Sunday, 18 February 2007

e-portfolio thoughts

I've roamed the streets of Google searches and looked at all sorts of commercial products and web sites created by enthusiastic tutors and students in the States but haven't found what I'm looking for. So, once more, I guess I'll have to have a go myself! I have a feeling that the technology is going to a be a bit beyond my skills, however, in terms of the under the bonnet stuff but if I can get my head round what an e-portfolio is and what it should do and look like then that'll help me sleep at night.

First of all, usual question: why I am doing this? It all started when, in the same week, the topic came up at a meeting of LSN e-learning co-ordinators and I got a big plastic folder in my pigeon-hole at College. The plastic folder was red and bore the title Staff Development Folder on a sheet of A4 inserted at the front. Inside were several dividers but within each section there was precious little - some very general information about the College, a procedure or two and that was, surprisingly, about it. Now, normally the word launch is followed by to great acclaim but I think it is fair to say that although there were neat rows of these red things protuding from all the tutors' pigeon-holes which had some transient artistic merit no-one has actually done much with them and they are now sitting on shelves or desks or the floor in staff rooms. As one of the people who do the staff development sessions which the College runs, and being someone everyone expects to come up with some idea for what to do with things like this, I have this feeling at the back of my mind that I have a duty to come up with an answer, and a plain English one at that. That's one reason why I'm bothered by not having being able to do so to date.

The topic came up at the LSN meeting because we have been working on their Framework for Professional Development in e-learning which used to be called eCPD. At events around the country we have spent the year telling people how they might meet the e-learning part of the LLUK teaching standards with all sorts of assessment tools and the like. Various organisations have been doing projects which relate to staff training and we were trying to figure out how what they had done could be best recorded and linked to the Framework. Colleagues mentioned a few different ways that CPD was recorded at their institutions, which included some more folders, and one particularly bright member of the group mentioned PebblePAD.

Just had a look at this and it really does look excellent and is the sort of thing I wish I had created! My only problem is it seems a little too good in a way - and users may find that they have a few too many choices or things to think about. Not a bad thing in itself and those of us who enjoy thinking about our strengths and weaknesses, assessing ourselves and others, planning to make good deficiencies and who can quickly identify which standards, and which set of standards even, a particular bit of work might be good evidence for will love it but we're not the main group of users and, however good it looks, it still requires quite a bit of effort.

So, what am I looking for?

At one extreme we have the aforementioned plastic folder and a load of Word documents. People have a list of standards and a pile of activities, attendance certificates, training notes and appraisals etc. Bung 'em all in the right sections and toss the folder in the direction of anyone who needs to see it.

At the other extreme we have something more akin to a DVD adventure movie, well the second disk you usually get that isn't quite as well produced with games based on the movie, background and production notes and things. People go round getting colleagues to video them in action and have the whole gamut of facilities and support in using them at their elbow.

Somewhere in between is the solution I seek. And we have to ask the question why do we want staff to have e-portfolios in the first place? Yes, it's all good practice, we know, but so are many things that are only done reluctantly and really most staff just want to do their job and get on with life. They're busy people and we have to recognise that the real reason they'll keep an e-portfolio is because we tell them they have to. It'll tick the box that HR departments, Staff Development managers and the like need to tick. It won't, in itself, make a huge difference in the quality of teching or students' results. Yes, what they pick up at training sessions and in talking about ideas will but not the process of self-examination and life-filing. Many will see it as a chore and that's why we need to come up with a way to do as much of it for them.

We need this because we need to satisfy others that staff have fulfilled the CPD requirements for their profession and further requirements in their job specification. Taking the basic, legal, requirements these are represented by the LLUK Teaching Standards. Within them, the LSN Framework tries to set out the e-learning standards. (I shall not talk about their 'criteria' not being criteria or the thorny business of figuring out what evidence is sufficient - that's another matter!)

So, one way or another, it should be pretty simple to set up a list of things that they should be able to do - the standards.

Next, how are they meeting those standards? Evidence for those that are being met and training needs for those they or we wish them to develop further.

I thought there might be more but, in essence, I do think that's about it. Reflection, levels, techniques etc are optional extras.

So, I need somewhere to store a list of standards and I'd like to click on a standard and have a range of things I need to do to meet it, which may also meet or go towards meeting other standards. If these 'things' were readily recognisable by staff then they could see what they had or hadn't done.

Clicking on one of the items could produce either their evidence if they had any or be a link to further information.

We're almost there! Something tells me that this also needs to work in reverse. That is, when they do something it gets added to their portfolio and when managers arrange training sessions they add the detail to the potential evidence list. Haven't quite figured that bit out yet. I'll work on it but I think I can see a way forward for one direction now. The list of standards is easy because that exists in various formats and should be reasonably straight forward to put on the web in a clickable form. The sub-set, or elements / criteria, are part of the same structure and the same technology would apply there. The tricky bit is matching what people do to the standards. If we look at training sessions, events, project activity and learning activity or skills development that are provided for groups at an institution then it should be possible to get the designers of the activity to tag them with the appropriate standards or elements so that they get added to the appropriate lists. the word tag is important here because that's how - I think - we can get to a solution. (There may be a route via tortuous Excel formulae but I hope I don't have to go down that route!)

Tools like and wink - social bookmarking, I believe the jargon goes, - do wonderful things with tags and I'm sure the answer lies with one or other of them.

I have just uploaded all my bookmarks to my account and tagged them all to see what happened. I'm quite pleased with the results which now enable me to click on classic and up come all the things I have added a classic tag to (old tv and radio programmes!). So, presumably, if I publish something on the web with a StandardA6 tag I can get that and any others similarly associated by a click in the right place too. To prevent absolutely everyone's StandardA6 tags coming up and my adding others' evidence to my portfolio then I guess I'd need to add Dunstable or something, maybe even my name. But I can a glimpse of light at the end of this tunnel I've been crawling through since that flaming meeting.

Next I shall experiment with some pages where tags work and see what happens. Perhaps a shorter, better structured post next time.

Saturday, 10 February 2007


Here's a new application that is worth a look and I'm sure you'll think of some way to use it. Splashcast provides a nice way to construct a web show that can contain video, images, text, narration or a soundtrack. The end result can be displayed on a web page via a little bit of code. Visitors got a neat frame with a rather obvious start button and your show will be streamed on your page. It looks as though all the heavyweight files are stored on the Splashcast servers too (so I don't know how long this will stay free or ad free!)

It's a very neat and smooth product and I can see it at one extreme as being a nice change from PowerPoint and, being web based, looks easier to make available anywhere than PhotoStory and certainly has better text addition features.

So far I've only played with a folder of images but I'll try doing something a bit more challenging in other traditional applications and see what happens when I get a spare moment.