The thing about ePortfolios is …

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ePortfolios come in all shapes and sizes, can be used for a multitude of purposes, provide users with opportunities to aggregate any social media they may be using and above all be constructed using a range of different technologies. These were some of the recurrent messages voiced by delegates and presenters at the 9th ePIC International ePortfolio & Identity Conference (http://www.epforum.eu/), held in London on 11, 12 and 13 July. In attendance were educational practitioners, technologists and students from a wide range of backgrounds and countries. Among them were UoD tutors Judie Taylor and Rose Schofield, Judie’s student, Shevani Raichura, and me, Charlie Davis. We were in attendance to present a paper, ‘Safe Enough to Dare: developing student and tutor digital identities through engagement with e-Portfolios’, focusing on Judie and Rose’s recent experiences integrating ePortfolios into their respective courses. Shevani, who stole the show when recounting her experiences, not only participated in our presentation, but also took part in the opening keynote. This was alongside two other students, from Spain and the USA respectively, as well as ePortfolio luminaries such as Geoff Rebbeck (http://uk.linkedin.com/pub/geoff-rebbeck/2a/b91/a5b).

Overall, the conference proved to be very useful, particularly when gaining new perspectives on how ePortfolios might be used to support learning and teaching. I have found that the subject of ePortfolios can be emotive in much the same way as Marmite can be. The biggest source of contention often seems to be whether they should be used solely for Personal Development Planning (PDP) purposes or as an assessment vehicle. Underpinning this particular disagreement seems to be the issue of ownership. Some feel that learners should own the ePortfolios outright and be encouraged to use them as part of their own personal and academic development, without being told to or coerced by tutors/teachers. Others feel that when used within an institution, both parties have a stake in how the ePortfolio is used as well as ownership of certain types of content, particularly when used for assessment purposes.

As someone that has used ePortfolios for assessment and CPD purposes, I feel a mix of both approaches is necessary. This echoes the general consensus of those using ePortfolios with learners at the conference. In fact, quite a few argued that a carrot and/or stick approach is sometimes best, especially when encouraging primary engagement. Quite often, claims such as these raise more than a few heckles, but drawing on my own experiences, I have to agree. I used an ePortfolio, because not doing so would have resulted in me failing my MA and also losing out on valuable feedback from my tutor. I enjoyed using it and found it a useful way to support my studies. As a result of my initial use, I’ve seen the value of using ePortfolios to support collaborative activities with colleagues and for continued professional development (CPD) purposes. Looking back, I think it is highly unlikely that I would have used it had it not been part of the course requirements.

For me, I think caution needs to be taken when proposing how ePortfolios should be used, particularly when it sends out a message that they are for one use and only that. Such a prescriptive approach may negatively impact upon learner and tutor buy-in. Even worse, it may curb the enthusiasm of those willing to explore new ways in which ePortfolios can be used to support learning. Simply because technologies have been marketed as doing this, that or the other, it shouldn’t stop us looking for new ways to reappropriate them. I mean, in everyday life we use objects for different things other than those they were initially intended for, so why should technologies be any different? Just think about the last time you used a knife to pop the lid on a tin of paint or screw a plug back together. Who’s to say an ePortfolio can’t be constructed in something like a wiki rather than an off-the-shelf product?

The above are my own personal views and I hope that they prompt further discussion. Let us hear your comments, what you think and about your experiences?

5 thoughts on “The thing about ePortfolios is …

  1. I agree with the points in the article; and it does seem that an e-portfolio does have multiple roles, and multiple owners. In this respect we are fortunate to have the Web and the ability to link between pages.

    It seems to me that at least two web sites are required:

    1) The users own web site / portfolio, which may span activities across many training and career areas.

    2) An organisation’s web site, which includes input from tutors, employers, etc.

    Each web site is managed by a different organisation, or individual. The thing that joins this e-portfolio together is the humble web link.

    My reasoning for this approach is that if a student’s portfolio is hosted by a university then its content may be restricted to university based learning, which isn’t what the student wants – is it? Presumably, the student wants to be able to add all learning and work-based activities to their portfolio, not just those at a university.

    There are, however, challenges with maintaining the portfolio over the life-time of the individual: web sites come and go, and links break; and data protection issues mean that public links wouldn’t do (sites may need protection, granting access only to authorised users).

    So maybe, individuals would be wise to keep a local copy of their portfolio too 🙂

  2. I totally agree with you and for me I see the ePortfolio more as hub into which users redirect other platforms they are using. One of the themes at the conference is the need to look upon ePortfolios as more than simply repositories in which to amass content evidencing achievements etc. There was much talk of the need to encourage users to view their ePortfolios as personal learning spaces which allow them to integrate other media, social or otherwise, that they use to support learning. This is something that I did and as you mentioned above found out that the longevity of Web 2.0 platforms is not guaranteed. I used a collaborative writing tool which ceased to exist after a year. I was lucky there was nothing on there of any great signifigance. What I believe this highlights is the importance of getting learners to back work up and to identify roles for tools. For example, if a body of work is being produced for assessment it may prove more profitable to house it in the ePortfolio rather than on a social media site, the long term existance of which is questionable. This also illustrates the need to help learners develop awareness/skills needed to identify and manage the vast amounts infomation and sites available to them so as to ensure that they enage with trusted sources.

  3. There is much truth in what has been said, but at the same time some conflicting ideas. Firstly, if an ePortfolio is to be truly ‘learner-owned’ it can only have one owner and not “multiple owners”. There is a difference between group blogs and collaboration/peer-review within one’s ePortfolio.

    Secondly, is this whole area of ‘Assessment’. We must clarify as to whether the ePortfolio is *THE* assessment tool for a single course or that the ePortfolio is used to support assessments. I am convinced that a good VLE, with all its capability of being hard-wired to the MIS, sophisticated assessment tools and Learning Analytics serves a very different purpose to a personally owned ePortfolio which may serve many different purposes. My mantra, for many years has always been, “Let the VLE does what it can best do and leave the ePortfolio to do what it does best.”

    My ePortfolio travels with me as I move from instituion to institution, from one unit to be assessed on to the next, with different rubrics, tutors and assessors – sometimes following more than one course at a time. And then, of course, on to employment, between employments and eventually on to retirement.

    Some children, even Pre-School have their own ePortfolios and continue on through mainstream education and thus on to College. Either one must possess innumerable ePortfolios or the one should be capable of Lifelong, Lifewide Learning and Leisure, presenting different personas to different audiences.

    For me the logic is simple: learners should have just one ePortfolio which is capable of repeated ‘transmogrifications’, chameleon-like as the student progressively matures throughout their lifetime.

    • I agree that there should be one owner of the e-portfolio and that’s the learner.

      However, there are issues around authentication of credits, awards, and evidence. If the owner has full control of all the content then “evidence” can be faked.

      The solution might be a learner owned portfolio with external links. If the learner’s portfolio has links back to the awarding body’s (portfolio) web site then that authenticates the learner’s evidence.

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