28 September, 2006

An Overview of E-Portfolios

PDPs and E-portfolios

PDPs have been used at Edge Hill since the mid 1990s (Beaumont, 2003). The aim of them is to support students as they “develop an understanding of their own learning by reflecting on their own learning strategies and by developing their range of learning skills” (Schofield, 2004).

Originally the ‘Teaching and Learning Development’ department had more centralised control over PDP development in the instituation, but they have now been devolved to the individual faculties and HMSAS departments.

I assume e-portfolios will be best seen by us as an extension of PDPs. An extension that, because it is kept online, can allow any element to be made available to selected people, or to be made public. This can also move the focus from just keeping track of your own learning to letting other chosen people do the same, be that teachers, prospective employers, parents, etc. Trent Batson (2006) notes that it is often associated with “assessment, but also with accreditation, reflection, student resumes, and career tracking”. Put in that way it could be seen as a PDP that is not just put together in year one of your degree course, but which develops and helps you track learning over the whole of your life it you want. George Siemens (2004) sees it along these lines when he says:

“portfolios can best be viewed as a reactionary response to fundamental shifts in learning, teaching, technology, and learner needs in a climate where learning is no longer perceived as confined to formal education”.

Batson (2006) also distinguishes between e-portfolios (database-driven, dynamic Web sites) and Webfolios which have been used in the past (static, HTML-driven sites).

Potential Benefits of an E-Portfolio System

Batson (2006) notes that an e-portfolio can act to create a unifying theme for the student and their teachers in a modular degree, perhaps even allowing assessment of work from a range of modules. This could be a way of improving continuity between separate modules, especially if some were studied at other institutions.

Things that are Important from the Way an E-Portfolio System is Used

Batson (2006) notes that the e-portfolio needs to be integrated into the course and modules, if the student is to really see the benefit and get involved. This is complex and would take a lot of time and effort during course design. Academic staff would benefit from support from perhaps ‘Teaching and Learning Development’ and ‘Learning Technology Development’. This would involve the usual technical support, but also just as importantly, advice about integrating it into not only the module. To get the full benefit, their use would need to be integrated in to the whole course and entire learning experience.

Things that are Important from E-Portfolio Systems

If we are talking about a portfolio for lifelong learning, the system needs to allow interoperability between other current and future systems that the student might have access to. It also needs to be transferable to a static web site that can be hosted elsewhere, for when the learner is not a registered student at an institution with an e-portfolio system.

The system needs to be easy for the learner to use and maintain. It must be easy to pick up at first and do the basics, because the learner starting a course has much to take in with learning to use the various online tools, such as WebCT, the institution web pages, the library catalogue and electronic books and journals. All these need some time and a little effort from the students to learn how to use them. I would personally not want to see them having more complex systems to learn how to use, as we might be in danger of seeing the technology get in the way of the learning rather than supporting it.

According to Dave Tosh (2005) ELGG’s vision for e-portfolios includes making it easy for connections to be made and passed on to others in communities. This is not just about recording achievements; this view of the e-portfolio is wider and includes using this base to develop communities who learn together. Their conceptual framework (Chen, et al, 2005) demonstrates how this might work. This would be a further step in the use of such software, and again might involve integration into the curriculum.

Links to Examples of E-Portfolios Systems

Steps in Moving this Forward in the Institution

Mark Schofield has noted that there is a current audit of PDP at the moment. It looks like PDP is not yet fully integrated into the curriculum in some areas, and as we’ve seen argued above that is important to the success of PDPs or e-portfolios.

Any development of e-portfolios would have to follow on from the institutional stance on PDPs. This is good as it would mean the use would be focused. We don’t want to be administrating another system without good reason.

We would do well to get the Academic Staff who have expressed an interest in e-portfolios together along with Mark Scofield in TLD and others from SOLSTICE and LTD to talk about:

  • What we might want to achieve from using PDPs and e-portfolios?
  • Do any off-the-shelf systems meet these requirements or make them easier to meet. Could a simple bespoke system meet those needs?
  • Is it worth doing a small scale pilot using one or more of the systems, including bespoke systems to test usability, time taken to learn and perform regular tasks, use that the students make of it?

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