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Last updated: 21.06.13

e-portfolios - Taking Ownership of your learning

What is an e-portfolio? It is an electronic collection of evidence of learning gathered over time and reflecting your learner journey.

This quotation in a report published by JISC in 2008 defines an e-portfolio as:

“The e-portfolio is the central and common point for the student experience. It is a reflection of the student as a person undergoing continuous personal development, not just a store of evidence.”

So, yes it reflects the learner journey and also defines the person who has taken that journey. An e-portfolio can consist of an array of digital assets, written text, assignments, reports and such like, photos, videos, observations’ by others such as mentors, and items that record reflective thinking.

Helen C Barrett in 2009 produced this diagram that positioned e-portfolios as being used as a ‘workspace’ where the content is logged to demonstrate and share learning with peers and tutors and where the use is for current activities , or as a ‘showcase’ that demonstrates achievement and can be used to portray that achievement externally. It is a record that can stay with the learner as the learner’s journey continues becoming a record of lifelong learning.

A few questions however remain;

  1. How effective are e-portfolios for both the student and the education establishment or the employee and the employer?
  2. How effective are e-portfolios for assessment?
  3. How are e-portfolios coping with the emergence of social networking, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, Youtube, Instagram etc?
  4. What about Open Badges? Will they prove disruptive to e-portfolios?
  1. The e-portfolio is as effective as we allow it to be. When used by the student or employee it can be a powerful collection of assets that can be used to demonstrate competency and achievement. It can also bring a semblance of order to the learning process, documenting in the wider sense of technology documentation the learner journey. It gives the learner licence to enjoy and take ownership of their learning.
  2. Effective assessment is achieved by using the e-portfolio to collaborate and share, providing time to reflect both in the present and in the past tense. The tutor, employer, coach and trainer can provide formative feedback, giving opportunity for improvement. The e-portfolio becomes a repository of learning that might have started being tutor led but will ultimately become led by the learner.
  3. The emergence of social networking and the adoption of it in both the education arena and the workplace are possibly blurring the edges of the e-portfolio. Facebook for example is a repository of life assets, photographs and comment. YouTube a repository of learning materials and growing each day. People like video and it is fast becoming a most powerful way of learning and also presenting and demonstrating knowledge.
  4. The emergence of Open Badges is likely to have a disruptive effect on e-portfolios. The New York Times recently reported on ‘Show me your Badge’ and the Open Badge initiative headed up by the Mozilla Foundation (better known for the Firefox browser). The digital badge fronts a portal where information is found about what the badge owner can do. Badges could actually be about to challenge University and College thinking, because what does having a degree or achieved a certain grade actually say about that person? Yes they have the knowledge but to what specific level do they operate. A Badge is designed to indicate specific information about the skills and knowledge of that person and are often awarded at certain milestone points to reflect their ability and competence to applying what they know. They are being compared to the badges Girl Guides for years wore on their sleeves, indicating the knowledge they had learnt and the skills could demonstrate.

It is an interesting time for e-portfolios as they appear to be sitting at the crossroads of technology, where we have to watch this space and possibly see e-portfolios emerging as something slightly different in the future. People are likely to be more than ever stamping their own individuality on their online presence, and it will stay with them for life, long after they move from fulltime education and into the workplace. In fact, will e-portfolio quickly become an m-portfolio particularly in the workplace as mobile learning is now becoming a reality?

LMS vendors need to keep pace with these issues if they are to keep providing what learners need as technology moves on at a pace

It is forward thinking organisations like Virtual College that are filling that space at the present time. They are keeping one step ahead of technology by listening to learners and tracking emerging technologies to ensure their offer is leading edge. They were very much ahead of the times when they introduced their Academy approach for managing learning and their Apprenticeship e-Academy is leading the way for 21st century apprentices who are managing their learning journey online.

Yes interesting times, let’s keep watching this space.

By Peter Hilliard