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Monthly Archives: January 2015

If you have made a decision to use an e-portfolio or only to investigate if an e-portfolio is the right tool for your purpose, the first step is answer these questions:

  • what do you need?
  • what do you have?

What do you need?

The more precisely you can answer this question, the easier it will be to eliminate unsuitable tools and be confident that you have made an informed choice, so time invested here will be saved later.

Firstly, what exactly is the tool to be used for? Possibilities (which are not mutually exclusive) include:

  • showcase (displaying best work)
  • development (CPD or PDP)
  • assessment
  • reflection
  • CV

Knowing this will enable you to anticipate what you need in terms of such aspects as:

  • content (What will learners want to add to their e-portfolio – formats, file size etc.?)
  • access (Who needs access? For how long? Who has control over this?)
  • accessibility (important for both students and staff)
  • ownership (Is this a feature of the tool? Does it match you anticipated use of the tool?)
  • security (Where is the data kept? What are the backup arrangements?)

What do you have?

This will generally fall into the categories of:

  • knowledge (theoretical research; prior experience)
  • skills (to support technical needs and the people involved)
  • time
  • budget

To some degree, these can be traded off against one another; for instance, having more time can be used to conduct research to gain knowledge; a budget can be used to buy expertise to train users in the necessary skills. Knowledge is at the top of a list as it is probably your biggest asset; take the opportunity to make use of the experience of staff (and students!) and what you can find out about the experience at other institutions; don’t waste precious time finding out the hard way what someone already knew and would have told you (re-inventing wheels, and all that).

making a choice

Making a choice (click to enlarge)

Making a comparison

From this you can draw up a comparison table of those tools available, identifying those that give you what you need, and require no more than that which you are able to provide.

Both Moodle and Mahara share a common heritage of open source and learner-ownership; this second characteristic is emphasised in the case of Mahara.

The ‘learner-owned’ aspect can be a powerful one: intrinsic motivation is stronger than extrinsic, and aren’t learners always encouraged to see an e-portfolio as theirs?

However, if it is at all linked to a course of study or someone else’s definition of proficiency, to what degree does it ever truly belong to the learner: who writes the assessment criteria, who sets the deadlines…? If student and institution share ownership, is it negotiable?

We can tell a student that an e-portfolio is theirs but do they experience this and, if so, how? Not just questions for Mahara users but anyone employing e-portfolios.

Many good points made here:

A presentation from Meredith Henson, Business Development Manager of Catalyst IT, brought us details of the latest on Mahara, as Bath have updated to Version 1.10.2.

The new capacity to integrate social networking and digital badges is very welcome, as is the ability to create Collections: groupings of Pages, so enabling the user to form multiple page presentations.

It looks like and feels like Moodle, which is natural given Mahara’s roots. So if you are happy with Moodle and comfortable with its use, Mahara would make a natural companion, especially as they can be integrated allowing data to flow between them.

Examples of Mahara in use can be found at:

My first formal* project, when starting work at the HEA UK Physical Sciences Centre, was to look at e-portfolios and how the Centre could usefully support their deployment in physical science (physics, chemistry and forensic science) departments in UK HE. One of the outcomes was a report, Supporting Student e-Portfolios, that sought to summarise current practice, give practical examples of use and offer advice to would-be users.

Several years have passed but aspects of e-portfolio practice appear to be very similar. There appears still to be a mixture of tools in use, including dedicated e-portfolio software and re-purposed generic tools, which echoes the variation in technology used by institutions for other purposes (e.g. email, VLE, voting systems). No ‘one tool to rule them all’ but was that ever likely?

My interests in e-portfolios have now moved to their role in supporting competency-based programmes, with pharmacy as my primary focus. I’m looking at available tools, standards, security, authentication etc. and how to make sound choices that support both students and staff.

I would be interested to know more from anyone who has experience in this area, positive or negative, about how they have made the choices they have made and, if they have any information yet, on how successful those choices were. I’ll be blogging my progress and will be happy to share what I find.

I’m aware that it’s possible to support competency-based programmes without using an e-portfolio, and I’d also be interested to hear from anyone who has chosen this path.

*My first informal project was building a ‘jargon buster’, primarily for higher education’s plethora of three letter acronyms.