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Sunday, 27 December 2009

Dr Cheryl E. Ball

Photo: Dr Cheryl Ball at Hardware Ranch, Hyrum,UTUnfortunately it is not often that writers of e-Portfolio literature make me stop and think. Far too often we are invited to attend conferences to 'talk about' the possibility of introducing e-Portfolios some time in the future, ma┼łana or some sort of a 'Holy Grail' to be dreamed about, searched for but never expected to be found . The invitation by Darren Cambridge might be seen as one such example.

Not so the work of Dr Cheryl Ball. I recently came across her most impressive documentation of her work in 'multimodal composition practices in English studies' and its whole significance in relation to e-Portfolios.  As an example of e-Portfolio practice it sets an excellent standard of clarity of presentation and navigation that should be studied by any student of e-Portfolios.

However, the above is not the main reason for writing this post.  It is her clear thinking concerning the takeup of e-Portfolios in Higher Education (but which equally applies to all other sectors) which left me enthralled with her work.  I quote but a few of her challenging statements:

"I teach students how to compose rhetorically effective multimodal texts, teaching them that a text’s audience, purpose, and context correlate to the media choices they make. In my scholarly editorial work with Kairos, I perform similar pedagogical aims for scholarly purposes, helping authors craft their digital, multimodal work for the best articulation across media and modes of communication possible. The result of this pedagogical and scholarly work is a body of research built on student-produced and peer-reviewed multimodal scholarship." [extract from her 'Introduction']

In trying to understand why the takeup of e-Portfolio practice is such a struggle, Dr Ball clearly identifies with good evidences a 'chicken-and-egg' scenario that I have attempted to note in previous posts.  The academic requirements are the first part of this connundrum:

"I have been looking for examples of online tenure portfolios, and the only ones I was able to find were supplemental to print portfolios, even in fields where multimodal work is the main area of focus. For instance, a portfolio that most closely matched what I was trying to do was produced by a faculty member in Interactive Media and Design at Bradley University. ... In email conversations with this faculty member, he noted (and which many faculty in the Arts at several schools have confirmed) that the online portfolio was supplement to his print application for tenure. Making one’s digital work supplemental—especially when digital work is the center of one’s research and teaching—is often not the choice a tenure applicant would make; instead it is regulation of the tenure guidelines at one’s school, and so the choice becomes trying to institute change or ensuring one’s job. It’s not surprising that most tenure-track scholars choose the latter."  [extract from opening para 'About this Portfolio']

"Even if one allows that the document establishes that work in diverse media can meet all of our criteria for scholarship, the language elsewhere reverts to a “print-only” vocabulary. For example, in the discussion of the criteria for promotion to associate professor with tenure, the document states that “Typically, a candidate for promotion to the rank of Associate Professor with tenure will be expected to present to reviewers a book published (or at least a finished manuscript under final, board-approved contract and in production) by a scholarly press with a strong reputation (”Faculty Appointments,” 17–18; emphasis added). Throughout the document, we proposed adopting more inclusive language such as “book or equivalent body of scholarship” in order to establish consistently and unambiguously that our criteria for scholarship focus on quantity and quality, not medium. Similar changes broaden the scope of expert testimony to which we might turn when evaluating the contribution of scholarship to the candidate’s field. [extract from 'About this Portfolio']

The above is most remeniscent of the present situation at lower examination levels in the UK (eg secondary education) where examination boards will only accept prescribed formats and assessors are only comfortable with standardised layouts.

The question is, where do we start? 

As much as I have previously denigrated the HE system as being the only obvious voice on matters relating to e-Portfoloios and thus overruling any aspirations that see e-Portfolios being used differently at different Key Stages, I just wonder if we are begining to see a chink of light.  Perhaps if more people of the calibre of Dr Cheryl Ball spoke up and persuaded academia of the parity if not the superiority of e-Portfolios in assessment processes, we might just begin to move forward.  And what higher academia might begin to accept in the next 5 years or so, the rest of education might just accept within 10 to 15 years?




