Thursday, March 31, 2011

E-portfolios – 7 reasons why I don’t want my life in a shoebox

E-portfolios have taken up more conference time and wasted effort than almost any other learning technology topic I can recall. The idea’s been around since the nineties but isn’t it odd that no one seems to have one? Never has so much time been devoted to something with so little real impact. An army of researchers, academics and vendors have been touting the idea that everyone should have a shoebox of ‘stuff’ which they fill up as they go through life as ‘lifelong learners’. Politicians and educators of the ‘control freak variety’ love the idea, but like identity cards, the rest of us seem to be completely indifferent. So why have they not taken off?

1. Uninteroperable

I may have invented a new word here. E-portfolios are largely confined to education, and some vocational adult learning programmes, but the 40 odd mainstream VLEs preclude any real interoperability. Buy a VLE and you’re stuck with their e-portfolio, a specially designed shoebox in a specially designed boutique shoe shop.

2. Institutionalised

Hopelessly utopian, it is the perfect example of something that turns out to be the opposite of what was intended; a shoebox of stuff so attached to institutions that you have to leave it behind. E-portfolios have been institutionalised and therefore rendered useless for students by the very people who are meant to be equipping them for life.

3. Human nature

Human beings do not behave as educationalists would like them to behave. That’s because education has a flawed and simplistic view of human nature (usually behaviourist). Proof of this comes in the fact that they still insist on teaching Maslow in teacher training. Maslow has a simplified and false theory of human nature, so do e-portfolio apologists. People are lazy, procrastinators, messy, change their minds and quite often want to forget what they’ve done. In the corporate world, as they say, HR is neither human nor resourceful, it's a control department. Human nature mitigates against us having our life in a shoebox.

4. People are not learners

People do not see themselves as ‘learners’, let alone ‘lifelong learners’. It’s a conceit, as only educators see people as learners. Imagine asking an employer – how many learners do you have? People are individuals, fathers, mothers, employees, lawyers, bus drivers, whatever….but certainly not learners. That’s why an e-portfolio, tainted with ‘schooling’ will not catch on. By and large, most adults see school as something they leave behind and do not drag along with them into adulthood.

5. Boundary problems

Media are linked on the web and cannot be easily stored in a single entity or within a single entity, so the boundaries of a real e-portfolio are difficult to define, and will change. An e-portfolio would have to cope with my social networks but they are proprietary. Information wants to be free fiscally and ontologically. We want to be part of all sorts of expansive and variously porous networks, not boxed in.

6. Plus ca change

The only thing that will not change is the fact that there will be change. So e-portfolios will be no sooner built than redundant. The technology, and culture around technology, will change. And as these changes occur, e-portfolios will be unable to keep up with the changes. In another sense, people sometimes want change, and don’t want their baggage dragged along behind them.

7. Recruitment myth

I spent a lot of time recruiting people and what I needed wasn’t huge, overflowing e-portfolios, but succinct descriptions and proof of competences. If by e-portfolio you mean and expanded CV with links to your blog and whatever else you have online, fine. But life is too short to consider the portfolios of hundreds of applicants. Less is more.

Let’s get real

Lifelong learning in a shoebox? Justifying e-portfolios on the basis of lifelong learning won’t wash. It’s too ambitious. So let’s get real. I can see their use in limited domains, such as courses and apprenticeships, but not in general use, like identity cards.

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79 Comments:

Blogger Simon Grant said...

A little factual correction, perhaps? Sure, VLE vendors' e-portfolio offerings don't interoperate, but how many people rate those? From what I hear, they are mostly used by people whose institutions won't pay for real purpose-made e-portfolio systems. Many of these are actually now interoperable, thanks to Leap2A (not heard of that? Google around...)

Perhaps also you aren't reckoning with one of the main things that e-portfolio technology is generally highly rated at supporting: developing the ability to be reflective. People who aren't reflective do find difficulty understanding what reflection is for, but then if they have their lives sorted, with no need for any more "lifelong" learning, why would they need or want to reflect? Just carry on the way you are... :-)

12:20 PM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Not so much a factual correction as an opinion. But fair enough. Why should they pay for something over and above their existing system. They're strapped for cash and don't want multiple systems, esp[ecially as the results are tracked in the VLE and would need to be transferred out.

I regard myself as a highly reflective learner but feel no need whatsover for an e-portfolio. For me it comes through blogging, twitter, facebook and conversation. These I regard as a much richer that the e-portfolio repository approach.

Note that I do agree with e-portfolio for limited learning tasks such as apprenticeships etc.

Last sentence suggests some 'control freakery', the very thing I don't like about e-portfolio evangelism.

12:29 PM  
Blogger Simon Grant said...

Glad to hear you are highly reflective already, Donald, in which case of course you don't need e-portfolio based help to become so. But surely that doesn't mean you can't appreciate the benefits of such approaches to helping people become more reflective?

I agree with you that portfolio technology is also useful for tracking the learning of skills, as in apprenticeships. In professions, being a reflective practitioner is widely talked about - do you think that it is worth assisting the development of reflective practice or not?

(And yes, I freely admit there is some opinion mixed up with the facts about portfolio interoperability and Leap2A.)

12:42 PM  
Blogger Simon Grant said...

Another issue concerns the nature of real e-portfolio systems. Yes, you're quite probably right in thinking that VLE portfolios are highly limited, but look at real e-portfolio systems, and they involve extensive interaction with other people (peers and/or mentors), and perhaps (like PebblePad perhaps) are even trying to eschew the label "e-portfolio" as they really don't fall into the class you are rightly criticising.

All I'm asking here is that you recognise that you are criticising a subset of systems, on which I would generally agree with your criticisms. Tarring the good ones with the same brush doesn't help.

12:46 PM  
Blogger pauljinks said...

I may be missing the point here, but surely the portal to your 'lifelong learning' portfolio is a Google search? Easy for employers, friends, coworkers etc.

Maybe not so easy for the individual. Managing your 'digital identity' is something that seems to be interesting a growing number of people in HE.

1:21 PM  
Blogger pablohunny said...

Well, to be honest, my e-Portfolio is the same as any artistic or development profession. It's a demonstration of my current capabilities. As such, it requires a massive amount of work to construct and maintain.

