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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.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

A Profoundly Disruptive Technology

Photo: Trent Batson summing up the ConferenceThe AAEEBL conference was a most challenging experience. Held in Boston (MA), meeting so many of the world's leading experts in ePortfolio thinking and from all aspects of education was quite moving. The venue was great and, running concurrently with another more general exhibition 'Campus 2010 Technology', made for some fabulous catering!

Perhaps one of the most challenging messages that I took home with me was the overwhelming feeling that throughout the world educators were all at different stages and opinions about ePortfolios.

Trent was quite right to say of ePortfolio adoption that, "It is gradual because it depends on turning teaching and learning upside down." In my opinion this is a four-way process: For some teachers (and college/HE lecturers) the very provision of these tools will provoke discovery of teaching and learning techniques never tried before. For others who have had a desire to implement new perspectives of teaching and learning, ePortfolio tools are the very answers to their anguished prayers. Thirdly, of concern to ICT managers and accountants, the ePortfolio can provide a low-cost solution to long-term file storage and curation. But fourthly, the ePortfolio can become truly learner-owned and thus supporting lifelong learning.

Whole essays could be written on each of the above four groups and, yes, agreed, this must surely be a disruptive technology for all of them.

I finish this note with some sense of encouragement. Before the conference I had prepared my presentation with the title, 'The Need for NOW!' In it I wanted to express the challenge that both clarification of terminologies and a convergence of practice was urgently necessary. I feel that the whole conference only confirmed my passion.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Reflection and ePortfolios

Graphic lifted from Karen Barnstable's site
Karen Barnstable has done it again! See her blog. A clear and simple listing of the outcomes from reflecting on an artefact within an ePortfolio. For me this is all part of the 'Thinking Skills' initiative in the UK for mainstream (or K-12) education. The sooner teachers learn to encourage reflection and make it become a bedrock of learning the better.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Social Networking & e-Portfolios

I enjoyed this article on Social Networking, in the Learning Solutions Magazine (5th of a very interesting series). Although unrelated directly to e-Portfolios, Ann Derryberry eloquently draws out some very clear principles that apply equally to working with e-Portfolios.

As she says in her prepenultimate paragraph:

"The existence of a well-conceived and -implemented social learning platform does not in and of itself lead to a thriving social learning community. If participants do not quickly see the utility of their involvement, or if they can’t recognize a return on their engagement, they will quickly drop out. A clear articulation of purpose, easy access for all participants, a meaningful incentive system, and allowance for casual interaction among participants are key factors to a social learning network’s success."

These, surely, are the same prerequisites one would expect for an e-Portfolio? At a time when researchers are asking this very question of "How can we ensure 'buy-in' of our e-Portfolio system?" the fundamental issue is that of the vision of the teacher to realise that the e-Portfolio will support the teaching and learning strategies of the modern classroom - and to realise that e-Portfolio learning must embrace social learning but can also deliver it in an e-safe and documented way.