Monthly Archives: September 2006

Ravet’s thoughts on e-Portfolios

Many people in e-education these days wonder what e-portfolios are and where they fit into the e-learning landscape. Serge Ravet from the European Institute for E-Learning (EIfEL) gave an inspiring talk on e-portfolios at the IEEE ICL 2006 conference in Villach, Austria.

He started by saying that these are more than just paperless portfolios, then analysed the Information Society as a whole, which I liked a lot as I see e-learning as part in the big societal change we are faced with in all our lives not just education. The quote by Alvin Toffler has some power to express this:

“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn” (Alvin Toffler)

Ravet distinguished the Industrial Society from the Information Society in a few words, where the former had a clear separation of producers and customers, whereas the latter merges these two. Thus learners are not only consumers but also producers of knowledge. Previously, training was an assimilation to learn to work; nowadays it becomes increasingly important that learning is accommodation and an integrated process, learning is work. He also mentioned the transformation in the media, where, previously, technology was centred on authorities and organisations, while now content is “res publica” (e.g. through social software) and the technology focusses on people.

The learner-centredness of technologies is a shift away from teaching technologies previously in use, e.g. the OHP. The focus in learning technologies lies on people realising their social capital, where they are reflective producers of knowledge, and where knowledge is shared and aggregated. We also see an emergence of organisational portfolios that follows the same pattern.

The early definition of e-portfolios given by the US NLII (2003) defines an electronic portfolio as “a collection of authentic and diverse evidence, drawn from a larger archive representing what a person or organization has learned over time on which the person or organization has reflected, and designed for presentation to one or more audiences for a particular rhetorical purpose.” In this view e-portfolios consist of:

  • archives – collections of assets, documents or achievements
  • views – presentations of assets, e.g. CV-style, personal profile
  • services – that allow the exploitation of assets: this may entail value of learning achievments, reflection, cross-referencing, profile matching, peer feedback, knowledge sharing etc.

Ravet went further than that and focussed on the digital identity/identities that we all develop to have via e-Health, e-Citizenship, e-Administration services. A person can have several IDs, several social networks, several e-portfolios. An e-portfolio then is a tool to construct one’s identity within social networks and organisations.

e-Portfolios contain public parts: vCard, CV, blog, stories, biography, etc.; and restricted parts: work in progress, old stuff, reflections, etc. They help people grow, get recognition, and exploit, both in formal and informal ways. Ravet did not find the common typology of e-portfolios useful, he rather concentrated on the benefits to the individual. ‘Grow’ here means personal development, exploitation examples he gave were job applications, APL, and the (self)management of competencies or professional development.

Regarding the learning services that e-portfolios offer, Ravet asked how we evidence learning is taking place and suggested blogs, reflection and the recording of learning events as support tools. The next question was how learning could be measured, suggesting cross-referencing learning outcomes with standards, or by getting informed feedback from clients, peers, etc.

The second generation of e-portfolios has developed out of the paperless assets’ pool and workflow and provides elementary knowledge management, e.g. competencies, key skills, as well as socialite aspects of interconnected knowledge workers.

Ravet’s final quote came from H.G.Wells, making e-portfolios: “a depot where knowledge and ideas are received, sorted, summarized, digested, clarified and compared”.

Instructional Design (ID) languages

Over the past few years, a number of ID languages have been created and promoted, with little to no impact beyond a very restricted community of instructional designers and coders. This despite a great amount of interest in learning design (see the category in this blog or the UNFOLD project).

Instructional Designers are a rare breed in HEIs and most universities and FE colleges rely on ordinary members of staff to master educational design! Therefore “understandability” of ID languages and their notation are in my opinion key to spreading the word/culture. Previous articles missed reality by miles when only referring to IDers (although there are specialist circumstances such as the OU, OUNL, where this has more relevance).

What we should consider is that the formal languages like UML, EML, or IMS LD lie at the bottom of the usage pyramid and despite trying to the contrary, are mostly unmanageable for general staff without a great effort to learn. Just like a programming language does not make Windows a useable tool, it is interface applications that “translate” user actions to system language.

Reload, for example, is a textual LD editor, LAMS (v.2.0) a visual editor for learning sequences. Although they both use different notation systems (textual or visual, open or restricted), both translate different user needs into a flat IMS LD XML presentation. The interface applications, however, are the “communication tool” for user-2-user and user-2-system visualisation. So, to the users, IMS LD can have as many notations as there are perceivable UI applications. Just like in Windows OS, hardly anyone will use any ID language in its rawest form/code.

The aims of ID languages are mostly reflective practice and communication with others, but we need to be aware that the use of ID langs is not in itself providing quality of teaching and learning.

Since, as mentioned above there is no limit to perceivable visual or other notations for ID langs, what our quest in HE needs to be is to find a potentially useful notation for ordinary lecturing staff. My suggestion would be to use lo-tech mind maps or simple grids/tables as this lies within the spheres of what staff can cope with. This can be mapped onto IMS LD by using the theatrical metaphor as the “human readable version” (cf. Creative Commons layers of complexity as a useful example: human – lawyer – machine).

Who is designing and how?

Cynics would say: “who’s designing their HE course modules anyway?” and they may well be right to a great extent. Design “just happens”. Lecturers often take content into teaching, but no design. Sometimes short activities may be devised beforehand, which have been identified and called “primitives”. This is still a long way off even from educational patterns let alone full UoLs.

If we want to get academic staff to design their teaching, we need to understand the way they are thinking and working. I made two observations in this respect:

1. Lecturers do not normally plan forward, they design backwards where the starting point is the learning outcomes. This I call regressive design. It starts with the goals and outcomes expected for passing and then design is put in place “to get us there”. LD design tools do not recognise this (e.g. Reload, LAMS, etc.).

2. Design by reflection. Again this is not forward planning, but basing design on what worked well. However, unsupported reflection is mostly done implicitly even unconsciously, based on experiential learning by the lecturer. There is an inherent danger in the wrong criteria being put to evaluate lecture experiences by instinct: did it entertain the students; did it satisfy my own interests – or: did it produce good learning?!

The culture needs to be changed at point 2 in getting people to apply pedagogic considerations to their teaching strategies and designs. Evaluation processes can help support reflection, but are too often just a “paper exercise”.