E-portfolios

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I???ve been thinking about e-portfolios quiet a bit recently so I thought that I???d use this post to set out some thoughts and see if I can get anyone interested in talking about it.

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E-portfolios are a learning and reflection tool that users can use to draw together evidence about their lives and work in. If you want the Wikipedia definition here it is. The vision that underpins the implementation and use of e-portfolios is that they can be a powerful learning tool that supports reflection, integration of learning from a range of sources and transitions. A true e-portfolio is owned by the learner and independent of an institutional setting or educational level. The learner can use the e-portfolio to encounter a range of different content and as a repository for evidence of and reflections on their learning. The portfolio can then be presented to people who it might be useful to present such things to (employers, other learning providers etc).

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E-portfolios aren???t new but their implementation has been patchy. They pre-date Web 2.0, but incorporate many Web 2.0 elements, and this has further muddied the water. I feel that I keep something very like an e-portfolio through a combination of this blog and my LinkedIn page. However, when people talk about e-portfolios they are normally talking about one of the dedicated e-portfolio products that are out there. In some ways this means that there is a tension between the idea of an e-portfolio and a more decentred Web 2.0 personal learning environment (PLE) ??? see my blog post on my PLE. However I???d see both of these ideas as attempting to create the same kind of reflective, social learning. E-portfolios provide a bit more scaffolding for this process and so should be ideal for use within a formal learning context. However there are some challenges with the different user groups that I???d like to talk about a bit more.

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One group that need to be convinced about the value of the e-portfolio is learners. How can learners be convinced that they want to engage with something like an e-portfolio. One way is to incentivise its adoption by using it as a mode of assessment or key part of a course. In this case learners have to engage, but this compulsion raises some issues. Firstly some of the key benefits of e-portfolios are that it supports transitions and encourages users to build links between different aspects of their learning/work/life identity. Constraining something within a course doesn???t necessarily help this and even if it does, how far can this support continued (lifelong) use. Creating an e-portfolio for an assessment is not necessarily a good way to engage people in ongoing lifelong reflection and learning.

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A second group that needs to be convinced is the teacher/learning provider. E-portfolios offer this group a way to encourage learning practices in learners that enable them to draw on pre-existing knowledge, integrate learning across concurrent courses and create a permanent personal record of what they have done. It could also enable learners to make meaningful connections between the learning that they are doing informally with the learning that they are doing formally. However it requires investment by the learning provider to develop the curriculum and new methods of assessment. It also requires the gradual development of a genre of e-portfolio assessment which is clear to both staff and students.

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Finally it is worth considering the role of employers in the development of e-portfolios. Many e-portfolios are sold to learning organisations on the basis that it provides a conduit for learners to talk to employers. However if employers are not confident in viewing e-portfolios and using them in their recruitment this rather falls flat. I think that there would be good reasons for employers to welcome e-portfolios as they have the potential to be a living document that offers far more insight than a CV. However employers are attached to CVs and application forms and the willingness to look at something like an e-portfolio again requires the development of a genre that can support both the writing and reading of these documents.

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I suppose what I???m arguing here is that while e-portfolios offer huge benefits, their implementation needs to be cultural as well as technical. Does that distinction make sense to the e-portfolio hardcore?

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8 thoughts on “E-portfolios

  1. I think portfolios (e or otherwise) can be useful, but one of their strengths is in their flexibility. Thus a learner is only going to use one if it is helpful for them to organize their thoughts and reflections on their learning. And different learners will do that differently. Imposing a structure (which using them for assessment is bound to do) is likely to turn off as many learners as it incentivizes.Furthermore, while keeping a portfolio may help people understand their skills, knowledge, experience, etc better and thus be better able to present themselves to potential employers, potential employers don’t need to see the whole portfolio. One of the important skills in applying for jobs is precisely selecting relevant information and presenting it in a way that makes sense to the potential employer.I guess I see the value of the portfolio as a repository for reflections, evidence, etc from which an individual may draw relevant information when applying for a job/promotion/etc.

  2. We might be getting closer to the use of eportfolios in recruiting that some may think. Corporate and agency recruiters are using social media and are checking out candidates. Why wouldn’t they want to have more nicely organized for them? At a certain point in the process, it makes sense for the eportfolio to be available and accessible. The paper or electronic applications will still serve a purpose for screening, but perhaps they can be kept manageable by linking to more detail online. Of course, if we are inviting recruiters to check out work online, learners and others must be guided toward the appropriate and inappropriate use of social media (beware of comments that haunt!).If appropriate to limit what is in a portfolio seen by a particular potential employer, applicants could have different versions available.

  3. Tristram – Indeed you are correct about cultural change, however, if learning providers want to truly want to embrace personalised learning, raise achievement and aspirations and enable effective progression, then an e-portfolio is a powerful vehicle for this. We know our schools like Passportfolio because it does what you have described above. In answer to Tony, we are just starting to get the idea if the visual CV (in the form of a shareable webfolio) understood and explored. We are looking for opportunities for young people to share it with local employers but we have work to do in this area for sure. Appropriate use of Web 2.0 tools and e-portfolios for ‘professional’ digital profiles is part of the digital literacy skills that young people (and adults) need to understand and develop – it is another area of my work.Feedback from young people using Passportfolio is very positive but evaluation is something else we are focussing on in the next year or so. We don’t yet know if they will want to keep using the same personal development tool throughout their lives or take up others as they develop their careers, exporting material from Passportfolio when necessary. I strongly suspect the latter which is why interoperability and data transfer issues have been a focus of our technical developments.

