eportfolios for academics


For the recent ePortfolios Forum at the University of Canberra, I presented a poster describing first steps in integrating eportfolios into our academic development programs at UNSW. While portfolios have been traditionally used for learning and for professional practice in creative disciplines, there is growing momentum for use of eportfolios to integrate learning across disciplines in a range of educational contexts, including development of graduate capabilities in higher education. Teachers who are not creative practitioners may find it difficult to conceptualise the use of portfolios in learning, so use of eportfolios in their own professional development can support their own development of reflective practice as well as provide a model for their students’ use of eportfolios in learning.
The image shows how eportfolios are currently conceptualised and being implemented in the UNSW Foundations of University Learning and Teaching program. Here’s a link to the full posterA learning portfolios approach to academic development.

hellooo ETMOOC

Alien in our midst

…. so here i am in the new ETMOOC course, wondering if I really will have the time to participate this time. Have enrolled in MOOCs before, and had life/work/everything take over, not to mention the timezone issue between Oz and North America. I am working in educational development and technology at UNSW in Sydney, doing my own creative work in my real life, and trying to fit a PhD somewhere in between. Looking forward to meeting new people and learning new things!

Cultivating my digital garden

Jacaranda, Bundeena, photo by me.                     CC licensed

I am an evangelist for online connectivity, personal learning networks, and digital citizenship – ie the ability to ethically and productively manage your online identity and relationships. It seems to me that the reluctance of many university academics/teachers to engage as a professional in the world of social media is a big barrier to them effectively engaging their students in online learning and digital skills. So I do my best to ‘walk the talk’, and model ‘connected’ practice.

In fact, I am an accomplished ‘lurker’, having multiple online accounts in multiple online forums, tools and social media, but having found just a few so far that seem to enrich the way I work, and even then it’s hard to say that they make me more productive – in fact can be a terrible time-suck. I use Facebook minimally, have a couple of WordPress blogs for managing my online portfolio and talking about my research, save useful links to Diigo but forget to share them, and managed a grand total of 5 tweets in Twitter over 3 years. Clearly it’s not enough to dabble in the shallows – it takes time, effort and confidence to dive in and publicly interact to develop not just a presence but a network.

So – I am spending my holiday getting my digital persona in order  – blogs, twitter, diigo … tragic ;)

One of the first tasks is to visit some of the bloggers whose work I have found inspiring and useful in the areas of higher education research, PhD study and learning technologies and follow them more proactively. Some of these I’ve been dipping into for a few years (EduPunk anyone?), others are new and I wonder how I didn’t find them before. You’ll see the list I’ve gleaned in the Blogroll on the right (of the homepage) – and BTW it’s quite annoying that I can’t reorder this list. Here are just a few of the bloggers who inspire me:

For PhD study

For edtech

something new to try out:
Keep Learning – an education technology blogging project by Instructure -

of course some old favourites:
The Conversation
Brain Pickings
Stephen Downes
Abject – Brian Lamb
bavatuesdays – Jim Groom
and whatever happened to: Mike Bogle

The sun is shining outside – and the weeds are growing – back to the real world ;)

back to the future – ePortfolios Australia Forum

I am exploring how eportfolios could help learners present their developing skills in different dimensions of creative practice in their discipline, so I went along to the  ePortfolios Australia Forum this week to share my ideas and see what is happening. Thanks to everyone I met, for some really stimulating conversations, and for your interest in my work. Here’s a copy of my poster, The creative learner, and a graphic of the model I created to frame eportfolio assessment of creative practice (PPTXPDF). You also like to find out more about the Studio Teaching Project and the holistic assessment model that I am drawing on.

The Forum showcased some impressive projects (such as eportfolio implementation for all NZ schools, also see http://myportfolio.school.nz/) and generated intense discussion about the purposes of eportfolios in education. Many participants were inspired to see the range of purposes for which eportfolios are being used, but in some ways I was disappointed by the direction eportfolio use seems to be taking.

eportfolios have been a hot topic in education for some years now, but effective, embedded implementation is slow and incremental. I think this is partly because eportfolios don’t make much sense when utilised for individual students in individual courses – the real power is leveraged when portfolios are used in whole of program, whole of life, whole of community contexts, and that is much harder. This lifelong-lifewide learning potential of eportfolios is what enthuses me, so an apparent focus on accreditation and CV building seems somewhat limiting, although I can appreciate the pragmatism of that. In fact Curriculum Vitae means ‘the course of life’, a representation of the progress of a life journey, not simply a vocational tool focused on employment.

