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Thursday, 16 December 2010

Adult Education - The Great Divide

Book cover, A Great Gulf Fixed - A collection of the sermons by Brownlow NorthA great Victorian evangelical preacher, Brownlow North, wrote powerfully about the great spiritual divide between worldliness and Christianity. However moving his collection of sermons might be, it prompts me to think that we have a similar social, cultural and economic divide between, generally, two groups:

On the one hand are the 'youngsters' those under 30 who are generally ICT literate. Some might not think of themselves as technologically aware but they have access to all the trappings of modern society. Youngsters rarely wear a watch - instead they have a multi-function 'smart-phone'. They use all the modern digital appliances in the kitchen or lounge including a range of entertainment devices. If there are children or students in the home there will inevitably be a computer with internet access. The family car will have its sat-nav and all the modern creature-comforts digitally controlled. At school or at work, they use computers every day. They buy both goods and services on-line and represent themselves through websites or some form of blog or social software and have free access to learning, self-development and CPD. They have adopted a 'learning mindset'. They can generally be described as 'autonomous learners'.

On the other hand, there is a group of 'oldies' who are benefiting from various government and local initiatives to get on-line, to start learning how to 'catch up' with the so-called digital natives. They have the time and support, they have memories and expertises which need to be captured and shared. Homes for the elderly are fitted with all the latest safety and security gadgets, residents are supplied with personal alarms and even pace-makers. In their visits to hospital they are increasing surrounded by astoundingly expensive X-ray machines and body scanners. Increasingly we find in homes for the elderly all the latest digital equipment, computers and large-screen projectors. Care staff are encouraged to provide interesting activities for the elderly, infirm or those who have some form of disability. In general they are getting personal and appropriate support according to their needs.

But, there is a GULF FIXED for those who fall between these two groups. This intermediate group is composed generally of those who are in work, 'looking for work' or caring for children but with little chance of self improvement. At this time of economic crisis they are insecure and with little ability or awareness of how to bridge the gap - to start learning by themselves or to get the support that they need. The UK has often been called 'a nation of shopkeepers' - yes small businesses where people are working hard, but standing still. They work 'noses-to-the-grindstone' and are not aware of how others are looking after themselves. CPD is an unknown word in their vocabulary. Many of these people fall into the 'Level 1, Level 2 categories' as described by Leitch. Smaller companies do not have 'Human Resource Departments', they do not have HR managers. Their employees are not able to 'bootstrap' themselves into being more able workers. Many do not have Trades Union support or belong to Professional Associations. In terms of self-improvement, they are trapped in a 'gulf of inability'.

At a recent meeting in the North East of some 80+ senior leaders and education managers organised by NIACE this problem really struck home to me. It is this massive group of unsupported workers that need the targetted help of organisations such as NIACE. Of the several strong and clear messages that came out of this meeting was the whole concept of Partnership. Not of many small partnerships, for instance, of a local employer and a local school or college. Not even of a local district uniting a consortium of employers, schools and colleges. What we need is the BIG PICTURE of a locality (or region?) as big as the North East where all providers of learning, all careers services and employers become one large partnership. Such a group would need to show a lot of respect for each other, all around one 'round table'.

But how does the above Big Partnership help those trapped in the Gulf between autonomous learners and those benefitting from personal support. I believe that, with the benefits of on-line information services, the available skills and training needs can be plotted for a whole region; that larger organisations, with their staff development expertise, should be providing 'open house' to those smaller companies who, as described above, do not have such facilities for their personnel. Such consortia or partnerships are working well in the Netherlands, so why not here?

Adult education is therefore at a cross-roads. It can continue to provide 'more-of-the-same' to a dispirited workforce and dispirited employers. Or, Adult Education can pull together a Partnership of both the wider range of expertise(s?) within separate organisations, pull together a broader range of learners, pull together a wider range of training organisations and actually get to grips with the challenges laid down by Leitch so many years ago. Colleges, in particular, need to understand something of 'The Joy of e-Learning' as described by Eva de Lera several years ago. Learners, 'trapped at the grindstone', need to be supported by employers who can see that their companies will become more productive, loyal and retentive by upskilling their workers.

Obviously organisations such as NIACE should be in the vanguard of promoting Partnerships which not only enhance current provision but also they must address the wishlist of Leitch and 'get to the parts that others cannot reach' ie, those who are trapped in this gulf of inability.

But why have I gone to the trouble of describing this scenario in such detail? It is simply that I believe that the ePortfolio is the perfect low-cost tool which will enable this underclass of potential learners to share their achievments with others, to have access to personal mentoring and discover and communicate their self-worth.

There is no reason why mobility of labour should be available only to the upper echelons of society. Autonomous learning should be free to all. And it is the ePortfolio that can make this happen.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Effective Practice with ePortfolios

First page of the audio+text presentation
The above presentation, recently produced by JISC RSC Scotland South & West is an excellently crafted document which clearly articulates present thinking and concerns relating to ePortfolios. Click here to see for yourself.

However, yet again, this author appears to believe that the whole content delivery system, learning management and assessment, CPD and showcasing can all be crammed into what is essentially a private and learner-owned tool. As I tried to make clear, several years ago, (Who's Hijacking My ePortfolio - best read in Full Screen mode) institutions have their own individual agendas and appear to expect the ePortfolio to do all the conventional tasks of a VLE but without the expense! Admittedly, some VLEs are expensive as are assessment tools, plagiarism checkers etc.

As regular readers will know, one of my pervading mantras is "Let the VLE do what it does best and leave the ePortfolio to do what it can best do."

But, again, let me say, a good presentation which is worthy of further discussion.

Inspired by Technology, Driven by Pedagogy

Picture of front cover of book - children and teacher working on laptopsThe recently published book/paper by OECD ‘Inspired by Technology, Driven by Pedagogy’ may not say anything significantly new for those who have been involved in education and innovation for more than a few years. But it is a document well worth studying. I was saying that ‘Innovation must be curriculum driven’ some 40 years ago – and ever since.

However, it’s not what you say, but how you say it. This document pulls together wide-ranging research and well-argued thinking which together presents a very powerful case of which the UK government in particular should take note.

Space here does not allow me to quote all the impact statements or questions but let the following suffice:

“do governments (be they at national, regional or local level) have a systemic approach to technology-based school innovations?’ (p.18)

As one who has been involved with both innovation in schools and Total Quality Management for many years, I was pulled up suddenly by this question as I fear that the only answer at all levels is “No!”

Now that Becta in the UK is steadily dissolving due to Government cuts, I wonder if there will be any organisation ready, willing and able to develop an advisory paper on whole-school innovation? I am not sure that the ICT-Mark properly addresses whole-school innovation, and even if it can, is it realistic to expect that what one school sees as innovation and another sees as irrelevant can be merged into one policy? Is it possible to develop a regional or national approach to ‘a systemic approach to technology-based school innovations?’

The book raises many questions including teacher-training and the place of Web2.0 technologies. If this very articulate book were to fall into the hands of headteachers or even District or Local Authority advisors I just wonder what might happen. Perhaps my oft-quoted observation, “everyone did that which was right in his own eyes” has some poignancy here. Is there a place in UK education for firm advice as to how we should approach innovation particularly in relation to ICT?

Or is it that some countries have a very different educational regime to the UK? Writing a chapter for another book I was recently pulled up suddenly by a comment, ‘I am unclear as to the relationship between ePortfolios and the school regulatory bodies in the UK...’ My gut reaction was ‘What regulatory bodies?

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Reflecting on Reflections

Photo: A myriad stars within our galaxyI have written several times about the value of the ePortfolio as a tool to aid reflection (see tags list for 'reflection'.) However, in a recent post Karen Barnstable writes very clearly on the value of reflection, but more than that, adds some helpful advice on how to think through and document reflection with a 4-point STAR - well worth reading.

