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January 02, 2007


Getting on for a year ago the Eduserv Foundation ran a symposium entitled I before E: identity management, e-portfolios and personalised learning.  The day was based on the premise that some form of identity management is required for e-portfolio services to be rolled out.  The day was quite successful, at least insofar as it allowed a lot of discussion to take place, though one might argue that it wasn't particularly conclusive.

Over the Christmas period an interesting debate has broken out on the CETIS ePortfolio mailing lists around what constitutes an e-portfolio system, and indeed what constitutes an e-portfolio, though I have to confess that I'm not sure I'm any the wiser as a result of the discussions.  The more I see debates about whether an e-portfolio is a representation of (part of) of our identities, the more confused I get.  To my somewhat simplistic way of thinking, an e-portfolio is just a portfolio that happens to be electronic.  (Note: if I said this during an episode of QI I'm sure the alarm bells would be ringing and I'd be on about minus 200 points! :-) ).

As an aside, Scott Wilson has produced a useful looking set of categories of personal information and identity but he leaves open the question of which of them might reasonably form part of an e-portfolio, so that doesn't really help me.

It seems to me that Adam Cooper asks the most pertinent question on the list:

... what is it that learners and teachers might want to do using something that might be described as a portfolio?

As someone that occasionally sits on interview panels for school teachers, I have occasionally been on the receiving end of a physical portfolio of a prospective teacher's work - essentially given by the candidate as evidence that some learning or other activity has taken place.  But it doesn't strike me that a portfolio is really about identity as such - or at least not as I understand it.

Identity is important of course, as is tying any given portfolio to the appropriate identity - which is just as a much a problem in the real world as in the digital world.  When someone hands over their physical or e- portfolio, how do you know that it is their work - a problem that is apparently besetting the GCSE examination system in the UK, at least as it is currently instantiated.

It seems to me then that a portfolio is really just evidence.  And I have naively been asuming that an e-portfolio was the same, but electronic.


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> ... what is it that learners and teachers might
> want to do using something that might be described
> as a portfolio?

I agree, this is as good a warning as any, against cart-before-horse-ism. Much the same might be asked of blogs, wikis, discussion boards, VLEs, e-repositories, you name it. (Depending on what one wants it for, a (n e-) portfolio might combine features from any or all of the above.)

All have very worthwhile educational applications, that are much more likely to be realised if one first decides what one wants to achieve (e.g. a collaborative workspace, a shared online journal, an open repository of PhD theses) and then choose the appropriate (class of) package.

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