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 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.