UCalgary ePortfolio platform

We have been doing a lot of work on ePortfolios within the Educational Development Unit. The most visible result of that work is the EDU’s in-development department ePortfolio. As we talked about what we wanted to do in order to document the activities of the department, and to connect these activities to our strategies and priorities, it became clear that an ePortfolio was the best way to do that. And it also became clear that we needed more flexibility than was possible in the D2L ePortfolio tool. So, we built it as a site on UCalgaryBlogs, which runs WordPress.

We learned a lot about collaboratively authoring ePortfolios in WordPress, while simultaneously supporting the D2L eP tool. The problem with the D2L eP tool is that it’s an enterprise-class tool. Apropos of nothing, the protagonist narcissistically quotes one of his own blog posts:

Enterprise Solutions kind of suck for individuals, and for small-scale innovation.

me

The use of blogging software for student ePortfolios is not new1. There are some truly fantastic examples of blog-powered ePortfolios:

Common themes for these great examples? All published openly (which is how I found out about them), and all published with WordPress. Each one looks completely different – although being published with the same underlying software, they take on the personality of the person, not the tool. Interesting. Of course, lots of people use different tools, but the range and flexibility of WordPress is impressive.

Publishing on the open internet changes how people write, giving the opportunity to formalize thinking about concepts, as well as personal reflection:

…the fundamental quality of putting one’s narrative online gave students new perspectives on how they assessed themselves.

— Nguyen, 20132.

And the nature of the ePortfolio needs to be an individual, as opposed to institutional, space:

…ownership of the ePortfolio should be solely with the student

— Roemmer-Nossek, B. & Zwiauer, C., 20133

Roemmer-Nossek & Zwiauer go on to describe three potential purposes for ePortfolios in higher education, all of which are kind of obvious and intuitive, but it’s handy to have them explicitly stated:

  1. support of individual learning (ePortfolio as process)
  2. participation in the production and publication of knowledge (presentation of content and artifacts)
  3. as a means of supporting development of ones own voice within the university (community of learners)

All three of those potential purposes are important. How best to address them? If we simply roll out The One True ePortfolio Platform™ and compel students to use it, it breaks what we know about the importance of ePortfolios as being individual and personal spaces. If we don’t provide a common platform, it has the potential to become a chaotic and unsupportable hot mess. The trick is to find the balance in the middle.

The guiding principles we are working with are that ePortfolios need to be owned by the student, that they need to be personal spaces, that they need to be flexible enough to do whatever the student needs to do in order to document their learning and to support their ongoing practice of reflection, and that the practice is grounded in current research and literature.

So, providing access to multiple ePortfolio platforms – some institutional, some personal, others completely independent of the institution – is how we believe we can best give students the flexibility to build their own ePortfolios in whatever manner makes sense to them based on their personal interests, abilities, and comfort levels.

As a result, UCalgary currently has two major components of an ePortfolio platform. We have the D2L ePortfolio tool, fully integrated into the Brightspace learning management system. And we have a more loosely integrated ePortfolio platform powered by a streamlined WordPress multisite installation.

My personal belief is that the WordPress ePortfolio platform will provide much more flexibility for students, and will also better support them as they integrate their university experience with lifelong learning – they can take the ePortfolio with them when they graduate, and use it anywhere they’d like, since it can be exported and imported easily into any WordPress instance. The eportfolio.ucalgary.ca platform is a really nice way to get started in building an ePortfolio.

The eportfolio.ucalgary.ca project is a really great example of how collaboration works in the Educational Development Unit – all of the groups came together, pitched the idea, did the research, built the tool, developed documentation and resources, and launched it. Technology Integration, Learning and Instructional Design, Educational Development. All jumping in without having to strike a Project or committee or working group. The end result is really great, and the model of collaboration is something we see all the time. Best. Team. Ever.

eportfolio.4steps

A simple, streamlined, and common platform that gives a structure or framework to help students get started. Without having to click 15 times to add something from a course. With some really good resources to help people get situated.

It’s integrated with campus systems only for authentication – there is a link within the D2L “My Tools” menu that brings students (well, anyone – it’s open to anyone in the UofC community) right into WordPress without having to login again. If they don’t use that tool link, they can login right at http://eportfolio.ucalgary.ca and use their UofC CAS account to login. Easy.

And that’s where the integration stops. Content will have to be copied/pasted or screenshot from other places, or re-uploaded within the ePortfolio. This makes publishing content an explicit act by the author, and not some magic automated tool. Everything that is added to a person’s ePortfolio is done manually, hopefully with thoughtful reflection on what, why, where, and how that content would be displayed. Automated “push this to my ePortfolio” tools short-circuit that.