At the Forum, challenges to implementation of eportfolios in institutions were explored, and the issues that arose are familiar to anyone who has ever worked in educational technology. It seemed so Groundhog Day – are we still making the same mistakes?
I won’t rehash the discussion, but for me two big sticking points are:

Teachers who are not accustomed to presenting themselves online, developing a digital identity, or cultivating  online networks to support their social, professional and personal lives, can’t really understand the potential of eportfolios for themselves and students. So the implementations we saw tended to be for individual students in individual courses for specific, limited purpose, and the students whose eportfolios were showcased said they had never previously had the opportunity to see each others’ portfolios.

Specialist tools have been developed (such as Mahara and Pebblepad) to assist institutions in implementing ‘educational’ eportfolios. To me this is falling into the LMS trap – an institutional ‘one size fits all’ tool to try to accommodate the myriad purposes of an eportfolio kind of misses the point. The examples we saw where students struggled to use one of these tools for a range of ‘eportfolio’ purposes underlined this problem. These ranged from web folio to research showcase, laboratory report journal or professional resume, all very valid and meaningful activities in themselves, but for each of these functions students complained that the system was hard to use, time-consuming, and did not have all the functionality they would like and expect. Sounds rather like an LMS, huh?

In all of these use examples I could think of freely available online tools that would have done the job better – be it WordPress, Google Sites, LinkedIn or Flickr. Rather than developing their digital literacy by seeking and evaluating appropriate tools, and designing a suite of online artefacts that could be aggregated to represent themselves as a digital citizen, these students are struggling with limited institutional systems that they are unlikely to use in their wider or future life.

It seems to me that while teachers are not themselves engaged in developing their own digital identity and networks, it is difficult for them to provide leadership to either their students or their institutions in effective implementation of eportfolios in education. The provision of institutional tools to make it ‘easier’ may help to entrench limited perceptions of eportfolio purpose rather than achieve more creative pedagogical outcomes.

David Jones has also made some very good points regarding the shortcomings of eportfolios in education on his blog.

From trees to rhizomes, a line of flight …


kaleidoscope © Belinda Allen

For me, liminal space in learning, where developing new knowledge requires a leap of faith, resonates with Deleuzian notions of ‘rhizomatic’ knowledge. Rhizomatic networks were posited by Deleuze and Guattari (1987) as a metaphor describing the structure of knowledge.  A ‘tree’ metaphor was (and is) a widely used way of describing the way knowledge and understanding emerge from root concepts and branch out into related ideas and concepts, as opposed to a strictly hierarchical and linear mode of progression in knowledge development. Concept-mapping and mind-mapping follow the root-branch-twig structure of the arboreal metaphor. Deleuze and Guattari (1987) found that this model did not adequately represent inter-relatedness, connectivity and spontaneous eruptions of ideas that are apparent when knowledge is looked at in a social constructivist light. According to D&G, the rhizome represents an anti-model, (amodel? immodel? unmodel?) that liberates us from formal thinking and knowledge structures:

“Let us summarize the principal characteristics of a rhizome: unlike trees or their roots, the rhizome connects any point to any other point, and its traits are not necessarily linked to traits of the same nature; it brings into play very different regimes of signs, and even nonsign states. The rhizome is reducible neither to the One nor the multiple. … It is composed not of units but of dimensions, or rather directions in motion. It has neither beginning nor end, but always a middle (milieu) from which it grows and which it overspills. It constitutes linear multiplicities with n dimensions having neither subject nor object … When a multiplicity of this kind changes dimension, it necessarily changes in nature as well, undergoes a metamorphosis. Unlike a structure, which is defined by a set of points and positions … the rhizome is made only of lines: lines of segmentarity and stratification as its dimensions, and the line of flight or deterritorialization as the maximum dimension after which the multiplicity undergoes metamorphosis, changes in nature. These lines, or lineaments, should not be confused with lineages of the arborescent type, which are merely localizable linkages between points and positions. Unlike the tree, the rhizome is not the object of reproduction: neither external reproduction as image-tree nor internal reproduction as tree-structure. The rhizome is an antigenealogy. It is a short-term memory, or antimemory. The rhizome operates by variation, expansion, conquest, capture, offshoots. … the rhizome pertains to a map that must be produced, constructed, a map that is always detachable, connectable, reversible, modifiable, and has multiple entryways and exits and its own lines of flight.” P21 (A Thousand Plateaus).