Tuesday, 22 December 2009

The Naace Annual Conference!

Photo: Sandy Blackpool beech announcing Naace Conference
Just a short post.  It's that time of the year again!  The Naace Annual Conference!  The definitive UK conference for all those passionate about ICT in Education is back again with a superb programme for 2010. It brings together colleagues from all over the UK and beyond, together with key players from government and industry, and provides a forum to share best practice and exchange ideas.

Friday, 18 December 2009

Research or Introspection?

Banner of NZCARNFrom the illustrious University of Canterbury (New Zealand) I saw this impressive report entitled, 'NZCARN Research Symposium Paper on ICT'. I quote the section on e-Portfolios:

"e-Portfolios are increasingly being adopted in a range of educational settings for a variety of purposes including learning, assessment, presentation of achievement, and personal professional development (Stefani, Mason, & Pegler, 2007). In terms of learning and personal development, e-portfolios can have a key role in supporting individuals to reach their full potential by promoting the development of lifelong learning skills such as reflection, self regulation and collaboration (Lamont, 2007). The advancement of 21st century educational technologies has focused attention on the e-portfolio as a powerful learning tool, and has prompted many authorities to consider the benefits (Fox, Britain, & Hall, 2009). Fox et al. (2009) identify some additional key components of an e-portfolio, which are essential for our conception of an e-portfolio: author ownership, where the user can maintain a personal lifelong record of learning; interoperability, allowing the user to transfer their e-portfolio from one environment to another; and confidentiality, where students have the opportunity to think critically about their work and to speak openly about their progress in a secure environment.

"Mahara (http://www.mahara.org/ ) is a fully featured open source electronic portfolio, which was developed in 2006 by the New Zealand e-Portfolio Project funded by the New Zealand Tertiary Education Commission’s e-learning Collaborative Development Fund. Mahara is a web-based e-portfolio, designed for tertiary education as a learning portfolio which is constructivist in nature (Stefani et al., 2007), with the emphasis being on the ownership and lifelong learning and development of the user. Mahara was designed with accessibility, ownership, interoperability and transferability in mind, and includes collaborative and communication tools. Mahara is currently being used within teacher education programmes in Massey University, the University of Canterbury, Auckland University of Technology and Victoria University. It is also being piloted with some New Zealand secondary school students (Fox et al., 2009). The design features support ongoing collaborative approaches to action and research to which NZCA&RN aspires.

"Within the context of action research and related approaches, the e-portfolio has the potential for practitioner and researcher ownership of a lifelong virtual private space for: setting and reviewing goals; reflecting on actions, learning and progress; engaging in professional critical dialogue; disseminating knowledge; and showcasing skills and dispositions. This virtual space can be accessible from anywhere; and the user can select particular aspects to share with individuals and communities of practice. The virtual space also allows for recording emerging knowledge, skills and ideas privately until such time as they are mature enough to share with others, or be dismissed or laid aside to return to at a later date. An e-portfolio tool therefore, has great potential to enhance collaborative action and research networking, and to navigate the ‘braided rivers’ of action research approaches and ‘whanau of interest’ (Macfarlane, 2009). However it is important to note that the issues identified by Margaret Lamont (2009) when implementing ePortfolios in teacher education are also likely to apply to their use in research too. These include equitable access and development of a shared vision of purpose among the NZCA&RN communities of practice."

To me, this looks like encouragement to further introspection rather than trying to understand how Lifelong, Lifewide Learning and Leisure can be supported through an e-Portfolio. Mahara might well be a good basic tool for those in HE but what of the rest of society, for all Ages, Aptitudes, Abilities, Accesibilities and Attitudes?

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Passion and Learning

Photo: A young child passionate about her work.I have just come back from 3 days of HE/FE conferences in which I heard repeated criticisms of VLEs and e-Portfolios as not meeting the needs of students. Discussions ranged from the sterility of the formats to the inability of lecturers and professors to actually understand the potential of the new technologies.

