The single document format debate

Last year, we introduced Blackboard at Lincoln, and, whatever your views on the merits, or otherwise of virtual learning environments, the functionality it is providing is definitely leading to an increase in interest in on-line submission of assessment. This is also an issue for exportability in e-portfolio development. (Just so I can keep the blog on theme!) If you want to make sure documents can be easily exported from one e-portfolio system to another, then I think it’s sensible to try and standardise your document formats. (Of course, this all depends on the type of documents you want to store in your portfolio)

But the submission of assignments issue presents a problem. Students don’t all use Microsoft Word 2003, which is still the University’s preferred word processing platform. So they’re submitting in Word 2007 (and a variety of other exotica that lurk out there on the net.). The result is of course that tutors can’t read these strange files when they download the files to mark them.

So, one suggestion, is that the university should move to insisting on submission in PDF format. Broadly, I think that’s a sensible approach, (although it’s not a solution). For all the talk we hear of digital natives, students aren’t all as tech savvy as they’re sometimes portrayed. And unless you’re on campus, or willing to pay for a PDF converter for your personal PC, it’s not so easy to do.

Anyway, my point is, if you want to convert documents to PDF, I’ve just discovered some useful (and free!) tools to do it. Here’s the link. Blogging offers users the facility to write your own blog. In fact, you can have as many blogs as you like. The reason for this is to provide users with a learning journal, or journals.

Learning journals (which can take the form of a blog) are a common feature of portfolios, as they are an excellent way of recording day to day events that you might want to return to later. Entries in such a journal can also provide reflective statements about your learning or work in themselves. also allows you to tag blog entries, so you can easily search for all your entries on a topic. You can also attach files to provide evidence of the claims you are making.

To set up a blog, click the “My Portfolio” button and click “My Blogs”. This will open a form for you to create a blog.

The new blog form
The new blog form

Give your blog a title and a description and add any tags that you think are appropriate. (Remember you’re setting up the blog here, not making an entry in it, so you should describe the purpose of the blog.). Click “create blog”. This will take you to the “My blogs”, page which, as the name suggests, contains a list of all your blogs, including the one you have just created. To add a post click the “Add post” button next to the blog you want to update.

Viewing Blogs.

[nggallery id=blogblox]

If you are using the blogging tool you can add your blog, a list of the ten most recent posts, or a single post from your blog into any of your views. Simply drag the relevant block into the appropriate column in your view. The single post feature is particularly useful if you want to include a statement about some form of achievement in a view. If you want to publish your blog on the internet, simply create a single column view, set access to “public” and drag the “blog” block (centre) into it.

External Blogs.

Many bloggers are already using external blogging services, such as WordPress, or Blogger. While you can’t easily display a single post from these services in, it is possible to use an RSS feed reader to display recent links from your blog.

Rss Block feed
Rss Block feed
. Before you do this, visit your blog and look for an RSS icon (which will look like the orange icon illustrated in the block, or alternatively there may be a link that says RSS”). Right click this and select “Copy shortcut” from the sub menu. Then return to your view, and drag the RSS feed block into your view. Where it asks for a URL paste the address of your feed into the form. You can decide whether you want your portfolio to show the full entries, or just the titles (readers will be able to click on these to visit your blog).
Don’t forget to give your block a title. Press Save. And that’s it.

That’s it for now. When more people are using, I’ll post something about using the groups tool as social networking is an important part of portfolio building. If you want to look through these posts, simply click the “” category in the category list on the right.

If you have any feedback on this, or any other comments on portfolio building or personal development planning, please do let me know by using the comment feature. Views 3. Adding artefacts.

Up to now, most of these posts have concentrated on building a portfolio for employability. That’s fine, and a very good reason in itself to build an e-portfolio, but by adding some of the work you’ve done to your portfolio you can do much more.

First, from an employability point of view, you can provide evidence to back up any claims you’re making in your CV. You can also make your CV that much more interesting by including links to the things you’ve done that you’re most proud of. Secondly, though, a portfolio doesn’t have to be used solely for the purpose of getting a job. They are sometimes used for educational assessment, or they can be used as a sort of self advertisement. Like it or not it’s quite common to “Google” new acquaintances these days, so you might want to show the best of yourself on the Internet and an e-portfolio is a good way to do that.

