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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."