And then, next morning, I discovered this offering from Angela Maiers' presentation for K12OnlineConference09. What a refreshing change this was! This raised my spirits for the simple reason that this is what I see as the secret of eFolio. The reality of real involvement as opposed to the half-hearted efforts of our kids in the classroom that Angela refers to is at the heart of the child's ownership of learning.

As I said at one of the meetings, 'Unless all stakeholders are fully consulted before the implementation of a new technology (here talking about VLEs), unless the decision makers are educated as to the full potential of the new tools, unless they can then in turn decide how this will impact on teaching and learning, it is no wonder that the technology fails to meet expectations.'

And this is equally true of e-Portfolios. In all sectors of Education, it would appear, decision makers have failed to do the spadework of consulting with the whole range of stakeholders - and certainly do not appear to have explored how the e-Portfolio can change teaching and learning. Far too often it is the case that installations are managed by technicians who have little understanding of the future direction of education. It is essential, as Angela Maier clearly illustrates, that unless the e-Portfolio is designed (by educators) to adapt to the learner's individual passions there will be very little chance of its real takeup within education.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Schools and Parents: a New Partnership?

Graphic: page of the document showing a teacher and children.Niel McLean, Executive Director, Becta, the government agency for technology in education discusses (November 2009) how technology supports a new relationship with schools. In his introduction he writes:

"Good parental engagement is fundamental to children’s learning and closely linked to increased attainment. One of the more effective ways for parents to engage in their child’s learning is to maintain good communication with a school, learning more about their child’s progress whilst also helping to identify any development or performance issues early on."

The website is very attractive and, for those who can find it, provides a lot of thoughtful material, including the 16-page .pdf document.

Yes, school VLEs or MLEs are as essential as the Home Access Programme. However, yet again, the mention of e-Portfolios is significant by its absence. School may be one part of e-Learning and before long it is hoped that teachers will begin to realise that remote on-line access will change the ways teaching & learning is enabled.

But, as I have repeatedly said, the major part of a child's learning takes place outside of the four walls of the classroom. It is the e-Portfolio that can document all the other forms of informal, casual or experiential learning that enables teachers, parents, new school or colleges as well as employers to see the 'whole person'.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

A Bridge Too Far?

Photo: From FLickR by RatterrellEarlier this term I wrote an article for the Autumn issue of the CRA e-journal, 'On Reflection'. This journal is a very practical and down-to-earth commentary on real issues within FE relating to the Recording of Assessment and the whole area of e-Portfolios.

My paper, 'A Bridge Too Far?', asks questions about the feasibility of introducing e-Portfolios with FE colleges, and the pressures that this would or does raise in particular for tutors and support staff.

For those who are regular readers of this blog my conclusion to the article will not be surprising:

CONCLUSION: The e-Portfolio must not be hijacked - not by Industry, nor Higher Education, nor mainstream schools, nor adult Training Institutions, nor by the QCA, nor any VLE supplier but, more importantly, not by factions within the education system who may have a limited view of its real potential. The e-Portfolio is a dynamic, evolving and personal item of equipment for everyone and for every aspect of their studies, career development or leisure use, which should be available to all - from '5-95' - by right. How it is used by both our students and staff will vary according to college policies, learning styles, digital competencies and academic maturity. Suffice it to say that the above list of features (in the full article) should make the e-Portfolio accessible to all whatever their age, aptitude, ability, accessibility or attitude.

A bridge too far? No! But most staff need much more support to understand and adopt the above concepts and press on together with confidence.

Monday, 7 December 2009

What about the ‘forgotten armies’ ?

Graphic: Logo for Social InclusionStudents at school or college may be a considerable group of learners, but in terms of numbers perhaps they become the minority and the very cause of the problem of the 'silo of academic thinking' in terms of e-Portfolios that I am desperately trying to overcome.