Unless it's my blog. In which case I upload samples of ideas and techniques I've been working on. It's *my* blog, so I don't lose stuff when I move job. I have my own backups so if the ISP has problems, I don't.

Just my 2p :)

3:43 PM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Paul - I agree. Managing your online identity is a much more realistic and relevant activity. Links and/or Google's all you really need.

4:23 PM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Simon - not convinced at all on LEAP2A. It's easy for a couple of universities to publish something under the JISC banner, but the vast majority of JISC initiatives fail to have real purchase, either across the sector or in the commercial world. Standards will not solve the fundamental problem - which is lack of interest. It's a solution looking for a problem. I'm just trying to be realistic here.

4:33 PM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Pablo - interesting point. I'd therefore add one more reason to my list of 7: far too much effort.

4:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Colleagues,
In fact we have found just the opposite is true at BU where we are using ePortfolios as an assessment tool to collect, select and reflect on both the products and process of student learning in our high esteemed University in the US to document the first year experience, our students work in interdisciplinary programs, in Public Health, in Education, in Rehab Sciences where academic and clinical training can be captured using multimedia. I regret that your post shows your lack of knowledge of the potential of the tool for assessment purposes. It appears you are mis-informed of the pedagogical potential, not just the technical storage that are ePortfolio rich and not just collection bins without a purpose, audience or reader. Perhaps the author should go out and get a set of 21st centure shoes and stop using a box while reading up on assessment for learning.

5:45 PM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Well 'anonymous' from 'highly esteemed University' in the US. Read my post again. I have no problem with specific portfolios for clinical practice and other specific vocational experiences. I have been heavily involved in medical training and do see uses in clinical practice. My post was targeted at 'lifelong learning' portfolios. As someone who works in a University you should perhaps address the arguments and not simply say 'we do it therefore you're wrong'. That's just bad maths.

In fact, your Digication system is not available for subscription outside of the US and not open source. How interoperable is it? Can I transfer to pebblepad or desire2learn? Can't see people paying subscriptions for the next 7-80 years of their life. These are 21st century questions.....

6:07 PM  
Blogger Z.A.Ali said...

Dear Mr. Clark,

While you may not have the time or the temperament for e-portfolios, you should make your claims with some sound research and valid documentation. If you have a personal disliking to shoeboxes then keep it to yourself otherwise, support your writings with examples and logical reasoning.

You may not have any value for e-portfolios but certain domains of education and training do use them for formative assessment and reflective thinking. If you do not see adult "fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, husbands and wives" as life long learners then that is your point of view. But the fact is that all living species are in a constant state of "change". That change is learning, learning to be a father, to be a mother and so on. So, in essence we are all doing something with our lives that is increasing or decreasing our understanding and knowledge about things and situations around us. So, if we would like to assess that "increase" or "decrease" by designing e-portfolios, then why should it be considered "shoeboxing".

E portfolios are samples of your thoughts and work at one specific moment in your life and they can be powerful tools to augment your understanding about yourself, your learning and thinking process at that moment and how it has changed (increased or decreased) from that specific moment.

I consider them to be very powerful tools for learning and self-assessment.

My 2 cents

6:22 PM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Well Z. A. Ali. and I suppose your 2 cents are well supported by sound evidence and documentation? I'm sure you could provide the evidence that e-portfolios are sweeping the globe and that people are paying top dollar to have one. I think not.

Once again I have to repeat the fact that I DO AGREE that, in limited vocational circumstances, e-portfolios can be useful, just not across a lifetime.

You may have missed my point about 'learners' and 'lifelong learners'. I was objecting to the labelling, not the obvious and banal point that people learn across their lives.

On logical argument, why not address the points made about interoperability etc, rather than insisting that I 'keep my views to myself'. You don't seem to have grasped the point of blogs, namely to express your own views and engage in subsequent debate.

7:18 PM  
Blogger Simon Grant said...

And if anyone really wants their eyes opening on the real value of e-portfolio tools, please read Darren Cambridge's new book, "e-Portfolios for Lifelong Learning and Assessment". The arguments Darren puts forward (drawing from his own first-hand experience) are simply in a different world to elementary discussions or repositories and apprenticeships. Give it a go - it really repays study.

7:22 PM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Simon - thanks. I'll give it a go, as long as it has some reasonable evidence.

7:25 PM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Simon - I'd genuinely be interested in globally e-portfolios that are genuinely interoperable.

7:44 PM  
Blogger Jan said...

Donald - Here's a research paper on ePortfolio employability presented at last summer's Learning Forum in London: http://sites.google.com/site/cityueportfolio/news-announcements/eportfolioemployabilityresearchpaperpresentedinengland

Check out the conclusions section in particular.

Funny that there's a NINTH conference on ePortfolio happening in London this July if it is not gaining momentum, isn't it? Maybe you should go since it's on your side of the pond. On the agenda are topics about life-long learning and the current state of non-interoperability (but I for one, think things will evolve there in time). Remember when you couldn't share audio files between iTunes and Media Player? When we had to use WordPerfect instead of MS Word on Apple computers?

http://www.epforum.eu/

It seems you've been a bit of a brick wall when it comes to letting others share their opposing opinions but perhaps some of these resources/events may have you open to letting that wall crumble and give ePortfolio a bit more of a chance.

8:43 PM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Had a look at the slides and it only reinforces my view that portfolios start and stop stone dead in HE. The conclusion says nothing about the longevity of e-portfolios and lifelong learning. I repeat that they have no legs across a 'lifetime' for the reasons I've given.

I've just spoken at an e-assessment conference with lots on e-portfolios and there was general puzzlement about why they have not taken off. The presentation before mine was called 'E-portfolios - why so slow'. Number of private sector people at conference 2, and I was one of them.

I'm also not convinced that evidence of success comes from a small conference taking place in a hotel in London, almost entirely attended by HE researchers and funded with EU and government money. One of my arguments is that the whole area has been over-funded since the nineties.

I repeat, I'm not for killing off the idea of e-portfolios, only sceptical about the hopeless utopianism of HE researchers about their usefulness beyond specific domains.

No idea what you mean by a 'brick'. I've published every comment submitted, even those that have been personal!

9:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just one question - why pay for an e-Portfolio when one can use Google tools for free? I can really see students using Google tools, building sites, sharing photos, documents, videos, etc, but why would they want to get tied into an institutional e-Portfolio if they don't have to.
Additionally, LEAP2A is all well and good, but all it allows you to do is transfer your e-Portfolio from PebblePad to Mahara and back again. Let's hope no one spent too much time and money making it happen!!!

10:30 PM  
Blogger Jan said...

I'll give you that about publishing the opposing views - and do appreciate it. My brick wall reference was more about none of the posts seeming to get through that wall to you - to have you keep an open mind. Maybe it's not where you want it to be just yet, but people are finding (and creating) value by using it and having a place to store and share their reflections, and the more they do, the more others will use it and the better it will continue to become.

In the end, none of us will likely change our minds/opinions on this topic, but time will tell the real value. Something that started in the 90s can't have a history for lifelong just yet, but I feel with continuous emerging tools/technologies and a future of more ubiquity and interoperability amongst all of them, value will continue to increase. Look how far we've come since the 90s.

You mention tools/technologies will continue to change/evolve - and I agree, but how great would it be if this sort of solution could house an education and professional career's worth of projects (with reflection?) I'd love to be able to look back at some of the work I did in the early 90s just to see the progression of a career. Today's digital format of media in the cloud is a lot more fluid than what we had back then on floppy disks.

I'm excited about the potential for this platform going forward where individuals can share both educational and professional projects while reflecting on learning and insight along the way. One man's trashy shoebox is another one's tangible treasure.

Let's just agree to disagree.

10:53 PM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Jan - Blogs are about debate. I put forward seven arguments around interoperability, institutional limits, human nature, naive assumptions about 'lifelong learning', technical problems about boundaries, the rate and nature of change and false assumptions about recruitment.

What I'd like to see is debate around these issues, not just statements of blind faith or the fact there's a conference in London, that some US university is using e-portfolios or that I'm in some way ignoring the counter-arguments. I just don't find the evidence compelling. In fact I find it noticeable by its absence.

I wonder of the e-portfolio people would be willing to have a proper debate and get me along to their conference to speak? ;) We need this form of debate.

11:33 PM  
Blogger Pam said...

For some professions it is a statutory requirement to demonstrate reflection on practice and provide a portfolio.

I am interested in e-portfolio because I find it more creatively appealing to maintain that a dust gathering folder dumped in the corner of my office.

I also wished to really encourage my professional body to access my e-portfolio as and when they want to. This demonstrates to them I have a commitment to reflection at all times not just when they request to see my folder and I hurriedly try and make some stuff up to put in it.

Hopefully if they are responsive to reading it on line it also saves me trying to bundle up a folder and sending it through the post to them.

Hopefully I have outlined a couple of benefits. I don't really expect a prospective employer to read my e-portfolio.

1:25 AM  
Blogger Scott said...

Hi Donald,

I have quite a bit of sympathy for your position here. We haven't seen massive mainstream take up of the "general portfolio" - instead what we see is that existing professional portfolio practices have gone online as people manage their online professional identity as a way of advancing their careers.

We've also seen portfolio-based assessment in many areas (e.g. Edexcel, diplomas and apprenticeships), and while I think we agree these are valuable they are also still largely for an "internal" audience - employers are still most interested in the exit award plus any recognisable differentiators that can fit on one line of a CV. (I think these kinds of portfolios really come into their own when the assessment itself is "authentic" and generates work interesting to a far wider audience that the exam board.)

The education challenge, at least as far as students I work with are concerned, is developing the skills and practices of managing an online professional identity.

I think there can be a role of institutional e-portfolio technologies as a source of information or a kickstart to that process.

In which case interoperability is a key consideration - if you can't export the interesting bits of a portfolio into something like Wordpress, Tumblr or LinkedIn then its of limited use. Leap2A, by building on existing widely-supported web feed technology (Atom), has some potential here.

So... I don't think eportfolios are by any means a moribund or useless concept, but have some very clear and identifiable benefits in specific cases. I think we just have to push against a few open doors rather than pursue broad ideals.

10:08 AM  
Blogger Dook said...

Another interesting post, Donald.

I do take your point about "learner" and "lifelong learner", knowing that you are saying it partly because you believe your position (for a number of very valid reasons) and partly because you take great pleasure in poking some folk out there ... and that can be fun too.

I don't have any problem with the word 'learner' or using it int eh context of it being lifelong ... the same way I don't have any problem being a 'breather' and intending to do that for a long time too.

There is quite a similarity between the two actually, especially once you are outside of education. Both need to have the occasional bump to remind us about the importance of doing them and doing them properly. "Rubbish", I hear some folk say ... "Breathing is a natural process!"

It may indeed be a natural process, but why then are we reminded about doing it properly, whether on our Wii Fit, or a mother during labour?

In the same way we might have CPD within the workplace, whether it is formal or simply a colleague / boss / person saying, "Look, this is all you need to do so watch carefully as I don't have time to show you again!" or "here is the manual, make yourself familiar with it", though to things we pick up watching TV and then try to use (DIY shows have a lot to answer for!) ... learning goes on. It just generally doesn't have a label.

The education / training profession are going to stick labels on things as it allows for explanations about particular aspects and as long as we agree where those boundaries are, is it really a problem? I'm not going to object to a doctor explaining on my notes the my Illio-Tibial Band Friction Syndrome is also causing me to change my running and walking gait ... I'll just say my leg hurts and I am limping.

11:57 AM  
Blogger Serge said...

Interesting conversation. Donald, would you agree to give a keynote address at the 9th ePortfolio & Identity Conference (ePIC 2011, 11-13 July, London http://www.epforum.eu)? It would be an opportunity to challenge the ePortfolio community, and meet the diversity of actors who are composing it.

You write: "Managing your online identity is a much more realistic and relevant activity. Links and/or Google's all you really need."