So, what artefacts can you add to The simplest, and in many ways the most useful is the “Text box” as this can be used to describe any other artefact or group of artefacts, and of course, can become an artefact in itself.

Text box

You find the text box by clicking on the “General” tab in the view editor.

Text box icon
Text box icon
. As usual, just drag it to the column in which you want it to appear. You should give it a title, as if you don’t it will just default to “text box”. There are some basic word processing tools for you to write a short introduction. You can import images, change the font and colour of the text and if you are familiar with HTML, (the markup language used to write web pages) you can add slightly more advanced formatting to the text box. (Although, frankly, this feature needs a little bit more work at the moment.)

Adding files to a view.

Remember the post on uploading files? Well, here’s how to put your files into a view. You have a choice. You can add either a whole folder, or a single file. You can also add images and HTML files into your portfolio. [nggallery id=”Add_file_blocks”]

Drag the relevant icons into the appropriate place in view. Each icon gives you a range of choices.

Dragging the A folder icon into your view will, as you might expect, ask you to select one of the folders you have created. Note that you can only select one folder at a time. If you want to show multiple folders in your view, then just drag the folder icon into your view again, and select a different one. Note, that if your folder contains images, the view will display a list of thumbnails (very small versions of your images) along with the file names.

Dragging thefiles to download icon into your view gives you a list of all the files you have uploaded. You can select as many of these from the list as you like. The user will be presented with the option to download the files you have chosen to their own computers.

Dragging the An image icon into your view offers, as you might expect a list of all the images you have uploaded. However, it’s important to note here that images are not automatically resized. You have to choose the width in pixels when you upload the image. (The picture will be scaled according to the width you enter)

1 column = 800 pixels
2 column = 400 pixels
3 column = 250 pixels
4 column = 200 pixels
5 column = 150 pixels

Note that these are only guidelines, and are based on symmetrical layouts. If you have chosen an asymmetrical layout you may need to experiment further with width.

You can give each image a title, and you also have the option to show the description of the image you entered when you uploaded the file.

If you write web pages, you can save HTML files to and you can include these in your portfolio by dragging the Some HTML icon into your view. Again, you’ll get a list of files to choose from.

The last type of file that you can embed is a media file. There are two options here. You can upload your own media (video or audio podcasts) or you can embed files from video sharing sites. Currently you can use You tube, Google Video, Teacher Tube and

If you want to embed one of your own files, then drag the embedded media icon into your view.

Embedded media block
Embedded media block
. This will present you with a list of the media files you have uploaded. Select the file you require, and choose the width and height of the display. (This isn’t quite so important with an audio podcast as it will simply show the play controls.)

One of the drawbacks with embedding your own media files is that video files do tend to use a lot of space. gives you 50mb of disk space by default, but if you have a lot of video clips, you may prefer to share them on YouTube, or a similar site.

If you do you can embed them into your portfolio by dragging the external video block into your view.

External video block
External video block
. This time, you must copy the “embed code” from the video sharing site, and paste it into the video URL field. You MUST also set a height and width in pixels for the video clip.

In the next post, I’ll look at how you can set up a blog in, and how you can add it to your views. If you are already blogging, using a different platform such as WordPress or Blogger, I’ll illustrate how you can add that to your portfolio, Views 2. Building your CV

I described the process of laying out your view in my previous post. This, though is where it gets interesting. uses what are known as “blocks” to populate your views. Each block represents one or more artefacts in your portfolio and shows that artefact in the view. In this post, I’m going to look at the blocks you need to set up a simple CV.

Assuming you’re logged in, click “My Portfolio” and then “My views”. Then click the “Create view” button.

You’ll see the tabbed “blocks” menu across the top of the screen

The tabbed blocks menu
The tabbed blocks menu

You decide what you want to appear in this view of your portfolio by dragging the relevant block to the appropriate position in your layout.

In most views, you’ll want to include some information about yourself, so start by clicking the “profile” tab. This has five blocks, and we’ll look at them one by one.