  4. Take a look at careers Wales online, which has incorporated an e-portfolio since it’s release 5+ years ago

  5. One of the questions that nags me about portfolios concerns purpose. And I think you raise the issue in your case for seeing them in a cultural context. I like that idea.Underlying what concerns me is a too-much neglected distinction between formative and summative portfolios. To put the issue another way, who are the portfolios for? The question is useful because there are ???first-???, ???second-??? and ???third-person??? answers. Employers and other third parties might be seeking a summative account of what a person knows – and how she-or-he will be moved through selection, recruitment and HR development procedures. Students and clients are first parties, who might be engaging in a formative reflection on what they are learning – and what they want to do about it.I don???t doubt that first- and third-person interests overlap. Students and clients are also interested in selection issues. But locating the issues in people???s perceptions of what is going on is a useful way of seeing what we do in a social-and-cultural way.The second person in all of this is us. We might be looking for an evaluative account of what this person has learned from our work. But we must, nonetheless, offer ways-of-working which also attend to some combination of formative and summative concerns. The perspectives can be reconciled. But not without a consideration of what is the primary use of portfolios. That discussion is about how different perspectives prioritise assessment, evaluation and learning. The way students and clients see these priorities will influence the amount of looking-good branding they will assert, or the amount of reflective disclosure they will risk. Is it helpful to see how the issues work out in a this kind of social-and-cultural narrative?Your blog covers this ground completely. But we both have to admit that there are more than three groups of culturally-rooted stakeholders. Yet all of them cluster around first-, second- and third-person perspectives.Over the years (!) I’ve had a few goes at this issue. And I???m glad that you’re doing more on portfolios??? net-based use. Nonetheless the following link might stir up some ways of seeing how practice responds to perspective.http://www.hihohiho.com/magazine/mkngtwork/cafinfmn.pdf(As you know I???ve long since transposed this material???s ???time-line??? format into what I now call ???storyboarding??? – where the narrative becomes the message.)

  6. Thanks for this comment Bill. I hadn’t seen your stuff on portfolios and I’ll now have a read. I agree with you in the importance of the idea of narrative in this. I think that it is like EM Forsters distinction between plot and story. The elements may be the same but we string them together in very different ways for different audiences. One of the points that I was trying to make in this post was that it is difficult to construct these narratives (both as a write and a reader) as the genres of e-portfolio writing are under-developed. It is very difficult to write something without knowing what this sort of thing usually looks like. It is equally difficult to read if you are not sure what you are reading and for what purpose.My point is not that this undermines e-portfolios but rather that it is a social and cultural challenge that will have to be addressed if these things are to be successfully implements.

  7. I think e-portfolios are potentially very useful in many contexts, not least in learning and personal development. But they are exactly that, ???personal???, and reconciling this with educators??? need to work to common template bound to the curriculum could get tricky. However, this is not to devalue it. The concept has tremendous power and, as GillCs references, can carry through life. As a producer I cannot help thinking of how I would want it to work, and what kind of GUI would be sufficiently open ended and flexible. Bill???s comments about the journey from first to third person make me think of ???concentric rings around self??? moving from the personal and reflective, to outer layers about record of achievement and public identity. My phone???s sat navigation tool locates me with a pin drop. A growing circle radiates out from me and ???where I am currently at???. This obvious graphical metaphor can be mapped onto what Bill is talking about with the ???who and what is it for??? questions. For what it???s worth I keep seeing the phrenology head with concentric rings around it with the layers changing from red to green letting the observer know they have permission to ???read my bumps".At my kids primary school they do a lot of topic based learning, one of which is titled, ???me, myself and I???. In a joined up world this topic offers an early opportunity this kind of tool to be introduced. I suppose the real deal rests on universality and the potential for a plethora of technologies to do similar things. Perhaps we should be appealing to the great and good of operating systems to arrive at something that can be personalised yet is as ubiquitous as a the concept of an email address or URL. Also it has to let the user create their own top level categorisation, as without all it is just what we have already in several current guises (FaceBook, LinkedIn etc). Perhaps I am behind the beat and someone is going to tell me this already exists? I know GillC???s is very nice indeed…

  8. Thanks for the comments about Passportfolio!! Andrew, I think your comments are very relevant. It???s interesting that the University of Nottingham is participating in European funded research on ownership and security of one???s own data ??? having it in one place and tagged by the owner for appropriate viewing and use by all interested and eligible parities. Personal ownership of the ???this is me??? is crucial but a really difficult one to crack as all the stake holders see ???this is me??? in terms of income for them. If you are interested the project???s at: http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/eportfolio/tas3/index.shtml

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