As I commented on Karen's post, the compilation of a separate 'diary' of reflections might be a very effective CPD tool for anyone. As Dr Helen Barrett suggests, the ePortfolio lends itself to recording one's 'Life Story'. I just wonder how many myriads of reflections or evaluations I have composed and then forgotten. What would I think about my own life-story if I had retained those reflections for further reflection?
Memory Jogger:
S - Situation
T - Task
A - Action
R - Result
But please read Karen's post to see this in context.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

A few questions...

Well, the full title should be, A few questions before you launch into implementing ePortfolios at your education institution.
Graphic: doll outlines: people asking questions

For some time now, I have been following the adventures of Sarah Stewart and her application of ePortfolios to the work of midwives in New Zealand and Australia. Recently she posted some 10 questions which potential implementers of ePortfolios should ask themselves before taking such a leap of faith. With her permission I have duplicated her questions and provided some answers:

1. What are you wanting to achieve?
Does an ePortfolio system allow you to achieve that aim or would something else be more appropriate? For example, you would like to use an ePortfolio to allow a seamless submission of assignments by you need an ePortfolio to do this, or can you achieve that function via your current learning/student management system?

Any half-legitimate institution for teaching and learning should have its own VLE with a good range of resources including rubrics, rich media, archived materials, and powerful tools much broader than the standard syllabus in order to allow students to develop their own personalised learning environment. So, what we should be doing is looking at those aspects of an ePortfolio that a VLE cannot easily deliver.

2. Is what you are wanting to achieve pedagogically sound?
In other words, do you have a sound educational reason for implementing ePortfolio or are you attracted by the technology with all the latest bells and whistles?

Introducing an ePortfolio system will not suddenly change teaching and learning strategies. Rather, a student-focussed approach should inevitably suggest that an ePortfolio is the best medium to manage a range of learning activities where peer-review, feedback in all its forms, use of alternative media, supplementary information about students etc is possible. Above all the ePortfolio should allow the ability to present selected artefacts to a variety of audiences, under controlled access.

3. What is the evidence about ePortfolio in your context?
Is there solid evidence that ePortfolio makes a difference to students' learning or is ePortfolio another fad you are following for the sake of it?

There is a growing body of evidence from both students, teachers and administrative staff that ePortfolios have a demonstrable impact on both teaching and learning. However, this takes time for new-start institutions. It takes several years for most institutions to settle down to ePortfolio thinking. Until teachers have discovered what works/does not work for them, until exemplar materials related to ePortfolio processes are tried and tested, until an institution has a good body of alumni who understand ePortfolios, until a good cohort of mentors can advise from their own previous experiences, that evidence will be slow to materialise. Administrators, too, have noticed a significant increase in retention rates.

4. What ePortfolio tools best suit your students' needs?
Before you sign off on an expensive proprietary ePortfolio platform, is there an online tool already available that will better suit your students' needs? For instance, if you want your business students to be prepared to find a job, would they be better off developing a LinkedIn account? Would your carpentry students be better off uploading photos of their work to Flickr? Would a blog suit students' needs for a reflective ePortfolio?

This question suggests a restrictive view of teaching and learning. All students should have access to a wide range of tools, such as they prefer to work with, such as Flickr, Prezie, PhotoPeach, Issuu or Audacity to name just a few. But these are NOT ePortfolio tools as such. ePortfolio tools consist of facilities such as making individual artefacts private, shareable or public. Tools such as polls, surveys or Likart scales as well as pre-set forms which can be ‘switched’ on or off all allow different methods of providing feedback. Similarly, blogs or wikis can be contained within the ePortfolio so as to create a private but collaborative community where students can work together with some confidence that their efforts and mistakes will not be seen by ‘outsiders’. - Anyway, who says a proprietary system has to be expensive? - eFolio certainly is not!

5. Who is in control of the ePortfolio?
If you dictate the ePortfolio to the students they are far less likely to engage with it than if they have total control over it. The ePortfolio must belong totally to the students so it can be developed to meet their needs, as opposed to your needs as lecturer and that of the institution.

In many cases it might be better for the institution to provide the ePortfolio with some level of scaffolding to help students get off to a good start rather than having to build from a blank canvas. A range of good support features will enable the student to identify what things can be changed immediately and what things can be modified at a later date. It is up to the teacher to decide how much ePortfolio support each student may need, but, as when encouraging a baby to walk, there comes a time when hand-holding is not necessary. Control is a matter of gradual release.

6. Will the ePortfolio be integrated into the curriculum?
If the ePortfolio is an extra add-on to the students' work, they are unlikely to engage with it. Thus, you need to consider how you will integrate it into the curriculum and assessment. This may require a lot of work for faculty staff, so you have to decide if this effort is "worth it".

This might create a bit of strain for those educators who have not made the transition to collaborative teaching and learning. However, having access 24/7 to a student’s ePortfolio means that monitoring progress is easier, particularly if you have a few students who need ‘prodding’ to get going. Similarly early intervention if a student is beginning to veer off course actually saves the teacher considerable work when students begin to get towards the date of submission. As mentioned previously, this can help retention rates.

7. How portable will the ePortfolio be?
What will happen to the ePortfolio when the students leave the institution? Portability is one argument for using the cloud such as Google Apps, as opposed to a platform that is restricted to student use only.

Portability is a fundamental question and although questions about teaching and learning MUST come first, the issue of portability will actually influence teaching and learning strategies. I have heard too many HE students say “Why should I bother, I can’t take it with me!” If the ePortfolio is to be both Lifelong and Lifewide it MUST be capable of full portability without the destructive influences of extant interoperability systems. However, the rush to use cloud solutions is not without its drawbacks. A secure externally hosted system provides the best of both worlds. eFolio, for instance, is hosted externally in the UK and Europe. One of the significant drawbacks of a cloud-based solution is that of the lack of educational support whereas eFolio is provided primarily as a tool for learners.

8. Can the ePortfolio be integrated into the students' life as a professional tool once they have left university/college?
This is an especially important question for nurses and midwives who are required to have an ePortfolio as part of their statuary requirements for practice. There's little point in developing an ePortfolio platform that is different from one they will use once they are qualified. On the other hand, is this an opportunity to collaborate with hospitals and professional bodies to ensure there is a seamless integration of ePortfolio from life as a student into professional practice?

Yes, it is ESSENTIAL that the principle of the ePortfolio as being Lifelong should enable the newly qualified professional, for instance, to use the ePortfolio for the continuation of one’s career and other interests and to share with new colleagues etc. In a new situation, the cosmetic display and layout of pages, the selection of relevant artefacts should be capable of matching one’s new image.

9. How will you evaluate the ePortfolio?
You must have a process for measuring the impact of the ePortfolio as opposed to implementing it without further follow up.

Perhaps the most significant feature of evaluation is not that of the presentation of the ePortfolio nor of the artefacts contained within it and the temptation to think summatively, but rather to look at the reflections, the benefits of collaboration and the learning processes the student experienced that demonstrate an increased maturity of understanding rather than just a completed project.

10. Do you walk the talk?
Do you have an ePortfolio that models the process to both colleagues and students? How can you know the value of a pedagogical process if you do not engage with it yourself?

Yes, every teacher is a learner, a collaborator, and, where necessary a bit of an exhibitionist. The ePortfolio should be seen as a tool for learners, teachers, departments and institutions. The same tool can be used for many different purposes and all sections of society.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Escaping the Stone Age - II

Screenshot of Sarah Stewart's SlideShareClick above to see the SlideShare

I have been following the progress of Sarah Stewart's work, exploring how the ePortfolio can serve the midwifery service in Australia. Her presentation, as indicated above, is a valuable consideration of the problems involved in introducing ePortfolio thinking into any community.