Contact information

The add your contact details block.
The add your contact details block.
When you drag this to the layout area, you will be given a range of actions, asking you which bits of your contact information you wish to share. Simply tick the boxes that you want to include.

Profile information

The profile information block
The profile information block
When you drag this block into your layout area you’ll be asked which bits of your profile you want to show, which, if any of your profile pictures you want to show, and given the opportunity to write a short introduction about yourself.

Friends, Groups and Views.

[nggallery id=maharablox]

These three icons all work in exactly the same way. If you have added any friends, joined any groups, or created multiple views you can drag the relevant icon to your chosen layout column, and they will display a gallery of your friends, or a list of your groups and views.


You can either include your entire CV in a single block or you can control how it is displayed by a view by selecting which fields you want to display, and in which order.

Entire Resumé Block
Entire Resumé Block
If you simply want to create a view that shows your CV (or resumé) and nothing else, then you might consider creating a view with one column, and just dragging this block into it. You can choose what title you give it, but otherwise there is no control over how your resume is displayed. (You can of course add other columns and blocks.)

If you want a slightly more sophisticated view, you can add single fields from your CV (e.g. Contact or Personal Information, employment history, education history, books and publications, personal academic or work skills) by dragging the

Single field block
Single field block
single field block into the view. You can do this as many times as you like for each of your resumé fields. Once you’ve added it to the view, you can change the name of each field. For example, you could change “Education History” to “Qualifications” if you felt it was more relevant. The advantage is that you can control exactly how readers see your CV, and allows you to combine different parts of your CV with evidence of the claims that you are making. Unlike a traditional CV, allows you to show off examples of the work you have done. The next post will look at how to integrate files, blogs, and multimedia into your view. Views 1. Set up and layout

Views control how you present your portfolio to the outside world. To put it another way you can decide how a user views your portfolio, by which I mean you can choose what they can see and in what order they see it.

To create a view, click “My Portfolio” and then “My Views”

Getting started with views
Getting started with views

Then click the “Create view” button which will bring up the screen illustrated below.

View control screen
View control screen

The tabbed section at the top contains what are known as “blocks”. These are configured to contain the different types of artefacts that you have placed in your portfolio. These will be discussed in detail in a future post. For now, look at the lower left of the screen where you can set your view layout.

Views are organised in columns. The default pattern is three columns, but you can have anything between one and five columns in a view. To remove a column, click the red “remove” button. To add one click one of the black “add” buttons. You can do this at any time, so if you’re halfway through creating your view and you decide you need an extra column you can choose the location of your column by clicking the appropriate “add” button.

You can also alter the layout of your columns, if you choose a 2, 3 or 4 column layout. For example, you could have a narrower left or right hand column, or a wider Centre column. Just click “Change my View layout” on the left below the blocks section and choose from the options offered

Once you’ve decided on your layout click “Next”. You’ll then be asked to give your view a name, and to write a description. You can also tag it with appropriate keywords. You’ll also be asked to specify how you would like this view to display your name.

Click the Next button again and this will take you to the final section of setting up the view, which is concerned with who you want to see it.

If you want to keep it entirely private, then just click the save button. However you have five other choices.
You can make the view entirely public. This means you will be able to give people an address, or post a link on your blog or web site and they won’t need to log in to access it.

You can make it visible to any user who happens to log in to

You can make it visible to any of your friends (Just as in Facebook and similar social networking sites, supports the creation of online friends”

You can create a “secret URL” which you can share with selected people. You might send this to employers for example so they can get a fuller view of your portfolio than you might wish to make publicly available.

Finally you can choose from a list of individual users on the site.

Whichever you choose, you can also set dates when it’s available. For example, if you are going to share your secret URL with a potential employer, you might want this to expire a few weeks after the closing date. Creating your resume

Your resumé, or curriculum vitae (CV) is an important part of your portfolio for two reasons. First, of course, is that it is the basis of any applications you might make for jobs. The second reason though, is that individual sections (or fields) from your resumé can be used to construct different views of your portfolio.

For now though, here’s how to add a resume to

Go into the profile section of your portfolio and click My Resumé

You will see that there are 9 sections (or fields). Most of these are simple on-line forms but some are a little bit more sophisticated.

