E-portfolios, Mahara

Did a ten minute presentation on e-portfolios at our “Improving the Learning Experience event”, and promised to upload the slides to various e-portfolio tools so those who wanted to could follow up by looking at a shared view of my Portfolio. (University of Lincoln staff should just log into blogs.lincoln.ac.uk and send me a friend request) I hadn’t really noticed this before, but when you upload a file to Mahara, there’s no real option to write a reflective statement linked to it as there is in Pebble Pad. That’s something I’d suggest including for the next upgrade, as the ability to include something about why an artefact has been included in a portfolio does seem quite important. Unless I’ve missed something.

More on e-portfolios

I’m currently evaluating e-portfolio tools and today’s quick review was about uploading folders and adding them to my e-portfolio. I’ve only had an hour or so today, so I’ve looked at Mahara and Pebble Pad, and I’m not greatly impressed with the capacity of either of them to handle folders. Mahara doesn’t seem to allow uploading of anything other than single files. Pebble Pad does offer the option of zipping a folder. (I suppose you could upload a zip file to Mahara – I’ll have to try that later ) But when you do upload the zip file, Pebble Pad unpacks it and treats each file as a single asset. It would be nice to have the option of adding the folder and its contents as a single asset,

Of course, in Pebble Pad you can recreate the folder as a webfolio page and link to each assets, thus creating a de facto folder (Which could, with a bit of design work look quite nice). In Mahara you just have to create a new folder and upload everything into it. On the other hand you can display it as a folder in a view.

But really, what an e-portfolio needs is a way to put things in the right place quickly. Many resources these days do consist of multiple files, so I think this would be a useful functionality. (I suppose, in the interests of full coverage I ought to have a look at how Blackboard’s E-portfolio tool manages this.)

Pebble Pad User Group Meeting, Leeds

I have to confess I’ve been a bit out of the loop with Pebble Pad recently, what with repositories, Blackboard, and so on, so this meeting served as a useful reminder of just what Pebble Pad can offer. (Attendance was a bit disappointing though, as there were only four users present!) Still, that meant we were all able to get our questions in, and there was plenty of time for Colin & Shane from Pebble Learning to tell us all about the new developments and their future plans.

One of the most interesting developments is to do with the ability to export Pebble Pad assets to other systems. Currently Pebble Pad complies with the IMS E-portfolio specification which is very robust. They’re planning to make it compatible with the LEAP2 specification (I think that’s right!) which is much more lightweight. The outcome is that users will be able to export PP assets to other applications such as WordPress and Mahara, thus preserving the users digital identity as they move from one institution to another.

Another interesting sounding development is the Activity Log, which is designed to support CPD. (I think we already have this in our version, but users have to switch it on.) I’ll check and report back. Anyway the point is that you start your log, and note the amount of time you need to spend on CPD and every time you engage in a CPD activity you create an appropriate asset describing the activity, and how long you spent on it. Thus the log keeps track of everything you have done in terms of CPD and provides easy access to the details of what you have done. Currently it only allows you to record hours, but the next release will also be able to keep records of points (Apparently this is a requirement of some CPD schemes.)

There’s also a really interesting development in terms of mobile learning. You can now download a very lightweight version of Pebble Pad to your PDA or mobile, and complete a number of asset types  offline. (They’re added to your Pebble Pad when you either sync with a PC or connect to the net.) This may have considerable potential for keeping records of field work for example. It effetively makes your PDA a little notebook, which still provides access to the structured forms – and if you’re using a PP blog you can easily add blog entries.

Finally, they gave us a brief hint about what to expect from Pebble Pad v 3.0 which isn’t due out for another 18 months or so. It sounds as though it will be much less reliant on the flash player, and be much more interoperable with other systems such as WordPress and yes, Blackboard. There was also some discussion of behind the scenes administrative stuff which I won’t bore you with, but I can reveal that I am a lot happier about user management than I was. It’s just that finding the time to work on all this stuff is so difficult.But PP really is an asset we should be making more of

Buddy Press as a PDP tool

I thought this looked to have some promise, especially given it’s social networking aspects, but I think there is a great deal of work to be done before it can compete with Pebble Pad, or even Mahara. It’s great at what it does, but as an innovative e-portfolio it fails the ease of use test. By that I mean it’s not easy to use as an e-portfolio, not that it isn’t inherently easy to use. The user can’t add fields, can’t add extra data to say a job field. (You can’t say what you did in any given post. There may be ways to do this, but the point is it’s not easy to see them.) You can create a good summary, but at present that’s all you can do. I think Pebble Pad is still the best, if far from perfect, e-portfolio tool out there.


Mahara is an open source e-portfolio tool, which I am about to start evaluating. I haven’t really had a lot of time to look at it yet, but here’s their demonstration video.


I’d be interested to hear any feedback. If you want to play with Mahara, it’s been installed on the Learning Lab server The address is http://learninglab.lincoln.ac.uk/mahara/ (but you’ll need an account so drop a line to either myself or Joss Winn in CERD, and we’ll set you up.)

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.