Portfolios.lincoln: Blogging

Portfolios.lincoln 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. Portfolios.lincoln 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 Portfolios.lincoln 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 Portfolios.lincoln, 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 Portfolios.lincoln, 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 “Portfolios.lincoln” 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.

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)

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.

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.)

PDP and academic literacy

Looks like PDP is back on the agenda. Not that it ever really went away of course, but it did rather get overwhelmed by Blackboard. (For the uninitiated PDP stands for Personal Development Planning and is about getting students to take a more rigorous and reflective approach to their learning. If I’m honest, I don’t think we’ve yet had much success with rolling out PDP across the university, though it’s not for a lack of effort or investment.  I’ve certainly done numerous training courses, and we’ve invested in Pebble Pad, which I think is probably the best tool on the market for supporting PDP. Here’s a useful little PowerPoint video explaining PDP (annoyingly though it cuts off a few seconds before the narrator ends. And between you and me I think it could have done with a professional voice actor too. )


The thing is PebblePad is quite an expensive product and we do need to justify continuing spending money on it.  I don’t think the problem is with the technology though. (We can also use the Blackboard Portfolios for PDP although they’re not as good) I think it lies with the fact that there is very little interest in study skills. I’ve been starting to argue for a reconceptualisation of study skills as “academic literacy” I’ve taught on skills programmes in the past, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the high level of skills that most students actually do have. Of course there are some students who do need a lot of help with what might be termed basic skills, but not that many.  Where many students are weak is in what might be termed disciplinary and some generic HE skills (Historical writing, writing up experiments, referencing, assessing the quality of information, reflection.)  I like the concept of academic literacy because it doesn’t start by telling the students they’re generically weak, rather it emphasises what you need to do to become a good physicist, lawyer or whatever.

My problem though, which I’m going to have to think hard about is how to present Pebble Pad in this light. I think it could be done through the use of the proformas – through working with colleagues in the disciplines we can get students to self assess in relevant areas, build action plans and thus get them into the habit of using Pebble Pad for some aspects of their future work, especially around CVs and Webfolios. (Shame about PP’s blogging tool though – it’s not a patch on WordPress!)
Never mind. I think I feel a project coming on!