However, many of her 'frustrations' follow on from my previous post, that of overcoming 'Stone Age thinking'.

Perhaps one of the first issues to overcome is that of the technology. If it looks complicated then it IS complicated. For adults who are not as IT savvy as they could be, and have plenty of other things on their minds, it is essential that whatever ePortfolio system they choose, it should be 'childsplay'. It should be easy to use and immediately attractive.

Secondly, Sarah's presentation illustrates the generation gap in ePortfolio thinking. It was not only the midwives who found difficulty in adopting ePortfolios, it was the assessors and administrators who were at least reticent if not downright reluctant. It is time that governments recognised this situation and sponsored urgent adult training in ICT for all generations - and particularly for services, such as midwifery, that require portfolios.

Yes, the lack of equipment, of resources and of broadband availability needs to be recognised - and it may be some time before much of Australia gets the service it deserves!

However, speaking as an experienced teacher, it would appear that Education Authorities must reflect upon their own consciences and ensure that the upcoming generation is properly and speedily trained as the 'net generation. One thing that we have learnt here in the UK is that by ensuring that our children have good 'Home Access' that their parents, carers and even grandparents are having to learn ePortfolio thinking.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Escaping the Stone Age

I was recently in conversation with a respected colleague, and we were bewailing the 'Stone Age' mentality of some of our teachers and how they were holding back our children's learning. Inevitably, I wanted to shout out that the ePortfolio, and eFolio in particular, was the answer to the whole problem. However, in a more reflective moment I came up with four suggestions:

1. The ePortfolio can act as an information service found by all permitted parents/ carers/ mentors/ grandparents etc. This facility should act as a structured information service, an educational 'agony aunt' and also a confidential hot-line where questions about educational practice can be properly and securely discussed.

2. It is essential therefore that schools start understanding that Personal Learning Environments are the way forward and that tools are urgently required that can enable students to move forward at their own speeds and enable the following of their interests. Eventually, I suspect, this will be a Web3.0 environment but certainly an ePortfolio will be involved.

3. I do hope that when schools do manage to catch up with the technology, teachers will be able to check HWKs (and for that matter classworks) on-line, provide feedback to the kids, and modify their lesson plans if necessary, BEFORE the next lesson.

4. It is an absolute MUST that schools should publish their schemes of work in Easy English over their VLEs but preferably within the ePortfolio scaffolding, so that any parent, carer or mentor can help the child to understand 'where they are, where they want to go to and by what processes they will get there'. These should be specifically and constructively written for every subject area. Schools must recognise the benefits of 'the Home-School Nexus'.

However, rather than just describing the ePortfolio as a tool to support 'good practice', another approach would be to try and identify the prefered educational outcomes - and then decide what tools could best achieve the required results. Below are two fundamental questions and my suggested responses:

Q) What do parents, governors and politicians think ought to happen more or better to create better learning?

A: Pupils should be more engaged with their learning and as a consequence would be more productive and would be more proud of the ownership of their learning. They should have access to their work 24/7 so that they can work as and when suits them.

Q) Imagine yourself saying "The use of ICT has got the pupils ?????????.......... so much more/so much better". What, as a teacher would you hope to see?

A: Children are now more able to explore safely for themselves. They know how to phrase the right questions when searching for information. They can learn things not immediately obvious from the school curriculum or exam syllabii. They communicate better with both their peers and teachers. They are more able to learn from and to provide feedback. They will not take one person's opinion as 'gospel' but will clarify/verify what they have been told. They are more aware of things happening around the world. They understand more about different cultures or mindsets. They understand that learning is not a 9-4 occupation but that learning happens all the time. They are more questioning - they will not take 'impossible' as an answer but will explore alternative solutions.

I can visualise so many scenarios where the use of a collaborative ePortfolio is the right place for all of these learning experiences - and possibly with no teacher in sight! And not only 'learning' but also reflection, internal adoption and, inevitably the pride of ownership of ones learning as seen through the showcasing of appropriate artefacts and reflections.

Friday, 29 October 2010

E-portfolios for apprentices

E-portfolios for apprentices: A guide for providers and employers. Available here.

This document, published last year by Becta is an important and well collated document. However, readers will soon be aware that it does not provide a clear sense of direction, but, as many reports do, it only describes the current mass of confusions relating to ePortfolios. The fundamental error, in my view, is that the authors still see different functions for ePortfolis relating to the varied perspectives of exam-boards, training-agencies, universities, FE colleges and employers. And thus one learner could be required to hold several different ePortfolios for different purposes - what a mess!

The opening statement in their conclusion is indicative:
"This report has reviewed the existing published information and guidance on e-portfolios as they relate to apprenticeship programmes. It is evident that there is a considerable body of information on e-portfolios but very little of it is targeted at providers and employers offering apprenticeships or at apprentices themselves."

My question therefore is 'if the education providers, the employers and the apprentices themselves do not know about ePortfolios then, who on earth does???'

Perhaps the Australian work on VET should be given better publicity here in the UK? Click here for more from the Australian Flexible Learning Network

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Captivating the young

Cartoon: 'Writer' from DreamstimeToo often people like the one in this cartoon think about ePortfolios from a technical standpoint or in terms of HE and FE, or upskilling of the workforce. It’s time we started focussing more on what we should be providing in terms of ePortfolios for our children.

I was pleasantly reminded of this by a long response that I got from Tricia Lockhart:

"As far as portfolios are concerned I share your frustration. Back in 1998 I came across primary schools where the year 6 pupils took with them a disc (almost a portfolio) of their work and skills to the secondary school who did not really know how to deal with it and so many of to-days schools have still not really got there.

"My exam boards talked about portfolios and so I made sure we were ready - only to find that firstly they delayed (because some schools were not ready) and then they gave a straightjacket of a structure or a theme which failed to understand what a portfolio really was (for example, we were allowed no external links yet these indicated the discoveries and hence journey of the students). They gave a context of a time capsule (the standalone portfolio would be found in a hundred years) and then failed to consider the reality of that - would the hardware and software still be decipherable. The logical failings of the task undermined what the students were doing. Imaginative schools and students were held back by rather unnecessary barriers. We had to change their online, working portfolio to make a stunted offline version for the exam board. Variety and opportunity must surely be the key - in a system that screams 'differentiation' why must assessment scream 'uniformity'?

"I worked with a year 4 lad, reluctant to read and write though quite clever and able he really did not have the motivation to navigate through the boring (to him) bits. In his spare time the call of the outside space and football lured him away. There were exceptions (The excellent Ways to Live Forever by Sally Nicholls). However, when he was given the role of a sports reporter, the zeal and attention to detail as he researched what to include, selected what to say and reworded how to say it, recorded then rerecorded (voluntarily saying there needed to be more expression or it needed to be slower) made him look like the most industrious and studious learner. The pride with which he then shared the resulting podcast with grandparents and peers was wonderful and of course was further motivation. This was just an audio production with a picture of the reporter as an image. (Hats and glasses are fun to wear and give some anonymity plus a 'stage name') Other examples I have are the 2 girls who made a news report and had used chroma key so they on their 'studio' chairs were in front with suitable footage behind. Sharing the result widely is so important.

"The way that parents and others can be integrated into the whole process is also important. Over recent years the way our assessments have been a barrier to parents fully understanding what is happening and then needs to happen means we have diluted the help from the most important allies teachers have - parents.