Starting with some pointers from a recent conference, I present a list of those who are presently missing out from the sort of inclusion and support an e-Portfolio can provide – our ‘forgotten armies’:

1. Adults aged 55+ - an increasingly larger group of people who do not want to be excluded from the world even if their mobility or communication skills are reduced.

2. People in rural areas – what with the increasing costs of transportation, the reduction in public services including Post Offices and shops, all are increasing the isolation of communities.

3. People in areas of multiple deprivation – again, people who are self-conscious are less likely to want to communicate with others or lift themselves out of their predicaments.

4. C2DEs (ie lower potential employability) – generally not e-confident, often school dropouts or neets and not aware of how to go about self improvement.

5. The disabled and those with learning difficulties – digital technologies are not always suitable and very often good resources are hard to find.

6. The unemployed and low-income households – not always lacking in digital technologies but often not aware of their full potential eg used for job-seeking or on-line learning.

7. People affected by mental ill-health – the need to communicate, instantly, but without the challenges of f2f meetings needs to be addressed.

8. Homeless/vulnerably housed adults – in an unsecure world the ability to log on in a library, internet cafe or job-centre can provide an excellent base from which to communicate with others.

9. Itinerant workers and services personnel – as seen in recent news items about soldiers in the field, the ability to communicate wherever one is can be a very comforting and reassuring facility.

10. 'Delegators' (ie those who pass on any ICT work to others) – there is a vast army of people who always delegate even simple tasks to others. This avoidance of digital technologies needs to be overcome through appropriate support.

11. Those detained in Prison (both staff and inmates) – The risk of the misuse of ICT facilities is recognised but hundreds of thousands of inmates are missing out on educational opportunities.

When I consider the vast range of those who are missing out from what others do every day and often several times a day, I feel like some lone evangelist shouting out in the wilderness, “Turn, your life around and find a new and better way of living!

This is just an extract from a 3-page article, 'e-Portfolios - getting to where others can’t reach?'

Successful student engagement using e-Portfolios

Photo: 'Bored Students' from Dreamstime.comI was recently asked, “can anyone shed any light on the “theory” of successful student engagement using ePortfolios in the vocational area of learning?” And this was my reply:

This is not an uncommon problem, particularly with purpose-designed systems.

The issue, in my opinion is one of ‘ownership’.

1: If the system you are using is just a tool for subject delivery/assessment there is little motivation for the student to do yet more form-filling.

2: In some institutions the e-Portfolio is just used as a content delivery system as a substitution for a VLE which might not be capable of managing the tutor/mentor feedback and peer-review that an e-Portfolio should be capable of managing. And this is where, I suspect, that the popularity of Web2.0 has intruded itself.

3: It is an educationally recognised fact that the e-Portfolio needs to ‘belong’ to the learner. If there is no self-identity, no self-representation that shouts out “This is ME”, there is little chance that any but the most studious will invest time and effort in doing something that is obviously not ‘mine’ but the College’s.

4: The e-Portfolio should contain personal information that helps the tutor/mentor to better understand the learner and thus develops a better student-teacher relationship. The more information that the learner is allowed to include, including rich media, the better the relationship can become.

5: Of course, the organisation, layout and choice of pages and sub-pages, the templates chosen and colour-schemes, of avatars etc are all part of the psychology of ‘ownership’. It is quite often these very obvious presentation choices that immediately tell the experienced teacher much about their students than might be intended.

6: However, perhaps the most important aspect of the e-Portfolio is what tools are embedded to provide formative feedback, peer review, polls, surveys and comments that really begin to support the type of student activity we should be seeing in the classroom, with or without walls.

7: An obvious requirement of e-Portfolio functionality is that the learner needs to be able to control who-sees-what. A good e-Portfolio will allow the control of audiences so that, concurrently, different readers will see different ‘views’ of the one e-Portfolio.

I could go on for ages, but hope this is a start. Please check out my links on the sidebar: