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Friday, 23 October 2009

How many different e-Portfolios?

Graphic: Chart of 12 different e-Portfolio functionalities.I recently read an impressive document analysing the functionalities of e-Portfolios. The above graphic gives a good idea of the range of uses to which an e-Portfolio can be put. However, traditional thinking tends to underline the belief that we should use different e-Portfolios for different purposes.

To be fair to the authors, K. Himpsl and P. Baumgartner of Danube University, Krems, Austria, their article set out to identify e-Portfolio software in (then) current use and, unfortunately they were not aware of my progress with eFolio for the UK and Europe. I include their abstract, below, but for a pdf copy of their full report (7 pages), you need to register here first.

AbstractE-Portfolios are a new type of software and it is still relatively vague to determine, which functions are obligatory – that is which functions constitute characteristic features – and which functions are just optional (“nice to have“). This article describes the concept and the preliminary results of a research project which was conducted to evaluate E-Portfolio software, and aims at providing decision guidance for implementing E-Portfolios in higher education - first and foremost from the pedagogical perspective. Which recommendations can be made to an institution which now wants to implement electronic portfolios with a certain objective?

My argument is not against their well documented analysis of some of the available e-Portfolio software available to HE but of the conclusions that they come to as in the above graphic.

As any who have been following this blog will understand, I present eFolio as being the perfect e-Portfolio solution for ALL of the 12 functionalities, and much more, within the one e-Portfolio and also concurently. This is my whole point about eFolio. The developers in Minnesota have produced a system which allows the one set of artefacts to be re-purposed in a variety of ways. The learner's one eFolio can therefore present to different audiences, for different purposes, even concurrently. Furthermore, the different 'views' can visually support differing aspects of one's whole life. For instance, different audiences could see my eFolio as representing me as a Technologist, as a Human Resource manager, as an environmentalist or a charity worker and yet, at the same time, I could be collaborating with my peers concerning an article that I might be in the process of writing.

There is an inevitable implication throughout the paper (constrained by the funding system), that the e-Portfolio is only of use in Higher Education. It is thus inevitable that no mention is made of the needs of the young, the elderly, the less-able, those involved in teaching these groups or those who wish to use e-Portfolios for community or extra-curricula studies. In other-words the vast majority of learners appear to be excluded.

However, it is worth checking out the Himpsl and Baumgartner paper if only to convince one's self of how limited all the other so-called e-Portfolio applications are when compared to eFolio.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Surveys are a Whiz!

Graphic: The surveygizmo logoI tend not to promote individual products (well, apart from eFolio) and I also feel that the unexpected advertising of random products does not enhance the image of my sites. However, I was recently asked about Survey Tools and felt that I must respond.

eFolio has several very useful tools for feedback, polls and surveys, which do very well for students of all ages. However, for those not using eFolio, but possibly other blogging tools for instance, I must recommend 'surveygizmo' as my personal preferred choice.

Surveygizmo is a lite, fast-acting on-line tool which should be used by all sections of education including classroom activities, staff 'opinionaires', communications with governors, parents and employers etc. In this era of virtual collaboration surveygizmo is the perfect tool for provoking responses and leading the respondees on to follow with interest the responses of others.

As an on-line tool it is excellent. The basic version is free and has a full range of tools for the on-line graphic feedback of the real-time analysis of results etc. It is also very intelligent so that, for instance if you identified yourself as a child it can skip more adult questions. But for those who want more performance or commercial usage there are several upgrades that you can go for if you like the product. (Go on, try it, you'll get hooked the same as I did!)

Click the link below for more information:
Online Survey Tool

Friday, 16 October 2009


Graphic: The Vital logoAt the Naace Conference last week I was fortunate enough to attend the 'Soft Launch' of Vital. The £5.6 million scheme to help teachers bring technology even more effectively into the classroom now has a name, and collaboration with existing providers and practitioners is underway ahead of the programme’s much-anticipated official launch in January 2010.

Vital (Transforming Lessons, Inspiring Learning) is to be the overarching title for an unprecedented collaboration between the Open University (OU) and e-skills UK. First announced in July, Vital’s goal is to foster and develop top-class continuing professional development for teachers and other educational practitioners in England who face the dual challenge of stimulating increasingly technology-confident students, and preparing them for the ‘knowledge economy’ beyond school.

“Between now and January, we will be making good use of a number of opportunities, including this week’s Naace and Handheld Learning conferences, to set out our ambitions for Vital and explain the progress made to date ahead of the scheme’s ‘hard’ launch at BETT 2010,” says e-skills UK’s Debbie Forster, the Vital Programme Co-ordinator. “Our focus is to work alongside existing training providers and practitioners to build on best practice in this area, and with employers to identify ways for them to support the development of teachers. We also want to encourage practitioners to pre-register at in advance of the roll-out of courses from the start of next year.”

Vital responds to the needs of two types of practitioners – those seeking to exploit ICT across the curriculum, and the specialists teaching technology subjects (Computing, IT and ICT) as disciplines in their own right.

We recognise that keeping abreast of the latest developments in technology is a continual challenge. As well as supporting teachers of all subjects, a core component of Vital will be opportunities for specialist teachers to work with employers and to sample industry-level cutting edge content and facilities,” explains Debbie Forster.

The OU’s Peter Twining, Vital’s Programme Director adds: “The scheme will celebrate and promote practical solutions to the challenges that schools are facing both in terms of their broader development plans and day-to-day classroom practice. Often this will be about teachers gaining the confidence and experience to make better use of the ICT their schools already have, and encouraging the creative combination of traditional and digital technologies to create the best experiences and outcomes for pupils.”