And so I enter the labyrinth …

Deleuze, G., & Guattari, F. (1987). A thousand plateaus. (B. Massumi, Trans.). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Threshold concepts‚ liminality‚ uncertainty‚ identity …

Threshold - Dingle Peninsula

Threshold – Dingle Peninsula, W. Ireland © Belinda Allen

My thinking about creativity and transformative learning has led me to consideration of all of these, and also led me to the Threshold Concepts Conference 2012 at Trinity College Dublin, June 27-29. My thoughts seemed validated when all of these concepts came up with some regularity throughout the conference. Ray Land’s keynote on liminality, where he flagged the idea that liminal space may be a productive space for creativity (see 7:50 in the recording), made me think he must have read my abstract. This was followed by discussion with Brendan Hall on his thesis about a positive perspective on ‘uncertainty’, then seeing the presentation by Daniel Blackshields and colleagues on creative aspects of thresholds in integrative learning. Finally, my reference to Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland representing a creative experience of liminality was picked up by Patrick Carmichael in his concluding presentation on curriculum and technology. Altogether satisfying as a conference, with a bunch of ideas coming together for me, and several people enthusiastically expressing interest in my work.

Threshold concepts ‘theory’ was proposed in 2003 by Ray Land and Erik Meyer as a way of thinking about ‘troublesome knowledge’, a concept introduced by David Perkins in 1999. This concept has particularly resonated with university teachers across disciplines who find that certain disciplinary concepts seem to be difficult for students to learn. As a relatively new area of research it is also under intense exploration and development, as scholars and practitioners try to use it a tool for thinking about their own teaching and research contexts.

My own presentation (‘Creativity as threshold: learning and teaching in liminal space’) explored ideas around creative being and creative identity, with postmodern notions of ‘self’ in flux relating to ‘being for uncertainty’ (Barnett) and liminality as a creative space, citing Foucault’s concept of the ‘aesthetic self’.

Foucault proposed thearts of existence” as those reflective and voluntary practices by which men … seek to transform themselves, to change themselves in their singular being, and to make of their life into an oeuvre that carries certain aesthetic values and meets certain stylistic criteria” (Foucault, 1992, p. 10-11). He furthermore suggested that life could be conceived as a work of art, in that we are each in the process of creating our ‘self’: “art has become something which is related only to objects and not to individuals, or to life. That art is something which is specialized or which is done by experts who are artists. But couldn’t everyone’s life become a work of art? Why should the lamp or the house be an art object, but not our life?” (Foucault, 1991, p. 350)

(These inspiring quotations sourced from Clare O’Farrell’s Michel Foucault website – a  great place to start exploring his ideas).

  • Carroll, L. (1974). Alice’s adventures in wonderland and Through the looking glass. Cleveland, OH: Collins-World. (Originally published 1872)
  • Deleuze, G., & Guattari, F. (1987). A thousand plateaus. (B. Massumi, Trans.). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
  • Foucault, M. (1992) [1984]. The Use of Pleasure. The History of Sexuality: Volume Two. Tr. R. Hurley. Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin.
  • Foucault, M. (1991) [1984]. ‘On the genealogy of ethics: An overview of work in progress’. In Paul Rabinow, (ed.), The Foucault Reader. Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin.
  • Meyer, J., & Land, R. (2003). Threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge: Linkages to ways of thinking and practising within the disciplines. Occasional Report, 4.
  • Perkins, D. (1999). The many faces of constructivism. Educational Leadership. 57. 3 (Nov 1999): 6-11.

The guru of praxis …

Sounds like a good name for an arthouse movie or an avant-garde band … but is in fact referring to Professor Stephen Kemmis, whose AARE workshop on Professional Practice Theory I attended last weekend at the University of Queensland. Stephen is a guru in my eyes, perhaps best known for co-authoring one of the bibles of critical practice, Becoming Critical (Carr & Kemmis, 1986).

Praxis is all about critically reflecting and acting on practice, with the intention of changing practice for social good. So we would be practicing this in the workshop? Not exactly …

Stephen began the workshop with a confession of his tendency to monologue, and pleaded with us to alleviate this through asking questions, contributing to discussion, and initiating group conversations. Then he began to speak … about the history of schooling and of universities … of the design of classrooms and the design of the book (did you know that books were designed to be chained to tables and shelves so that they could not be stolen?)… of the bureaucratisation of teaching … of the redesign of the Utrecht University of Applied Sciences … where was this leading?

… to ‘Practice architectures’, a construct which accounts for contextual aspects of practice, proposing that it is “profoundly located”.  Rather than try to spell out all the dimensions of this, here is a version of Stephen’s model for researching educational praxis as related to its architectures, drawing on ideas about practice from Habermas, Bloom, Marx, Foucault and Bourdieu:

“an expanded view of the relationships between the individual and cultural–material–social purposes of education”


Related to this is the concept of ecologies of practice – the interconnected system of social practices that support and inform each other (also see Lemke’s ideas around ecosocial systems). And so the workshop went along, in the style of an inspiring and occasionally interrupted monologue, brimming with ideas from the beaming and benevolent guru, ranging from Aristotle to Foucault, Bourdieu and Schatzki.

And after the workshop, Stephen kindly autographed my copy of Becoming Critical :)