"Yes we need to make students aware of the problems and the need for security but not at the cost of the possible advantages. We also need to get some perspective - local papers of full of the pictures of all children who start primary school, smiling faces and names included. Electronic sources are not the only risk factors."

How I agree with everything Tricia has said above. I believe that the eFolio solution meets all of her criteria. eFolio is user-friendly, configurable to one's own self image and, above all is extremely e-safe and not 'discoverable' by any search engine until such time as the owner wishes to make a page 'public'.

Do other readers have similar stories of bureaucratic failure to deliver what our youngsters need? Are we not missing out by not captivating the young?

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Be Very Afraid

Logo of the 'Be Very Afraid' websiteI don’t know what ‘blind spot’ has caused me to pay less attention than I should have done on this work by Prof Stephen Heppell. Perhaps it was an assumption on my part that it was all about an emphasis on the video community.

However, the BVA website provides an immense number of exemplars of what young people can do, given the chance. This ‘short’ gives a brief summary of what BVA is all about.

It will take a number of hours to work through all the excellent material found here!

But I have included reference to BVA for one particular reason. The examples shown reveal good supervision, often in smaller groups and with plenty of technical support. However, in the real world children are often left to their own devices. Yes, OK for the more able and responsible student, but what of those who may be more vulnerable or careless about revealing their personal identity?

The one thing that struck me about all of the work illustrated is that it could be so safely contained and developed within the bounds of an ePortfolio system such as eFolio that allows materials to be shared within closed groups until such time as it may be made public. Being hosted externally, ie not within the confines of an institutional VLE, students may have access to their work 24/7 and not just within the classroom.


I have just received notification of the publication of an excellent research project, CAPITAL - Curriculum and Pedagogy in Technology Assisted Learning. 'Year 3 final report: Shaping Contexts to realise the potential of technologies to support learning.'

The document reads well and is full of up-to-date thinking in relation to the support of learning through contemporary technologies. However, for the sake of this blog, I thought that I would quote some of the references to ePortfolios that might whet your appetite to read further:

"In our work, we used the term 'E-assessment' to refer to any use of digital technology to support an evaluation of a student‟s progress in learning (any activity undertaken to gather and evaluate information about a student's learning). By including tools to gather and store information (e.g., e-portfolios) this term is broader than the definition of e-assessment provided by JISC (2007): “the end-to-end electronic assessment processes where ICT is used for the presentation of assessment and the recording of responses”.

"The guide provides many examples of successful use of e-testing and e-portfolios in assessment. In 2005, 26% of awarding bodies used e-assessment to deliver, on average, 29% of their assessment program (Thomson, 2005). In our interviews with leaders of awarding bodies, it was emphasised that efficiency gains are ultimately beneficial for the learner. E-assessment offers greater flexibility (different locations, different times), faster feedback, and reduction in administration costs (OCR, 2009; AQA, 2008). Also, by supporting the workload for human markers, assessment can be made more reliable. The e-learning company Epic argues that tests can be more consistent, relevant, reduce cheating and save marking time (Epic, 2010).

"However, these benefits described relate mostly to the efficiency gains of summative assessment. In contrast, the potential to assess a range of skills that is broader (e.g. using video to help assess drama), and more fully to integrate assessment into learning activities resonates with claims around the transformational potential of e-assessment..... One key tool that is gaining in appeal is the e-portfolio, which provides the means to store and organise a rich multimedia range of assessment evidence, integrating assessment material from sources such as digital cameras and mobile devices (e.g. Molenet, 2008). The e-scape project reported in our case study (Patterson, 2009a) also exemplifies the potential to integrate a richer range of materials for assessment.

"E-portfolios provide a structure for teachers and learners to store and share rich sources of assessment evidence, although they do not as yet provide quantifiable data or feedback themselves. They are currently mainly used for more work-based assessments that require portfolios of evidence. Consequently, their potential for adoption is more determined by the wider culture of assessment practice.

"It is also important to emphasise here that whilst summative assessment pressures may represent a significant barrier, tools to support formative assessment offer great potential. Indeed, a commitment to formative assessment was perceived as a key enabler in the successful use of e-portfolios in the e-Scape project.

"One key challenge is to change the culture of assessment where the requirements for summative assessment can unhelpfully drive practice. In this situation, there is a significant opportunity to develop assessment for learning, through diagnostic testing with rapid feedback, rich media assignments and feedback, and e-portfolios for self-reflection. There is also a need to support and assess learning over longer periods, through e-portfolios and activity logs."

I could go on with several more quotes... but you should read the whole report for a better overview!

The CAPITAL project produced a range of other reports and research findings during its life, and copies of all of these can be found on the website

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Hurdling Toward Campuswide E-Portfolios

"Some ambitious institutions are seeking to implement e-portfolios across all departments and disciplines, yet there are many barriers to overcome before such a practice gets the full participation of faculty, staff, and students." So wrote Dian Schaffhauser on 1st September in Campus Technology.

This is not a trivial article! Dian has written extensively, based on her research, of a number of institutions that are attempting to move towards institution-wide adoption of ePortfolios. It is interesting to note the different approaches and problems faced by a variety of institutions.

I thoroughly recommend that you allow time to study this article carefully, in its entirity, and consider how it applies to your own situation. I quote one page at length which illustrates just a little of Dian's accrued wisdom:

"Spread the Word

"If you are looking to preach the gospel of e-portfolios across your campus and achieve institution-wide adoption, here's guidance from those working to make that happen right now at their schools.

  • You may have to go through a few rounds of tools before settling on one that works for users.
  • Pilot projects are an efficient way to uncover the product that's right for your environment.
  • E-portfolio labs can provide technical and conceptual support for both students and faculty.
  • Outfit them with the equipment and programs people need to capture their artifacts, and staff them with students who have become expert in developing their own portfolios and can speak to the value of the effort.
  • Refer reticent faculty to other members of their department who have bought into the value of e-portfolios. These testimonials don't have to be 100 percent complimentary, but they'll have an authenticity that frequently encourages naysayers to listen.
  • Consider a single entry point--a required class or workshop--to train new students on e-portfolio practices. If that's not possible, look for integration within classes that reach large segments of your student population.
  • Faculty need to hear about e-portfolios a lot. Seek out opportunities to repeat your messages everywhere they congregate. Tying training to existing professional development opportunities or faculty programs offers many benefits--not least of which, they'll be your captive audience.
  • Consider how many learning objectives or competencies are included. Too many, and the endeavor threatens to become a to-do list instead of cause for reflection.
  • Broad e-portfolio initiatives are typically tied to changes in learning assessment practices, which call for changes in teaching. In other words, they're all part of a cultural shift on campus, and those don't happen overnight. Rather than going gangbusters, start small, work with pilot areas, communicate success, and expand from there. Make sure to keep a reasonable timeframe.
  • Students provide the best sales pitch. Look for opportunities to showcase their portfolio work; consider holding competitions and highlighting the best examples."
Dian has collected together much practical advice, most of which will be relevant according to all situations, age-groups and abilities. However, as I have attempted to point out on more than one occasion, 'It is no good trying to patch new cloth into old garments or new wine into old wine-skins.' Until the teaching styles of our Faculty change and until students are permitted the tools to facilitate collaborative learning, until assessment and feedback strategies are brought up to date and until ePortfolios REALY become learner-owned, the wholesale adoption of ePortfolios is still bound to make slow progress.

If only Dian's message (and mine) could be made compulsory reading for all Faculty!

Monday, 11 October 2010

Garbage in, garbage out

Photo: Three garbage bins neatly arranged for sorting rubbishAs long as I can remember within my teaching career, the acronym, GIGO, has not been far from my lips when describing the data-processing activities of some of my students. Students should be clear in their own minds concerning the nature and purpose of data, how they should organise its storage and how they should present their findings. What is true for the collection and storage of data and its subsequent analysis is equally true of ePortfolio management.