From January, Vital will be offering six new face-to-face courses and at least three online courses. In addition, a network of nine regional Vital co-ordinators will be in place working with local training providers, schools, local authorities and employers to ensure provision is appropriate and tailored to each region’s needs.

“A key part of Vital will be to introduce new development opportunities for teachers, with the first courses aimed at addressing important aspects of the curriculum, such as how to promote effective discussion and collaboration in the classroom, using Web 2.0 technologies where appropriate. But Vital is about more than just offering courses, with the programme supporting informal peer-to-peer learning both within and across schools.” says Peter Twining. “Vital will also play an important role in researching and promoting the best CPD that currently exists. We appreciate that a great deal of excellent provision is already happening and we are busy mapping the current ICT CPD landscape and seeking collaboration with the best that’s out there. For example, where we find that a provider, such as a local authority, has a superb course available in their region we are keen to collaborate with them to extend that course’s reach to a national scale.”

“We aim for personalised learning for students, and we want the same for our teachers,” emphasises Debbie Forster. “Our ambition is to provide support that makes a real difference for specialist technology teachers and to build an ongoing commitment to continuing professional development in ICT amongst all the nation’s teachers. As well as developing specific courses where they are needed, we will also work to enable online teacher communities and networks offering mutual support and the means of sharing good practice.”

Footnote: Debbie Forster and Peter Twining were keynote speakers at the Naace conference, Hellidon Lakes, near Daventry, Northamptonshire, Saturday 10 October 2009.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

E-Portfolios in Rural Communities

Photo from: ''Adrienne Carlson has contributed the item below. Its full title should read, 'How to Raise Awareness of E-Portfolios in Rural Communities'. Of course, we have the Home Access Programme in England but that is only the begining. Having the technology is one thing, getting both teachers and learners to use it is another, as Adrienne writes:

There are various reasons teachers use e-portfolios – from enhancing their profiles to developing their knowledge and skills, it helps them improve personally and professionally as members of the pedagogic society. But their counterparts in rural communities are not blessed with the same advantage, because they hardly have access to technology let alone the wherewithal to use it on a regular basis to create, develop and maintain an e-portfolio. If we are to raise awareness of e-portfolios in rural communities, we must:
  • Introduce technology as a regular teaching tool: Since e-portfolios are linked to technology, it follows that technology must be made a teaching tool in rural communities before it can be harnessed for the purpose of e-portfolios. One way to do this is through grants and other forms of funding, but more than that, efforts have to be made to introduce teachers to technology and encourage them to use it without any hesitation. And to do this, we must teach them to use the technology with the right kind of training.

  • Train teachers to use technology: Most teachers (or anyone else for that matter) who don’t have much contact with technology are usually intimated by it. They refuse to even attempt to learn it because they are scared that they will not be successful at it. Any training program should address these issues and manage the apprehensions of teachers before attempting to teach them how to use technology as a teaching aid.

  • Introduce them to e-Portfolios: When teachers realize the value and usefulness of e-portfolios, they are more eager to adopt them as development tools. Programs must be held to prove to them the potential of e-Portfolios and show all staff how it can help them grow in their profession and update their skills as well.

  • Understand the needs of learners: The work of Eva deLera underlines the value of making distance learning more acceptable to rural learners. Just think: no personal transport, poor public transport, little contact with other learners etc are all reasons for poor retention rates. The e-Portfolio can be the means to overcome these barriers to learning and make learning actually enjoyable.
E-portfolios are a relatively new tool in the pedagogic toolkit, so it will take some time before they gain any amount of popularity in rural communities. But with persistence and time, it will slowly gain acceptance and become a tool that is used regularly and to great effect.

This guest article was written by Adrienne Carlson, who regularly writes on the topic of engineering degrees online . Adrienne welcomes your comments and questions at her email address:

Sunday, 4 October 2009

What institutions really need to know

Graphic: JISC logoI pounced upon this new article published by Glenaffric Ltd e-learning consultants as it appeared to be a comprehensive analysis of the present thinking on e-Portfolios. A quick look at the authors quoted soon gave this document an air of respectability that few who have studied the e-Portfolio scene in the UK would disagree with. The opening paragraphs looked even more exciting:

Key messages for senior managers have emerged from a three-year JISC programme on MLEs for Lifelong Learning, which funded ten multi-institutional projects working across different sectors and organisations to support student learning and progression. The work of the Programme involved exchanging data with key external bodies such as UCAS, local education authorities and large employers.

With a strong focus on the interoperability of e-portfolios across a wide range of contexts, the Programme has been able to explore the likely impact of national policies for lifelong learning upon individual institutions and their medium-term strategic planning of technological and pedagogical development.

However, reading further, I was sorry to get the feeling that nothing new was in fact said. It would appear that the authors are still arguing from a technical perspective that interoperability is the solution to all the e-Portfolio problems.

Secondly, the ludicrous position is still maintained that it is the institutions that are responsible for Lifelong Learning. I am repeatedly frustrated by reports and proposals for reports all concerned with the same introspective approach to Active Research. What I want to see is reports of learners who have left academia, taken up employment and have continued to maintain their e-Portfolios and successfully shared them with new audiences.

If children in Primary and Secondary schools can create their own e-Portfolios expecting full portability, is it not time that the FE/HE sectors asked themselves whether their institutional products will support Lifelong, Lifewide Learning and Leisure?