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.