e-Portfolios - getting to where others can’t reach?
Introduction: the present confusion about e-Portfolios
There is a serious problem concerning the understanding of what an e-Portfolio is for and what it can do.
Commercial organisations have developed their own on-line distance learning systems for a specific purpose.
My wife, for instance was recently following an on-line course leading to a Diploma in Business
Management. – An excellent course – I couldn’t fault it. The software quizzes worked fine, the automatic
feedback was instantaneous and the on-line messaging system both between peers and with one’s tutor was
excellent. But this portfolio of work was not, as I understand it, an e-Portfolio. The organisation owned the
software, the interactive content and processes could not be easily retained by the learner and the valuable
dialogues between peers could not be easily captured as part of one’s own bank of artefacts.
But, getting away from this one personal experience, all educational institutions in the UK appear to have
similar ownership issues. Where the universities provide an institutional e-Portfolio solution, it is generally
not able to go with the student as they move on to another institution or into employment. And some
university e-Portfolio systems are no more that an MLE. On the other hand, where intelligent and
adventurous students take it upon themselves to develop their own cloud-based systems there is neither a
common basic layout which any tutor can easily navigate, nor is there the facility to provide some
scaffolding, particularly for the less confident student. In some schools and FE colleges that are beginning to
use some sort of e-Portfolio, again, the tool used appears to be set for the lowest common denominator of
students and is invariably fixed for a specific course of study.
But what about the ‘forgotten armies’ ?
Students at school or college may be a considerable group of learners, but in terms of numbers perhaps they
become the minority. Starting with some pointers from a recent conference I present a list of those who are
presently missing out from the sort of inclusion and support an e-Portfolio can provide – our ‘forgotten
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1. Adults aged 55+ - an increasingly larger group of people who do not want to be excluded from the world
even if their mobility or communication skills are reduced.
2. People in rural areas – what with the increasing costs of transportation, the reduction in public services
including Post Offices and shops, all are increasing the isolation of communities.
3. People in areas of multiple deprivation – again, people who are self-conscious are less likely to want to
communicate with others or lift themselves out of their predicaments.
4. C2DEs (ie lower potential employability) – generally not e-confident, often school dropouts or neets and
not aware of how to go about self improvement.
5. The disabled and those with learning difficulties – digital technologies are not always suitable and very
often good resources are hard to find.
6. The unemployed and low-income households – not always lacking in digital technologies but often not
aware of their full potential eg used for job-seeking or on-line learning.
7. People affected by mental ill-health – the need to communicate, instantly, but without the challenges of
f2f meetings needs to be addressed.
8. Homeless/vulnerably housed adults – in an unsecure world the ability to log on in a library, internet cafe
or job-centre can provide an excellent base from which to communicate with others.
9. Itinerant workers and services personnel – as seen in recent news items about soldiers in the field, the
ability to communicate wherever one is can be a very comforting and reassuring facility.
10. 'Delegators' (ie those who pass on any ICT work to others) – there is a vast army of people who always
delegate even simple tasks to others. This avoidance of digital technologies needs to be overcome
through appropriate support.
11. Those detained in Prison (both staff and inmates) – The risk of misuse is recognised but hundreds of
thousands of inmates are missing out on educational opportunities.
When I consider the vast range of those who are missing out from what others do every day and often
several times a day, I feel like some lone evangelist shouting out in the wilderness, “Turn, repent and find a
new and better way of living!”
So, What’s so special about an e-Portfolio?
In terms of the lost or forgotten armies as listed above, one thing is almost always true - the need to
represent one’s self. Even a 5yr-old in school can be proud of the e-Portfolio as a self-representation
whereby the child shouts out, “Look, this is ME!” And how much more, the myriads of adults who have no
simple medium of self-expression could enjoy such a facility?
Whether it is promoting one’s self for a job-interview, sharing similar issues between a geographically
separated community, asking another’s advice about how to do something or even sharing ‘life-stories’ with
relatives scattered around the world, the e-Portfolio is that place for secure sharing.
Secondly, the issue of ownership must be settled once and for all. Call it what you will, but an e-Portfolio
embedded within an institution’s provision is not ‘portable’ once one has moved to another institution or
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possibly ‘between jobs’. Fundamentally, this sort of e-Portfolio is not owned by the learner and thus does
not come within my definition of an e-Portfolio.
Thirdly, the e-Portfolio should be easy to use. New pages can be easily added or renamed, similarly,
subsections can be added as needed. Similarly any format of artefact can be saved within the e-Portfolio.
Typically, a private video of a birthday celebration might not be appropriate to display to the wider public
but, through an e-Portfolio can be displayed to a selected audience.
Fourthly, is the ability to share artefacts in any format with the purpose of getting feedback through
feedback forms, polls or surveys all within the privacy of one’s own e-Portfolio.
The e-Portfolio should be considered as a universal tool for all. It was Helen Barrett’s list of 25 Metaphors,
of different aspects of an e-Portfolio, that spurred me on to investigate and come to the understanding of
an e-Portfolio as: A Place of Celebration, A Diary, A Mirror, A Map, A Planner, A Story, A Confessional, A
Constant Companion, A Digital Theatre etc. In all of these aspects it is the ability to enhance teaching and
learning through a variety of e-safe collaborative activities that makes the e-Portfolio the perfect tool for
personalised learning. Pride of ownership leads to higher levels of motivation for the learner.
Quite simply, the e-Portfolio should be used with every age-group, whether child or adult, for every subject
area and for every ability level and circumstance. It is a container for all the web2.0 activities any teacher or
student wants to use. Simply put, it ‘gets to the parts others can’t reach!’
About the Author:
Ray Tolley has been a teacher of Design & Technology since 1963 and of ICT since 1981. Since retiring his
company (Maximise ICT Ltd) has continued to supply staff support and more recently has developed eFolio
particularly for the UK market. For further information about eFolio email at the e-ddress below.
Ray Tolley FEIDCT, NAACE Fellow, ACIQ, MBILD
ICT Education Consultant
Maximise ICT Ltd
Winner of the IMS 'Leadership Regional Award 2009'
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