E-portfolio as the next Killer app?

A recent post from David Warlick got me thinking a bit about where we should be going with e-portfolios. He lists some of the ideal features of an e-portfolio and I’ve abstracted some of them here (for the full list visit his post):-

  • It will have elements of social networking, featuring personal profiles and a variety of communication devices, such as blogging, micro-blogging, discussion forums, and commenting.
  • It will easily and invitingly accept multimedia products.
  • All products will be critiqueable with commenting or threaded discussion, by educators, fellow students, and the verifiable community.
  • It will also have components of a course management system. There will be curriculum structures within the platform so that work can be aligned, at least implicitly, with instructional objectives.
  • There will be a facility to critique work based beyond mere foundational standards. Work will also be judged on inventiveness, collaboration, quality of communication, compellingness, value to an authentic audience.
  • “Standards” will play a minimal role in this product.
  • It will facilitate portability, so that students can carry their portfolios with them to the next grade and/or as a standalone product on CD or other networked platform.
  • It will not merely be classroom-friendly. It will be user-friendly, regardless of the location of the learning.
  • Students will have a strong voice and hand in what it looks like and how it operates.
  • Students will be able to enter products that are not necessarily curriculum related, such as personal video and machinima creations, art work, game scores, business ventures, and products of personal and passionate interest.
  • Students, teachers, and parents will participate in selecting the work that is assessed.
  • It will preferably be open source, but not necessarily so.
  • The social aspects will be reasonably open. Students (and teachers) will be able to collaborate across classroom and school (and even national) boundaries.
  • All learning products will include an element of reflection by its producer.

It’s interesting that Mahara and Pebble Pad both tick some of these boxes, but neither tick all of them. Blackboard’s e-portfolio system (at least in versions 7 and 8 – I haven’t seen 9 yet) trails some way behind in virtually all these respects, except of course it does contain elements of a course management system, which neither Mahara or Pebble Pad do. (Well, they could do, but they’d need a lot of tweaking by teaching staff who in the past generally haven’t had the time.)

David asked for more suggestions for features. I’d add the ability to make artefacts out of the assets already existing in the portfolio. (A bit like Pebble Pad’s CV builder and webfolio tools, which I think are very useful features).  I also think that in the current climate, open source is essential. This is partly to do with economics and partly to do with philosophy. The economic reason is that any tool that is paid for by an insitution might be cut leaving students high and dry, and the philosophical reason is that I think for an e-portfolio tool to be useful it is best if it is as open as possible. (Of course there’s always a need for privacy, and it has to be able to cope with that too, but I’ve recently been impressed by Stephen Downes arguments about the virtues of open assessment)