Add to Technorati Favorites

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.