And, of course, people are encouraged to find the platform that works best for them – that may be one offered by the university, or it may be something else. The goal is to support student learning, and the best way to do that is to make sure that students own their work, in whatever way is meaningful to them.

  1. MacColl, I., Morrison, A., Muhlberger, R., Simpson, M., & Viller, S. (2005). Reflections on reflection: Blogging in undergraduate design studios. Blogtalk downunder conference 2005. Retrieved from http://incsub.org/blogtalk/?page_id=69 []
  2. Nguyen, C. F. (2013). The ePortfolio as a living portal: A medium for student learning, identity,
    and assessment. International Journal of ePortfolio, 3(2), 135-148. Retrieved from http://www.theijep.com/past_3_2.cfm []
  3. Roemmer-Nossek, B. & Zwiauer, C. (2013). Hoe can ePortfolio make sense for higher education? The Vienna University ePortfolio framework taking shape. European Institute for E-Learning, 206-214. Retrieved from http://www.eife-l.org/publications/eportfolio/proceedings2/ep2007/proceedings-pdf-doc/eportfolio-2007.pdf []

On ePorfolios and Ownership

Patti and I were discussing our ePortfolio project the other day, and we were basically throwing back and forth various versions of "the students won't it because (a) they don't have to, and (b) it's not theirs."

The "they don't have to" part could be misconstrued as meaning "their profs didn't make them do it." That won't work, either. The students have to feel that they want to do this. That they have to do it themselves to make sense of what they're learning and doing.

And, it needs to be modelled successfully. If they see their profs as not "having to" maintain an ePortfolio, why on earth would the students do it? It's not some contrived evaluation tool, it's an internally driven amplifier and archiver of the learning (and teaching) processes.

Helen Barrett just posted a piece that describes this much more coherently, and in much greater depth. The mental picture of the graduation portfolio bonfire should be a big reminder about what can happen when there isn't a healthy sense of ownership fostered within students (and teachers). I remember burning my notebooks at the end of grade 9 – they weren't MY notes, so it felt awesome to toss them on the bonfire… Stephen's commentary is worth a read, too.

This is all about ownership. But ownership can't be given, it has to be built by each individual. It would be so easy to just say "it's a requirement to complete this course/program. you must maintain an ePortfolio." But that won't work. It will just lead to a lot of busywork, and one helluva bonfire at the end of the course/program.

I think the more effective (from a teaching/learning perspective, not a sheer volume/metrics perspective) is to model the ePortfolio as a teacher. "This is how I gather my thoughts together to track what I've done, what I'm doing, and where I'm going in my career as a teacher". If it's not relevant to a professional, why would it be relevant to a student?

Offer ePortfolios as an optional service across the curriculum, to every student on campus. If 1% of them start using them as effective tools, it will spread from there. Not instantly, and maybe not in the same cohort, but it will spread.

If it doesn't spread, it's not an effective tool, so let it die on the vine. The goal is to foster critical thinking about experiences, not to force yet another tool on anyone.

Patti and I were discussing our ePortfolio project the other day, and we were basically throwing back and forth various versions of "the students won't it because (a) they don't have to, and (b) it's not theirs."

The "they don't have to" part could be misconstrued as meaning "their profs didn't make them do it." That won't work, either. The students have to feel that they want to do this. That they have to do it themselves to make sense of what they're learning and doing.

And, it needs to be modelled successfully. If they see their profs as not "having to" maintain an ePortfolio, why on earth would the students do it? It's not some contrived evaluation tool, it's an internally driven amplifier and archiver of the learning (and teaching) processes.

Helen Barrett just posted a piece that describes this much more coherently, and in much greater depth. The mental picture of the graduation portfolio bonfire should be a big reminder about what can happen when there isn't a healthy sense of ownership fostered within students (and teachers). I remember burning my notebooks at the end of grade 9 – they weren't MY notes, so it felt awesome to toss them on the bonfire… Stephen's commentary is worth a read, too.

This is all about ownership. But ownership can't be given, it has to be built by each individual. It would be so easy to just say "it's a requirement to complete this course/program. you must maintain an ePortfolio." But that won't work. It will just lead to a lot of busywork, and one helluva bonfire at the end of the course/program.

I think the more effective (from a teaching/learning perspective, not a sheer volume/metrics perspective) is to model the ePortfolio as a teacher. "This is how I gather my thoughts together to track what I've done, what I'm doing, and where I'm going in my career as a teacher". If it's not relevant to a professional, why would it be relevant to a student?

