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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.