Getting out on a staff meeting night is a bonus. So while my colleagues were nutting out the finer details of Maths groupings and poring over Steering Committee minutes, I was at TSOF to hear and discuss the future directions of e-Portfolios in DECS. I wasn't sure what to expect and looking back from my perspective, it was a mixed bag. There was some talk about future directions and I was glad to see that thoughts of digital space being provided for educators was highlighted - that was on my wishlist from a few posts back. There was some group sharing of the progress individuals have made on their own portfolios and there was a fair bit of talk about what should go in an e-portfolio and what tools should be used to put it together. Some of the less interesting aspects were when time was spent bringing people who didn't attend up-to-date with some of the finer points of Dr.Helen Barrett's methods. But I didn't need personally to sit through how to create a hyperlink in Excel so I ended up chatting to Jackie Miers whose e-portfolio I linked to in a post about the original conference. She said she had overlooked the fact that it had a lot of personal details that she didn't really want public so she had to take parts down off the web and adjust the whole thing. Jackie is an extremely capable educator and I doubt if there are any educators in South Australia involved in Resource and Problem Based Learning who haven't used a Jackie Miers webpage of useful links. Here's one of her latest about the Commonwealth Games. And she asked how I found the time to blog! 🙂 I'm sure that she spends many hours putting her hotlist pages together. Anyway, the session ended with Yvonne Murtagh giving everyone a quick blast of Web 2.0 which was good because even these keen to be near the cutting edge educators had not heard of many of the tools she was highlighting frantically. She even got me to show my blog which was great. I only had five mins to give them a taste of what a blog could be so I showed them my entry on Self Directed Learning and showed how comments containing responses to and resources for my idea had come in from all over the world - Minnesota, New Zealand, Glenelg (!!), Mexico City and Alaska. That got a few heads nodding - that is the real power of blogs for educators - the power to virtually tap another educator on the shoulder halfway around the world and say, "What do you think?"
So what came out of tonight's get together? I'm not too sure - except maybe a commitment to form a community of educators keen to explore this concept for ourselves and our students. Maybe a few will be inspired to take up blogging as the reflective component of their portfolio. I just get a bit worrried when words like "standardised" and "required elements" get bandied around because as Dave Cormier reflected on one of the EdTech Talk Brainstorms that never made to the web archive:

....... 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.

So where are we going? Not sure but I'd better hang around and find out.

Via Josie Fraser, a wide ranging post on the UK government's efforts at supporting the e-portfolio movement.

The UK Government’s e-strategy, Harnessing Technology outlined a clear commitment to ensuring learners have access to Personal Learning Space (PLS) where they can “store coursework, course resources, results, and achievements…with the potential to support e-portfolios”, available in every school and college by 2007-08. It’s proved to be a popular idea – with many intuitions engaging in research and investigation, and even becoming early adopters of the currently available e-portfolio products. There isn’t currently an agreed definition of PLS or e-portfolio functionality and standards: however, guidelines, ideas and recommendations are fast emerging.

So where are we going to go in South Australia. I'll find out tomorrow - except I was really, really late with my rsvp. Hope I don't get a "Don't bother coming" e-mail tomorrow morning.

This Wednesday I'm going to a workshop after school titled "ePortfolio for Professional Learning" which will "build on momentum and outcomes of December 1st & 2nd conference using evaluation responses." This was the conference where Dr. Helen Barrett was the keynote speaker and where our system's shiny new Professional Standards for teachers were unveiled. So if I am to be a meaningful participant, I'd better clarify my thoughts before I go so if I get the opportunity, they can be aired.
So where do I stand on the topic of e-portfolios in my education system?

