFolio tool, appropriate to their needs.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Institutional Documentation?

My reading of the Summer edition of the eFolioWorld newsletter set me thinking.

Some years ago I studied for the Diploma in Total Quality Management (TQM) and with special reference to the place of the Investors In People award to schools. At that time I was also awarded a certificate as an Internal Quality Auditor and became a member of the Chartered Quality Institute. I say this, not because of any wish to 'blow my own trumpet' but rather to indicate some real passion and understanding of the subject of Quality Assurance in schools and colleges.

So, perhaps, my title could have been 'e-Portfolios - not just for students'. The fact that an e-Portfolio can equally be used for students, teachers, institutions or even whole Districts or Local Authorities needs to be understood. My 8-Page Brochure is worth looking at in this context.

Within TQM circles, one of the Prime Directives is that documentation should be easy to find and appropriate to the reader's needs. It is my belief that a well laid-out e-Portfolio is by far the best means of doing this. See the Ridgwater College site, which is no more than a collaborative e-Portfolio where others can read and respond to articles and submit new artefacts.

The point that I am making is that e-Portfolios are not just for children or students searching for their first job or even for PDP. The same tool, used by the Principal of a college or an 8 yr-old will serve their needs equally well

Monday, 20 July 2009

Chicken or Egg?

We have a very difficult situation concerning the introduction of e-Portfolios into the classroom. Until such time as teachers are able to free themselves from old didactic methods, until they are brave enough to let go of the reins or at least allow a bit of slack, there is very little reason to use an e-Portfolio.

On the other hand, without adequate technology, both in the classroom and beyond there is little hope of being able to do even the simplest of tasks that would benefit from using an e-Portfolio.

Unfortunately, there is also a third element with which we must contend, that of the silo-mentality of many institutions who only see the e-Portfolio as a one-purpose tool for the use of their individual institution. (see my paper, ‘Who’s Hijacking Our e-Portfolios?’)

Prior to using an ICT solution perhaps one of the first activities that caught my imagination was that of dividing my class into groups and brainstorming an issue on a large sheet of paper. But after several re-draws of the proposed solution something of the fire of the activity had died down. Yes the discussions or even arguments that took place were always excellent but somehow we never captured the dialogues between the students.

Later on I introduced the concept of blogging, starting by using a paper-based activity. Yes, again this produced howls of laughter and a definite broadening of understanding about how others felt on the topic in question.

If teachers are comfortable with this level of freedom within the classroom, where the outcomes may be quite different to what one might have planned, and if the teacher is then able to help the students learn from the exercise, then, and only then, might we be able to demand on the grounds of curriculum enhancement the technologies we want.

Senior Leadership and Management Teams (SLMTs), as we call them in the UK, need to be convinced however that the learning will be deep learning. This needs demonstration of teacher competence in managing such scenarios as the above before the leap of faith that justifies the investment in equipment and the access to electronic collaborative tools.

Yes, blogs and wikis may be a good start but are not necessary if students have a good e-Portfolio system. As a senior head of department for many years, I would prefer to provide my teachers and their students with an e-safe system that allows the controls to be gently lifted from a totally secure or private condition through stages of group collaboration and steadily expanding the number and variety of school-based and external audiences with which any individual child is able to cope.

A good e-Portfolio, such as eFolio, provides adequate facilities to manage one’s artefacts, to use feedback from peers and mentors, to reproduce electronic versions of the collaborative activities as mentioned above and repeatedly revising one’s planning, drafting and reflections within the e-Portfolio.

In the UK I feel that most schools have been encouraged for a number of years to develop these collaborative skills either on paper or in small groups huddled around a limited number of computers. Similarly, in the UK, we have experienced over the last ten to fifteen years a large number of technological initiatives (and more still to come!) that have prepared us for the next leap of faith. But thirdly, we also have had several initiatives concerning the personalisation of learning. Again, the e-Portfolio is that special place where one’s individuality, learning styles and support by other adults lends itself to a unique repository of learning far different to the formal content delivery mechanisms of our Learning Platforms.

