An E-Portfolio – Who Is It For?

On Sunday, I got to participate in another EdTech Talk Brainstorm number 15b hosted by the ever patient Jeff Flynn. Not many people wanted to Skype in for a chat so I took the chance and had a very informative chat with Jeff and Art Gelwicks which sort of circled around a little bit until Jeff quizzed me on what I'd been up to lately. I mentioned the E-Portfolio conference and that then became the topic for the remainder of the show and it flowed over into the post show as well when Dave Cormier joined in for his well thought out views. Now a lot of stuff has been buzzing round my head since this conference and there is no doubt that Dr. Helen Barrett is a world authority in this area. However, I didn't find myself connecting to her vision and reasons behind this concept, in particular as a tool for the educator professional. I still haven't listened back to the Brainstorm so I can't be totally sure about what was said and by whom, but my overwhelming feeling that came from this session is that an E-Portfolio is a grand idea but unless you have the audience firmly established as in WHO will look at and judge your portfolio, then why would you go down that track. Helen emphasized that it had to be more that an online CV and it must have a reflective component. In her case, she said that was her blog and in a personal question that I asked of her, she considered that all educator E-Portflios should have a blog there as part of that reflection. Personally, that is true, this blog is reflective but it's more than that. It's a place to try out half baked ideas and have others remould that thinking. It's a place for remixing other people's thoughts and concepts - in fact, if it was solely navel gazing, why bother to put it in a public arena? I find myself agreeing with Leigh's point of view here, as I've said earlier. So, as a professional, unless you know who your portfolio is for and so far, the job application process here in the South Australian system does not require them, why would you have one? Art pointed out in the Brainstorm that if a future employer Googled you then an E-Portfolio coming up might be a lot more flattering than some other stuff.
In the post show chat the conversation swirled around portfolios for students and there were heaps of issues there that weren't solved but identified and they need clarification because Dave pointed out that the last E-Portfolios needed was a government policy mandate that determined what they were for and how they were to be interpreted and crunched down so that they fitted the same cookie cutter assessment of learning that standardised tests produce. I think that the US is particular seem to be very test and prescriptive curriculum oriented (correct me if I'm wrong) and I think here in Australia we managed to avoid that. Our standardised tests are regarded with a lot of cynicism and the new Federal "plain English" report cards where students fall into a quadrant of achievement have been decried by educators and academics throughout the country. So we don't want the powers that be to determine an E-Portfolio's role - that needs to be in the hands of educators. How we respond to use this tool, which has been around for quite a while, will determine if the appropriate who is viewing these portfolios (students and teachers).
More positive thinkers like Aaron would help. He is mulling over this issue just today.

Wouldn’t a portfolio give teachers, students, schools, the public in general, a more accurate picture of the person it represents? If developed in alignment with school wide benchmarks and proficiencies, ePortfolios become a giant life mural - spanning time and development and capturing a person, telling their story.

A grade is data. A number. Why are we so in love with the idea of attaching a number to a person? Why do we think that this number really gives us an accurate picture of growth?

Personalized learning, I think, pairs very nicely with ePortfolio evaluation. A well done portfolio shows a person. It demonstrates growth and the meeting of competencies.

But even he has yet to narrow down the who. "teachers, students, schools, the public in general" may just be too many people to try and please.

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3 thoughts on “An E-Portfolio – Who Is It For?

  1. Tony

    Hi Graham….’Who is it for ?’ …loved the article.
    For my TAFE students I’m the secondary ‘client’ , the primary ‘client’ is the prospective employer,,,that has to be the ‘driving force’. I want my students to use their blogfolio to give them a competitive advantage when they start applying for a job…”here is my CV, and here is my website”… we use to create blogs that include the project file (.doc, .ppt, .anything), audio (“this how I solved the problem…..) and video (Here I am and this what I have achieved….)….Guess what?…it works, students get jobs…Who is it for?

  2. Graham Wegner

    Thanks Tony for the comment – I suppose what I’m struggling with is the e-portfolio’s relevance to my sector of education in the primary school. In DECS here we have just been given a sneak preview at a set of professional standards for educators and it was hinted that would be the criteria for teacher portfolios in the near future. However, at the moment if I want to apply for a job within this system I apply with a written application that hopefully leads to an interview situation – the e-portfolio would only come into play if I wanted it to. My students are too young for it to be an employment tool ( a Colin Thiele book review Powerpoint might show many skills at that time but not have future impact) and I suppose if the portfolio at my level is a tool to communicate learning to parents, then a heck of lot more awareness raising of what an e-portfolio is and what it can do needs to take place amongst the teacher community. I am not trying to be negative and it is great to hear that your students can use their blogfolios in a way that brings them positive outcomes.

  3. Aaron

    Hello Graham,

    I really appreciated your thoughts around ePortfolios. This is indeed a very important tool that needs to be in all of our toolboxes. So who’s it all for? I never thought of that question before you asked it. (That’s one of the things I love about blogs, you get asked to think about things you may not have before.)

    I think an ePortfolio’s primary audience should be the one developing it. If it is being developed as a tool of reflection and a way for students to show what they know, or show how they are developing, then I think first of all, it’s all for them.

    I see my blog as being my developing and very unbridled thinking portfolio. I write for me. I write to learn about my profession. I write to explore ideas and have a place to store them. I then write to connect with others.

    In my humble, and open to be corrected opinion, an ePortfolio should follow a similar chain of interest. I need to be personally invested in my portfolio’s development. I need to care about what’s there, and that it continues to grow. I then need to seek connection, and feedback from “out there.”

    I think if you are invested in your portfolio’s development, you will be very deeply aware of what’s in it, and shape…audience specific versions in a “just-in-time” fashion.

    What I’ve been learning so far about the whole portfolio thing, and I know I don’t have the complete picture, is that they should be designed to be in congruence with course competencies and standards – that the portfolio is a way for the student to DEMONSTRATE their ability to meet afore mentioned requirements. They are purpose driven.

    Audience number two, in my mind, is the teacher. They review to see if Johnny has actually met course/class standards. Are we ready to move on, or do we need to review? I don’t think Audience two needs anything special by way of special portfolio design, other than that the portfolio actually demonstrates course competencies. (If that makes sense.)

    Stepping beyond the classroom, I think becomes an issue of adaptability. Another big plus for ePortfolio vs regular portfolios. Customization becomes much easier if data is digital.

    Wouldn’t portfolio development suffer if we tried to doctor it towards something beyond developing the skill?

    I don’t know if I’m speaking well to this conversation…but I sure appreciate it.

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