Interest in e-portfolios is very high among educators in Christchurch judging from the high turnout at CORE’s breakfast seminar.
Nick Rate is the right person to talk about e-portfolios, too, for his research as an eFellow focused on the potential of e-portfolios to support an assessment-for-learning approach in the primary classroom.
Nick first answered the question in his topic: Why use e-portfolios? He showed the background and basis for their use from a series of statements from the New Zealand Curriculum and the paper, Directions for Assessment in New Zealand (on the TKI web site). Self-monitoring, and self-assessment supported by the involvement of a wider network of stakeholders than just the teacher is far more effective for developing lifelong learning habits than traditional methods of teaching, learning, and assessment.
He demonstrated the large number of benefits in using digital portfolios (e-portfolios) for accomplishing effective learning goals, as well as the process, types, methods, and tools to use for implementing this. Nick emphasised that the technology or device used does not replace the learning; rather, the technology is a vehicle to accomplish effective learning outcomes.
How should one go about setting up an e-portfolio system? Nick pointed out that it’s not a case of choosing the technology and then fit the teaching; rather, it’s a case of fitting the technology to your learning goals. To do this, careful planning that includes the input of all stakeholders is required. Nick provided a sample template, a checklist of things to consider, and a series of thought provoking questions to assists in the development of an e-portfolio plan.
The issue is: do not just adopt an “off-the-shelf” approach to e-portfolios, but ensure that the underlying pedagogy and goal of establishing students as life-long learners with the skills to self monitor and evaluate is at its heart.
Nick opened his presentation by immediately answering the very question within his topic: Why e-portfolios? He presented a series of statements from Ministry of Education publications such as the NZ Curriculum, and the DANZ report, Directions for Assessment in New Zealand, showing the research and pedagogical thought underlying his argument for the use of e-portfolios.
The NZ Curriculum states, “Schools should explore not only how ICT can supplement traditional ways of teaching, but also how it can open up new and different ways of learning”.
From the various sources Nick quoted, he highlighted the following areas that have a positive impact on student learning:
The e-portfolio fits splendidly with all these objectives. At the heart of the e-portfolio concept is that it assists the student to learn ways of assuming control of their own learning by developing the capability to assess their own learning.
E-portfolios enable other stakeholders in a child’s learning to assist with meaningful feedback and support in a far more effective way than paper-based methods.
It is imperative, for the process to work that parents, caregivers, support people, and other stakeholders understand and interpret assessment information well, so that they effectively support the child’s learning. The e-portfolio concept, therefore, requires effort in educating and getting buy-in from a wider network than just the student, but this is what works, and the e-portfolio itself has the potential to facilitate this wider education process than conventional methods.
Nevertheless, as Nick pointed out, the technology is not the teacher; the technology is the tool or vehicle to enable effective learning. That’s why Nick prefers to call the e-portfolio “the container”.
In summary, the e-portfolio, or container, is a means for providing:
Ian Fox has developed this "learning to learn" model, which reinforces Nick's thinking about the purpose of eportfolios.
And so, what is an e-portfolio? The JISC ePorfolio Infokit says, “…ideas of what an e-portfolio ‘is’ are complex and to an extent the definition and purpose will vary depending on the perspective from which a particular person is approaching the concept”.
While there are many types of e-portfolios, Nick said that there are three basic forms and often an eportfolio can be a blend of each:
The Showcase type is the traditional portfolio that most would be familiar with. Graphic artists, designers, photographers, architects and the like have always made use of this type of portfolio to showcase their work. It still has a significant place in the learning environment, but it’s not the only type. The reasons for each of the main types can be summarised as:
It all depends on the purpose for the e-portfolio.
This graphic illustrates Nick's thinking that the purpose of an eportfolio transforms over time.
The benefits of using e-portfolios over that of traditional (paper-based) versions abound:
All this begs the question, When does the e-portfolio start and stop? Reality is that access to the e-portfolio is capturing the student’s learning in and outside of school. It is engaging with the support network at any given time. It also demonstrates that an e-portfolio isn’t just a device, a technological product; it’s a process.
The traditional process is:
But the use of an e-portfolio enhances the possibilities. Using an e-portfolio process can mean:
(Burke, Fogarty & Belgrade (1994)
To demonstrate this, Nick explained the following e-portfolio learning cycle illustration:
Nick then demonstrated how the beginning of the process could utilise current technologies to facilitate this process:
The thoughts thus far have centred on why we should use e-portfolios, the benefits, and the process that can be utilised to enhance a student’s learning. Now we look at solutions, or how this can be implemented. What kind of e-portfolio technology (container) should we use?
The technology you use does affect the look and feel of your portfolio. So what’s the best? There are a lot of options out there. For example:
All these options are worth exploring and evaluating. But, as already intimated, you shouldn’t fit your pedagogical goals and process to the technology; you should look for the technology that fits your goals! First, you must plan.
The first thing to do is establish your purpose and perspectives. This should involve all the stakeholders. In order to get ideas and buy-in, the stakeholders should include:
Added to this list could be:
Nick showed the process that he has used. “We discussed with each of the above. We all sat down and asked: What’s the purpose behind having a digital portfolio? We collected all the ideas using a template…”
He then illustrated what the results of these discussions may look like for the student:
Under the “non-negotiable criteria/features required to support the purpose, they had:
Under Additional criteria/features:
There’s a lot of factors to be considered in the planning stage. Once you have considered the purpose from all the stakeholders, you will have created a checklist of criteria for selecting your tool. Here’s one school's checklist:
Some questions that need to be considered
In order to be effective and support the process of student learning, e-portfolios:
Nick suggested that it’s best to start small, and then work your way up. Get students actively blogging in a class blog first, and then move on to individual spaces.
Nick also assured the audience that e-portfolios don’t add to your workload. But it does mean changing some of the ways you do things, such as the way you give feed back, facilitate reflection, engage students in self and peer assessments, and you need to adapt learning and teaching so that the process and outcomes can be shared digitally within the e-portfolio platform.
Nick Rate's slides from his "Why use e-portfolios?" seminar