I would argue strongly that the UK is therefore potentially ready for e-Portfolios. However, despite my statements above, this will require a massive amount of staff training in order to help teachers understand how the e-Portfolio fits into our curriculum and can in actual fact enhance it!

BUT, this e-Portfolio explosion is not about to happen throughout the world. Many countries, even if they had the technologies and 1:1 pupil:computer ratios are still teaching in didactic, teacher-led authoritarian regimes which may not allow the individuality which an e-Portfolio supports. I suspect (and am willing to be corrected) that some parts of America are as traditional or conservative in their teaching and learning methods as mid- or eastern Europe. In other places, such as New Zealand, many teachers are already actively developing the collaborative culture upon which e-Portfolios thrive but the hierarchy are still discussing what an e-Portfolio is.

So, in returning to my original question, ‘Chicken or egg?’ I suggest that those education authorities who are most ready to introduce an e-Portfolio culture should be considering a ‘controlled explosion.’ We need all the elements of an independent learning culture, of collaboration, of an adequate sufficiency of access both within institutions and remotely through home access policies. Perhaps most fundamentally, we need a teacher education programme which can pull together all the separate benefits of an e-Portfolio for the learner.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

What is Reflection?

Far too often we hear of e-Portfolios as being good for reflection but, in reading on, I usually get the feeling that authors see reflection as purely introspection. Not that introspection is a bad thing, but reflection can be so much more, particularly when supported by a good e-Portfolio.

Firstly, let’s look at evaluation. I always encouraged my students to divide their considerations under five headings:

  1. The Product: Whether an artefact in the traditional sense of an item made out of resistant materials; a piece of music, whether written or performed; a dance routine or an essay, all are products. Each one of these can be reflected upon by their creator as to whether, in their opinion, the product does the job for which it was intended.
  2. The Process: One can describe and reflect upon the methods used, whether new skills had to be learnt and what other knowledge or skills were acquired along the way and how they acquired them.
  3. The Person: Often ignored in ‘evaluation’ but the benefits to the person, the trials or experiences that enabled the person grow and feel satisfaction or the motivation to go on further need to be documented.
  4. The Problems: If a learner is to progress, then they should be aware of the problems experienced, how they were overcome and what possible problems have still to be addressed.
  5. The Potential: Nothing should be done just on the blind expectation of another, whether it be a teacher or an examination board. When we create something in which we obviously take pride, there is invariably a sense of ‘What next?’ Where can I sell this product? Is there a potential for bulk manufacture? Can I reach a wider audience? Can it be modified or developed further?
So, what can an e-Portfolio add to the above?

Visual evidence, artefacts stored ‘just in case I might need them’ add so much to recall and reflection that memory fails to bring to mind. So often when I look at a picture it evokes smells and even kinaesthetic experiences long forgotten - and if ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ how much more a SlideShare or a video? Not only does the visual evidence evoke past memories, it can also suggest comparisons with the present piece of work and therefore extend reflection.

Historicity adds a perspective that can only be understood by comparing one’s efforts of several years ago with a present piece of work. Dr Helen Barrett writes of the e-Portfolio as being a record of one’s life-story. This again can only be true if the e-Portfolio is allowed to be that shoebox repository of personal treasures. But the understanding of progress or change is more than plain fact. There is an emotional element of possibly surprise or satisfaction which reinforces reflection. “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.” (1Corinthians 13:11) The reflections of a student, even over a few years of study, when using their collection of rich media can have a powerful sense usually of progression. Of course, when submitting such evidences, the students must be careful to properly explain their context and the purpose of using such ‘evidences’ in their reflections.

Others’ Opinions

The above examples can all be thought of as introspection. However, the e-Portfolio has the powerful facility of supporting collaboration and e-secure conversations that can be recorded and used ‘in evidence’. For instance, the formative assessments or suggestions of a tutor can be built upon and, in reflection, one can say how they responded to suggestions or criticisms, and whether they chose to build upon the ideas given or chose to reject them, preferably with good reasoning explained.

