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.
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.
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.
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.
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) ?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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