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.

Will Lightwork make a Mark?

May 11, 2010

Why is it that whenever we want to reward academic staff, the incentive is to “buy yourself out of teaching” and at the very least “offload some marking”. Of course the answer is often that the alternatives are to remove yourself from service or administration (and the place grinds to a halt) or, God Forbid, let up on the research outputs. So teaching it is that is the malleable element and assessment all the more so.

Shame. How do you really know if your teaching is effective if you don’t see the results? How can you revise and improve your paper if you don;t complete that feedback loop for students?

Of course marking can be a fairly tedious process, even a favourite movie gets tiresome after the twentieth viewing, but it’s a necessary process and anything that makes it a little easier has to be a good thing.

So I picked up this application here at Massey University called Lightwork. a development project led by Dr. Eva Heinrich, the desktop client intergrates with Moodle and its gradebook. Once ‘paired’ the Lightwork downloads student details and allows the creation of marking rubrics and assigned markers, these are then synchronised back to Moodle so the end result is that approved grades in Lightwork are uploaded into the gradebook along with a PDF of the completed marking rubric. Well worth a look. I confess I’m playing in a paper with only 10 students, but just the admin time saved not having to save feedback forms under different student names etc, must be worth it.

Screenshots of Lightwork Assessment Tool

Lightwork: Rubrics and Student PDF Feedback form generated in Moodle

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