Offer ePortfolios as an optional service across the curriculum, to every student on campus. If 1% of them start using them as effective tools, it will spread from there. Not instantly, and maybe not in the same cohort, but it will spread.

If it doesn't spread, it's not an effective tool, so let it die on the vine. The goal is to foster critical thinking about experiences, not to force yet another tool on anyone.

Resources

ePortfolio Software used in the Faculty of Education Master of Teaching ePortfolio pilot project

Other ePortfolio Software

  • Apple iWeb (an extremely easy and powerful website authoring and publishing program which could be an effective part of an ePortfolio authoring system)
  • D'Arcy's "live" ePortfolio (blog posts tagged with "Noteworthy" – a blogfolio)
  • Elgg (a combination of weblogging, e-portfolios, and social networking)

Related blog posts

Associations and Articles

ePortfolio Software used in the Faculty of Education Master of Teaching ePortfolio pilot project

Other ePortfolio Software

  • Apple iWeb (an extremely easy and powerful website authoring and publishing program which could be an effective part of an ePortfolio authoring system)
  • D'Arcy's "live" ePortfolio (blog posts tagged with "Noteworthy" – a blogfolio)
  • Elgg (a combination of weblogging, e-portfolios, and social networking)

Related blog posts

Associations and Articles

Individual vs. Community

65551301_24280c9c10.jpg Photograph by D'Arcy Norman

ePortfolios are both individual and community activities. As individuals document their practice, they perform several internal processes to make sense of what they've done. But, these processes can be amplified if a community of peers (and/or mentors or "experts") is a key part of their ePortfolio process. By sharing reflection, and drawing on reflections and suggestions from a person's community of practice, it would be possible to more effectively understand what is being documented, and to better adapt as a result.

For the pilot project, we used Drupal to facilitate sharing of ePortfolios among members of the (small) community of practice. The software was configured such that individuals could determine who could see the content they published, so they could share personal reflections and comments without worrying about being exposed to the entire class (or the entire world, through Google).

65551345_363ba7aef4.jpg Photograph by D'Arcy Norman

Each student (and professor) had their own weblog within the Drupal environment, where they could post any content they wished. If they categorized content as belonging to the "ePortfolio" taxonomy, it would be displayed in a central "ePortfolio" page. This was intended to foster discussion, reflection, review and positive criticism about a student's ePortfolio.

Students could also post content to their weblog that did not pertain directly to their ePortfolio. They could document classroom experiences, share lesson plans, ask questions, or just rant about classroom management challenges. As students shared and commented on the various weblog posts, they would be able to incorporate items from that process into their own ePortfolios, with the ePortfolio becoming a snapshot product of the community process.

65551301_24280c9c10.jpg Photograph by D'Arcy Norman

ePortfolios are both individual and community activities. As individuals document their practice, they perform several internal processes to make sense of what they've done. But, these processes can be amplified if a community of peers (and/or mentors or "experts") is a key part of their ePortfolio process. By sharing reflection, and drawing on reflections and suggestions from a person's community of practice, it would be possible to more effectively understand what is being documented, and to better adapt as a result.

For the pilot project, we used Drupal to facilitate sharing of ePortfolios among members of the (small) community of practice. The software was configured such that individuals could determine who could see the content they published, so they could share personal reflections and comments without worrying about being exposed to the entire class (or the entire world, through Google).

65551345_363ba7aef4.jpg Photograph by D'Arcy Norman

Each student (and professor) had their own weblog within the Drupal environment, where they could post any content they wished. If they categorized content as belonging to the "ePortfolio" taxonomy, it would be displayed in a central "ePortfolio" page. This was intended to foster discussion, reflection, review and positive criticism about a student's ePortfolio.

Students could also post content to their weblog that did not pertain directly to their ePortfolio. They could document classroom experiences, share lesson plans, ask questions, or just rant about classroom management challenges. As students shared and commented on the various weblog posts, they would be able to incorporate items from that process into their own ePortfolios, with the ePortfolio becoming a snapshot product of the community process.

Archival vs. Developmental

Because ePortfolios are used to document and record an individual's practice, they have an archival nature. They form a "permanent record" of a person's activities and progress.

ePortfolios can also have a developmental nature, when the individual (and their peers) review an ePortfolio to create personal development plans, and to adapt future strategies as a result of the documented case studies presented within an ePortfolio.

