A quick presentation I did on the theory and practice of e-portfolios in higher education. Contains screenshots of portfolios made in Mahara, Pebble Pad and WordPress (Personal information has been hidden)
Let me start with a disclaimer. You’re not going to leave this session an expert on e-portfolios, or any one e-portfolio system. What you are going to go away with is a) An idea of how and why you might use e-portfolios in your own teaching, (and your professional development) and b) a very brief introduction to four possible ways of creating one. Now the interesting thing about technology is that it tends to mandate certain ways of working. Blackboard does. (You WILL post your lecture notes) E-portfolio tools do so too. But they do give you a lot of freedom. Which means you have to make a lot of decisions. Before we get stuck in to the technology, I’d like to show you an older portfolio. (LR portfolio). In the late 1990s staff in learning support were all required to produce one of these. It was based around a competency framework and staff had to provide evidence that they were competent in this framework to obtain salary increments. Technically this is quite a reasonable portfolio design. There is a clear objective, and it is obvious to users what they have to do. But it didn’t really work. People were suspicious of the motives of those who would be assessing it, and for most people the reward was something they would have had anyway, so it wasn’t actually a reward. And if we look at it we see the real problem. It took time. A lot of time. Now you could argue (and I will be doing) that it is in this time and space that real higher learning occurs. But we have to be realistic. This kind of thing would be wildly over ambitious for an undergraduate programme, let alone a one or two semester module. Which raises the reasonable question of why we do it at all.
Why There is as you are probably aware quite a fashion for “learning objects”, “open educational resources” and on a more mundane level posting lecture slides on Blackboard. But here’s a thought. There are those who argue that a characteristic of higher education is that it deals with problems that are not straight forward. I like the term “ill structured” (King and Kitchener 1994) for this. Ill structured problems are those that can’t be described (let alone resolved) with any degree of completeness. But it is important that students begin to encounter this kind of problem, and more importantly engage in the struggle to resolve them. If they are to engage with the different knowledge constructions of others. Portfolios NOT about imposing order – More subtle than that. In fact I would argue with Moon (1999) that the provision of more “ready-made” material via handouts and lecture notes might be more problematic that we sometimes allow for. By tidying up the training ground we remove a very important source of learning.That’s not to say “ready made material” is inappropriate, or that we should not use them. Of course we should. But we all know they’re not enough. Otherwise we’d just post everything on Blackboard and go home. And of course the biggest ill structured problem of all was summed up by Socrates in his question “the unexamined life is not worth living”.
Portfolios are a form of journal And one of the ways in which we examine our lives is through a journal. Portfolios are quite a distinctive form of journal actually. Learning journals are an excellent way of engaging with the epistemological diversity of the world and there have been some very successful attempts to engage students with journal writing. (There have also been some spectacularly unsuccessful attempts too. Usually they don’t work because people are being asked to do something that they don’t see any point in doing.) But it is a valuable activity which creates the following conditions that favour learning It demands time and space. (Both a bad and a good thing) It’s independent and self-directed – the learner owns it and it is underpinned by their value. Focusses attention on particular areas of, and demands independent ordering of thought It challenges the learner to think about other’s perceptions of their intellectual positions Encourages metacognition. All sounds a bit airy fairy I suppose. But Portfolio building does this in spades. And as we’ll see there are some very strong practical applications.
How does it do it. Well, first of all it asks you to think about who you are. Not just your name, address, qualifications etc. (although this data plays a role rather akin to the learning materials in a discipline – the portfolio is pretty meaningless without it. But personal information isn’t just concerned with your past , but also with your future. Thinking about that really requires you to take some time to reflect on your ambitions. The second group of items are evidence to the support the claims you make about yourself. These can take any form – documents, powerpoint slides, images, media clips, certificates etc. etc. Let’s be honest about this. (And here’s the workshop element. Now’s your chance to start making your own portfolio. Make a list of all the certificates you have and where they are!) I also want you to think of, and note down one piece of other evidence that you would want to share.) The third group is a reflective commentary on the artefacts. This can take the form of a diary or blog (and usually does). One e-portfolio tool which we’ll look at later does allow you to post a reflective commentary on each artefact, but it is more common to link to artefacts from the blog post in which you discuss them. (because of course any artefact might be relevant to more than one aspect of learning.)
Alright then, why electronic? The best reason is that paper portfolios tend to become very cumbersome, don’t support “cut and paste” (Well, they do, but I think you know what I mean!) Secondly software can provide guidance – I don’t just mean help sheets and supporting documentation, but templates can be developed that guide the user through the creation of personal data artefacts and even reflective commentary. This is particularly useful if you’re using a portfolio for assessment or some other specific purpose. The real point of an e-portfolio though is that you can always access it. If it’s on the web then all you need Is internet access. Also the data in the portfolio can usually be backed up on memory sticks, or some other portable media device. Also of course if it’s on the web you can share it with others. Or more to the point you can choose which bits of it you want to share, and who you want to share them with. Finally of course, you can customise it. If you decide you don’t like the way it looks you can change the colour scheme and structure (usually anyway. Some systems are better than others). This is very difficult to do with a paper portfolio. But the real benefit is that the process of portfolio construction has considerable pedagogical value. Now, I acknowledge there are some disadvantages too.
