For various reasons, the motive has appeared for thinking in general
terms about the role of e-portfolio tools in education. What I'd like to
do here is to offer some draft thoughts to add to, criticise, fill in,
knock down or whatever, but at least as a stimulus for reaction and
discussion. Any contribution, however critical, is most welcome.
Perhaps we can use this to pick up some of the domain modelling that
JISC encourages us to do. It would be really useful to establish some
consensus models in this area, to add to what has been generated by the
e-portfolio reference model project and related work.
Please feel free to offer any criticism of any point - to keep messages
down to size and to the point, please also try to remove the bits of
this message you aren't talking about.
Here goes then...
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In order to decide how e-portfolio tools fit in education, the first
issue to resolve is whether the education is structured or planned in
any way. To many people in educational institutions this may sound like
an odd question, because their assumption may be that education is a
planned activity. But there is the alternative, broader and looser view
of education in which learners engage with experiences without planning
beforehand what educational objectives there might be, and learn
whatever they happen to learn. Typically, different people in the same
situation are likely to learn different things when left to their own
If education is not structured or planned, the role of e-portfolio tools
is at once simpler but more difficult to define. Portfolio tools can in
any case help learners record what has happened, reflect on it in a more
or less structured way, and keep the materials in an easily accessed
place, helpfully categorised, so that the information can be used later
for whatever purpose emerges.
If, as is normal in educational institutions, the education is
organised, we can imagine a simple model of an idealised process of
constructing, delivering and assessing a course, in which we can set the
possible roles for e-portfolio tools.
Learning objectives (or intended learning outcomes – no distinction is
intended here) are statements that describe what a learner will be able
to do as a result of learning. This is a normal place to start when
designing a course.
A special case for e-portfolios would be if the objectives included the
ablity to use e-portfolio tools, or involved the use of e-portfolio
tools, or more generally involved attitudes related to portfolio use:
for instance, related to the ability to record experiences, reflect on
them, and use the results of reflection in presentations to others.
Other e-portfolio-related objective would be learners gaining the
ability to document and evidence personal abilities; and the ability to
present themselves more generally on paper and through electronic media.
Clearly it is possible to allow learners themselves to decide how to
meet learning objectives, but many courses design the processes to a
greater or lesser extent, or at least envisage how the learning process
might take place. If the processes are designed, they may involve
pre-selected learning materials and e-learning tools. Some of these
tools may be e-portfolio tools, or be linked with portfolio tools.
Processes, and thus tools, depend greatly on the kinds of learning
objectives selected. But whatever processes and tools are used,
e-portfolio related tools can offer storage and recall of the kind of
information useful in formative assessment. Indeed, any formative
assessment processes could well be based around tools that include
Alongside the learning objectives, one has to decide how the objectives
are to be assessed summatively. Assessment may involve portfolios of
work, or a system which helps to administer the collection,
presentation, and assessment of work. This is a significant area in its
own right, which can be dealt with separately, and for which there exist
several well-established tools, particularly in the area of vocational
education and NVQs. Some of these tools include e-portfolio in their
name, and it is possible for a summative assessment management tool not
to facilitate any reflection, or other functionality frequently
associated with portfolio tools.
==Assessing available tools==
A rational approach to portfolio use in education design might proceed
by assessing the available tools for any of the purposes outlined above.
There are purpose-built e-portfolio tools of various kinds, but there
are also many tools which, if they are generally available to the
learners in question, can be used to support portfolio-related
Tools to help with the learning processes, without provision for
reflection, or recording for purposes beyond the course itself, may best
not be seen as e-portfolio tools, but rather as part of a wider group of
e-learning tools. There is a real danger of any e-learning tool being
labelled an e-portfolio tool indiscriminately. To maintain meaning, this
tendency has to be resisted.
==Use existing or build new==
Having assessed available tools, the point of decision comes between
using existing tools, which may not be perfectly matched to the
situation; adapting existing tools for the required purposes; or
building new ones, with the implications in terms of resources, and in