  • Well, I haven't touched any of my starting point files since the workshop so time is a big issue. Time to design, time to reflect, time to put the whole thing together.
  • If e-portfolios are to have a viable, long term future then our system has to fund and provide permanent digital space for all DECS employees and students. For as long as they are part of our system - with an opportunity for retirees and school leavers to transfer their life work off to their choice of server repository.
  • For me, a blog is not an e-portfolio. A blog is not even just reflection which is where I disagree with Dr.Helen Barrett. It is connection with others that is really the big deal in blogging, but a portfolio is a summary of one's work and directions. Portfolio = learnt. Blog = learning.
  • Digital access for all portfolio participants in their work environments is crucial. My class can't put together a portfolio of work in a 45 minute session in the computing room once a week. It can't be done if technology is inaccessible or unreliable.
  • Purpose has to be defined. Who is it for and why do they need to view a portfolio? We can't afford in this day and age of accountability to be too utopian. (Or should we?)

It will be really interesting to see what others have to say. I'll post back on anything of interest.

I received an e-mail this week from Mike Baker from Polaris Career Center regarding my use of an RWLO account. At first I thought I was in trouble for unauthorised use of a set up aimed at US educators but he was merely curious as how I found out about the service and the origin of some of the public files I have sitting there. I had to admit I started the account as a free place to store education related stuff so I could access it from anyplace that had a web connection and I got the original link from a Steve Dembo post. I hadn't even really poked around the rest of the site much but thanks to Mike, I have started to sift through some of the resources and Learning Objects available. He also gave me some great links to key parts of the site and I thought I'd post them here before I delete the e-mail and lose it forever. Firstly, Mike pointed to PT3 Pathways Project where the whole site's purpose is explained. Then he gave me a link to A Guide To Unique And Compelling Educational Resources that was fantastic as an overview of how to effectively use internet resources in a classroom, clearly defining what cannot be done by using traditional resources alone. This was excellent and is something that I can use with teachers easily in our Problem Based Learning program. Heaps more resources and Learning Object exemplars were also available at the Polaris Public homepage and also here. In the spirit of just-in-time learning and my recent discourse on e-portfolios the last link provides exemplars of different e-portfolios from teachers and teaching students that should help me out in further clarification of this concept. Mike's directions were to open the RWLO e-Desk Workshop folder, then the Unique e-Desk Sites popping out the files in the main window. So thanks, Mike and also for encouraging me to keep my account, an obscure Aussie educator sponging off US taxpayers' dollars! (My description, not his.)


An excellent comment response from Aaron at Teacher In Development to my post An E-Portfolio - Who Is It For? My point about the potential audience for any portfolio has really got him thinking. But he backs up his original position well by stating that a portfolio can be put together for more than one audience as long as the portfolio starts with the individual.

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 can appreciate that point of view - it would work for me. I think it would work for Aaron's students too. But how will it work for the students I teach in my school aged between 5 and 13? I'm a bit apprehensive about kids of that age being able to construct a portfolio of their own choice without a lot of guidance. Not saying it can't work and work well at that but I think portfolios at that age range need a fair bit of structure and teacher guidance. And for teachers to do that well, they need to be familiar with the whole process. Educators need to develop and maintain their own professional e-portfolio. What that could look like is a whole new ballgame. Educators' portfolios should be as individual as they are while a standardised format might be really helpful for younger students in the primary years. I found this decription of what a professional portfolio should look like from D'Arcy Norman to be particularly succinct.

That’s not really what a portfolio should be - it’s best used as a showcase for an individual. I picture the portfolio as being closer to the job interview than the resume. It’s a creative proxy for an individual, not a standardized data transmission vector.

I really need to re-visit my notes from Dr.Helen Barrett and start putting something together. This would qualify as my reflective component - what about the rest of you out there reading this? (6 subscribers in Bloglines at last count) Do you have an e-portfolio and how's it travelling?

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.