As much as I agree with the first part of the statement, I fully disagree with the second part. Google, Facebook and the like teat us as digital slaves; our personal data is enslaved by corporations, businesses and service providers. Google is in the business of digital slave trading. They are in control of our personal data, not us. Our identity is fragmented (which is radically different from distributed which is in the nature of identity). We need to free our data from digital slavery and we need to do it now!. It is a movement similar to that of Open Data for public data, with a big difference: personal control. We need to provide individuals with the means to control who sees what, and this will be only possible if the Internet becomes Identity Centric, i.e. individuals exist (are represented) as tangible and permanent entities, rather than mere 'clients' at the periphery.

The way too many people address identity issues makes me think of a discussion on cotton production in the 18th century where the conversation would range from selection of crops to trading methods without addressing the issue of slavery...

In a different context, ePortfolios could be seen as one possible view one one's emancipated identity...

12:12 PM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Anonymous Re LEAP2A - couldn't agree more. LEAP2A is of limited functionality and does indeed seem to have limited adherents namely PebblePad and Mahara. I'd like to know how many individuals have paid the subscriptions for PebblePad. I spent years of wasted time in standards meetings for e-learning, most of which was wasted time.

12:34 PM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Dook. May be useful to make a distinction between the attribution of the word by a) educational/training professionals, b) employers, c) learners.

In my experience a) should be free to sue the terms but seem therefore to exaggerate the role of formal learning b) underestimate the importance of learning, but c) is the important one. Few young people and fewer adults see themselves as 'learners'. I think this is healthy as people are usually glad to be free of school, college and university and don't want their on-going learning to be institutionalised.

E-portfolios, in the sense of 'lifelong e-portfolios' won't work because they falsely assume that people want to track and reflect on formal learning. It won't happen because it infantalises people, seeing them as lifelong 'students'.

2:50 PM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Scott. Generally agree with this, but LEAP2A will go the way of most JISC initiatives, as they generally fail to get widespread adoption. To do that you need smart, commercial marketing and entrepreneurship. I'm fine with e-portfolios in HE for vocational subjects, but we need to be realistic about the desirability or possibility of moving beyond this. HE is highly institutionalised and has a bad record in sharing and disseminating initiatives. But the biggest problem is quite simply lack of DEMAND. It's all supply, largely through grants.

2:56 PM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Scott. Generally agree with this, but LEAP2A will go the way of most JISC initiatives, as they generally fail to get widespread adoption. To do that you need smart, commercial marketing and entrepreneurship. I'm fine with e-portfolios in HE for vocational subjects, but we need to be realistic about the desirability or possibility of moving beyond this. HE is highly institutionalised and has a bad record in sharing and disseminating initiatives. But the biggest problem is quite simply lack of DEMAND. It's all supply, largely through grants.

2:56 PM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Pam - don't disagree with this in limited vocational contexts. My beef is with the lifelong e-portfolio evangelists, mostly HE researchers chasing grants applications. We have to think more about demand, not HE led supply.

3:00 PM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Serge - happy to talk at the conference. Or is this April Fool's Day!

3:04 PM  
Blogger Chris Peat said...

Donald as an e-portfolio supplier I substantially agree with the point you are making. Indeed I think some of the people who have promoted the idea of a lifelong learning portfolio unwittingly agree with you as well. Serge Ravet in his paper in 2007 called 'For an ePortfolio enabled architecture' recognised that his idea of an e-portfolio was now being made available through other means; 'Is MySpace an ePortfolio? Is 43things an ePortfolio? Is Elgg really an ePortfolio?' Sadly he then did not go on to abandon his notion of e-portfolio, so the turgid conferences and debates to which you refer go on.
Where I believe e-portfolios do have a role is in capturing evidence of competence, reflecting on that where required and being able to organise and present it easily for a range of different purposes. Often this also requires that rules of who can see what and when apply, in order to protect the integrity of the assessment process and e-portfolios are good at doing that well.
But these are not the same as the e-portfolios you are rightly attacking in your blog. We wish we could come up with a better title so we can make the distinction.

3:04 PM  
Blogger Simon Grant said...

Leap2A is not actually a JISC initiative. It was a suppliers / developers initiative, and we've gone down a road I think you would appreciate, with very minimal JISC funding to help bring the developers together to agree the spec. We now have it on an independent server, and most likely over the next year or so the whole initiative will break free of JISC. So there is again good reason not to tar this with the same brush as less successful JISC initiatives.

Two things set Leap2A apart: (a) it was developed only in full agreement of the vendors (b) it is based (as Scott mentioned) on a well-implemented base (Atom). It is also licensed with OWFa, which is a good thing. It is, and will, gently evolve to meet the real needs of e-portfolio system developers. It is not hard to implement - much easier than alternatives.

Like the other points you make, interoperability is not the main challenge we all have with e-portfolio practice. It's just a corner that is under control.

3:10 PM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Chris. I think you've nailed the problem here. E-portfolio has become a catch all for all sorts of things. I'm not an e-portfolio expert but it strikes me that what is needed is a short taxonomy to sort out the different species of e-portfolios.

Something along these lines:

Level 1: Single qualification within an institution.
Level 2: Single qualification across institutions.
Level 3: Education (school FE and HE) across institutions
Level 4: Resume with evidence of competences.
Level 5: Lifelong evidence and reflective e-portfolio.

I'm sure there's lots of finessing to be done and several other levels could be added. But it would avoid confusion.

3:32 PM  
Blogger Sarah Stewart said...

Hi Donald, I am an ePortfolio enthusiast but I have to say, I have a lot of sympathy with what you say in this post.

Over the years I have carried out lots of PD workshops etc with health professionals, healthcare workers and HE teachers. I agree that the concept of life-long learner is not one that is readily accepted, let alone an ePortfolio...and that's HE teachers who should be the first to see themselves as life-long learners. If I was given $5 for every time I heard..."I am not doing that, it's not work...I am not doing that in my own time..." and so on. The vast majority of people I work with can barely manage to keep a CV up to date, let alone an ePortfolio.

At the same time, whilst a Google search will reveal my work etc, it will not work with many people who do not want a digital identity or engage with online activities.

I also despair of the trend to jump on any band wagon that introduces bells and whistles without thinking about the pedagogy behind it, and carrying out proper evaluation. Whilst there is a lot of research looking at ePortfolio, I agree that there isn't so much that looks at longitudinal outcomes, especially once students have left HE. The other thing that drives me mad is the money wasted on pilot projects all over the place, re-inventing the wheel...little or no communication between HE and industry, or shared resources.

