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e-Portfolios - What's the Point

Page history last edited by Ray Tolley 11 years, 11 months ago

I really want to get people thinking about the use of e-Portfolios in schools. - Plenty of room for additions/links towards the end of this paper.


Quite simply, since Becta first announced that we should all have e-Portfolios by 2010 not a lot has happened.  In its muddled presentation of the idea of e-Portfolios, hidden away in the demands for VLEs by Spring of 2008, there appears to be an assumption that e-Portfolios would just happen.


I can understand schools and Local Authorities being under extreme pressure to get their VLEs installed either as a development of their previously well used Learning Platforms (in some cases for 5-10 years) or the opportunity to start afresh with a new VLE - including the very laborious job of moving all their precious resources to the new system.


However, there is an assumption that one of the tools within the VLE will be an e-Portfolio system.  Almost two years ago I started asking questions of the 10 approved Learning Platform suppliers about their e-Portfolios.  And here the difficulties began.  Every system appeared to be different and,  when I spoke to representatives of the actual vendors, it was quite apparent that they had little understanding of the educational benefits of an e-Portfolio.  And furthermore the actual security and credibility of some of these systems had serious shortcomings.


The first and most important concept of the e-Portfolio is its ability to be portable, ie to transition between one year-group to another, from one institution to another or even, now that Diplomas are upon us, to be shared by several institutions at the same time.  One solution that the VLE providers offer is apparently nothing but 'lock-in'  ie, the system that a child started with must continue with them as they move from one institution to another.  Alternatively, there is the solution of 'interoperability' whereby 'conversion kits' allow one VLE to export or import data to or from another VLE. 


The good news is that there are some groups working on this issue of interoperability.  The bad news is that it might take five to ten years for this to come about. Secondly, at the moment some degree of interoperability might be established between pairs of suppliers but not universally.  Thirdly, there is no present guarantee of a perfect reproduction of the format of one e-Portfolio when transferred to another system - called degradation.  Fourthly, the e-Portfolio is supposed to be for life, from 5 to 95 or as the Americans say, 'from K to Grey'.


Given all the uncertainties above, there is one technical solution that can avoid all these problems of interoperability and longevity - that of hosting the e-Portfolio externally to any academic institution.  My mantra has thus become:  "Let the VLE do what the VLE does best and let the e-Portfolio do what it does best."


However, the more important issue is not technical, but educational.  We need to develop an understanding of how the e-Portfolio can benefit the learner.  The first hurdle is to get some sort of mental image of the e-Portfolio's processes.  I like Dr Helen Barrett's metaphors which illustrate a number of mental attitudes to the e-Portfolio.


Folowing on from Helen's work, I tried to list some of the functionalities of an e-Portfolio:


  1. Showcasing – via permissions to different audiences
  2. Customisation – menus, pages, fonts, graphics, avatars
  3. Gatekeeper – a ‘filter’ on what to present and for how long
  4. Mentoring – ‘academic God-parents’ – long-term support
  5. Collaboration – safely with peers in group-projects etc
  6. Favourites – my shortcuts or URLs organised graphically
  7. Personal Organisation – an electronic ‘Planner’ or ‘Diary’
  8. Planning both formal and informal, drafting or odd jottings
  9. Feedback – from ‘friends’ and teachers, surveys and polls
  10. Reflection – a place for quiet contemplation even confession
  11. Monitoring – a personal log of grades, comments, responses
  12. Assessment what I do, how I do it – incl Multiple Intelligences


But not only is the e-Portfolio a tool for showcasing etc, it has an attribute of longevity and the transformations of the same e-Portfolio over the whole lifetime of the owner.  See my take on the Seven ages of Man.


But then, having some conviction that the e-Portfolio can help learners, the serious work comes of trying to understand how the e-Portfolio can be incorporated into each child's learning.  And then, another aspect of the e-Portfolio is that of the audience.  I was asked some time ago in relation to the idea of an e-Portfolio, "What's in it for me? - My immediate response was to consider who is 'me'?  - and I then listed some 18 different audiences for one's e-Portfolio!


There are some 15 different tools that can all be considered as special features of an e-Portfolio:


And here we could do with some Case Studies  - any volunteers?


And then comes the biggest headache of all, preparing resources that reflect planning, collaboration etc that the e-Portfolio is best at doing.  Again examples or links would be helpful here:  - any volunteers?

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