We're ready to roll in one of the double computer rooms and Janette Ellis is starting the day by walking us though the creation angle of her e-portfolio. Hers is HTML web page based - looks like it could have been created in FrontPage or DreamWeaver. As she explains, her e-portfolio was very text based but it operates on a very definite structure and incorporated a lot of links. She also pointed out that Paul's structure was well planned with layers of resource links within each section. In Janette's portfolio, images that she has chosen all illustrate skills or initiatives that she has expertise in. She also points out that an e-portfolio is a work in progress - she even goes to sleep with ideas about how to improve her portfolio buzzing around in her head.
Dr. Helen Barrett was next to tell us how her e-portfolio developed. She started her website in 2005 but her portfolio went from desktop to CD to Adobe Acrobat in format. The issue in 2000 was that her faculty had not seen a portfolio in CD form before so she had to supply a 10 minute video on how to navigate the CD! She included reproductions of attestions (what other people have said about you) and productions (photos etc. of things you have created/ been responsible for). She then started to take us through her online portfolio on her website. She trialled 17 different formats and has links to her versions of all of these.
We spent some time exploring mind mapping and how it can be used to organise the content and structure of a portfolio. I signed up for an account at Mayomi - free online mind mappirg tool. After a morning tea break, Helen started to show us how to organise artifacts using an Excel spreadsheet. This was then followed by a half hour setting up of a template plan in Word. I think we will be working on the next part - selection and reflection. I think I'll post back on that at a later time.

South Australia really is a very small place. I'm signing in here at EDC and another teacher recognises me from my blog! How amazing - maybe a conference of this nature attracts like minded educators - could be a few more new connections to learn from by the end of the day.
Professional Standards has been touched on - we all got a leaflet outlining the important bits. I'll have to check it out. The next speaker, Louise Waiblinger, is really pointing out that the whole point of the day is driven by these standards, and how this concept is supported by e-portfolios.
Next up on the agenda is Dr.Helen Barrett as the first keynote speaker. She makes reference to paper based portfolios by Dr. Elizabeth Hebert. We then did an activity based on what we collect - the point being that a portfolio is about memories, seeing growth over time. Photographs were highlighted as a very common item to collect. Portfolios are a very personal activity. Now she's about to tackle the question, "Why e- portfolios?" Students' access to technology is quite often very different between home and the classroom. Helen then talks about 21st Century learning skills which are often quite difficult to test but ideal for placement in a portfolio. As any person tuned in to Web. 2.0 she makes reference to Thomas Friedman's "The World Is Flat." (Note to myself - must read that book.)
Daniel Pink's "A Whole New Mind" book about how we need to develop right brain thinking because computers really have the left brain covered. Helen now talks about the product component of an e-portfolio. In 2005, we have a lot of digital tools to capture artifacts - cameras, thumbdrives, PDA's, mobile phones.
She talks that a reflective journal component if needed. Could this be blogging as Leigh envisages it? She is using of a lot of great quotes and dot points on her slideshows. (link to later) Digital storytelling is the phrase she keeps coming back to. But. As she points out, an e-portfolio can be many things to many people. Portfolios need a descriptor or modifier that describes their purpose. And if they are used as assessment tools, it could be Assessment of Learning or Assessment For Learning.
There are many definitions of purpose for portfolios - what? So what? Now what? "Reflection is essential to brain based learning." is her quote.
She outlined links to:-
Online portfolios
Digital Storytelling.
Blogs & wikis
I was amazed when Helen had to stop and explain what a blog was! There were high flying people from the upper levels of DECS here and they didn't know what a blog was. And very few hands went up when she asked who knew what a podcast is!
Helen showed us a couple of digital stories - both of student teachers in the US. The second one was about a photojournalist who turned fo teaching based on encouragement from one of his teachers. Couldn't help but think of Brett's recent post where he is moving away from classroom teaching.
The next speaker is Janette Ellis, from generatED, who is speaking about developments in Victoria here - an Aussie perspective. She pointed out that sometimes technically challenged educators have no problem choosing content but tech-savvy people can struggle with the purpose and content. Her real angle is from the educator's perspective while Helen's vision was a lot broader and looking at students. She is talking about portfolios supporting teaching and teacher standards. Beginning teachers in Vic. have provisional registration as a teacher but must demonstrate they meet professional teaching standards by the end of their 2nd year. She talks about the differences between the ideal and the reality. Some portfolios are either CV on CD or just a collection of stuff. What is the point of a portfolio - evidence of practice - needs to be aligned to purpose. She used a great example of her own son delivering a weather report as a Year 2 student. There was an audio link to hear him reading the report and another link to view his original written version. It showed the importance of context - if you judged his ability on the written piece, it was very different to the two together.
Janette also pointed out that you need to have purpose.
Why do you need an e-portfolio?
After lunch, Helen stepped back up to the podium to talk on "From the Cradle To The Grave" looking at e-portfolios in the early years of childhood and in the years of retirement. There are issues around the digital media being dated, technology being better on occasions than at school, teachers not having the time to put the portfolios together for kids at this early age. Helen is saying the tool that she's still looking for is a way to tag photos and videos automatically by user or subject. Parents need to be partners in e-portfolios to construct. She also talked about the emergence of personal historians who interview and document the lives of elderly people. This is starting to flow over into digital recording. But, Helen is proposing that we do geneology in reverse.
The final session for the day involved South Aussie teachers and their e-portfolio stories. A group of educators from leadership and beginning teacher groups. They collaborated via Moodle and shared their stories. Paul Luke, deputy @ Craigburn PS shared his Digital Learning Space and his journey. He used Claris HomePage four years ago as a starting point with students and then took us throughout his space. It is highly personalised and geared to meet his needs, developmentally and professionally, with links and room for audio files.
The second educator was Jackie Miers, an assistant principal from Magill JPS. Her focus was her journey to create her own portfolio. She added that her method of learning is to look at other people's examples. She used FrontPage to build her own. Using templates, she's used frameworks to document evidence of leadership competencies and use it to drive future professional development.
The next speaker was Sue who explained her involvement in student portfolios since 1988. She only recently started to put together her own professional portfolio. I really liked the style of a job application with key parts hyperlinked.
The final educator was Ian, a beginning teacher who talked about aligning his practice with professional standards.
The day wound up with my involvement in a focus group being videoed about key questions about the day.
- What have you captured?
- What's stayed in your mind?
- How will today's presentations impact on your work?
- What opportunities and challenges come to mind re:future action?
- How will you respond next week when your line manager and colleagues ask the question, "So how was the e-portfolio Conference? What will be useful?"
Tomorrow is a workshop restricted to 35 participants where we have the opportunity to start our own e-portfolio with Helen's and Janette's help. Should be interesting.

