For some time now I have been getting increasingly frustrated by the large number of mainly HE institutions who are continuing to promulgate e-Portfolio theory and practice which is increasingly looking some ten years out of date. I have therefore coined the hardly original acronym of 2G eP, pleading for a second generation approach to e-Portfolios, starting afresh from first principles rather than basing ideas on outmoded thinking.
Despite all the intelligence, wisdom and experience of our noble institutions it would appear that educationists are still saying, 'Here is a tool, what can we do with it?' rather than teachers saying to the developers, 'This is what we want to do, get on and give us what we want.' Quite frankly, eFolio can provide all the facilities that an e-Portfolio should deliver but, for now, let's just explore what we do really require.
Perhaps the most immediate requirement is for some clarity. There is presently far too much confusion about the separate functions of a VLE and an e-Portfolio. Course management, and information about assessment criteria are surely the responsibility of the institution. Where helpful to the student one might accept that a copy of assessment criteria could be held within the e-Portfolio but with a good VLE that is hardly necessary. Otherwise, the e-Portfolio should be seen as learner-owned, separate to the VLE and the implications of this need to be fully explored.
The argument has been made that the e-Portfolio is inevitably institutionally based as it is designed to meet the needs of a particular course and even a function within that course. This again is 'tool thinking' rather than 'user-thinking' or 'meeting the variety of needs of each individual'. I raise these issues in my document, first published some two years ago: 'Who's hijacking our e-Portfolios?' To sum up a seven-page article in one sentence: e-Portfolio thinking should not be defined by conventional capabilities but by modern teaching and learning theory. In this regard, a better understanding of collaboration, of peer review and the general benefits of web2.0 will begin to influence the way staff manage formative assessments and the general monitoring of student progress.
Another challenge to take-up across all academic stages is that of the FE institutions. If HE can be seen as having a silo-mentality when it comes to e-Portfolios then FE must be considered as doubly disruptive. My paper, 'A Bridge too Far?' considers the whole situation in 6th-forms and FE colleges. It has been argued that FE has a higher percentage of older teachers and lecturers – this may be marginally true but is still no excuse for the serious lack of CPD supported in FE.
The beauty of eFolio is that different views can be presented concurrently to different audiences - and thus obviating the necessity to model one's e-Portfolio according to the needs of a particular course.
The issues of transition or portability appear to be incapable of meeting any satisfactory conclusion and thus the student is tempted to give up and accept that the e-Portfolio is owned by an institution. This inevitably means that as the learner moves on to another institution yet another different e-Portfolio tool may be required with repeated uploading of artefacts. The owner is therefore tempted not to invest any additional time or effort beyond the minimum required. Perhaps one of my main arguments about the ownership of eFolio is the very fact that through the provision of templates and the facility to change 'skins' and fonts etc not only the younger learner but all learners can create an environment that expresses 'This is ME' – that the learner is proud of and wishes to retain.
If HE has troubles concerning vision, if FE has troubles relating to staff training then Mainstream Education suffers from both of these and more. As much as teachers may expect autonomy within the classroom there is still a need for central advice and direction. For the last four years BECTA has been miserably silent on the issue of e-Portfolios and has utterly failed to provide the leadership and inspiration required for a national initiative. At the same time there is a growing demand from the 'Is it free?' brigade who seem to be unaware of the failure of basic DIY e-Portfolios to meet the strict requirements of e-safe management that schools are required to maintain. It is therefore time for some serious 2G thinking.
I can do no better than to refer back to my original criteria, my 'Ten Prime Directives'. But perhaps I can address these in a different order.
'Cosmeticisation' – an ugly word but essential. Users of any age, from the youngest to the oldest, from the most able to the least able all should be able to modify the templates, style, fonts and images which make up their own chosen self-representation. Note that there is a difference between this and 'personalisation' which, for me, suggests the functionality of the software to recognise one's personal learning styles and preferred software, including such t hings as diagnostic and predictive tools.
Lifelong Learning: can only really be an option if the one e-Portfolio can use the above options to 'transmogrify' or change according to one's maturity, culture, social perspective, course of study or even one's favourite football team or current pop-group. It should be capable of changing the organisation and naming of pages and the addition, editing or removal of artefacts.
'Lifewide' has two distinct meanings. It can refer to the range of users, ie the one tool should be capable of being used by a number of different abilities within one class or group. However, it more significantly refers to the fact that any one person has a number of different personas, any one of which the learner may wish to present to a specific audience. For example, I may wish to represent myself to one group as a competent technician, to another as an HR manager and yet to a third as an environmentalist wishing to do work for a charitable organisation.
Portability is an essential function if the e-Portfolio is to have any credibility as a lifelong tool. However, most e-Portfolio solutions are institutionally based and repeatedly I have heard tales of frustration that the work a student has done in college on their e-Portfolio cannot be taken with them to their next institution or place of employment. This has often led to older students doing as little as necessary or responding with exclamations such as 'Why should I bother?' However, portability is an essential feature of 'transition' and, from my own experience, can include many movements from one school to another and on to yet another.