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.

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!