ePortfolios: for whom and wherefore 

April 12, 2015

(unformed thoughts...) I’m exploring a student e-portfolio solution. I probably didn’t need to install an instance of Moodle (2.5.9) and one of Mahara (1.10.2) to know it’s a match made in heaven. It’s been fun patching the two systems together (also linked up Moodle to Google Drive to test the outputs there too – plain and simple) but then I began to wonder. ..Who’s it for? Whose version of heaven does it represent?

Mahara Test Environment

Mahara Test Environment

The very notion of an ‘e-portfolio‘ might produce obstacles rather than opportunities. The word ‘portfolio‘ means various things in different context to a variety of audiences. A portfolio might refer to a physical (or virtual) briefcase, it might refer to a financial portfolio as a collection of stocks, shares and asset notifications; or it could also mean an artist’s portfolio as a collection of works in progress or final outputs; or again it can still have other meanings, to a portfolio as a body of responsibilities or projects currently held by someone in the workplace. Why then does the vast majority scholarly literature on e-portfolios in a university context represents a uniform interpretation – an assemblage of reflections and representational artefacts?

I am afraid I’m going to bang an old drum, that of the need for learning to consider the foundational aspects of epistemological beliefs. There is an ongoing debate as to the extent to which the portfolio is owned by the students (the majority view) or the institution. Where a portfolio is independent of any formal assessment processes it is fairly easy to define the portfolio in terms that students take full control of its structure and output (within whatever restrictions the technology imposes). However, if there is any relationship between the representational space and formal assessment processes the ownership (of process if not products) is at east shared. This changes the way we advocate the use of a portfolio. If student and tutor have a shared perception of learning as a personal reflective journey that the tutor can encourage but remove themselves from the process of meta-cognitive growth we hope students might experience.

There is also an important cultural dimension to our expectation that students will want to record and reflect in a portfolio context. I don’t mean ‘cultural’ with respect to international students, as important as that is, but I confess I am ignorant as to the existence of a diurnal recording tradition outside the occidental world. If there is no historical context for writing ones daily occurrences, experiences and reflections, it is a ‘big ask’ to expect students to engage in such a process from ‘scratch’. There is a global tradition of thoughts and observations and of travel writings and so perhaps a more suitable metaphor for the majority of learners to grasp onto would be the learning journey (re: journal).

Surely we want our graduates to have ‘basic’ digital literacy skills but isn’t a template driven portfolio solution really short-changing them? Shouldn’t they leave University with the ability to set-up a digital presence on the web for themselves, to select a service that suits their particular context be it LinkedIn for the ‘career driven’ or Academia.edu for the apprenticed faculty. Would not a WordPress solution suit most for a public facing self-representation. Shouldn’t institutions be getting out of the way of learners and rather than seeking to curate learning outputs,  instead enabling learners to take digital-flight.


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