Add to Technorati Favorites

Monday, 29 August 2011

Well, what do you expect?

A whole pile of portfoliosThe layout of an ePortfolio is critical. But for whom? A potential employer does not have time to browse through one's self-congratulatory essays when looking for just one characteristic. One might be looking for clear skills in organisation or an eye for detail. Another might be looking for literary excellence or previous leadership experience.

Faculty might well expect a similar style and layout from all students - it's so much easier to find the latest essay that requires feedback or to check out a learner's progress. But, unfortunately, such regimentation does not sit easily with the concept of the ePortfolio being 'Learner-owned'.

I think, therefore, that it is essential that one's ePortfolio is easily 'navigable' - that separate sections and subsections have some logic. Perhaps colour-coding will help the reader.

As my previous two posts have alluded, I am in the process of compiling a collection of ePortfolios in order to help learners (or teachers) decide on their own particular format - and whether, for that matter, the software that they have chosen can deliver the layout and navigation they need.

Looking at the examples that I have posted here I suggest that we should consider a number of questions:

Does this eP reflect the character of the owner?
Does the software allow for accessibilty controls?
Are all graphics properly credited?
Is the use of language appropriate for the audience?
Is the balance of rich media appropriate?
Is the balance of content right for a prospective employer?
Is the eP well organised and easy to navigate?
Is reflection used to display the strengths of the learner?
How is informal or extra-curricular prior/experiential learning documented?
Does the ‘Life Story’ reinforce the claims of the learner?
Does the eP display a vision for ‘my future’?
Are peer-review/feedback/mentoring tools used effectively?
Is the eP truly 'portable'?
What’s missing?
If you have examples of ePortfolios that I can attach to my list, please let me know!

Monday, 22 August 2011

The Perfect Example?

four mannequins fitting jig-saw pieces togetherFollowing my last post, Barbara Nicholls asked the challenging question concerning the 'Perfect ePortfolio'. Let me start by repeating my belief that an ePortfolio should be 'Lifelong, Lifewide and for Learning and Leisure'. Secondly, my observation upon studying many hundreds of ePortfolios is that they generally appear to ignore many principles of constructivism - of team working, responding to a mentor's advice, of asking for feedback. Is it that institutions are trying to bolt on new technologies onto traditional pedagogies?

Firstly, it is probably the institution that introduces the eP concept and that generally based upon one discipline or subject. BUT, as soon as the eP is controlled by a single discipline it will tend to be little more than an assessment tool and preclude all the other exciting things that a young student is capable of doing.

On the other hand, the 'learner owned' eP could contain little more than the confused renderings of a Facebook account or the directionless accounts of a 'Dear Diary' blog.

By the time that the eP becomes the showcasing pride and joy of the young graduate looking for employment, some of the earlier peer to peer classroom stuff might well be considered a bit immature and the learner may not include evidences of such nascent learning, valuable as it might well be.

And then, again, as is the case with some of my examples by older professionals, they tend to display a very polished if somewhat conservative presentation which can provoke nothing but awe and admiration.

Recognising, therefore, that the eP is invariably engineered for a single audience, we might never see the "perfect eP". However, we, as teachers, ARE interested in the learner's Life Story, of the 'multiple metamorphoses' of the eP from cradle to grave - and this is a 'big ask'.

Maturely constructed ePortfolios that include all of the above are probably impossible to find. Even if teachers in Primary schools had the right software and vision many years ago, and even if numerous institutions later the learner’s ePortfolio had survived multiple transitions with various interoperability standards it would be rare for a mature learner to display all the hidden pages of an ‘evolutionary’ ePortfolio. Unfortunately, this may be the reason why we rarely see 'long-term reflection'.

The only way to encourage learners to demonstrate this sort of ePortfolio longevity would be through the establishment of some sort of competition – but even then people might be too shy to step forward.

I think, therefore, that at any stage of a learner’s career their ePortfolio should demonstrate as many ePortfolio ‘skills’ as possible. What is evident in my selected examples is that no one example includes ALL the potential skills for that context. As alluded to in my opening paragraph, it may be that we will not see the 'perfect ePortfolio' until we acquire a completely new cohort of teachers capable of creating a 'whole-school' constructivist culture.

The potential total of ‘skills’ for any stage throughout lifelong and Lifewide learning would make an interesting matrix – but that might be another post!

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Examples of ePortfolios

The! logoOver the years I have been collecting examples of ePortfolios - the Good, the Bad, the Ugly. Not that I would dare to embarrass anyone by 'rubbishing' their efforts. However, since discovering! I have found a medium that can attractively display a collection of examples which might help both students and staff decide on the content and layout that suits them. See

Many examples contain profound glimpses of insight and are a joy to read (or listen to). However, even the best seem to have serious gaps in the total content.

Many examples are little more than a showcase of one's best works along with a CV and a list of contacts. Of these, quite a few, in blog format, document the learners interests, sometimes in far too much detail including descriptions of members of their family and even the cat!