Similarly, the group collaborative conversations can be reflected upon, quotes extracted and discussed within one’s own reflections. I have encouraged this approach in many situations, primarily explaining it as the synergy of ‘2 + 2 = 5’. ie that in building upon each other’s ideas we can develop a much better understanding than what we could generate by our ourselves.

However, the e-Portfolio tool should also be capable of inviting feedback on any page. Similarly, polls, star-ratings, comments or even questionnaires can easily be presented to provoke feedback from peers, mentors or other readers.

Simon Grant in his book 'Electronic Portfolios' provides a good definition in his Glossary:

"Reflection could be simply defined as the bringing to mind of some past experience or event, with the intention or the result of learning something from it. This contrasts with mere reminiscience, which people can do again and again without learning anything new. Reflection is connected deeply with portfolios, as a portfolio can act as the record of the experience or event, and can act both as a prompt for reflection and as a factor towards the accuracy of later recollection."

Earlier in his book (p50) he writes:
"Expressions, assertions and claims do not necessarily describe anything, and are not in their essence descriptions... Their function in relation to the rest of the world is by pointing to the connections in the world, rather than mere existence...`
He quotes Socrates, 'the unexamined life is not worth living'. (p210)

Unsubstantiated reflection is thus a possibly useless activity. However, by using an e-Portfolio to both present a project and also substantiate reflective argument with evidences is, in my opinion and experience, the only true and effective method in this web2.0 world. How I envy today’s young students!

e-Portfolios - A Common Approach?

For some time now the e-Portfolio thinking and research in New Zealand has intrigued me. The clear thinking by such as Paul Seiler is enabling a 'greenshoot approach' to e-Portfolios not, as far as I am aware, seen in other countries. See, 'ePortfolios - Celebrating Learning'.

In this context I was very impressed by the clear logic of Jamin Lietze who in response to the report listed some interesting ideas about a whole country using a common approach to e-Portfolio practice:

"If we all used one tool then schools/teachers will have:

"1) Flexibility (They can use this one tool to add what they like into it to meet the individual needs and while maintaining student choice, voice and ownership.)

"2) Better communication (Students/Teachers would use "one language" and so work together easier across levels and ages developing their ePortfolios.)

"3) Efficiencey (Professional development is made easier because we are all using the same language and focusing on the one tool.)

"4) Better consistency (One school or teacher will not be considered lower than another because they did not have the expertise or financial support to develop superior ePortfolios. Everyone will have the same building blocks.) "

It should be noted that this was the very scenario in which the original Minnesota eFolio project developed over six years ago. In Minnesota everyone throughout the whole state has free access to eFolio. I just wonder if RBCs in the UK or even countries in Europe would dare to face this challenge and investigate the UK availability of eFolio?

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Engaging with Home Access

I have no brief to write about the e-Learning Foundation except my own impressions of their work over a number of years. Possibly even before Home Access was a glint in Becta's eyes, the e-Learning Foundation was delivering a much needed service to schools, families and other needy institutions.

Their low-cost lease-buy scheme has enabled many schools to deliver home access and encourage independent and collaborative learning. They have developed a clear expertise in this field and are thus able to draw the highest quality speakers to their conferences. Not only that, they have a number of very useful videos which may be extremely useful for promos at parents/governors meetings etc.

Given that Becta's Home Access Programme will enable many deprived families to gain on-line access and secondly that the more well-off communities may have adequate on-line access there is still clearly a 'shadow-land' of schools lacking equipment or families that don't have access and do not fall within the free school meals category.

As schools move towards that dreamland of 100% home access and when teachers discover that teaching and learning will change dramatically it is essential that the 'shadow-land' families are supported. This, I believe is where the e-Learning Foundation will meet a clearly identified need.

There are two aspects to this solution. Certainly as the e-Foundation has done in the past, there will be a need for for ensuring the provision of appropriate equipment either for schools or families. But secondly, and perhaps more importantly in my view, the e-Learning Foundation is in a position to co-ordinate the support of both parents and pupils in the usage of the equipment. And, yet again, I see the take-up of e-Portfolios as central to all of these activities.