This idea came to me as I read the recent Campus Technology article by Trent Batson, 'Reviewers Unhappy with Portfolio 'Stuff' Demand Evidence'. His opening paragraph illustrates the problem:

Enough is enough,” say faculty members reviewing portfolio reports that resemble scrapbooks. “Where is the analysis?” they ask. “Where is the thinking?” Evidence-based learning concepts offer a way to re-frame the portfolio process so it produces meaningful and assessable evidence of achievement.

As I have repeatedly said, "The ePortfolio is not a pantechnicon of all of one's learning but rather that selection of artefacts, with explanation and reflection, that is appropriate for a selected audience."

The following comment that I made in response to Trent's article might sound a bit dogmatic, but I do feel for the faculty members who are struggling to make sense of poorly presented work:

"It's not so much that the ePortfolio can do so many things (and more) but that the learner should be capable of writing for a particular audience - after all we even teach 10yr-olds about 'audience'. Certainly, the ePortfolio as an application should be capable of allowing the learner to organise and present selected artefacts with reflections etc - I would not even look at an ePortfolio that did not recognise this simple courtesy. However, the conclusions that I reach following Trent's excellent article are simple: Faculty should know what they are asking of the students in the first place and secondly, should be providing appropriate guidance before allowing this mess to occur."

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Teaching Tech-Savvy Kids

Image: Book cover: Teaching Tech-Savvy KidsAlthough written primarily for an American readership this book represents a breakthrough in making sense of an often mysterious and arcane world of Web2.0 and Digital Media. It should be compulsory reading for all involved in the education of our children throughout the world. Although, frustratingly, the book does not mention ePortfolios, all of the references to digital media can be seen as tools and artefacts which can be so eloquently presented through the medium of the ePortfolio.

The book is of equal benefit to parents, teachers and educational technologists. It brings into sharp contrast the massive potential that young students have today and the often sad failure of educationists to recognise it.

The two strap-lines, 'Bringing Digital Media Into the Classroom, Grades 5-12' and 'Students are plugged in, powered up, and connected. ARE YOU?' says it all.

Based on well-researched materials Jessica Parker writes with the expertise of a classroom teacher (as she was for many years) combined with that of an assistant university professor (as she is now - BA Media Studies, MA and PhD in Education).

Liberally appended to each chapter are impressive lists of references and helpful resources along with a very useful glossary and a comprehensive index. As one reviewer states:

"Until we understand the powerful learning, collaborating and producing that teenagers do with their cell-phones, MP3 players, laptops and the Internet, we won't understand how we can best utilise those technologies in our classrooms. Whether you're a digital native new to the classroom or a veteran teacher struggling to learn your students' Internet lingo, this book is your guide to 21st-century teenagers, literacy and learning. After 17 years of teaching middle-school English, I know that I can't teach literacy today without this book."

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Eportfolios for Lifelong Learning and Assessment

Darren Cambridge's latest book is not meant to be an easy read but, as far as academic books go, Darren has made a detailed and wide ranging study quite addictive. He writes authoritatively and, what's more, each chapter is full of up-to-date examples of case-studies and a real understanding of the new approach to teaching and learning.

Despite writing primarily for the higher echelons of academia, much of what he writes about can equally be applied to all levels of teaching and learning:

"Lifelong learning is an ongoing process of developing knowledge, skills and strategies; putting capabilities and self-understanding into action over time; and thereby establishing an identity. To support lifelong learning, higher education needs to look beyond the content knowledge, practical techniques, and professional capabilities that have been its primary focus. Colleges and universities need to commit to helping students craft identities that reflect their own values and equip students to put that self-understanding to work in their communities and the rest of the world."

At €39.36 the e-book is not cheap and the format does not easily lend itself to the annotations and hyperlinks I usually like to add to a document that I am studying. For further details click here. However, that one slight grumble off my chest, I found the book to be informative, challenging and quite encouraging. Further to Darren's comment, (see comments below) check out the Amazon pre-order offer, click here. UPDATE (13 Oct): The book in hardcover format is now available direct from Wiley at £26.99 (much better value for money!)

One last quotation must suffice which exemplifies Cambridge's clear sense of the convergence of teaching and learning, the wider world, present technological developments and the place that ePortfolios must take:

"Rather than simply supporting their students ’ learning, colleges and universities should put their expertise and infrastructures to work in partnership with other institutions — schools, employers, government agencies, community service organizations — to improve the quality of learning in the many distributed contexts in which it must occur for individuals to prosper in our rapidly changing world. Through helping individuals articulate their distinctive identities in order to chart the paths of their learning and influence the shape of the institutions in which they learn, eportfolios have a central role to play in the learning society that higher education can help bring into being."

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Functionality for VET

Graphic from a 3-D 'Wordle-type' list of some appsI was recently asked to suggest what functionality I would expect for a VET (Vocational Education & Training) ePortfolio. Here is my revised list of suggestions. What do you think?

Firstly, and most importantly, I see the ePortfolio as generating ‘Pride of Ownership’. The ePortfolio is a student directed self-representation and as such is a selection of those artefacts, reflections and opinions that the learner chooses to share. The ePortfolio is NOT therefore the totality of all learning experiences, resources and scrap exercises that one amasses in college. – Those are best stored for the duration of the course within the MLE. In terms of functionality, therefore, the ePortfolio allows the learner to select what they choose to present.

Secondly, and related to the above, the student should be capable of organising the layout of pages in a logical order, of providing links to external repositories. Sometimes a recording of a dialogue as in an extended blogpost with comments might be in a linear or chronological order or sometimes by topics. Tagging should be appropriate to the learner’s needs.

Related to #2, the templates, colour schemes, fonts and graphical features should be capable of being selected by the owner to further reflect the learner's style or self-image.

Rich Media
A good ePortfolio system should be capable of displaying any media type. If 'a picture is worth a thousand words' - how much more a video or an audio recording? The number of quality media formats increases almost week on week and thus the ePortfolio system should not be limited to conventional 'Office' stereotypes. The ePortfolio may not be allowed unlimited storage capacity for every single media-file that the student may possess, but these can always be linked from external repositories.

Well, any lightweight tools that might assist productivity, such as a calendar or RSS feeds etc are useful. They also indicate something of the learner's approach to technology,

Some VET students on some courses may be minors or at least ‘transitional’. It is therefore necessary for minors, and in some cases for ‘adults’, that the ePortfolio is capable of security and easy selection of audiences. It should be possible for different parts of the ePortfolio to be seen by different audiences and at controlled times.

Personal Data
Related to ‘Security’ is the whole matter of how much personal data the learner chooses to record within their ePortfolio. Certainly there is seen to be a great advantage if the student is encouraged to keep their own personal data up-to-date within their ePortfolio. Typically, change of address, contact numbers, change of name or next of kin, external qualifications etc can all be easily and immediately updated within their ePortfolio and appropriately exported to the institution’s MLE or MIS. Other background information about family commitments, travel arrangements, previous academic progress etc are also useful for a tutor or mentor to see – if the student chooses to give those permissions.

As part of the learning process, the ability to work in teams, to share ideas, and to benefit from peer-review and thus reflection, it is essential that, as above, the learner can choose who has access to pages within their ePortfolio for the purpose of mutual stimulus.

Feedback should be at times fun, stimulating and yet at other times supportive. It is therefore essential that a number of feedback tools eg for polls, surveys, comments or Likert Scales are embedded within the ePortfolio.

