Friday, February 8, 2008

e-Portfolios (ePF)- tool or concept?

As highlighted by my online colleagues when I first tweeted that I was attending the Australian e-Portfolio Symposium, e-Portfolios (ePF) can take many shapes and forms in respect to the concepts and the technologies.

An ePF can be defined as "a personal digital collection of information describing and illustrating a person’s learning, career, experience and achievements." (ElfEL, 2005)

Many in the Educational Networking-sphere have already created their ePF in the form of web pages, wikis, blogs, RSS aggregators, social networking sites, and refer to them as Personal/Professional Learning Environments (PLE).

However, governments and educational institutions take a much more formal approach to ePF and prefer to utilise specific ePF systems and software to 'house' all of the 'tools' to develop an ePF environment.

There are a wide variety of open sourced, proprietary and custom-built ePF models available.

As mentioned in my Storing, Sharing, Reflecting, Learning using e-Portfolios blog post, Clint Smith (2007) describes a variety of purposes for an ePF:

- As a personal digital diary
- As a lifelong learning organizer
- As a record of events or journeys
- As a CV/resume
- As a creative portfolio
- As a project management tool
- As an individual course diary
- As a class project organiser
- As an academic record
- As a student desktop

Source: Clint Smith, e-Works – Elluminate Presentation at the Learnscope SA Final State Workshop 16/11/07

Who accesses and utilises ePF is defined by the ePF’s purpose. For example, if the ePF is being used as a class project organizer, then the ePF would be 'viewed' by the owner of the ePF, the other class project participants as well as the teacher of the class. It could also be ‘viewed’ by external agencies in the form of 'evidence' of an individual's capabilities, by potential employers, by management/HR for promotional purposes or by other educators or licensing bodies for the process of recognising existing skills when applying for course accreditation or articulation or licensing.

The following simple diagram illustrates some of the attributes of an ePF. ePF may incorporate all or just some of these attributes, and some attribute may overlap.

Purposes of an e-Portfolio, Miller, 2008

The ICT issues associated with ePF include:

- interoperability and transferability of the data between ePF
- the ability to have lifelong access to your ePF
- who will be responsible for the cost and on-going updates/maintenance of the ePF tool
- the choice of utilising internal or external expertise in establishing and maintaining the ePF
- date storage space and confidentiality
- considerations of access and equity
- to ability to have single sign-on
- the integration of the ePF with existing e-learning environments
- the length of the implementation period (“Expect about a 10 year implementation process to become fully functional” (Veugelers & Aalderink, Australian e-Portfolio Symposium, 2008))

Ease of transferability of the ePF data between the various educational sectors is very important. An ePF developed at one institution should smoothly transfer across to the new institution’s ePF framework.

ePF experience in the UK has shown that by making learners re-invent their ePF every time they move into a new educational institution, employment situation or life phase seriously encroaches the ePF concept. The development of a national ePF e-Framework structure is being investigated through a collaborative project between DEEWR and JISC.

The following simple diagram illustrates the basic structure of an “ePF on legs” (Ward, Australian e-Portfolio Symposium, 2008), whereby the ePD travels with the learner, enabled through a flexible web interface/e-portal.

The e-Portfolio Tool, Miller 2008

The Diploma Supplement / Australian Higher Education Graduation Statement Project initiatives could aid the effective implementation of “ePF on legs” through the development of a 'national repository' of authenticated academic records, which could be securely feed into each unique ePF environment.

ePF offer more derived benefits in terms of effort, course/career planning and employment readiness when they are incorporated within a particular 'discipline' or program area, and should 'value-add' to the learning experience and not be an extra chore.

Staff utilization of an ePF, peer/mentored support and having ‘established’ ePF examples for new ePF users is very important.

It has been found that “learners who are already participating in Personal Development Planning (PDP) are the ones who need ePF the least, hence ePF assist students/individuals who are not currently doing PDP through another process” (Ward, 2008)

ePF have not been implemented into many workplaces, as employers are reluctant to engage with the technology and confidentiality issues, unless the ePF has been linked to professional development/PDP/Career Professional Development (CPD)” (Ward, 2008).

Depending on the industry sector, ePF are not being highly utilised during the recruitment process. However, Industry does value the ePF concept when it assists the accreditation/licensing process and allows individuals to more readily move from one location or job to another.

The UK has used ePF to implement PDP as a means of capturing all of the skills and attributes of students which employers value, and that traditional recording methods were not capturing through academic transcripts and parchments.

Linking to Strategic Priorities and adopting effective Change Management processes is required to aid the paradigm shift required to get all stakeholders ‘on board’ during the implementation of ePF.

Adopting an eclectic implementation method, which “does not hold rigidly to a single paradigm or set of assumptions, but instead draws upon multiple theories, styles, or ideas to gain complementary insights” into the ePF concept (Wikipedia) will ensure the ePF concept and system selected will intrinsically develop learners to have a clearer sense of who they are; where they are going in the 21st century; and how they might get there in the context of their working and lifelong learning, which are highly desirable characteristics in an ever increasing change world.

“Key Message: human aspects affecting the implementation of ePortfolios in respect of changes to the teaching and learning paradigm and in institutational change management, have a substantially greater impact than the technical issues.” (Ward, 2008)


pwoessner said...

Thanks for sharing your insights from the conference; glad to know that this topic is alive and well.

We've been looking at/talking about student portfolios for a few real answers yet. For teachers, we use Elgg ( Although it's billed as a social platform, it works well as a simple portfolio tool. Still searching for the "magic bullet" with respect to students and 13 years of work to archive...

Roger said...

Yes thanks for this series of posts - and your other twitterings :-) This is a fantastic resource for us.

My takeaways so far that suit our students/teachers/curriculum/technicians are:

* the holistic approach
* some integration of student/teacher educational/'outside' worlds...
* one solution does not suit all teachers or students - nor is it likely to be responsive enough enough to changes due to size/PL/cost...
* google and other apps are useful
* must consider usefulness to the learner after/outside the course(s)
* purpose/principles are more important than particular tools - and if the students understand this as well then they can source some of the solutions
* close association with learning/teaching
* find out what students are already doing

theother66 (formally MadMiller) said...

Thanks Patrick and Roger for these comments.

One question which stands out for me is: 'how will ePF benefit the students?'

This then leads me further a field to: 'How do ePF benefit:
- our society/our communities?
- employers/industry?
- the educational institution?
- govt policy?

Something I didn't mention in this post, which I've been thinking about, is the importance of creating a 'Mission Statement' of the ePF.

A clearly defined Mission Statement will allow the implementation of an ePF concept to be scoped correctly and give the ePF a clear direction.

Portfolios have been around for a long time - but ePF can offer so much more.

theother66 (formally MadMiller) said...

Jerry Leeson from blogged the second day of the Australian e-Portfolio Symposium here:

theother66 (formally MadMiller) said...

heymilly posted this about ePortfolios

theother66 (formally MadMiller) said...

I was involved in a TalkingVTE eposide titled eportfolios - A short road to madness, last Monday evening.

Stephan Ridgway, Robyn Jay, Alex Hayes, Allison Miller, Owen ONeill & Carole McCulloch discuss the Australian ePortfolio Symposium held in Brisbane this month along with the role of the eportfolio in the vet sector generally.