Having said all that, I work in a profession, like Pam, that has a requirement for a portfolio. What I like about using ePortfolio is the idea of having a seemless integration with my regulatory body, employer and HE institution. That hasn't happened yet, but I hope it will soon. ePortfolio also allows me to be far more creative in my presentation of my work than a paper one does. I have always argued that an ePortfolio should be what ever a person wants it to be, so my blog is my ePortfolio. But for the many people who do not want a blog etc, a proprietary platform may feel "safer" and "easier" for them.

As you say, ePortfolio in HE is one thing...ePortfolio for life-long learning is another. Does anyone know of any longitudinal research that looks at the outcomes for paper portfolio or ePortfolio for people working...not necessarily linked to HE?

6:00 PM  
Blogger Dirk said...

In reference to
1. Uninteroperable
2. Institutionalised
5. Boundary problems
6. Plus ca change

You might want to create a free account on our system and explore how some of your concerns are addressed. You may need to spend some time to fully realize it's potential. Although use cases and examplars are not always readily available, the potential can be seen easily.
http://www.portfoliocommunities.com

7:19 PM  
Anonymous Dirk Meyer said...

With reference to
1. Uninteroperable
2. Institutionalised
5. Boundary problems
6. Plus ca change

You could create an account on our system and explore the possibilities and how the service tries to overcome your concerns.

7:25 PM  
Blogger Harold Jarche said...

You seem to have hit a nerve with many of the (financially) vested interests here, Donald. Eportfolios are like content-based curricula, in my opinion. They're product focused instead of process oriented. If the schools were helping people to develop ways of capturing artifacts of their knowledge which they could use in future learning, then they might be on to something. It's why I focus on process development for Personal Knowledge Management and don't advocate any particular tool or platform. This seems to be where the eportfolio folks have gone astray, confusing product with process and locking-in students.

8:15 PM  
Blogger Tallulah said...

I have to agree that the term has become a catch all for basically everything.

Your Level 4 identification coupled with a blog/website, personal video, linkedin & twitter page is what I usally push as an eportfolio for college students looking for a job or internship. Their education portfolios aren't usually what employers/businesses are looking for.

8:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ePortfolio is only a word. It doesn't have to be this rigidly defined thing - a shoebox metaphor. Pulling together all your stuff (whichever sort of system it sits in) and releasing for various reasons - it may be assessment, a placement, an employer - is a great function to have - all the more possible as interopabilily and the capacity for aggregation increases. Don't get so hung up on the terms.

8:26 PM  
Blogger Dilip Barad said...

How about using SNS for ePortfolio?
Say for instance, Facebook or Orkut.
If it is managed by individual rather than institutions, i see better chances for ePortfolio. I believe preparing one's ePortfolio on SNS like FB can make difference. Whats your say?

10:44 AM  
Blogger CoffeeChug said...

I agree with so much on this blog and post. I remember constantly trying to think of a great portfolio system and nothing ever seemed to work. This was an obvious sign that it is not practical. This post further justifies my reasons to avoid the portfolio concept in my classroom because it goes against my real world teaching ideas.

12:42 PM  
Blogger Ray Tolley said...

Donald, I have been thinking of the problem of terminology for some time. How about I-portfolio for those pseudo ePortfolios embedded within an institution, or Q-Portfolios for those specifically designed for the delivery and assessment of a particular qualification?

However, these do not fit with my understanding of an ePortfolio. Similarly the levels that you describe and their functions are not linear. A 5-year-old can celebrate or ask for feedback. 10-year-olds can collaborate or engage in peer-review.

In my view, as I tried to say at the conference, a true ePortfolio must meet my '10 Prime Directives' and also serve a wide variety of functions (but not all needed at the same time).

There is no need for a system such as I describe to be expensive, mine is certainly geared to be low-cost. But yet an ePortfolio still needs some support. In configuring a system to a school's needs I particularly try to avoid any additional burden placed on teaching staff or schools' technicians.

1:15 PM  
Blogger Xerif said...

Donald,

In nearly 20 years in ICT school teaching, no student has ever come up and said they wanted all/any of their saved work because they wanted to keep it for the future.

Being of a more skeptical nature than yourself, I think some commercial entities have seen e-portfolios as a gift that would give and keep giving...to the providers.

Would I really want to see that essay I wrote on the bus to School 40 years hence?

Google and the rise of options like Blogger or Posterous have rendered what rationale these systems did have to the slow lane. They've been overtaken and few people will want to lumbered by a system from today 10 years hence.

11:47 PM  
Anonymous Tony said...

Donald- thank you for posting your thoughts and concerns around e-Portfolios. The challenges you have mentioned around challenges in "interoperability" and the like bring to mind the need for clarity of purpose in such respects.

I did have an initial "push-back" moment related to your 4th point, the idea that "People are not learners."

As an educator, I do often imagine asking employers the question of how many learners they have on staff, and I imagine that for many employers and industries, such a question is paramount to their work. In order to do what has never been done, businesses need employees who can think about things in ways that they have not been thought about. In other words, I feel like we need "super-learners," ready to roll with the continuously changing landscape. If the pop-business writers like Pink, Collins, Senge, Godin, et al are reflecting reality, then a staff full of learners are paramount to success.

Maybe I'm reading too much into your message, but I feel like you are valuing "right-now knowing" over "lifelong learning." While I do not share that value judgment, I can appreciate your view. To me, it is like comparing what different people value in a computer. Some prefer to compare the size of the computer's hard drive, while others focus more on the speed of the computer's processor. Does this analogy resonate at all to the differences in the way we see things?

2:40 PM  
Blogger Dan Pontefract said...

My take?

E-Portfolios are archaic.

I'd rather talk about my digital footprint; what is the sum of all contribution through various modalities and opportunities.

6:45 PM  
Blogger Simbeck-Hampson said...

Hi Donald. Your last comment caught caught my eye and in particular this part of it...

"In nearly 20 years in ICT school teaching, no student has ever come up and said they wanted all/any of their saved work because they wanted to keep it for the future."