Sounds obvious that work is all in one place. But that makes it hard to lose bits of it, and it makes it always accessible to assessors and peers. (And to students!) In practice, most artefacts are text based – but there is no reason why students should not use mobile phones or other devices to capture complex learning situations. Which allows tutors to make their own judgement on a situation, and helps learners to engage in later reflection The fact that a learner has to select an artefact and justify their choice is pedagogically significant. Doing so forces them to engage with the learning outcomes and standards that are required. Of course it is possible to set up a structure in advance which helps them plan and manage their learning. Whether this is done or not, the process of selection can help learners recognise and articulate what they have learnt, and track their progress. Date stamping allows both assessors and learners to see a chronology of activity. Might help illustrate how a learner learns (And certainly tells you if a student puts the portfolio together at the last moment!) Linking means artefacts and their justification can be assessed together (ideally be nice to have two screens) The process itself again supports the skill of explaining the importance of different pieces of evidence
Home page usually requires that the learner summarises their work, which should make the assessor’s task easier in that it points them to evidence that can be sampled. It also encourages students to make connections across their learning activity. Assessors don’t have to comment on every piece of evidence – if the portfolio is put together over time then the workload is spread more thinly, if not reduced. And it is usually possible for tutors to be notified whenever a student adds a new item Others can comment (if users allow it.) – Tutors could triangulate comments with workplace assessors. The idea of views – which I’ll come back to later is really helpful in assisting users to develop a sense of audience and to think about issues of on-line privacy. A traditional assignment is written very much with the tutor in mind. A portfolio might be compiled with the tutor, the interview committee, external examiners, professional bodies, or the users’s friends in mind. But because multiple presentations can be delivered, it is possible to articulate skills and qualities appropriate to different requirements.
Let’s have a look at some e-portfolios then This is mahara – which we have rebranded as “portfolios.lincoln”. You can log into this with your university username and password. Mahara is a developing tool but one which is being quite widely used. Want to spend a bit of time on this slide because it’s a good illustration of how an e-portfolio works – there are some important concepts here. What you’re looking at here is a “view” of my portfolio. Views are made up of “blocks” – Each block contains data. (Mahara offers multiple types of blocks) So “greetings” “My portrait” “Qualifications”, “Experience”, “Conference papers” etc. are all blocks. Mahara offers a number of templates for entering personal information. For example you can add descriptions of each of the previous posts you have held, which you enter into a template. There is then a block for your “employment history” which will show everything. There are also configurable blocks for pictures, text., multimedia and many others. Users add blocks to “views” and decide who they share their views with. (This view is called “a bit about me” and it’s public) Public means I can send anyone the URL and they can get it.
Photogallery A completely different view but it’s made in exactly the same way as the CV one on the last slide, except that it just uses “image” blocks. Each block is configurable, (that means I can choose the header and a caption as well as set the size of the images) Now. A question for you. In portfolio terms what are these images (they’re artefacts). And what can I do with them in the portfolio? (I can use any or all of them in any view.) And that would apply to any artefact. And this concept applies to any e-portfolio tool.
Pebble Pad Pebble Pad is probably the market leader in e-portfolio tools. I really wish I had time to go through everything it can do. But here’s a webfolio created in Pebble Pad. Pebble pad works by reducing eveything to an artefact (although for some reason it calls them “assets”.) Apart from the very basic personal data you put in you have the opportunity to add a reflective commentary to everything you add. Assets can be shared with anyone You can then select assets and build them into larger assets (such as this webfolio). Webfolios are conceptually similar to the Mahara view. Among the features of Pebble Pad are:- Institutions can create their own templates Customisable audit documents can be produced which generate action plans It’s highly customisable by users. Conventional CV’s can be printed. It has a system of “gateways” which facilitate assessment and the sharing of resources. Big drawback is that it costs money though.
Training use of a portfolio Some time ago I thought it would be fun to create a webfolio showing how to create a webfolio. And here’s a page from it. Anyone want to have a stab at identifying the artefacts that make this up? The picture The banner Each page.
Wordpress Wordpress is not an e-portfolio tool. For those of you aren’t familiar with it, it’s often described as a blogging platform., which was what it was originally designed for. But it’s moved on a bit since then and is actually quite a good way of building personal web sites. There’s no real content here. This is just a site I’ve built with a lot of empty pages. Because Wordpress isn’t an e-portfolio tool there is no concept of “blocks”, “assets” or “views”. (Although you can decide which pages you want to make public) . In some ways Wordpress is conceptually close to the old fashioned paper portfolio because it is entirely up to you how you use it. The drawback is of course that there is no guidance or support either. I don’t claim to be a wordpress expert, but producing a site like this does require that the user knows their way around the software. The point of showing you all these things is to stress the software you use to create an e-portfolio is less important than the way you plan the portfolio.
