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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.

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