Audit Log
Traceability or the possibility of tracking ‘who said what and when’ is a useful tool within the educational process. Not only should tutors be able to see the record of their feedback to the learner – and how they have responded to the comments - but similarly, learners should be capable of evidencing the actual comments from peers, warts ’n all, and record how they have reacted to advice given.

The ePortfolio should be capable of scaffolding in terms of the degree of guidance tutors may wish to give their students. Admittedly a larger proportion of guidance, resources and assessment tools etc should be held within the MLE. However initial guidance and links to the MLE so as to get the student started can be embedded with the ePortfolio. As ‘scaffolding’ this can be dismounted as and when the student feels able to do without it.

A PLE (Personal Learning Environment) ?
For some students the functionality of the ePortfolio can be more closely related to their learning styles. Some may see the ePortfolio as a 'Planner', their 'to-do' lists or a 'scrapbook'. Others may be skilled enough to provoke and record multiple conversations related to different subjects within their course. Yet others will use the ePortfolio as a mobile desktop with all their favourites, links or family photos. In each case, the ePortfolio is their comfortable 'friend' or 'butler' (to quote from Helen Barrett's Metaphors).

If the ePortfolio is to take off then there needs to be engendered some sense of ownership and purpose. Not only ‘showcasing’ whilst on a course of study, but also capable of being useful to the owner in years or decades to come. 'Lifelong Learning' is not just something lecturers talk about, it's something that students actually do! The collection and collation of artefacts lend themselves to building up an ever-expanding life-story which is an invaluable aid to reflection.

It is logical that a class, cohort or whole school would use the same ePortfolio - and yet any such scenario will include students having a range of abilities and needs. If the ePortfolio is to be truly 'Lifewide' it should meet the needs of all abilities, from the potential PhD student, to those with accessibility requirements or to the shop-floor assistant with special learning needs. Technically, therefore the ePortfolio should be simple to use and yet capable of 'advanced' features that the more curious can access.

Related to Longevity is the whole business of Portability, ie the ability for a student to ‘take their ePortfolio with them’ from one institution to another, and sometimes attending two or more institutions at the same time, moving on from one job to another and even ‘between jobs’.

Well, it’s an easier word than ‘metamorphosis’ ! If ‘portability’ is added to ‘ownership’, ‘organisation’ and ‘formatting’, it therefore becomes obvious that the efforts and self-image of the owner will mature with age. – Certainly the ambitious imaginations of a teenager will mature into the more professional self-representation of an experienced adult. Another aspect of 'metamorphosis' that I sometimes use is that of the chameleon, not so much for 'camouflage' but rather that of adjusting to circumstances and audience. The 'view' I might present to a junior audience would inevitably be quite different to that which I might present to a professional interview panel.

Multiple Personas
Any learner has more than one side to their life. The student may choose to represent themselves to their friends as a fun-loving musician. To others, as a serious and sensitive craftsman. To others, a healthy sportsman and energetic worker. To others, a budding theologian or conservationist. Although there may be several areas of overlap, the way one chooses to represent him/herself to a selected audience is important. There is no value in throwing everything at a potential employer, for instance, who only wants to see a certain selection from the above list. The ePortfolio should therefore be capable of displaying these different ‘personas’ or ‘views’ using appropriate pages from the one bank of resources within the ePortfolio.

Over and above educational support, a good ePortfolio system will have a range of support services including context sensitive help, on-line help, forums, hot-desk technical support and, where required, progressive upgrading without the usual demand to buy extra add-ons etc.

As yet this is not a realistic function in terms of all the above requirements. Far too many vendors of ‘in house’ systems claim that their product will export through IMS or Leap2A. However, such promises leave much to be desired. The export/import function only transfers a zip-file of pre-configured artefacts which are then dumped to the new system and the learner then has to start from scratch and re-build their new ePortfolio to the standards of layout and ‘cosmeticisation’ that the owner believes best represents themselves.

(Double-click on this image to get a larger view)

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

And now for something different

I thought that, for a change, I would show this montage put together using PhotoPeach. Not that I am getting any commission.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Lynne Groves and Trent Batson at Collab Tech 2010

Photo:  Lynne Groves and Trent BatsonA useful video by Lynne Groves of eFolioWorld and Trent Batson of AAEEBL recorded at Collab Tech 2010. This is a practical discussion of ePortfolio pedagogies and processes. Please click the graphic to see the YouTube presentation. Both speakers emphasise the point that teaching must change, not because of the ePortfolio so much but rather that the ePortfolio allows both teachers and students to better perform unshackled by the traditional classroom environment.

Only one minor point of disagreement with Trent Batson, where he suggests that institutions might want to use different ePortfolios for different purposes. NO! The whole point of eFolio (which he missed) is that eFolio can be used for a variety of different purposes, showing to different audiences different views or personas of the learner.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

E-Portfolios: The Joys of Disruption

Snapshot from the Quinnipiac conference Darren Cambridge is a well known voice in the ePortfolio world and has authored or co-authored several helpful books. The YouTube Recording, of his presentation on 23rd August, at one 1hr and 40 mins takes some dedication to follow - I just feel for the people in the audience! What he said was good if not new to many who regularly read this blog.

Early on in his presentation Darren claimed that ePortfolios evolved from paper-based 'Writing Programs' and the need to teach writing skills in the 80's. This flies in the face of the work of Dr Helen Barrett and her identification of portfolio practice based on young children's 'shoeboxes' in the 70's or my own experience of presenting portfolios of work in the 60's for Design and Technology courses.

The presentation was frank and at times honestly brutal in terms of the 'extra' work that staff would need to undertake. What he did not mention, as far as I could detect, was the fact that the ePortfolio system actually helps staff to save time: having access when convenient, being able to provide feedback before a student might find himself 'up a blind alley', being able to quickly route to areas of particular interest, etc. On the other hand, Darren did point out the fact that the ePortfolio allows teachers to see the whole picture of the learner, their interests and background.

As a 'stand alone' presentation I just felt that he presented too many negatives. However, within the context of a larger workshop conference I hope that delegates found more things that excited them and where they could see how the ePortfolio can actually enhance Teaching and Learning.

The term ‘Disruptive Technology’ is only true where it is an indictment of outmoded pedagogies. For institutions that have emerged from the dark ages and have been using Web2.0 technologies and liberated Teaching & Learning styles the introduction of an ePortfolio facility could rather be seen as an ‘answer to a maiden’s prayer’. I’m trying to think of the best antonym to ‘disruptive’ – we need a word that combines supportive, energising, and challenging or provocative.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

SALTIS - Supporting Interoperability

Video title page for SALTIS on interoperabilityInteroperability is not the first thing that should come to mind when considering eFolio. For that matter I would be the first to confess that the subject of interoperability is not easy. And for the eFolio beginner it is not even necessary to pronounce the word, nevermind use any interoperability tools. As Crispin Weston so clearly describes, there are still a number of years to go and a lot of brain-numbing work to do before the whole issue of 'Content Packaging' and the exporting and importing of resources might be come user friendly.

However, the above video is far too good to be ignored by anyone who has ICT responsibilities in a school or college. Please click the above graphic to see the video.

For more about the work of SALTIS, please click here.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

A Professional ePortfolio

Photo: Dr Eric ForsythI recently came across the eFolio of Eric Forsyth, Ph.D. - which I soon realised is an example of all that I would expect from a mature educator. Too often we see at conferences incomplete examples of students' attempts at an ePortfolio, of Pilots and sample pages, but rarely something which could dignify professional status.

In particular I like the simple layout and menu system of eFolio which allows different audiences to target immediately on the features that concern them. For those professionals (of whatever age) that have five minutes to spare, I would suggest that you browse Eric Forsyth's eFolio and then reflect on how you and your colleagues could better represent themselves through an eFolio - it is a cathartic experience!