Like I say, WordPress is not an e-portfolio tool. But these days you don’t need one. As I said the WP portfolio is a dummy, but in preparation for this session I started to think about artefacts and how they work. It is possible to store files, including documents, images, multimedia and so forth in WordPress. But, remember. Earlier I got you to make a list of your certficates and where they were.. For many people these days, most of their artefacts are on the web. They’re already stored and accessible via something as simple as a URL. Many people use tools like Flickr, Slideshare, Scribd, Delicious, and so on to store their work. Of course the artefact has to be public but if it you didn’t want it to be then you wouldn’t have posted it there would you? Given that you can also store private assets in WordPress and invite selected individuals to share your portfolio (or pages of your portfolio) and that it is easy to transfer portfolios between different installations of wordpress, it does seem to have considerable advantages over the other portfolio tools. So what’s the problem? Well., it goes back to the issue of why do a portfolio at all. You have to design your portfolio and the design is inevitably based on what you want it to do. So it’s not easy to offer guidance. Also what I have done here does require that you are a reasonably sophisticated user of WordPress. (It’s not rocket science, but you do need to have had some experience with the software – good argument for starting to blog.) So those are the main tools for e-portfolio building..But there is a bit of an elephant in the room
And that of course is Blackboard. Blackboard does have an e-portfolio tool which staff can use. Currently students can’t because it requires access to a personal content store. When we first installed Blackboard we decided against making it available to students for the following reasons. It’s very simple (that may be considered an advantage, but it is extremely unsophisticated in terms of functionality.) Despite it’s simplicity it is not at all intuitive (mind you that is a problem with portfolios, not so much with tools) There is very little ability for users to customise it. . . Blackboard do promise that future versions will have a much improved e-portfolio tool and indeed there were some cosmetic improvements when we upgraded to version 8.0 last summer, but no tangible increase in functionality that I could see. And finally t’s completely tied into Blackboard. There is no attempt to make it compatible with other systems. This is the central issue for all e- portfolios
Portability has always been a problem for e-portfolio tools. If the University provides a specific bit of software, what happens when the student leaves and still needs it. (Could argue it’s not the University’s problem) But it is enough of an issue for the providers to get together and begin to develop a protocol for importing and exporting issues. This is called LEAP 2 and when fully integrated you should be able to move portfolios from one e-portfolio tool to another. (It’s not an issue to move portfolios between different installations of the same tool) Pebble Pad is fully compliant. The problem is that no-one else is yet although Mahara claim to be close. PP offers free access to graduates of participating institution for a year – after that there is an annual subscription. Blackboard simply must become LEAP2 compliant because after a student leaves they won’t have access to Blackboard. Issue doesn’t’ really arise in WordPress because it is relatively trivial to shift content from one installation of wordpress to another (and a personal account is free anyway.) But we do need to think about how much of an issue this actually is. How much of their portfolios do students want to take with them?
Portfolio Contents <ul><li>No hard and fast rule, but usually </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Personal Information </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Artefacts </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Reflective commentary </li></ul></ul>
Why E-portfolio? <ul><li>Paper portfolios tend to be heavy! </li></ul><ul><li>Software can provide guidance </li></ul><ul><li>Web based – always accessible </li></ul><ul><li>Easy to share </li></ul><ul><li>Can be easily customised (usually) </li></ul>
Pedagogical value (1) <ul><li>Work is all in one place </li></ul><ul><li>Variety of methods of data capture </li></ul><ul><li>Learner has to select artefacts to upload </li></ul><ul><li>Activity is date-stamped </li></ul><ul><li>Artefacts and justification can be linked together </li></ul>
Pedagogical Value (2) <ul><li>Usual to have a home page (Precis). </li></ul><ul><li>Tutors can comment on individual artefacts </li></ul><ul><li>Others can comment (e.g. workplace assessors) </li></ul><ul><li>User controls viewing permissions </li></ul><ul><li>Multiple presentations possible. </li></ul>
Students leave! http://www.flickr.com/photos/mikedefiant/3153873557/sizes/l/ How do they take their portfolios with them? LEAP2 compliance Pebble Pad - Yes Mahara – Yes (sort of) Blackboard - No WordPress – N/A
Useful addresses http://portfolios.lincoln.ac.uk (Mahara) http://pebblepad.lincoln.ac.uk (Pebble Pad) http://blackboard.lincoln.ac.uk (Blackboard) http://blogs.lincoln.ac.uk (WordPress)* *All of these use your university username and password but note that in WordPress you will need to create a blog first.
The Future? “ The 34 case study respondents were asked for their beliefs about what would happen next in relation to the practice reported in the case study. The answer can be summarised in one word”. ‘ More’ Strivens et. al. (2009) The role of e-portfolios in Formative and Summative Assessment: Report of the JISC funded study, Wigan, CRA. (p19)