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paul reid • blog » ePortfolio - dead concept or holy grail in education?
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OpenAcademicI am impressed with the way OpenAcademic unifies powerful social-software technologies - the learner centred experience of Elgg, the community functionality of Drupal and Moodle’s course management + a Media Wiki. Refreshingly though, openacademic.org isn’t just buzz - it is actually happening. Coincidently, listening to a webcast the other day, some North American educators were discussing the prospect of a tool that unified various education focussed open-source social software technologies; I realised later they were talking about OpenAcademic. This discussion on EdTechTalk about ePortfolios in schools was of particular interest. It totally changed my understanding of what an ePortfolio should and could be.

I firmly believe the future of the ePortfolio as a concept is central to a future system-wide SOE (Standard Operating Environment) based on a social-software system (hopefully flexible and open-source) such as is mooted at openacademic.org. Perhaps beginning at the end of the decade? We teachers are currently attempting work with unsuited technologies, trying to achieve e protfolios we know have advantages for students, parents and teachers alike. What we really need are collaborative social-software systems hosted on the Internet in relatively open yet still safe and secure networked environment. WordPressIn the real-world, I accept this is some way off as an SOE, but still similar systems are within reach at the moment - a hosted version of Moodle, or as a simple content management system, WordPress for example: take the interface for the writing (blogging) system which is simple in form - *the emphasis with social software tools is on student produced content, and collaboration* - not WordArt - if I may just highlight an odd primary school example that some of my esteemed colleagues see using ICTs as meaning. MoodleIn keeping with the focus on learning content and collaboration, the filing system and presentation online is automated - these two large stumbling blocks are removed to allow the building of effective ePortfolios. In fact even the Moodle and WordPress interfaces are simpler than those of offline business/office tools we currently contort to fit educational needs such as Word, PowerPoint and Publisher.

In terms of the efficacy of ePortfolios as a ‘reporting’ mechanism in a K-7 setting there is definitely potential for a social-software e portfolio to be of great use. The time-saving aspect of a system utilising Elgg, Moodle, MediaWiki, Drupal or WordPress will appeal to Drupalteachers; for example they can easily be set-up to categorise writing and multimedia into Learning Area archives - for planning, reflection, negotiation, debate and again *collaboration* with teachers, cohorts and even external input (eg. schools overseas). In terms of assessment tasks, and avoiding the paper chase, they would are automatically archived to the database and saved as learning snapshots (writing, video, music, art, Kahhotz etc) because the students (with assistance) will have selected the appropriate learning area assessment “tag” for their work. Drafts can be saved and not displayed until publish is clicked. Teachers can moderate all collaboration via their in-box by clicking on approve, edit or delete when comments or completed tasks are published. An interesting discussion in the webcast above was the North American New Hampshire District model; ePortfolios documenting the learning journey and assessment linked to competency modules (our outcomes), and the association of projects and matching those with competencies (our Elgglevels). It would be awesome to have the Curriculum Framework integrated into such a system here. I’ve noticed Math is rarely included in the discussion on ePortfolios for obvious reasons - but for example, in a Primary School setting a screenshot could be taken of a score achieved in Year 3 Math Measurement at http://rainforestmaths.com/ for example - students could then blog (write/type) about their understanding in relation to the score displayed in the screenshot. Acheivement certificates from Mathletics could also be used. Maybe online maths syllabus tasks will in time become part of a social-software based SOE ePortfolio.MediaWiki

Possibly the greatest benefit of a such a social-software ePortfolio system is it’s usage for the duration of a student’s school life. Samples of learning difficulties could be recognised and collated by means of URI’s. Social-software e portfolios will have the bonus of ownership too - students will take pride in their work and be impressed by it’s volume and searchability for future reference. Different teachers over the time of a child’s growth, from Year 3-7 for example, could easily refer to the yearly archives to gauge the development of understanding, expression, past themes covered, etc.

[Cross-posted] This post was initially a response to an email by Peter Trimble to the eChalk email list.

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4 Responses to “ePortfolio - dead concept or holy grail in education?”

  1. Yvonne Harrison Says:

    Hi everyone
    Thanks for posting this article Paul.

    I concur that digital or e-portfolios are, for me, the way to demonstrate cumulative progress in a variety of learning areas. Having attempted to develop a form of portfolio in HyperStyudio, then moved on to the browser based versions I have demonstrated many times between 2000 and 2003 at various venues, the cumbersome nature of the beast forced me to think of different ways to categorize and cross reference the outcomes demonstrated by students. I eventually gave up as the beast defeated me - I couldn’t expect my Year 1-2 students to develop their own web based portfolios, even though we did dabble in a variety of other activities. The main use for digital content for me was the performance aspect students demonstrated during oral language activities and groiup work. Music and Phys Ed were also occasionally captured.

    I have since moved on from the cumbersome browser-based system to more simple portfolios in Powerpoint which Year 4-5 students could develop themselves.

    Howver, I can see that the advantages of the previous system (where tasks and expected outcomes, as well as assessment practices, were described) could far outweigh the time and effort required to produce them.

    The introduction of new tools and many ways of students developing their own content leave me with a glimmer of hope yet again! I thought the WA DET SIS would be a great way of having lots of video evidence to substantiate the outcomes achieved by students and that having the tasks and group activities stored in Curriculum Manager would work really well. The issue of storage reared its ugly head rather rapidly. My other concern is that as I use a Mac, much of this information is not readily available to me - especially at home where I tend to do most of my research and planning - whereas, web based tools would suit users of all platforms and be more easily accessed from wherever they wanted to work.

    I eagerly await the next exploration of e-portfolios. In fact I would be interested in trialling these in some small way during 2007 if anyone is thinking of developing prototypes and would like a collaborative partner!

  2. Paul Reid Says:

    Your exploration of e-portfolios over the years is interesting to read Yvonne. Like you I see there is enormous scope for an effective e-portfolio solution that follows a child’s growth through their schooling. A simple blog solution may even be a good template to build upon. The web2.0 tools outlined in the article are beginning to gel together in a form similar to that of OpenAcademic above. I’d be interested in any prototype research also.

  3. Roxy - ECU student Says:

    Hi i’m a student trying to become a teacher and I was wondering about E-portfolios. How do you actually assess what you put in the e-portfolio and under which criteria??? for example let’s say that i want to create a Maths E-portfolio with year 3 how will I assess their work through their e-portfolio????

    some help here would be much appreciated Thanks

  4. Paul Reid Says:

    Assessment data is only as good as the actions that arise from it. That is why having a broad ranging rubric, for example, that details the scaled expectations of students at the beginning of a learning programme is useful. The ePortfolio must be easy to use and maintain for no teacher will embrace a new technology that requires a lot of valuable classroom time.

    There are quite a few Maths programmes online and that can provide instant feedback and summative assessment to students. Screen shots of http://www.rainforestmaths.com/ for example could be taken and added to an ePortfolio for example. Not just to record a score but also to provide reflection on understanding made. Observing ePortfolio assessment, if it’s clear that a student needs more time to understand a subject, the teacher can spend more time on the subject with that student. If not, the teacher can move on. An ePortfolio allows for efficient recording of learning and in reflection ensures that every student is learning what they need to learn in the way they can learn it best.

    Good luck with your study Roxy.

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