Maybe The Wrong Question?

My ICT research project has fallen to the back of the priority queue in recent times although my mind hasn't let go of its existence and the need to pay it some more attention. I did take a day out of the last term to get my two project participants up and going. My action research question was, "Are teacher e-portfolios sustainable?" But now as I reflect on that day and the choices made by my two colleagues and the questions they asked along the way, I'm inclined to think that maybe there's a more fundamental question to be asking. Sure, I got the initial grant by honing in on one of the topics listed as worthy of investigation but what's the point of following that through to its fairly vague conclusion if I think there is something important that comes in at a more basic level.

Here's what I'm thinking.

Portfolios are driven by purpose. No purpose equals why bother? An e-portfolio has another complicating factor - technology savviness for both the creator and for the audience. I noticed that with my two colleagues. Neither could be classified as luddites and they both had their individual purposes sorted out but I found that they needed to be shown various options (ie. edublogs or elgg) and then stepped through the process of registering, posting content, creating links. So, I'm guessing that the average teacher isn't going to creating their own e-portfolio anytime soon because (a) the purpose isn't there if you are already permanently employed and the system (merit selection or transfer) still mainly uses paper based methods of verifyig skills and achievements, (b) they don't have the technical expertise or confidence to use web based applications and tools for a purpose like the creation of an e-portfolio without support and (c) it would take a lot of time and effort for something that may or not be used in the professional setting. Let's take it as a given that e-portfolios are useful as a way of documenting professional growth, collecting evidence of expertise and lifelong learning. But unless teachers have a specific purpose beyond their immediate role in the classroom - leadership aspirations, consultancy opportunities, AST1 or working internationally - I don't think that we will see a mass take-up of the e-portfolio concept.

So maybe things need to take a step back. Rather than worrying about whether teachers will get into e-portfolios or not, the question should be more along the lines of "How do we get teachers developing an online presence?" To me, that seems to be the genuine starting point for some many classroom teachers who need to make the mental shift from using the internet as a read-only resource to the benefits of the Read/Write web.

I'm hitting the Publish button now and letting my brain percolate a little longer.

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8 thoughts on “Maybe The Wrong Question?

  1. Nancy McKeand

    That mental shift is a hard one. I have worked with a colleague for about a year trying to help her use Moodle to give students an online component to our classes. I thought she got it when she used Moodle this past semester, but as the semester wore on, she questioned it more and more. At the end of the semester, she asked if we had to use it again next semester. I explained all the reasons for using Moodle again and talked about my own struggles to find the right online activities for my students. She told me she thought she got it – again.

    My colleague hasn’t made that mental shift. Moodle and email are the extent of her online activities. I have tried to get her to see beyond that, but I guess I will be happy if she really gets Moodle. I don’t think she will ever really have an online presence. But I have to remind myself that she doesn’t see a need for one, either.

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  2. Joost Robben

    lots of teachers still haven’t caught up with todays online life. But instead of focussing on the technology part, I’d suggest to focus on the pedagocial issues. Lots of teachers, tech savvy or not, still want to be instructors and bring out there knowledge to the students instead of guiding students with their journey of learning. Once teachers have made that mindshift and learn that portfolios can be usefull instrument in that process I’m sure that technology isn’t an obstacle anymore.

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  3. Graham

    Post author

    Well, when I use my blog for “thinking out aloud” then it’s great if anyone wants to weigh in with their perspective. Thanks, Stephen, Nancy and Joost, for giving yours. I think another blog post will be needed to sort out the next step and address your questions, Stephen. I would just point put that I am definitely not a researcher by trade (Stephen, you might say that was pretty obvious!!) and I probably need to refer back to my action research notes before attempting to refine or reject my question. This is a small scale project and I only got the grant (I think) because there was a perceived need for someone at the grassroots level to explore the teacher e-portfolio concept following Dr.Helen Barrett’s visit to Adelaide in 2005. Because I have invested a lot of my own time in developing my online presence and I’ve reapt many tangible and intangible benefits from that presence, I think that I’ve projected that in my new question. I will go back through the post and sort out my assumptions and see what unfolds.
    Nancy, I appreciate your empathy with my ideas. Linking across to your blog post shows that you can relate to my question even if your follow on question is better.
    Joost, I hear what you are saying in regards to pedagogy but this grant was specifically related to exploring the ICT facet.

    Maybe, the easy way out is go way, way back to my very first question for this grant, “Can Web 2.0 tools be used to construct teacher e-portfolios?”, build my own and then just answer, “Yes!” HA!! I’d hardly be blogging if I was looking for the easy way.

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  4. Pingback:

    Borderland » My Trail of Breadcrumbs

  5. Franki

    I haven’t been following your blog but am interested in this question. As a teacher, I think an online presence could be important in the very near future. For me, it is all about building relationships and becoming part of a bigger community of learners. An online presence give you a larger community to think with that can’t happen otherwise. I think your work is critical.

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  6. Doug Noon

    Still thinking about this… Maybe you could find a couple of informants who’ve been doing it for a while and try to determine what factors have contributed to the practice. If you could find anyone who gave it up, that might be useful, too, in understanding what is gained/lost/risked. It seems to me that a question about “gain” would depend on what a person values.

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  7. Sarah Puglisi

    When I found Borderland I wanted to read it all. And it takes time to do this,and I think it was such fun I may do it again, then I really wanted to watch a person on his del.cious thing.Again its like following a mind. And that is so fascinating. So fun and fascination and discovery…this is a feature of the experience.
    I’m just a 1st grade teacher grappling with all the questions, what to do in this restrictive time of coping with NCLB driven notions, how to make the children have a technology based learning experience as it’s their future, why am I teaching, what’s the meaning of everything…what teaching generates is the power of a king and the insecurity of a neurotic. A very artistic connection, as of course this is the mental state of the artist. I realize the importance of this questioning you are doing but I am commenting failing to read your entire site to contextualize my thoughts, I apologize. I am triggered by wonder at these on-line thinking spaces and places. I was activated by Borderland. I could connect it into my work both in my head and in my students. I could percieve that there is a wider community engaged in the art of teaching beyond the local construct. And in my case the local construct inhibits and destroys true learning , in large measure a result of political messes and I suppose in a sense a casuality of war. I think teachers develop on-line work for a variety of reasons, and the why do it question is that self check, that arrival of the cold morning after the night of enjoying the rush of creating. It’s the duality of all things we do. I frankly will answer you as I would to kids. I think it’s better to be a maker than to be a critic or deconstructor. I truely think this is what at heart gives me the energy to go ahead and learn more, create a blog, read, explore, process and find meaning in this form. I’ll come back and read and see if this isn’t off-topic or somehow uncontextualized. I’m sure it is….but ..I thought I might share. sarah

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