Are e-portfolios past their educational used by date?

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This post is perhaps a tad hypocritical.

I have not one but two e-portfolios. I’ve used e-portfolios in class for the last few years.

They’ve been around in education since back when I was coding html sites in the 1990s. However over the last few months I’ve been wondering if e-portfolios have been mean meeting the learning needs in my class.

Is it time for education to move on from its love affair with portfolios?

My first problem with e-portfolios is right there in the name – we’re using technology to replace what was done on paper. The inclusion of video and audio moves e-portfolios perhaps into the augmentation level but really they aren’t all that transformative.

If the goal of having all this expensive technology in class is to transform learning, we need to push us thinking beyond digitising what could easily be achieved on paper.

Yet so much time and energy is devoted to talking about e-portfolios and that’s before they hit the classroom.

Often the systems supporting e-portfolios are unintuitive. What should be a two click job ends up being sucked into multiple lessons showing kids how to upload content, embed files, link to content or finding fixes when systems won’t talk to each other.

The portfolio becomes the learning rather than the tool to support the documentation of learning.

The problem with e-portfolios is that they create a walled garden. Fine when you are doing something the designers have envisioned but infuriating the minute you wander from the trail.

Yet the internet by its design is divergent.

Media is created on multiple devices and shared through different content channels.

This year I used blogger as portfolio found myself frustrated at the unnecessary hurdles being put up in order to maintain e-portfolios.

  • Made a cool path on pic – that needs to be saved first to the camera roll before it can be uploaded to blogger.
  • Easy blogger junior was a quick way for students to send video content to their blogfolios until the videos were too long and it didn’t support tagging aside from the child’s name.
  • A creative animation on keynote needs to uploaded to youtube, then embedded into a post.
  • The kids made an awesome book creators. Great but they won’t upload directly to blogger.
  • A google doc with a writing assessment needs to be linked back to in blogger. There’s a whole bunch time lost publishing the doc to the web, linking to the doc and that’s before the child has had time to reflect on their writing.
  • Showing an album of photos of a school event or science project? Fantastically easily on flickr or a photo stream on iOS but then that requires a link in blogger.

All these superfluous steps translate into lost learning time and shift the focus of the learning onto the technology.

To be clear, I don’t think this is a problem specific to blogger. There are other platforms out there I could use but they would have other issues and I know my actions part of the problem.

I am very conscious of the digital tools I introduce to the children I teach. Any app or website needs to fit the purpose of the learning otherwise I don’t use it. As a result, the kids become critical of the technology they are using to support their learning.

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Over the course of this past school year, I was amazed at how quickly the children were starting to make decisions about what tools to use but were able to justify why they wanted to use them. It struck me that if my year 4s are already able to articulate what applications they think best suit their learning needs now, imagine what they’ll be capable of in a few years. More importantly, the older kids are highly capable of documenting their informal learning experiences right now.

The problem is that their institutions often don’t recognise the tools they are using.

E-portfolios won’t change this.

Particularly if the tools don’t recognise that kids are going to have digital lives outside of those walled gardens.

Being able to curate and share evidence of learning is important. But for the amount of work that teachers do and the amount of learning time sucked out of maintaining e-portfolios, a big question needs to be asked.

Is the technology supporting the learning or is the technology the learning?

Because the most important e-portfolio in our students lives is the one we don’t really give that much thought to – their google search footprint.

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8 thoughts on “Are e-portfolios past their educational used by date?

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  1. Wow – great post! A lot of food for thought. I really hear you on the fit for purpose. I personally think the purposes of reporting, formative and ipsitive assessment, descriptive feedback and that all important concept of authentic JIT curation are key conversations around what a “fit for purpose” e-portfolio now is. I’d be really interested to know what you use/have been using with your kids!
    I think the ability to use social interface constructions eg: tag, like, comment, and link, etc. on a super intuitive interface are also often overlooked elements of e-portfolios which, in my mind, MUST be present in order to not only curate (NOTE: huge distinction between curate and document) but facilitate real social learning between home, school, peers, classes, . . . the world potentially! I think we all need to rethink what learning purposes we are trying to address with our portfolios, and then look to connectivism as a learning theory as well in order to maximise what we are trying to support in an organic way – because that is what any great digital innovation should really be (ironically!) ORGANIC! ie: should be “elements fitting together into a unified, organic whole.” that is then able to grow, develop and thrive naturally as a product of what goes in and the environment/ecology it is a part of!

    Thanks for the great post!

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    1. Hi there Kat
      I think there’s a whole lot going in schools – we just keep adding to the mix and as you say taking that step back, thinking about what we really want and then developing something from there. Start with the why!

      Stephanie

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  2. … Not sure if my last comment posted or not. In case it didn’t, just wanted to let you know that despite the time commitment to e-Portfolios, that ultimately the collection is worth it. I teach adult ESL learners who desperately want to upgrade their digital literacy skills. Just finding the balance between teaching course content and using the computer lab to organize the files, is a bit tricky. It’s almost like I need a digital companion course!

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