I wonder what is hidden behind this statement? Do you think that students are not interested in having their content because they see it as having no relevance to what comes after school (education process)?

If you applied the same scenario to the content they had collated / curated for a personal blog or indeed on Twitter or Facebook, would the reaction be the same? How would they react if suddenly tomorrow it was not available? Perhaps a tad annoyed, I'd guess! School work no longer available, no problems - didn't need it anyway!

What does this say about the education system? Why would you just walk away from years of content curation without even a thought of looking back or requesting a copy - is it really so irrelevant?

From my own experience, the only thing I found worthy of taking from either school, college, university or post-grad uni was my design work and final dissertation. Regarding the rest, I didn't think twice about it. As I remember I was just happy to have the piece of (expensive) paper that proved I was now in the top 5%. Yay, I'm educated. Erm, now what!

If I may, I would like to point your readers to a new report by Roger Schank, entitled 'Everything you think you know about education is wrong' - http://goo.gl/JRahs. His recent speech in Spain is also worth watching. http://goo.gl/Oiorh

Why do I point people towards this report? Because he's absolutely right; your comment just added a sizeable chunk of weight to his already compelling argument.

8:55 PM  
Blogger Simon Grant said...

Simbeck Hampson: I had a quick read of the Roger Schank piece. He stresses the importance of learning to think well, instead of the established curriculum, and I agree. The other people who would agree are all the e-portfolio advocates that I know. E-portfolios are nothing about "subjects"; all advocates that I know instead stress life skills of the kind Schank is advocating. Most of all, "planning". Schank says:

"Planning is very difficult. It must start simple and be practiced simply for a while or it never becomes second nature. Plans must fail, at least in simulation, because analysis of what went wrong is a critical part of planning. If you aren’t analyzing what went wrong you aren’t learning to plan."

Interestingly it is just that kind of planning and reflection that e-portfolio tools (used wisely) are very good at supporting.

So, while Schank supports Donald's criticisms of education (which I have a lot of sympathy with) actually what he says supports rather than detracts from the (sensible) use of e-portfolio tools. Understanding this, of course, does need some thinking skills of the kind that Schank is promoting... :-)

5:18 AM  
Blogger Xerif said...

to Simbeck-Hampson

It was my good self who made the comment so don't blame Donald!

I'm going to switch our KS3 students to using Posterous as a sort of modern notebook partly to try and get them to think about what they write, show their planning stages as well as the end product.

That seems a more interesting direction that an eportfolio which we do you use specific subjects.

I've previously read Roger Schank's comments (which are worth a look) but I'm not sure how they relate to eportfolios, more evolving education in a different direction.

7:00 AM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Simon - I've known Roger Schank for over 20 years and seen him speak many many times and never once have I heard him mention e-portfolios, that's not to say he doesn't believe in them (whatever one means by 'them'). I am heavily involved in skills training as a Director of Learndirect (3 million learners) but still do not believe in 'lifelong learning' e-portfolios. The two positions are not mutually exclusive.

10:13 AM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Simbeck Hampson - I'd agree with this view of learners. It's not the detritus of the learning process that people want to preserve, but a few meaningful outputs. People are not as obsessed with the learning process as leaning professionals would have us believe. Precious few would pay for it out of their own pocket.

10:18 AM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Dan Pontefract - spot on.

10:19 AM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Tony - I have no doubt that employers need people who learn fast and learn for both short and long term goals. As an employer, however, I didn't like the obsession with 'courses' that educators clearly have. Most employers are not interested in qualifications and endless 'courses' but real competences. I feel that this obsession with 'courses; is what lies at the heart of the e-portfolio 'track it & store it' movement.

10:23 AM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Xerif - well put, blogger and other tools have relegated e-portfolios to the 'slow-lane'. Since e-portfolios were mooted in the 90s, the web has evolved and produced superior tools that have simply overtaken the e-portfolio movement. It's clear that most of us 'learn' without having to constantly see ourselves as 'learners', and that we have no real need to constantly reflect on 'learning'. Life is not a 'course' and few are enthralled by formal education beyond their formative years (and even then we're largely dismayed at it's inefficiencies).

10:28 AM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Ray - the field certainly needs some taxonomic clarity. The word 'e-portfolio' is a catch-all but has attracted the 'lifelong learning' zealots, who see life as one long 'course'. Happy with whatever means people choose to record their learning but e-portfolios do little for me. The vast majority of people do not see themselves as being in the world of 'learning'. It's like 'life coaches' My response is get a life not a coach!

10:32 AM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Coffechug - agree, the problem with e-portfolios is precisely this - they rub up against real life. The reality is - academics, teachers, lecturers, instructors and trainers have neither the time nor skills to do it and similarly with learners. Life's too short.

10:35 AM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Sarah - I laughed at this post as I totally agree with your diagnosis of HE. There's huge resistance to move beyond the 'lecture' with nor formative assessment at all, in HE. HE is often, not always, a pedagogic desert. My own view is that HE is little interested in lifelong learning and keen to preserve the '18 year old undergraduate' model (OU excepted).

10:40 AM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Harold - " confusing product with process and locking-in students" - that's it in a nutshell. Brilliant - enough said!

10:45 AM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Talullah - that's it - it's simple, practical and evolving. No need for the lock-down.

10:46 AM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Anonymous - agree but I'm not sure that I am hung up on the terms. I'm just no hung up on the products and lock-down.

10:48 AM  
Blogger IK said...

