Thursday, 19 October 2006

E-Portfolios revisited - walled garden or open space?

From current literature and discussion, it seems apparent that the jury's out on the purpose, scope and value of E-Portfoios (EP). Barrett, H., & Carney, J. (2005) list apparently conflicting paradigms and purposes that are irreconcilable. For instance, an EP used for marketing uses ought not, or cannot, also be used for learning and assessment. They also highlight the difference between *formative* and *summative* assessment, raising the question as to whether the same EP can be reasonably used for both. For me, effective assessment is a challenge for the institution, not the learner (see previous posting). It would be a real shame to lose a 'powerful tool to support deep learning' ... 'in favour of the skills checklist'. Hence if EPs are to be of value at all, assessment by instituitions must accommodate their scope, without being constrictive.

However, this issue begs the question: if EPs are such a headache to assess, should they be a necessary feature of online courses at all? (I notice they are not a compulsory element of this course!) Barrett and Carney list a number of positive attributes of EPs which suggest they *are* of noticeable value. These include: establishment of an emotional connection between learner and learnings (Barbara Cambridge, 2004), helping to develop authentic voice, creation of lifelong learning tool, and support of deep learning (Patton, 2003). Graham Atwell (2006) also includes in his podcast, that an EP (or PLE) offers a 'learner-orientated' system, which 'breaks down the barriers between consumers and creators'. I get the sense that EPs certainly are of value, but am not convinced that they should be a compulsory part of all online study. If the course is teaching botany, or sailing, or languages, where online savvy is not really a learning outcome, then assessment of the EP instead of the *content of the EP* seems entirely unnecessary. If the course is web-related (such as this one), where effective online presentation of work and/or understanding of online environments is a learning outcome of the course, then it makes very good sense to assess students' ability to present themselves well online by asking them to create a top-of-the-range EP. 
So unless the course is specifically about online environments/ web design/ computing/ etc, my feeling is that EPs should be optional, used simply as storage of 'artefacts', or completed and ongoing work. There are so many online systems for presenting identity and experiences, that to enforce one format over another seems overly prescriptive. However, as individuals' digital presence and collection of data grows (documents, pictures, videos, podcasts, etc), whether work/study-related or personal, it makes sense to consolidate all of these with a single portal for online self-presentation, rather than having everything scattered around disparate web publishing systems.

It's for this use that the EP will ultimately come into its own - as a single *nest* or *museum* for storing items and digital experiences. And just as when museum artefacts are skilfully, thoughtfully and attractively put together, the museum itself becomes an object of value, the EP itself can become greater than the sum of its parts.

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