Portfolios – To E Or Not To E!

Leigh recently posted about his sense of isolation regarding some of his views on LMS, PLE and e-Portfolios. I got the feeling he was feeling a bit like the lone voice in the wilderness and everything he writes really makes me think so I thought it would be an ideal time to give him some feedback on the aspect I felt that I could comment on, the concept of e-Portfolios. Well, I think I got more than I anticipated and I think Leigh should feel heartened by the level of debate that followed throughout the comments (11 at last count and that doesn't include some of the TALO discussion group posts) and I put some of my own embryonic thoughts to the test.
A bit of background - I was able to go to the E- Portfolio Professional Learning Conference where the keynote presenter was the renown e-Portfolio expert, Dr. Helen Barrett. Prior to the conference I had blogged my initial thoughts using Leigh's original post ePortfolios. I don't get it!  and looking at the way he has structured his wiki had me thinking that with all this Web 2.0 stuff floating around, it would be the ideal way to use a "small pieces, loosely joined" approach to this concept of a portfolio that lives in cyberspace. However, Leigh, for his own reasons, seemed very negative about e-Portfolios so via my comment I thought I'd see if he would expand. Here's a snippet of what I wrote:

I think your objections mainly stem from the keep it all in one spot, locked away under password, present only your best bits, preformatted approach which is the favoured format from those high up in the education halls of power who would desire uniformity from their employees. But your practice, as showcased in your wiki shows that a vibrant, evolving personalised professional online presence is something worth developing and maintaining. Is calling it an e-Portfolio such a bad thing?

And expand he did:

Hey Graham, good point... and it is the name I hate - ePortfolio.. I agree with Bill, its pretentious and doesn't help the problem of when academics hear the word blog, they hear a word that sounds like poo, or a wet towel on a line, or a chocolate bar.. they don't hear a word that sounds academically minded... perhaps the word blogfolio achieves what you are aiming for G, a compromise that helps to bring resistance over. But in the end, I want the "free range" thinking to be respected and refered to for what it is.. and I think that's more than simply a way of doing things, its a subversive and political gesture that asks significant questions of powerful economic exchanges. "why are we buying that licence? who owns this content? what's our responsibility to the author of that content? is the classroom a good way to learn? etc.

Then Alex Hayes weighed in with his take.Here's a sample of what he wrote:

We are all battling red-tape-dispensers, arcadian pyschotropic coffee morning-meetings-which-get-nowhere, PLE's, PLC's , LMS's, OLE's , CMS's, ins/outs, blank looks and faithless moronic back-handers.
E-portfolios,blogfolios and the conversation resultant is no more than stammering for the correct nomenclature in a crowded parlour of blogger poo-dom and we all know it.
Ask any 15 - 36 year old bedoper what an e-portfolio is and you will get an interesting answer . no ....you cant take it to the mosh pit in fact try and find it when you've finished your course !!
Ask any cardie' the same question and you'll realise that the 'e' in e-portfolio is like the 'm' in m-learning.
Put there to secure funding, to entertain acronyms, to joust with the 'free rangers'.

Now Alex is an extremely talented writer and at this point I thought maybe I've bitten off more than I can chew, but I thought it would be good for me in my own clarification if I doubled back and had a go at addressing what he had said. Too often in the past in my professional life I have backed away from my own opinions for fear of being exposed as someone who hadn't thought through things but this was a risk that promised to be a fruitful, if humbling, learning experience. An excerpt from my next comment:

If e-Portfolio is only a word, what's the big deal? I must be missing something (highly likely, I'm just a primary school teacher) but how is the term "e-Portfolio" any worse than any other buzz phrase or common usage word in education today? I can't see why the term can't be defined by Web 2.0 technology users / educators at the grassroots - in fact, it would be better than just leaving it to be defined by those high up on the education food chain. We could (edubloggers in general) define what an e-Portfolio is, provide the links to the world to concrete examples so that someone like Leigh could be saying, "This is what an e-Portfolio looks like in the connected world and here's mine as an outstanding example."

Leigh's next comment was important because it revealed his thinking more clearly to me. I was starting to get where he was coming from. But did Alex and he fully get my viewpoint? Read on:

G, I think you're right, but I think ePortfolio is still more than a word. I think you're right if all we are talking about is a portfolio in the digitally networked world - but as you alluded to in your first comment, it is a word that panders to old schoolers, managers and academia who refuse to acknowledge the digitally networked world in the terms that are current. This provides charlatans with the opportunity to sell false things like ePortfolio software and servers, which in turn leads teachers into yet another false reality, which leads our kids into schizophrenic learning... out there is the way things are really done - in here is the way we do things in school.

Alex's next comment was also extremely insightful and put my comments to the blowtorch they deserved in his own clever way. His final paragraph was pure gold (my own emphasis in bold):

There are a billion good ideas flying around out there and in here. The only ones that have global resonance are those that hit the ground running. Realising that the key elements of professional portfolios are imbedded in the individuals ability to demonstrate and action social change, realise social dividends, connect others to knowledge and weather the organisational-flack-attack are in my opinion the portfolio we should be carrying around with us ....so to speak. I rarely shoot things down cause'my eye sights failing anyway from too much Halo.

That was really cool. What I had written must have had some credibility to warrant such responses and I really learnt something from both Leigh and Alex in this exchange. A classic example of the power of blogs and the conversations that can occur to define things at the grassroots level. And I think I even got Leigh to moderate his viewpoint as well!

.......I really appreciate you taking me up on this issue, as it has helped me to see that for some, ePortfolio is simply a conceptual use of web2 technologies - which I think is totally OK. My previous experience with the term however has been at the hands of horrid academics who on the one hand dismiss blogs and wikis, while on the other embrace ePortfolios - because they paid for a special ePortfolio software... So, I think we have hammered out an understanding......