I am a partner in a small free ePortfolio hosting service, Foliospaces, (so yes I do have a vested interest) and agree with most of your points Donald. We started hosting ourselves because the idea of asking our students to produce an ePortfolio on our university server seemed ridiculous, as it was only available as long as students were enrolled. Obviously the whole point of having an electronic portfolio (over say a shoebox) should be to be the capacity to access it anywhere, anytime. The ability to plug in any multi-media content is essential; in fact all an ePortfolio solution needs to be is a blank page. The more templates are used, and the more control that is exerted, the more students and professionals will be turned off using them. Some proprietary systems are defacto LMS’s and the assertion of student ownership is deceitful.
It is hard to refute your assertion that millions has been spent on research to little avail, but that is true of much technology I expect and to be honest much academic toil. If some good comes of it that is surely good. I attended a couple of ePortfolio conferences, but tired of policy makers, political agendas talk of graduate attributes and the like. Conferences are a bit like that anyway I guess. If you come away with a few crumbs it is ok.
Proprietary systems tend to be walled gardens. Keep everyone fenced in. The main perpetrators are what I call the institutional 'IT Mafia'. Vendors pander to them, and it is far easier for them to say 'no' to requests from staff for innovation or trying something new than it is to say 'yes' (it may require filing in a form, or justifying a decision to allow contact with the outside world). So we tend to get solutions that stamp out any creativity or fun. Frankly in most cases you would be better off with a blog. LEAP2A interoperability is a good move, as a compromise between walled garden and the free world. Main issue at the moment is you can be all dressed up with nowhere to go but I imagine this will change in time. I tend to think that currently the vast majority of ePortfolios are student projects, left to wilt on the vine after graduation. The numbers that are currently exported would be miniscule.
Whilst it can be handy to have a blog in an ePortfolio (for reflection) it doesn’t really even need to be there. Before ePortfolios there were blogs, wikis, web pages and even paper based diaries (remember them?). If reflection is the main reason for ePortfolios I think they would already be dead in the water. Academics would like to think ePortfolios were for reflection. There has certainly been lots written about it, but I see little evidence that this is a primary use. The main use I would say is the ability to re-purpose content within a social context, to showcase work.
And what is the big difference between an ePortfolio and Facebook? It’s privacy. On Mahara (the open source software we use) content is private by default until you choose to share. You don’t collect friends (as on Facebook) but rather choose them.
If I had to give just one good reason to use an ePortfolio, it’s that ability to re-purpose content and keep tight control over who sees what. Otherwise you could use Google sites, a web page, blog or many other free tools out there. ePortfolios will be used mainly for showcasing, providing evidencing of achievement, sharing and of course assessment. We have about 7,000 users worldwide, which isn’t that many but we do see a good cross section of (public) users. Particularly in the past 6 months (since we installed an embed.ly block and Google Docs block) we are seeing great examples of users work, pulling content from many and varied sources.
Regards, Ian Knox

4:39 AM  
Anonymous Mike Kelly said...

Hi Donald. You seem to have a very particular take on what an e-Portfolio is. As others have pointed out, it's a woolly term, and your criticisms shouldn't be applied across the board.

You seem to prefer the concept of a web-distributed digital identity. Why shouldn't output from an e-Portfolio make up part of that identity?

In Mahara you have the option to publish pages to the web. The important word is 'option'. Having complete control over what you publish and to whom you publish it is what marks out a good e-Portfolio system from blogs and other social networks online. The e-Portfolio doesn't have to be a replacement for your other online activities. But it can be a more appropriate arena in some cases for personal reflection or academic discourse than Blogger or Facebook. Not everyone wants to wear their heart on their sleeve online at all times.

It mystifies me that people are so happy to entrust their data to commercial enterprises which have little to gain economically from allowing users to keep their data private. I guess you're also aware of the transient nature of 3rd party web services, just as much as e-P initiatives. The 'cost of free' becomes apparent when for example Ning start to charge for their services, and whole educational social networks have to be closed down.
As Serge says, and you fail to address, we should be able to own our own data. Do we really have to submit to the free-market entrepreneurial economy of the web when it comes to our learning and the management of our own personal data? I prefer a different model. (I quite like the look of Diaspora* from this point of view, with its distributed server model, and designated 'aspects' (like groups) for sharing content.)

Decent e-P systems allow you to export your content as HTML, not just as Leap2A. They're at least as interoperable as any blog service out there. Mahara is also good at serving streams from blogs, twitter, offering RSS feeds from its groups, etc., and it's improving all the time in that respect.

In summary. e-Portfolios are just one part of your digital identity. In lots of ways they're becoming increasingly like other web services - they're part of the mix. But they can give you greater ownership of your digital media, and better publishing controls.

9:31 AM  
Blogger Simon Grant said...

Donald, you write "I feel that this obsession with 'courses' is what lies at the heart of the e-portfolio 'track it & store it' movement."

Again, that really doesn't apply across the board, but only I suspect to relatively few e-portfolio users. It is clear from everything you write that you are only criticising some, not all, e-portfolio practice; it's just a pity your feelings respond so strongly to such a minority practice, rather than taking into account what I believe is the majority - who are, like you, not particularly interested in 'courses' but more in real skills and competence. One of the things e-portfolio tools are useful for is showcasing evidence for a skill or competence that has not been acquired through a normal course + assessment.

2:09 AM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

I sort of wish this were true Simon, but the e-assessment and e-portfolio events I've attended and spoken at are almost wholly dominated by formal educators who deliver courses. HE delivers degree courses and there's an army of researchers building and researching supply-led e-portfolio work, with little in the way of actual demand. Corporates are noticeable by their absence. Informal learning advocates like myself see little demand for the formality of an e -portfolio, when there's a plethora of well known,popular tools already available - such as the medium I'm using now - Blogger. E-portfolios seem a little like the Myth of Sisyphus - people have been pushing them uphill for well over a decade only to realise that the people at the top of the hill have been getting on with things using their other tools.

9:33 AM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Mike - I don't have much of a problem with 'commercial entities' such as Google, Facebook and Twitter, as they have longevity and massive user bases on their side. Transience is more often a feature of grant-driven initiatives, that fall of a cliff when the money runs out. I tend to steer clear of those.

As for control over data, I have levels of control in all three of the tools I've mentioned. The advantage of these large 'commercial' tools is reach. You can literally reach a mass audience using these tools or a specific audience that interests you.I see no empirical evidence for this scalability or demand in the e-portfolio world. That's because I believe e-portfolios have a false premise, that people see themselves as 'learners'. Facebook has over 500 million users with over 50% logging on in any given day. people are social animals who want to share thoughts, blog posts, pictures, videos. not learning content.

9:43 AM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

IK - Refreshingly honest 'reflections'. I'm with you all the way on your diagnosis, especially the lock-don within educational institutions and bogus policy talk that drives fatuous research. I spent over 25 years on the online learning world in hundreds of real implementations and not once did any researcher ask to look at these projects or ask what research was necessary/useful.

