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Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Time flies but are we standing still?

Clock faces flying through the airFor several business reasons I've not had the time to stop and think about writing constructively about ePortfolios in this blog for a few weeks. However, in regularly scanning the posts of others, reading expensive publications and reviewing repeated 'pilot studies' I wonder if we are getting anywhere very fast. Schools in the UK are still 'thinking about' ePortfolios. Otherwise intelligent graduates are still extolling the virtues of web sites or blogging tools such as Wordpress, Weebly, iWeb or Blackboard as if they are true ePortfolios - and this is where I must part company with them.

An ePortfolio is just not a glorified CV or Showcasing tool - although these are very valuable aspects of an ePortfolio. Perhaps, in one phrase, I would sum up a true ePortfolio as 'a place of conversation'. In its initial phase an ePortfolio might be little more than a collation of unfinished works, in any media format, that peers or mentors might have access rights to in order to discuss and collaborate upon. Feedback comments, star ratings or Likert scales etc are all part of the tool-set of the ePortfolio and should all be contained in the one place.

Secondly, reflection is an integral part of ePortolio growth. In the many examples that I have reviewed I see little request for feedback and certainly very little reflection about the contributions of others. There is a sense of arrogance about many so-called ePortfolios which promote the owner as the perfect potential employee who knows it all and never needs to listen to the ideas or advice of others.

Related to reflection is the whole concept of the 'Life Story' or at least the documentation of some part of the learner's progression, of their interests and evolving maturity. As much as the learner could explain 'Where I have come from' they should also be capable of describing 'Where I want to get to' and 'How I will attempt to get there'. The learner's teachers, mentors and peers can all provide a rich source of support if the ePortfolio tool allows.

And this, of course, is where eFolio can make a real contribution. Firstly it is easy to use - it must be if even our youngest pupils are expected to use it. It needs no great technical competency and 'writing frames' can be created for those who need them. Secondly, and this is most important, teachers should encourage active dialogue through the ePortfolio, anywhere, anytime. Thirdly, an understanding of the role of feedback is important, of constructive dialogue and reiteration. Teachers should no longer be seen as the despots of two centuries ago or 'The sage on the stage' but, through their ePortfolios learners should discover their teachers to be 'The guide by the side', or even their 'Friend to the end'.

And that, again, is where eFolio makes an outstanding contribution. Here in the UK eFolio is provided as an externally hosted facility and not embedded within an institution's VLE. I have written several times about the concept of transition or portability. If an ePortfolio is really for Lifelong Learning it should be 'lifelong' with the learner and not left behind, mouldering in an institution's archives, when needed in years to come.


syeds said...

First We are thinking ourself Backwards.

Cv examples

Ray Tolley said...

No, I don't think so. The standard formal CV is dead. But anyway what 5yr-old or 'ancient granny' wants a CV? The ePortfolio is soooo much more than a CV. As I've tried to explain, many times, the ePortfolio should be an interactive and mobile tool that supports so many things like planning, timetabling, peer-review, collaboration, mentoring etc. The list is almost endless. Again, rich media tells a much more revealing story. When making video-recordings, it is often much more revealing what goes on in the background than what the subject says. - An ePortfolio gives the audience a much fuller picture than any type-written static CV can do.

Best Wishes!

Teresa said...

Hi Ray, very interested by your post. I am developing an integrated eportfolio (using moodle/mahara) for our language students as a way of capturing their formative language learning experiences and offering tailored views to prospective employers etc. I agree that easy export options vital and that this is a useful tool for students to devlop skills in showcasing their abilities.

Barbara Nicolls said...

We first need to believe ourselves as practioners (I am in the HE sector) that the process approach to e-Portfolios encourage deep learning and what goes on in that process must be evident when the product is published and shared with the world. We as tutors need to be prepared to go through this process with our students so that the product reflects deep learning - discussions with tuors, peers and also CoPs. I believe that the tool that we promote should have the capability to act as a learning space where the process occurs.
From experience, I can say that the important features in an ePortfolio system include a repository from which artefacts can be linked to evidence outcomes and related reflections. My concern lies here- reflection through discussion - can be with self but does it not limit us to our own views? our own interpretations? So I look for interactive features like Comments/feedback. This, I feel is the most important characteristic of eP tools. This is where learning is evidenced.
In my consultation sessions, I try to give various examples of ePortfolio tools and leave it to the user to decide on fitness for purpose. In the end, it is the user who decides on the purpose of the eP.

Ray Tolley said...

Thanks for your comments, ladies.

Firstly, to Teresa, on the topic of export please see my post:

To Barbara, Yes, I agree with all you say. Several times I have written that 'reflection is NOT just introspection' but should be based also on the reactions of others. Almost a year ago I posted:

Best wishes, all responses appreciated!

Barbara Nicolls said...

You have taken the words out of my mouth, Ray! That was very well said in your blog. Thanks for sharing.

Teresa said...

Many thanks Ray, sorry to take so long to pick up yopur comment. Now the summer is here I can press on with my e-portfolio plans and I am gratfeul tyo you for the insights that you have provided.

Travis Noakes said...

Hello, Ray.

The idea that learners or students should be encouraged to only have one portfolio (eFolio or otherwise) is problematic in the contemporary online space, where many adults use multiple services (i.e. LinkedIn,, Facebook) to manage different aspects of their online identity (professional, academic and leisure).

Any benefits of students using only one digital portfolio software solution (such as better opportunities for feedback, reflection and conversation) may be outweighed by this failing to prepare them for the multiple portfolios reality outside school and academia. It is also neglects the likelihood that many students will eventually abandon their school or varsity's e-portfolio solution for more popular social network/online portfolio alternatives.

I'm not alone in my skepticism: e-portfolio expert Dr Helen Barrett ( also argues that students should be able to create several online portfolios (i.e. YouTube, Flickr, Carbonmade, Blogger, et al. ), which they can use as "life-long learning interactive portfolios".

What are your thoughts on the alternate view to this post's "one e-portfolio to rule all digital portfolios" proposal?

P.S. I've also replied to your comment on my blog.

Kind regards,

Ray Tolley said...

Hi, Travis, Your response much appreciated. I know Helen Barrett quite well and am very appreciative of her early works which really helped my insight into ePortfolios.

I have no problem with mature and competent adults having a multiplicity of ePortfolios. However, my research soon led me to believe that, as you recognise, generally different tools serve different purposes. - And for children in particular, or even adults, it's too easy to forget which artefact was stored in which tool.

As in eFolio, all the artefacts can be stored in one place (apart from possibly big rich-media files) and these artefacts can be re-used for different purposes. If you think about it, the number of different activities that a 14-yr old might get up to is quite mind-boggling. So, as much as it might be fun to master a number of different ePortfolio tools, why bother when one tool can deliver all the processes you might want?

But your last paragraph raises the issue that concerns me most: FlickR, YouTube, Slideshare, WordPress and even Blogger are not true ePortfolios and cannot concurrently serve the multiplicity of purposes I would expect. (But then, I am biased!)

Best Wishes,
Ray T