There are so many areas of experience or expertise which, on reflection, we forget to mention. A personal eFolio is just the place to gather all one's personal and professional strengths into one place. eFolio can be added to or edited at any time or, as I have said elsewhere, can be re-formatted for different audiences. eFolio just keeps on growing with the owner.

BUT, if you as a professional could better represent yourself through such an ePortfolio, how much more your students? It seems obvious to me that the safe collaborative environment that eFolio provides is the perfect antidote to a less than constructive FaceBook or MySpace mania.

Friday, 27 August 2010

The Complexity of Implementing e-Portfolios

Snapshots of Lisa and Gordon taken from the videoThe title of this post is taken from the post written by Vic Jenkins at the University of Bath reporting on the recent Keynote presented by Lisa Gray (JISC) and Gordon Joyes (University of Nottingham). I found the title challenging enough, but the actual post is even more challenging and needs some careful understanding. The video was well put together (despite the audio feedback!) - and I found myself viewing it over and over again.

Some five 'Threshold Concepts' are listed, each followed by a number of claimed 'preconceptions'. However, as I commented on Vic's post, I suspect that many (but not all) of the issues raised by the 'preconceptions' are nothing to do with ePortfolio design or lack of it, but rather echoes of traditional teaching and learning styles which need to be thrown out before ePortfolios can be introduced.

One thing that continues to worry me, as reflected in the Presentation, is the belief that an ePortfolio system is the sole tenure of HEIs, as this again colours much of the published ePortfolio thinking. I really do wish that more ePortfolio evangelists would look beyond the silos within which they work or that they might look beyond the remit of a constraining research grant.

If an ePortfolio is really 'for life' then it cannot be weighed down with built-in assessment tools, whole schemes of work, every artefact generated over four years, every blog-post and feedback or made so technically complex that a 5yr-old or aged granny cannot use it.

Don't get me wrong, I have every praise for the work that JISC in particular does do. But I really do hope that we can come to some sort of consensus as to the simplicity that an ePortfolio such as eFolio can offer.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Student-Centered Learning: Target or Locus for Universities?

Trent Batson always writes both eloquent and very relevant articles and this is no exception. I quote but three brief paragraphs from a very challenging post:

"Student-centered learning has been largely a rhetorical distinction for decades - e.g., more group work or less group work - because, practically speaking, everything happened in the classroom. But now, student-centered learning has, as a concept, particularly in the past five years, come to encompass a vastly wider variety of choices, about how to design and plan for it.

"Now, the distinction is not just rhetorical, but a life style distinction: scarcity learning (content delivery) in the classroom or abundance learning (discovery) often out in real-world situations. In scarcity learning, the student is the target for delivery systems, while in abundance learning the student is the locus, the starting point, of learning.

"Higher education has unwittingly chosen to use the very technologies that have changed our broader economy to resist change in education. In the free market, in society, people are choosing to use technology inventively and boldly, but in the controlled market of the academy, administrators limit the technology options and proceed without imagination or courage, except in rare cases."

The points that Trent identifies have worried me for over a decade now. My son left High-School at the age of 16 with 11 good GCSE grades hoping to do even better at College. Unfortunately he found the lecturers dull and in his estimation not always competent in their subjects. The textbooks that he was supposed to work from were generally out of date (and expensive) and the coursework moronically boring. Invariably, in his Computing classes, he found himself supporting other learners rather than extending his own competencies. It was not long before he left in disgust.

My concern at that time was simple: "Why should we encourage our pupils to be bright enquiring collaborative learners if all their new learning skills were to be 'rubbished' by the colleges and universities?"

Fourteen years later it would appear that the same scenario still exists. Trent's conclusions need careful contemplation - and application, not only in HE but also in mainstream education.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Ewan MacIntosh on 'sharing'

Screenshot: Ewan MacIntosh
Ewan neatly presents the argument for pupils collaborating in their learning. This is an excellent video and at less than 4 minutes expresses concisely what in my view an ePortfolio is all about.

However, before teachers new to ePortfolios start clamouring for full openness we need to think of some of the preconditions. Ewan identifies three possible sharing scenarios, ie within the whole class, within the whole school or the ultimate sharing scenario of the whole world. This might be OK for adult learners, but I would put in a plea for establishing proper safeguards.

With eFolio, of course there is a better solution, that of steadily expanding one's audience as situations demand and even allowing different audiences to see only selected items.

Children need to be taught about what I call 'Digital Responsibility'. Firstly this involves understanding how to ensure that personal information is not given gratuitously to strangers. But secondly, information posted on one's ePortfolio should be legitimately presented and not defamatory of any third person or their works. And thirdly, and most importantly, if legal action is not to be incurred, that sources should always be properly quoted.

Even recognising the above, I feel that there is still firstly a place for teaching about Digital Responsibility, including some form of contractual AUP and secondly, an obligation for schools to have in place an appropriate level of filtering and monitoring which will vary from school to school.

And lastly, parents should be seen to have a clear understanding of what their offspring are up to, at school, at home and elsewhere when not directly supervised. A recent post on 'The Declaration of Digital Citizenship' makes interesting reading.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Going round in circles?

Graphic: Yin and YangI am becoming increasingly frustrated by authors who seem to think that the ePortfolio is just another assessment tool to be used in similar ways to previous summative assessment methods. Secondly, it seems that these same authors perceive the ePortfolio to be an institutional tool and as such propose that it should be the (only?) course management tool.

Several years ago I wrote an article 'Who's hijacking our ePortfolios?' In that document I describe a wide range of stakeholders who might think that they have the right to determine how and when an ePortfolio is used. Years later, I still maintain that it is not the place of any institution to assume that they can take control of how an ePortfolio is used and, for that matter, how many students might choose to use their ePortfolio for that particular subject or module. The recent article by Tracy Penny Light illustrates this whole unfortunate mentality. Unless the ePortfolio is deemed to be the property of the learner it can hardly be said to represent the 'whole person'.

The second thing that Tracy Penny Light fails to mention is the place of formative assessment or feedback - what I have called elsewhere, 'Just in Time feedback'. Feedback, an essential part of Web2.0 thinking, is of the essence of learning, as I often mention in this blog. As Trent Batson recognised in 'The testing Straightjacket', it is the process of discovery learning that embeds true learning and that may come from the feedback of parents, peers, mentors, or even other experts. Without this, assessment is no more than testing and thus students only learn in order to meet the assessment criteria, and teachers only assess what they have delivered. A closed or circular argument if ever there was one!

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

ePortfolios in the U.S.: Slowly Catching on

Dreamstime Image: Girl thinking at laptopFor an independent view of the ePortfolio scene I have asked Kate Cunningham (see below) to present her views of ePortfolio progress in the US. This is a frank summation, uncluttered by the wishful thinking of ePortfolio evangelists or student enthusiasts. Read on!

While ePortfolios have gained popularity throughout the globe as the future of learning and presentation, their institutional implementation across the American school system is sadly lacking. In fact, ePortfolios do not have broad base use in higher education, although about 100 institutions represented themselves at a recent global technology conference to talk about ePortfolios.

There are, of course, Virtual Learning Environments in different American Universities. I only recently graduated from an American institution of higher learning, and it was here that the school's specific VLE, powered by the Sakai Project, was used. While the tools provided through this specific VLE were functional enough, I was taken aback by how little it was used.

When I asked friends attending different universities, the extent to which they used a VLE was just as minimal. Of course, the VLE was certainly popularly employed for the dissemination of grades, the uploading of assignments, and the downloading of various course texts. However, for the sake of preserving student work, creating multi-format presentations, or accomplishing anything that would be of a lasting nature, university IT tools were short of the mark.