I am lucky enough to be booked in for an interesting couple of days of training next week. It's called e-Portfolio Conference - Using Professional Standards For Teachers on the Thursday with a follow-on workshop the next day limited to 35 places. The featured speaker is Dr. Helen Barrett, of whom I was pretty ignorant when I first looked at the descriptor on the DECS Leadership website. So I found out that she had a blog, I checked it out. She promises to be a extremely interesting speaker and although her blog is very good, it will be good to hear her define the concept of e-portfolio in person. An e-portfolio can mean many different things to different people and I'm no expert (that's why I'm going). Leigh Blackall certainly has his opinions and believes that a lot of web 2.O technologies can do the same job or be called the same thing.

There's been a steady stream of talk around the idea of ePortfolios. I've been watching, interested in how the name alone is a good way to get people who are opposed to blogging, interested in what amounts to ... blogging! Amazing what a word can do.

So I'll be keeping my naivety in check and seeing what our education system is wanting to do with this concept. I know that the term has bandied around and used in a number of settings to describe a variety of end results. One primary school here in Adelaide, Hallett Cove East was a bit of a mover and a shaker in this area, producing student digital portfolios in CD-RW format so that more work samples could be added to it. I went to a workshop there in 2003 where they plugged this concept pretty hard. And maybe primary schools have a different headset to what secondary schools or higher ed would envisage. As for what an educator's e-portfolio might look like, I suppose it is something that pulls together the reflectiveness and ongoing learning of a blog, with storage capacity of digital artifacts like I've got at RWLO. Anyway, I'm reading too much into an area where I have little practical expertise. I know that at leadership conferences and workshops I've attended, there is a big emphasis on the maintenance of a professional portfolio, a black folder where you stick all of your training certificates plus paper copies of job applications, feedbacks etc. but I have most of that stuff on my hard drive at home or backed up on CD. It should be interesting.