Other examples are little more than the syllabus of the course being followed and links to modules completed.

Some are obviously clearly directed by the institution, others are less directed and are purely the results of an open-ended competition.

Many are just a linear blog listing the meanderings and short-term reflections related to a single course of study.

Few show any sense of long-term reflection, 'lifelong learning', or one's 'life-story'.

Despite our claims that ePortfolios are now a part of our Web.2 culture, I could not find any examples of mentoring (by non-academics), collaboration or peer-review.

I also have a second! collection of discussions and support materials relating to both ePortfolios and foramtive assessment:

Monday, 15 August 2011

Attraction, Retention and Inclusivity - Part 2

Image: Ball and Chain from FlickR-IndiamosAt a time when institutions are being pressurised to make serious cost-cutting economies, administrators might well be looking at the principle of retention. However, 'Retention' is a much bigger subject than just that of the efficient retaining numbers of students in courses.

As alluded to in my previous post, what is the point of 'Attraction' if once the students have 'signed-on' they then find that the course is not what they expected or that they cannot get on with their peers? Students should not feel a sense of entrapment, that they have entered upon a course of study from which they cannot escape. There is no worse feeling than, "This is not what I expected."

I therefore see the ePortfolio as being a powerful tool for supporting retention. - I am currently writing on this topic for a chapter in a book to be published later this year - where I attempt to think through these matters in some depth.

Attrition, or the falling away of students, invariably happens within the first term of joining a course of study, but, as explained in my previous post, this can be significantly overcome by establishing good relationships with mentors, established students and alumni, even before 'going up'.

There are not many recently published works that deal seriously with the subject of retention and significantly only one that I can find, (Bret Eynon 2009) that deals comprehensively with the benefits of the ePortfolio for supporting retention. (see:

However, Eynon does not claim for the ePortfolio that it is some sort of 'magic bullet' but, in accepting a sea-change of institutional thinking, the ePortfolio has had a significant part to play:

' What happens if we shift the focus of our teaching and learning innovations from a single classroom to an entire institution? What new kinds of questions and possibilities emerge? Can an entire college break boundaries, moving from a focus on “what teachers teach” to a focus on “what students learn?” Can we think differently about student learning if we create structures that enable thousands of students to use new media tools to examine their learning across courses, disciplines, and semesters? What is possible if, as John Tagg has suggested, we stretch our frameworks, moving from course-centered to student-centered frameworks for encouraging and examining student learning? '

Accepting, therefore, that the ePortfolio can only come, hand-in-hand, with a 'student-centred framework', I would ask readers to suggest ways in which they have discovered their ePortfolio system to be encouraging retention.

If you have any data that illustrates the 'before-after' effect of an ePortfolio culture on retention I would be most appreciative - your institution could even get quoted in the forthcoming book!

Monday, 1 August 2011

Attraction, Retention and Inclusivity - Part 1

Picture: Off on a mystery bus-tripThroughout the whole of this last month I have been researching for an article on 'ePortfolios - Attraction, Retention and Inclusivity' - and it has really taken up most of my time. The topic of Retention is not easily found within the annals of UK educational research. Admittedly, the topic of retention has been of more immediate concern in the USA where Colleges, in particular, have had to face up to serious 'drop-out' rates - in some cases 45%. But this whole area of study becomes much more difficult to 'nail' when looking at the specific relationships of ePortfolios to Attraction, Retention and Inclusivity.

And thus, particularly relevant at this time when many students are facing their first big adventure of joining a new institution (well here in the UK at least), or other students will shortly be starting their last year of study before moving 'up', I want to explore the impact that ePortfolios might have on 'Attraction'.

And thus to explain the image: Getting onto an old-fashioned bus, alone, in, as it were, a foreign country, not knowing quite where you are going and whether this bus will get you there is all part of the challenge that every young student must face. But how much more reassuring, how much more attractive it would be if there was someone there who can converse with you and reassure you that you are heading in the right direction. Identification of landmarks or signposts reassure the traveller - and this is exactly what the ePortfolio can do through 'buddying' systems that allow pairing of the new Freshman with one who has gone before.

But secondly, and perhaps more significantly, an institution that already uses an ePortfolio will certainly be more attractive to the young student just leaving mainstream education, where an ePortfolio system has been in use, possibly for several years. Institutions that have already adopted an 'ePortfolio-centric culture' will be open to small-group working, collaborative learning, of peer-review and feedback; where, inevitably, students and faculty understand something of each other.

Thirdly, and perhaps fundamentally, an 'ePortfolio-centric' institution will have recognised the place of a Web2.0 culture, where the student can use the applications with which they are already familiar, with mobile devices and interactive systems, with on-line assessment tools. This is the culture with which our 6th-form students are becomming increasingly familiar. They will easily recognise from brochures, websites and visiting promoters those institutions that have '21st Century Learning' already embedded and those who have not. The question is obvious: Which sort of institution would our young students find most attractive?