Cover letter
Traditionally a cover letter is the place where you include information that you can’t fit into a resumé. If you’re applying for a job, you might use it to explain why you’re particularly suitable for a job. In this case you might think of it as a personal statement, outlining what you can bring to an organisation, and describing what evidence you have to support the claims they are making.

In this is a simple text box, which is supported by a range of word processing tools that allow you to make typographical changes, insert pictures and so on,
You don’t have to complete it all at once, but when you’ve finished working on it, click the “Save” button.


As the title suggests, this is where you can write a detailed description of your personal interests. Technically, this field is identical to the Cover Letter field above. It is a simple text box, which is supported by a range of word processing tools that allow you to make typographical changes, insert pictures and so on,
You don’t have to complete it all at once, but when you’ve finished working on it, click the “Save” button.

Contact information

This is taken from the information you saved when you set up your profile. If you’re not sure how to do that, please have a look at the instructions for setting up your profile.
As usual when you’ve finished working on it, click the “Save” button.

Personal Information

This is a relatively simple on line form, which just asks for your date of birth, place of birth, citizenship, visa status, gender and marital status. While this may seem personal information, none of this will be visible to anyone else unless you choose to make it available in a view

As usual when you’ve finished working on it, click the “Save” button.

Employment History


This section of the form is a little bit more flexible. To get started click the Add button as illustrated above. This will open the form illustrated here.

Employment history form
Employment history form

The fields highlighted in orange MUST be completed. That is to say, you must give a job title, the name of the employer and the date on which you started. You can also give an end date, and write a brief description of the job. If you do write this description, then the job title will be hyperlinked and users who click on the job title will be able to read your description. (Always of course, provided you’ve made it available to them in a view.

As usual when you’ve finished working on it, click the “Save” button.

Education History

The Education history form is similar to the employment history form, except that it allows you to detail your qualifications and this time the compulsory fields are the start date, (the date you did the course) the Institution name, Qualification Type and Qualification name.

Education history form
Education history form

Qualification type refers to the type of qualification you did, and name refers to the way you usually describe it. So for example “A level” would be a qualification name and “GCE” would be a qualification type.

Where you have multiple qualifications (e.g. 4 A levels) and you want to list these and the grades you recieved you can do this in the description box (e.g. Biology (A) Chemistry (A*), Physics (A) and Mathematics (B)

As usual when you’ve finished working on it, click the “Save” button.
Certifications, Accreditations and Awards

This is a very simple field which only requires you to add the name of any additional certifications or awards that you might have recieved, along with the date that you recieved them. You can add a description if you wish, perhaps including information about why you applied for this particular award, or what you learned from it.

Books and publications

Another simple field in which you can describe the date, title and contribution you made to any published work. As usual there is a field for further descriptions.

As usual when you’ve finished working on it, click the “Save” button.

Professional Memberships

Lastly you can list any professional associations that you are a member of, and list details of any charterships or other professional status. The only compulsory fields are the start date and a Title. (This is fairly flexible and could be either the name of the association or your professional title.)

As usual when you’ve finished working on it, click the “Save” button.

Portfolios.Lincoln: Setting up your profile

Ok, as promised here’s the first post on how to use the Portfolios.Lincoln tool. The first thing you need to do is to complete your profile, because this is where you store most of the information about yourself that you will need to create views of your portfolio. It’s also a good opportunity to get familiar with the layout of the tool.

Go to

Log in with your university username and password. This will take you to the Portfolio main menu

The Portfolio main menu
The Portfolio main menu

Click the “Profile” button on the Menu Bar.

This will open your profile. Your name will have been entered by the system. (Although you can change it.). You can also enter your student ID number, a preferred name, and write a short introduction about yourself.

The profile editor
The profile editor

You can also upload a picture of yourself by clicking on the silhouette on the left of the screen. In fact, you can store up to five pictures of yourself, which you can use in different views of your portfolio. Note that your images must be no bigger than 1024 x 1024 pixels in size and no smaller than 16x 16 pixels. You can resize images in many common photo editors such as Paint Shop Pro, or Photoshop.

