The e-portfolio conundrum

In 2005 the Government produced a document called ‘Harnessing Technology’ which laid out the Governments idea for the direction of learning technology in schools, FE and HE for the next 5 or so years. This was a very challenging document and had many targets (most of which haven’t been achieved) but one of these was the idea that learners would have an e-portfolio that would follow them through their educational career from cradle to grave.

In the last year or so I have worked with many education providers, who are in the process of choosing or implementing an e-portfolio system, and most of them are struggling to a lesser or greater extent – which doesn’t surprise me, as there are a handful of fundamental problems:-

Most institutions are wanting to implement a single e-portfolio system, as they have 1 MIS system, 1 VLE, 1 Email system etc. It makes sense to have just 1 e-portfolio system. But there is a problem here, in that the requirements of a portfolio for someone doing an NVQ in plumbing, is different to the requirements of a trainee teaching wanting to reflect on their practice, which is different to a foundation level learner with a disability, wanting to show evidence of their work experience, and no one tool can effectively cover all of these needs. So when an institution chooses one system, they will either aim for the middle ground and get a ‘one-size fits-none’ solution, or they will choose a system that meets the needs of some of the courses very well, and is completely unusable by all the others.

Who owns the e-portfolio? It is highly desirable from a technical point of view for the institution to host the portfolio, this way they can back it up, link it to the existing MIS or VLE system and ensure there is no inappropriate use. However with this the portfolio will belong to the institution – what happens when the learner leaves? Many will say they can package the portfolio up and burn it to a CD which is given to the learner, but how do they access this, and more importantly how do they continue using it. For courses like teacher training or health related the courses, the idea of continuing professional development is that they continue to reflect on their practise throughout their professional working careers, so they need to have the ability to continue using whatever tool they are using for their reflective practice.

In my opinion both of these problems are solvable, but it does require institutions to accept the need for potentially multiple systems, and for institutions to make use of people that can help the practitioners to choose the right model for their situation. This is the harder of the 2 concepts to grasp, and they may have that skill in house or they may need to look outside for that expertise.

4 Responses

  1. Excellent post. The only way e-portfolios are ever going to succeed is if they are learner-centred tools (or collections of tools), not institution-centred “solutions”.

  2. I agree, and think that in many ways one of the underlying problems is the institutional framework – although it makes sense to have some functions operate under the umbrella of an multi-disciplinary educational establishment, there are some aspects of education provision (and attendant services) which would be best organised at a more local level.
    That aside, however, one possibility for the portfolio concept is to deliver tools which allow for learners to easily maintain a portfolio spread across a range of third party applications. The institution could still back up the data, given a list of resources and access permissions, but the student would be able to use tools of their own choosing for presenting their work.
    The main problem with this is, of course, providing a mechanism for authenticating quality assessments of the work – but that should not be insurmountable.

  3. Institutions are not going to run multiple portfolio systems. We just need a good portfolio tool to manage the student’s assets which might come from a variety of sources. An institutional eportfolio tool is usually only supporting the teachers and their requirements – i.e. a single point of access so that marking, commenting etc. is made easier. ePortfolios should not be “trapped” on institutional systems and students should be encouraged to use external sources that follow the student on their career journey.

  4. We need to ‘undo’ the term e-portfolio in that as no e-portfolio fits all uses, so we need different terminology for different uses. NVQ really needs an element tracking software, Paper Free and Skillwise are good examples, whereas HE students need a reflective log that can include wikis and blogs, PebblePad is an excellent example. As educationalists I don’t remember us inventing the term, I think it came from the software houses, but we know what we need, and it is not a one size fits all as SMTs seem to think. But in the end it needs to belong to the student not the insitution. I wonder what the online portfolio that Capita are building for QCF will be like, but I fear I know!

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