E-portfolios: Models and Implementations: Idealistic whys versus Pragmatic Hows

As promised, here’s the next report from the Blackboard Users Group conference. E-portfolios and “Personal Development Planning” have something of a chequered history in Higher Education. While there are many enthusiasts for the idea, it’s probably fair to say that students haven’t in general embraced the idea with any noticeable implementation.

Tim Neumann from the Institute of Education at the University of London gave us a brief account of the history of e-portfolios. He started by reporting that there had been a sudden increase in the number of academics asking about e-portfolios, although there appeared to be different drivers in different parts of the Institute.. In fact e-portfolios can have multiple functions, – they can provide personal development records, be a vehicle for assessment, a reflective space, a personal document repository, a basis for career development, or a simple documentation of personal achievement. In many respects the process of creating a portfolio is as important as the end product, but the multiple purposes that they can be put to, seems to cause as much confusion as clarity. As Tim rather drily noted, some staff in the Institute may not have had a fully developed understanding of the nature and purpose of an e-portfolio, for example the doctoral course team wanted it to provide an online record of doctoral meetings (which actually struck me as quite a good idea), the team teaching the MA in ICT in Education wanted the e-portfolio to contain a bibliographic management system, and the Master of Teaching course wanted to skew the e-portfolio to open source tools. All these are worthy things, but they’re not exactly the prime purpose of building an e-portfolio.

Nevertheless they did pilot a number of e-portfolio software tools, largely with a view to making comparisons between them. Among those they looked at were something called Avenet E-folio, Chalk and Wire, Digication, Interfolio Elgg, and Pebble Pad, (I have to be honest here and say I’ve only heard of the last two. Tim was quite candid about the fact that they were looking for tools that were available at little, or preferably no, cost. They also found that students were reluctant to use Pebble Pad, but unfortunately he didn’t give us any indication of why this was the case.

That said, they are currently trialling a tool called Learning Objects LX expo, a Blackboard plug in, (which we have ourselves, although have yet to investigate fully ) This is described as a personal website builder, rather than an e-portfolio tool, although, I suppose a personal web site is a sort of portfolio. In fact, it’s more of a social networking tool, not unlike Facebook. Anyway, Tim felt that this had been the most successful of the tools they had evaluated so far, in that it had met most of their objectives and provided all the functionality that they required. We should perhaps follow their example and have a further look at LX expo.