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Wednesday, September 24th 2008

10:34 AM

ePortfolios - Are they worth the effort?

This will be the first of a few posts I want to make on the theme of ePortfolios. What are they and where do they fit in the 21st centaury educational landscape?


One of the most commonly cited authors on the topic is Dr Helen Barret, now semi-retired, but still active in research. An ePortfolio can serve as a CV, but its use goes well beyond this. Helen Barret contends that a key feature of the ePortfolio is reflection: the activity of analysing and owning lessons learned from experience. My colleagues in the UB School of Education often use a paper based portfolio for development and assessment. It can be used to provide evidence of competence, reflecting on learning, projecting (demonstrating achievement) and celebrating achievement. A move to electronic portfolios could add  extra dimensions to a paper based portfolio. 


On Helen Barret's web page, she describes an ePortfolio developement as -

....a content management process with reflection on learning represented in the stored artefacts. There are two major directions in electronic portfolio development..... One path uses generic tools (GT) such as word processors, presentation software, HTML editors, multimedia authoring tools, portable document format (PDF), or other commonly used productivity tool software found on most desktop computers. The second path uses an "information technology" customized systems approaches (CS) that involve servers, programming, and databases. In an article by Helen Barret and David Gibson, published online, they discuss the pros and cons of each approach and the quality issues under each environment.


It is fair to assume that an ePortfolio system should be flexible, allowing learners to achieve their goals, whilst still meeting the needs of educators. Many Web 2.0 tools would be useful for the task, but when asked 'what should we use to build an ePortfolio', my current response is that I do not know. My extensive reading on the topic has not given me a definitive answer either. My (personal) hesitation is aligned with my previously declared interest in cloud computing, which is evolving rapidly. Because Barret’s (early) work dates back to the 90's available content management choices have expanded to include many online solutions including wikis, blogs, and complete office applications such as Google Apps. There are an increasing number of commercial ePortfolio solutions as well, but to date I do not think they offer the transferability or the convenience of the free online solutions. I would welcome any thoughts or comments. While I am excited about the possible use of ePortfolios in education, I am only starting to explore the opportunities and challenges. The technology questions are easy enough (technology solutions are getting better all the time) the main debate will be around pedagogy and assessment. Ultimately the most important question overworked, stressed educators will need to address is  Are they worth the effort?


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