There was a reasonable amount of discussion at the #pleconf last week on the role of e-portfolios in personal learning environments and who should be responsible for providing e-portfolio tools for students. I think the ground swell view was that e-portfolios are important but that students should be able to choose how they create their own e-portfolio. This is a view I agree with and is a slight softening of my previously held view which was that universities had no business in providing e-portfolio software. My view now is that universities probably should provide e-portfolio software for their students to use but that the use of that software should absolutely not be mandated and it should be up to the student to choose how they manage their e-portfolio.
I think that e-portfolios are a lifelong asset that belongs to the student and to no one else. They have the final say in how it is created and who has access to it or to the artefacts within it. In fact their e-portfolio may consist of several tools reflecting their capabilities, achievements and interests and it will undoubtedly form not just a showcase for the student but a key part of their ongoing personal learning environment. It will travel with them from institution to institution. It may change completely over the years but it is the choice of the student and no one else.
I do think that students who are new to the idea of maintaining an e-portfolio when they start higher education may like to have a simple to use and configurable e-portfolio system that can be provided by the university as a starting point. I would like to nominate WordPress, Google Sites and many other common solutions as being eminently suitable for this purpose.
So why do universities insist on pushing the use of institutional e-portfolios? Well as usual it’s about control. It’s not about the student. What I have seen happening is a desire for tight integration between the LMS and the e-portfolio normally for the sole reason of managing artefacts for use in assessment. This is purely of benefit to the university. There is no benefit to the student. In fact it degrades the perceived role of the e-portfolio by the student to being one of an assessment management tool and nothing else.
The institutional e-portfolio becomes entrenched when it is rolled out with inadequate staff development, as it nearly always is, or explanation about the real purpose of an LMS. Academic staff then see the e-portfolio as an alternative LMS. I have seriously sat in meetings while staff declare their love for the institutional e-portfolio because it has a better WYSIWIG editor than the LMS. Other staff have talked about how they have developed all of their course materials in the e-portfolio and still others are using the e-portfolio as a quizzing tool.
What I am saying is that the original purpose of the e-portfolio continually gets subverted to the needs of the institution and the academic. Surely this is anathema in an age of supposed student centredness.
I was taken to task on Twitter for saying that I was tired of seeing e-portfolios used incorrectly. The point was that there was no ‘correct’ way and that all ways of using e-portfolios were equally valid as part of experimentation and innovation. Needless to say I completely disagree with that proposition. I think the role and purpose of an e-portfolio is very clear and we mustn’t allow the classic obfuscation of academic educational technologists and institutional mangers to undermine that.
As this is a blog I have no requirement for impartiality so I’ll provide links to two other posts critical of e-portfolios; here is Donald Clark’s take ‘E-portfolios – 7 reasons why I don’t want my life in a shoebox’ and here is David Jones ‘My on-going concerns with ePortfolios’