When you have finished click the Save profile button. Now click the “Contact Information” tab. This is where you put in details of how people can contact you. Nobody however, will see this unless you choose to make it visible in a “view” (There’ll be more about views in a future post.). Fill in as much as you can, (or as much as you want to) and click “Save profile”.

Next you can enter your messaging contacts (if you use these services – if not, don’t worry, you don’t have to fill in any of this.)

Finally there’s a tab entitled general which just has two fields, in which you can list your occupation and the industry in which you work.

That’s the basic profile information set up. However there’s much more to the profile than that so before we leave, let’s have a quick look at the layout of the screen, and specifically at the second of the three menu bars. I’ll explore this in more detail in future posts but here’s a brief run down of the function of each option.

The profile menu bar
The profile menu bar

Editing the profile page.
This is where you create your own personal overview of your portfolio. You can list all your views and friends and add any other information to the overview. You can also decide whether you want to make this overview available to friends or to the general public.

Viewing the profile page.

This is simply the page you created with the editing tool above. It’s basically the home page of your e-portfolio.

Edit profile
Enter basic information about yourself. (See above)

Profile Icons
Upload up to five profile icons (pictures of yourself, or perhaps avatars)

My Resume
This is where you complete your CV. This is one of the most important sections of the profile, because you can use different parts of your resume to populate different views of your portfolio.

My Goals
You can enter your academic personal and career goals here. (and again, use them in different views of your portfolio)

My Skills.
You can enter descriptions of your personal, academic and work skills here. (and again, use them in different views of your portfolio)

I’ll discuss Resume building in the next post. For now, if you have any questions, please feel free to add a comment.

Now comes the acid test!

I’ve been banging on about the virtues of e-portfolios for some time, and now I find myself in a situation where I might need them because all of a sudden I am under threat of redundancy. That is a little bit scary, as realistically I’m not the sort of age where a new job is going to be easy to find. But there is little value in panicking. While I might hope for the best, I shall certainly prepare for the worst and that’s where the e-portfolio comes in. I’ve been reviewing the three e-portfolios I’ve been using, Pebble Pad, Mahara and Linkedin and trying to make the decision as to which would be the best to help in my present situation. They all have their virtues. Pebble Pad is great at linking claims to evidence, and producing nicely printable CVs (Some employers, amazingly enough still want those!) Mahara is nice, user friendly and free, but I do think it needs a bit of development work yet. Linked in is good because of the social network it offers, and actually the public profile is rather good. (Don’t like the adverts when you’re editing it though! Perhaps I should shell out for an upgrade!) You can see my public Mahara profile by clicking the green icon in the “Web 2.0 portfolio” on the left. The Linkedin profile is here: –

View Julian Beckton's profile on LinkedIn

In a way the portfolios are working as a sort of comfort blanket, because faced with a job application, it’s relatively easy to mine the portfolio for data to fill in the application. Of course you still have to tailor your application to the post being advertised, but I think the e-portfolio does take out some of the grunt work of applications. Well, as I say in the header, now is when the theory gets put to the test! I shall keep you posted.

The other side of preparing for the worst is of course working out what you can cut from the household budget. Now that really is a depressing exercise!

Effective practice in a digital age

Just finished reading the eponymous JISC report above, and didn’t want to let it go without making a few reflective notes.

I think what stands out for me is just how much technology is going to change HE over the next few years. It’s not exactly news that the old transmission model of learning has been on the ropes for a few years now (although I wonder how far that perception has spread outside educational circles.) The case studies featured in the report show how the influence of what I am calling “reputational assessment” (but only because I can’t think of a better phrase) is growing. I don’t think it’ll be enough to have a 2:1 or even a first in a few years time. Students will have to expose themselves (so to speak) on the web – I think they’ll be expected to do something like I’ve done with the lifestream and web 2.0 portfolio on this blog, but on a much bigger scale. If employers are already Googling potential candidates to assess their suitability for employment, then a surely a degree classification will have rather less predictive value than the student’s public portfolio.

That means that educational providers are really going to have to get their heads around the implications of providing resources, managing this kind of activity across diverse hardware platforms (There’s an interesting aside on p.43 of the report about the importance of choice of mobile phone ownership and tarriff is to students self perceptions.)

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)