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June 20, 2007

Telling stories

I spent today at the Telling More Stories conference in Wolverhampton, a one day conference about e-portfolios facilitated by Shane Sutherland. It was a good day, with some very positive, though some would say anecdotal, stories about the successful use of e-portfolios in practice.

I came away feeling very inspired.

Shane started the day by (re)defining e-portfolio firmly as a noun – an e-portfolio is a purposeful aggregation of digital items that functions as a representation of a person thru their work,  ideas, achievements, reflections and qualifications and so on.  (Shane used slightly different wording to this, but I think the spirit is right).

I like this. I've never understood the view of e-portfolio as service. Sure, there are e-portfolio services that create, manage and consume e-portfolios, but those services are not, in themselves, the e-portfolio.

A good start.

Lawrie Phipps (JISC) gave us two stories about learners using e-portfolios and talked about the wider environment within which e-portfolios now have to sit – the Web 2.0 environment of Facebook, Flickr, Skype, Del.icio.us, Google and so on. Most importantly he presented the three-cornered model of e-portfolio space – formal space, social space and private space. I like this model, though I'm not a big fan of the 'private' label since almost nothing in e-portfolios is completely private - or so it seems to me – it's just that access to some stuff is more restricted than to other stuff.

It also became very clear that the interesting stuff happens in the middle of this triangle, at the intersection between institutional and personal activity, between learning and social, between restricted and public, and that students will want to expose representations of themselves using a mix of institutional e-portfolio systems and Web 2.0 services like Facebook.

I think that this has technical implications on our e-portfolio systems.

In the final plenary I argued that we, as a community, have a nasty habit of inventing heavyweight and complex technical interoperability solutions driven largely, in the case of elearning, by the data-sharing needs of institutions and related bodies – not by the needs of learners. Yet it was abundantly clear during the day that the success stories around e-portfolios centre almost exclusively on personal social interaction. Creating an e-portfolio is a social activity done for social reasons – just like blogging. We know that social tools are supported best by the use of persistent 'http' URIs (cool URIs) and RSS. These are the standards we should focus on if we want to take a learner-centric view of e-portfolio interoperability and, more importantly, if we want to embed e-portfolio systems firmly into the fabric of the social Web.

Most of the rest of the day was about the stories of learners (right across the spectrum of UK education). Anecdotal? Absolutely. But also very interesting.

Favorite quote: "you don't see that on paper", referring to the breadth of content found in e-portfolios but said by someone who had just explained that students in her institution needed to print out their e-portfolios in order to submit them for assessment! :-)

Minor gripe: all conferences should now have an agreed tag, so that blog entries, Flickr photos, etc. can be easily aggregated together after the event.

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