If the previous conference in Leeds was anything to go by, the conference in November will provide an excellent insight into many aspects of the potential see-change in teaching and learning that is about to happen.

See their programme at:

21st Century Schools

Since its publication in June of this year I have struggled to understand the implications of this White Paper.

It sounds good, is full of promises and some fine examples from outstanding schools. However, it seems to be propounding 'more of the same' rather than looking to new approaches. I cannot see throughout the document how 21st Century Schools will be any different to what we have NOW, nevermind in the future.

For some time now we have understood the implications of a 'flat world' and that has been developed further in Peter Bradwell's paper, 'The Edgeless University'.

I therefore see schools in a similar light. We have discussed the inestimable merits of formative assessment through the e-Portfolio many times. Along with the Home Access Programme we will soon have a near 100% on-line access for all our learners. In schools I see the 'expert' teacher not only being called upon by students in their own class, but also from other classes and other year-groups and even from other schools, 24/7/365. And why stop there? What about adult learners or collaboration with colleagues or professionals around the world? Perhaps the whole issue of contracts and conditions of service needs to be re-appriased in the light of on-line learning communities?

Friday, 10 July 2009

eFolio in 4 Minutes

Graphic: The FutureLab logoI recently presented at the BridgEd futurelab day in central London. BridgEd is a unique attempt to match suppliers with customers within the world of educational technology.

Apart from some really excellent keynote speakers the afternoon activity was set up to 'match' vendors with delegates. From my point of view this 'dating' approach was both new to me and very successful. We were able to have meaningful and searching conversations only cut short by the determined blowing of an old-fashioned school whistle every half hour.

Well, the point of this blog is that before lunch each of the vendors were given four minutes only (yes! 4 mins) to present their products or services to the whole audience. Wow! that demanded some concise thinking, no waffle and no time for PowerPoints! My question, therefore, is how would you present eFolio in just four minutes to a technologically alert and intelligent audience who all wanted to see real innovation? Here is my effort.


  1. I was doing a Naace/Becta research project on the impact of VLEs on teaching and learning in schools.
  2. Becta had said in 2005 that they expected that all schools would have a VLE up and running by Spring 2008 with the facility for an e-Portfolio by 2010.
  3. I soon realised that almost every one of the 35 different VLE vendors claimed to provide an e-Portfolio, but none met my perception of what an e-Portfolio should be capable of doing.
  4. There is obviously a serious mis-match between the understanding of educators and vendors compared to the expectations of Becta.

A simple definition:

  1. An e-Portfolio is a system of representing one’s self on-line.
  2. Firstly, note, it is owned by the learner and not the institution.
  3. Secondly, It is both Lifelong and Lifewide.
  4. Thirdly, it may be seen by a variety of different audiences.

Learner Owned:

  1. In Primary schools in particular or when dealing with less able children, the system may be set up for the school using menus, templates, guidance notes and colour schemes.
  2. Before long the pupils are encouraged to develop their own page organisation and colour schemes as they wish.
  3. Above all, children are encouraged to take a pride in ‘This is ME!’

Lifelong & Lifewide:

  1. If Lifelong, it must be free of any institution, it must be portable or capable of transition from one institution to another.
  2. As the learner matures, so the e-Portfolio should be capable of changing, chameleon like, changing menus adding more complex artefacts etc.
  3. If Lifewide, it must be simple to use, for the least able, and yet capable of high levels of sophistication, for even the highest PhD student.

for a Variety of Audiences:

  1. With younger children it will inevitably start off that only the child and their teacher sees what is in their eFolio.
  2. Soon, parents, peers and mentors will be given permissions to see the child’s eFolio.
  3. The granting of permissions, selecting different ‘views’ to different audiences is an essential part of the presentation process.
  4. Feedback, polls or surveys can all be safely controlled by the owner.

In conclusion:

  1. eFolio meets all of the above requirements and a lot more too.
  2. For the learner, it gets to the parts that other products cannot reach.