As I mentioned in my final comment there, I think we are still exploring and working on what e-Portfolios could look like here in South Australia. The group who have met earlier this year are pretty green (myself included) but that means without restrictive pre-conceptions, maybe some useful user-friendly and user-controlled models can emerge that can evolve with the Web 2.0 world. Thanks, Leigh and Alex, for the great conversation.

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6 thoughts on “Portfolios – To E Or Not To E!

  1. Nick Noakes


    Maybe you, Leigh, Alex and I got keep this ball rolling in the TALO meeting next Thu?

    I designed and had built a personal development planning (UK) /eportfolio (North America) system in 2001. I have since abandoned it for a number of reasons – partly to do with other apps coming on stream… but then the current web 2.0 apps don’t do part of what I designed. I think a key point here though is to talk about purposes first … and purposes vary with stakeholders. I am still convinced about the need for SOME of the purposes behind this, but maybe in part what troubles Leigh is that instituional systems probably get accountability/assessment driven, even if that wasn’t the original purpose of the designer.

    I would very enjoy revisting this with you all on Thu.

  2. Alex Hayes

    Graham, indeed you warrant a response.

    I’ve cruised your musings for a while now and it’s a pleasure to figure in your prose.

    Onto e-portfolios.

    Leigh dropped into The Centre For Learning Innovations TAFE NSW a while back [ http://moblog.co.uk/view.php?id=123451 ] and sprung a bombshell on the least suspecting.

    Patch this audio into your mental picture of a boardroom filled with senior educationalisms.

    ” Portability and access are the only elements of e-portfolios that make sense to a student. Construction of such [ e ] is non-chronological, re-hashed and re-worked as many times as it takes to make it true in any given moment and as needed ”

    ” Mlearning is anything , anywhere, anytime…..provided I’m given permission to access it. Staistics say otherwise.”

    ” I disagree with you…not because I have to but because my students prove that I need to do so”

    Given that these are re-collections of a heated discussion and are renditions and trackbacks to whats been coined as sleight-of-mouth or stream of conciousness from Leigh Blackall ( I’ve got the tapes to prove it ) I’m now firmly of the opinion that e-portfoloio’s have resonance when considered as a verb.


    “Small pieces, loosely joined” rings true. Leigh’s game is no name fame. It’s heartfelt and horribly real.

    I’m personally finding snippets of memory tucked away in the crinkly concoids of the machine [www] far more maleable than the letters after my name.

    What make it all real is coming to the conclusion that power genre’s are fast flailing and failing.

    Students need to take memory of learning with them, not wrapped up in someone elses slick ‘certificate’ that tells them what made the outcomes tick. The aggregation and distribution of this portfolio should be ( in my humble opinion ) a students choice – blog, wiki, moblog, youtube, myspace, flickrsticker you name it.

    It’s not something you can wave in the air in a thumbdrive or tuck under your arm and complement the spit that shines your shoe in an interview.

    E’s are back with the birds and the bees. Lets avoid making wiki’s wack.

    All anyone’s asking students these days is their cell number – inside and outside. I’m all for e-portfolios provided we acknowledge it’s “our” term not theirs.

    Cheers…for now.

  3. rc

    buddy, you’re a committed, thoughtful, insightful dude, with a job that intersects youth, learning, and technology.

    forget the quals, drop the i’m just a primary teacher thing – you’re where its at

  4. Graham Wegner

    Thanks Nick and RC for your comments. Alex, your response has a lot more detail and I can’t disagree with anything that you have said, especially with the fact that e-Portfolio is a term that belongs to the current generation of educators (well, some of them!)My headset is still at what this means for teachers – the students will define their purposes in their future and don’t need us imposing any model on them. I’m no expert on moblile learning but students now and from now on will want to be linked up in the way that is convenient to them. Anything hosted solely on a department or school server does not have the portability any future portfolio will need. It might still be OK for a lot of tech-afraid teachers who might not even want to know about emerging technologies unless there are a few traditonal type safeguards for privacy, etc. I just think that more educators need to come on board with the capabilities of information manipulation and utilisation as enabled by blogs, wikis, web apps etc.. If they see a purpose for themselves (i.e. maintaining their own e-Portfolio) then they may unshackle their students and allow them the opportunity to find out what works for them. Having said that, there is the reality that a lot (not all) of the teaching force wouldn’t see the value in any form of online presence – they have a job for life, the educaion system itself has the speed of a glacier – so I could be wasting a lot of time debating about something that no-one wants to do!

  5. Alex Hayes

    Great post Graham and I’m now about to set off into the week and explore blogging with a whole bunch of educators that are likely to say “blog ?”

    I’m finding it so important to realise where your coming from, where your headed and I tend to think that your ‘primary teacher’ bit does actually give you credibility. My CV dosent show how many houses I renovated or how many ditches I dug.

    That portfolio of evidence is best tested on a hot day, in the scrub finiching with a cold ale or two.

    Where teachers and educators are at these days with e-portfolios is also one of my primary and daily interrogations. I suspect that some teachers are requesting students to ease up on the laughter and give them a chance to catch up.

  6. Leigh Blackall

    Isn’t fantastic to see our conversation continuing on in so many arenas!? My blog, your blog, Alex’s blog, TALO eGroup, lord know where else! And I certainly look forward to a voice to voice go at it this Thursday.

    Thanks so much everyone, its been thoroughly electrifying.. now all we need is that tool Alex calls for that can bring it all together for us again in a few years time. I wonder if this exchange has altered the Google search results for the words ePortfolio, Leigh Blackall, Graham Wegner, Alex Hayes?

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