What I found really interesting was your honest assertion that e-portfolios are NOT about reflection. Made me think that one, as it's used to justify much of what passes for e-portfolio activity. I rather like your repositioning of e-portfolios away from learning and education (where 99% of lies at present) towards a simply online identity model - no more, no less. My guess is that you'll need the clout of a really smart entrepreneur backed with real money to do the real work and marketing in response to real people leading to massive growth of a brand. Educators often hate this sort of language, but it's what's given us most of the tools we actually use. Thanks for the post - really did make me think.

9:55 AM  
Blogger Joe said...

Great posting and useful addition to your eportfolio.

9:33 PM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Hey Joe - your line is as almost as good as a Hendrix riff, with added irony.

10:16 PM  
Anonymous Graham Hastings said...

While I admire the intentions of those who promote e-portfolios I fear that they are facing an uphill battle. I see history repeating itself. Those who were teaching in the late 80’s may remember ‘Leavers’ Portfolios’. The concept being that the children, with the help of the teachers, should gather together an evidence based record of their achievements while at school. The idea was that the children, post GCSE, could use their portfolio to support applications for jobs or places at 6th Form colleges. In the local authority in which I was working at the time the initiative was very short-lived. The main reasons for their lack of success were that the children did not see the point of them and so the burden of collecting and verifying content fell on the children’s teachers. Employers and Sixth Form colleges were only interested in exam results and possibly a reference from the school. As teachers began to realise that the portfolios served no practical purpose they found other more important things to do with their time. Without the support and encouragement of their teachers, even the more motivated children lost interest. I cannot remember anyone morning the passing of the Leavers’ Portfolio.

10:34 PM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Graham - yip, supply should come on the heels of demand. I fear that the supply side of e-portfolios will always exceed demand.

10:42 PM  
Anonymous Sarah Chesney said...

Very passionate discussion! Two points:


Donald, you are bound to sway the argument for or against e-portfolios if you use the shoe box analogy. Why not liken an e-portfolio to an artist’s portfolio – you know the big, usually black, zip up folders that contain work in progress, bits and pieces that will inspire the owner and then finished work that can be put on display when complete? This is a much more creative image and the rather anal one you have chosen!


Second point – to anyone claiming that we have all we need with Google tools – be very very careful and know that your data is not private or secure. Google have never claimed otherwise – this is what the CEO said in 2009 “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place. If you really need that kind of privacy, the reality is that search engines—including Google—do retain this information for some time and it’s important, for example, that we are all subject in the United States to the Patriot Act and it is possible that all that information could be made available to the authorities.” This is something to be borne in mind if e-portfolio process and reflection on that process are to be encouraged by educators.


Sarah Chesney

9:11 AM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Sarah - I chose the 'shoebox' as that's what most e-portfolios are technically through their non-interoperability. The HE world has generally locked them down to specific VLEs and most e-portfolio systems are little more than virtual boxes where you 'store' stuff. I take your point but the arguments aren't really about what 'analogy' we use. It's all about actual use by real people in the real world.

On the USA Patriot Act, there's nothing to stop the FBI coming on to any campus in the US and hauling off servers and data, or anywhere else for that matter. It may very well be a good argument for NOT having anything stored on college computers or e-portfolios of any kind. On the whole I see blogs, facebook and twitter as forces for social good (witness events in the Middle East). Wikipedia is a work of genius and Google an indispensable tool for learning. E-portfolios just strike me as largely clumsy, anachronistic and outdated.

11:26 AM  
Blogger Simon Grant said...

Donald,

I think an issue all along has been others (including myself) doubting whether you are correct in your assertion in this last comment that "most" e-portfolios are like shoe-boxes is true or not. We know many that are not. The assessment "e-portfolio" systems shouldn't count here, because they are not promoted to support lifelong learning. Just count the ones that are marketed with lifelong learning in mind, weight that with actual usage, and I suspect that your assumed majority will turn into a minority.

11:33 AM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Simon - see your point here Simon but it's not me that's lumping them all together. Meaning is use, and the word e-portfolio is being applied across the board. My guess is that teh vast majority of e-portfolios are locked down in VLEs and that 'lifelong learning' e-portfolios have a very small user base. Now just because it's small at the moment doesn't mean it won't be big in the future. However, they have been touted around for a long time now and have all the signs of a that famous category of flogged horses.

My overall feeling is that the endless stream of academic research money in this area should be stopped and that the market (users) will decide whether they're useful or not.

11:48 AM  
Blogger starlightsg said...

Hi Donald,

I enjoyed your presentation on this topic at ePIC. I'm wondering if you're open to sharing your slides?

Thank you!

9:34 AM  
Blogger Simon Grant said...

See also my blog post that comments on your ePIC 2011 presentation...

http://bit.ly/qHITlB

Best wishes

Simon

10:29 AM  
Blogger Haruto said...

asd

8:33 AM  
Blogger Glen said...

I agree with respect to proprietary e-portfolios but I think the concept of an e-portfolio is reasonable if you create it in your own wiki or web-page.

6:24 AM  
Blogger Sweedie-The-Cat said...

Your article makes much sense, especially the comments where an HR department or recruiter does not have the time to sort through someone's e-portfolio.

Then there are the privacy issues: Your whole life on-line? Hum! Thanks. No. Think of it! To paraphrase what you said, "it sounds great to high school teachers, but the real world, is not the never-never land that they live in". Sad, but true.

And the vulnerability issues. Bad enough when someone gets into your email or hacks your Twitter. Now imagine your e-portfolio being hacked?

And of course, how would you back it up, properly? Especially, since you change computers and O/S's every 5 years.

And of course, there are 20 some systems, all set-up differently, all work differently, none are easily compatible to each other. So if you were a kid who moved around...

And if I own a small company (outside of, say, Google, or Microsoft or Apple) and you come to me with that, what do I do with it? I have no time to learn 20 some different portfolio systems. In HVAC (for instance), I want to see your State or Provincial licence. Same thing in EMS, etc. I can slap that licence on my photocopier of scanner and take a pic, and I am "covered".

A well written and thoughtful article, except for a bit of jargon.

Take care.

3:12 AM  

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