Wikis are more commonly used within the university structure, although, again they are not implemented on a basis that crosses through courses. In my experience, certain professors asked their students to use Wikis, but most didn't. In one specific course that stands out in my mind, we used a Wiki not just as a place to post assignments but also as a presentational platform to show our work to everyone in the class, as well as to work together on group projects by editing pages together.

While the ePortfolio idea has not yet taken off in the United States, Campus Technology, an American monthly dedicated solely to the use of technology in institutions of higher education, reported in July on the AAEEBL's first world conference set in Boston. The AAEEBL, which stands for The Association for Authentic, Experiential, and Evidence-Based Learning, convened to discuss the nature of "a profoundly disruptive technology"--ePortfolios.

The article noted:

“With the advent of AAEEBL, a global collaborative, the portfolio conversation has quickened, deepened, and broadened. Now, well past the trough of disappointment portfolio has a global association affiliated with all existing portfolio initiatives and organizations. The work is just beginning.”

Indeed, the work is just beginning, but now that more and more are talking about ePortfolios and their powerful learning tools, comprehensive implementation will be the next step. It will certainly take some time.

This guest post is contributed by Kate Cunningham, who writes on the topics of online university rankings. She welcomes your questions and comments at her email Id: .

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Learning Through Life

Book Cover: Learning Throgh LifeI've just started catching up on my 'holiday reading' and feel most remiss in that I have not previously read 'Learning Through Life' despite it having been published last year. On almost every page there are profound observations which, when added together, create a storm of conscience. It is the well-know scenario of "The rich get richer and the poor get poorer." or in this case, the educated continue to learn more, and thus enhance their lifestyles, whilst the less well-educated find themselves falling further behind. Is this really the right response to the Leitch Report?

I particularly like the abiguity of the title - ie Learning Throughout Life, or Learning From Life.

However, as regular readers will recognise, I keep on feeling a sense of frustration in that, in my opinion, the solution to many of the issues raised is THE EPORTFOLIO ! It talks (p5) of 'Local Learning Exchanges' but fails to recognise the place of virtual communities and thus the place of ePortfolios as supporting 'Communities of Interest'.

I cannot find any references to 'Learning Styles' or 'Multiple Intelligences'. This, again, is important. We need to understand how people not only of different 'attitudes' or life-styles learn but how age might influence learners' preferred learning styles.

RAPEL The Recording and Assessment of Prior and Experiential Learning appears not to be considered. Again, the ePortfolio is an excellent way of encouraging a learner to document a wide variety of experiences and accomplishments that a mentor might recognise as worth recording and submitting through one's ePortfolio in order to get a foothold on the 'Learning Ladder'.

Above all, I get the feeling that the authors still feel that institutional teaching and learning is the only solution. We read (P8) of the 'personalisation' of learning, ie as delivered by the institution, but not of 'personal learning' as devised by the individual. - See Wendy Drexler's article.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Multimedia and ePortfolios

Photo: A group of children around a laptop in their classroom.I have just read an excellent article by Barbara Schroeder extolling the virtues of using multimedia in the classroom. But why the empasis on the 'Classroom'? Why not everywhere? Why not at home? Why not on a long car journey or on the bus to school? And certainly why not in their ePortfolios?

Many of the features of Multiple Intelligences, motivation, collaboration and peer-review etc hinted at in her post I have previously attempted to address in this blog. As I have said elsewhere, "If a picture is worth a thousand words, what value can we put on a video!" - Or for that matter any other graphical or aural media?

Thank you, Barbara, and GGfL for an excellent promotion of all that is so educationally apposite about using multimedia in ePortfolios as well as the classroom.

Friday, 30 July 2010

ePortfolios – still trialling? Why?

Graphic: Jigsaw piecesDarren Lott recently raised the above question in his blog. Funnily enough, the questions that he raises are very similar to the issues that I tried to address at both the EIfEL and AAEEBL conferences earlier this month.

However, Darren's enthusiasm for wanting to get going highlights a recurring issue, that of individual organisations 'doing their own thing'. It is essential that if a true Lifelong and Lifewide ePortfolio is to continue throughout life, 'From cradle to grave' then the practicalities of how that ePortfolio can evolve with the maturing lifestyle and interests of the learner need to be explored.

Firstly, all of the ePortfolio 'pages', the welcome page in particular, should be capable of repeated re-formatting with appropriate graphics, colour schemes, fonts and widgets etc. As I have said before, the immediate impact that an 11yr-old (or even a 5yr-old) may wish to convey will be quite different to that of a young professional trying to get on in the world. It is similarly true for the teenager whose overriding passion is for a particular football team or pop group - and what happens when they change their loyalties?

Secondly, and following on from the first point, I believe that a good ePortfolio should be capable of presenting different views or 'personas' to different audiences. Using the one ePortfolio and dipping into a common set of artefacts, which have been stored once, the owner can represent him/herself in different ways to different audiences. How I represent myself to my pupils at school or to my professional colleagues, to my church group or to a charitable organisation might all be very different. Should I therefore be using four or more different ePortfolios in order to present each persona?

Thirdly, as I have said many times before, the ePortfolio is Learner Owned. It is appreciated that initially the ePortfolio may be provided by an institution and even fitted out with some appropriate level of scaffolding. However, like an exercise book, once the learner has used the exercise book, or decided to use a ring-file etc, it inherently becomes the property of the learner and is kept for perpetuity. (How many of us still have some of our old exercise books stored away in the attic?)

Fourthly, the question of 'transition' must be addressed. One of the reasons for so many pilots and reports of mixed feelings towards adoption arises when the student leaves their school or college to join another academic institution. It is a common experience that the 'new' school will have a different ePortfolio system. They get to the new institution only to find that the promised 'interoperability' does not deliver the student's anticipated ePortfolio intact but rather find it 'broken' into a number of separate files, some unrecogniseable. The student is then faced with the unenviable task of having to re-build their lovingly crafted ePortfolio all over again. I can just imagine the feelings of rebellion that some of my more rebellious teenagers or 'neets' would think! But even worse still, what would happen to the child's work when moving from Primary school to Secondary school? Who would do the exporting and who would do the importing? Who would do the re-building and having to learn a new ePortfolio system?

Following on from the above is the slightly different aspect of 'portability', ie where the learner has possession of their ePortfolio and wishes to show it to others. Many institutions are not willing to host their alumnis' ePortfolios for perpetuity and thus the whole arguments concerning PDP and showcasing fall down. Many graduates, for instance, may not move seemlesly from University straight into employment, they may choose a 'gap-year' or take on some part-time work whilst they get their social life sorted out. Others may be 'between jobs' for a considerable period of time - all when they might want to work on their ePortfolios but not be part of an academic institution willing to host their work. Please see the example of an eFolio student who graduated several years ago. Her eFolio remains intact and up-to-date as it is hosted externally to any institution and certainly external to her present place of work. It is completely 'mobile' and is accessible from anywhere in the world.

Finally, there is the whole question of Assessment. There are a number of good assessment tools that work very well when attached to the MIS of the VLE or LMS - and that, in my opinion is where they should be kept. Unfortuanately there has become established a tradition that particular subject-specific training organisations provide their students with an on-line learning pack which is a combination of a course management tool, a personal log, a collaboration tool, a sophisticated testing and assessment tool, all rolled into one and called an 'ePortfolio'. Such a tool is hardly 'learner owned' and has little value as a showcasing or reflection tool for lifelong learning.

So, in response to Darren's enthusiasm, I would suggest that we look more carefully at the long-term expectations one may have of an ePortfolio before committing to a product which is bound to fail several criteria.