Boxes in the Basement

79451249_9ecc140210.jpg Photograph by Penumbra

Pros:

  • a personal content management system
  • capable of storing nearly any form of medium.

Cons:

  • out of sight, out of mind
  • not exactly portable or sharable

Ongoing Notebook

134809086_67310e4c76.jpg Photograph by csb13

Pros:

  • portable
  • sharable (with small groups)
  • easy to use

Cons:

  • limited media types
  • runs out of pages

Because ePortfolios are used to document and record an individual's practice, they have an archival nature. They form a "permanent record" of a person's activities and progress.

ePortfolios can also have a developmental nature, when the individual (and their peers) review an ePortfolio to create personal development plans, and to adapt future strategies as a result of the documented case studies presented within an ePortfolio.

Boxes in the Basement

79451249_9ecc140210.jpg Photograph by Penumbra

Pros:

  • a personal content management system
  • capable of storing nearly any form of medium.

Cons:

  • out of sight, out of mind
  • not exactly portable or sharable

Ongoing Notebook

134809086_67310e4c76.jpg Photograph by csb13

Pros:

  • portable
  • sharable (with small groups)
  • easy to use

Cons:

  • limited media types
  • runs out of pages

Presentational vs. Cognitive

ePortfolios have two primary components. The "presentational" component is the visible, shiny product of the ePortfolio process. It is a website, or a presentation, or a set of media produced to document and communicate a concept or event.

But, just as importantly, an ePortfolio has a cognitive component. The individual crafting their ePortfolio should be reflecting on their practice of teaching and learning, critiquing what they've done – what worked? what didn't work? what would they do differently? This cognitive or reflective component is crucial, as it allows the individual (and their peers) to learn from both success and failure.

ePortfolios have two primary components. The "presentational" component is the visible, shiny product of the ePortfolio process. It is a website, or a presentation, or a set of media produced to document and communicate a concept or event.

But, just as importantly, an ePortfolio has a cognitive component. The individual crafting their ePortfolio should be reflecting on their practice of teaching and learning, critiquing what they've done – what worked? what didn't work? what would they do differently? This cognitive or reflective component is crucial, as it allows the individual (and their peers) to learn from both success and failure.

Dossier vs. Live Document

Dossier vs. "Live Document"

Dossiers

Some traditional ePortfolio projects approach the ePort as a solution to an HR problem – to document capabilities of employees and students in order to streamline institutional business processes. That may be an important and valid goal, but it is not the sole (or even the primary) purpose of an ePortfolio.

24464901_47122e2bec.jpg Photograph by swanksalot

"Live Document" – dynamic stream/flow

If viewed separately from any institutional context, an ePortfolio is a live document that represents an individual (or, perhaps a group of individuals). A successful ePortfolio project may enable these individuals to document their practice of teaching and learning, and to record snapshots of personal and professional development. It is not a fill-in-the-blanks templated document, as each ePortfolio must be as unique as the individual it represents.

The most dynamic example of a "live document" ePortfolio is the "blogfolio" – using simple weblog publishing systems to allow individuals to easily document and share information, which is then categorized as belonging to the ongoing portfolio. This form of ePortfolio is the least rigid style, as it allows the individual to reuse bits of content already published to their weblog, in the context of an ePortfolio. As an example, all weblog posts tagged with "Noteworthy" on D'Arcy Norman's weblog

The structure of a live flow can be directed, but it is able to adjust to easily conditions (both internal and external) without arbitrary constraints (such as those imposed by an HR department).

8074781_5fc00f32cf.jpg Photograph by Mortalcoil

Dossier vs. "Live Document"

Dossiers

Some traditional ePortfolio projects approach the ePort as a solution to an HR problem – to document capabilities of employees and students in order to streamline institutional business processes. That may be an important and valid goal, but it is not the sole (or even the primary) purpose of an ePortfolio.

24464901_47122e2bec.jpg Photograph by swanksalot

"Live Document" – dynamic stream/flow

If viewed separately from any institutional context, an ePortfolio is a live document that represents an individual (or, perhaps a group of individuals). A successful ePortfolio project may enable these individuals to document their practice of teaching and learning, and to record snapshots of personal and professional development. It is not a fill-in-the-blanks templated document, as each ePortfolio must be as unique as the individual it represents.

The most dynamic example of a "live document" ePortfolio is the "blogfolio" – using simple weblog publishing systems to allow individuals to easily document and share information, which is then categorized as belonging to the ongoing portfolio. This form of ePortfolio is the least rigid style, as it allows the individual to reuse bits of content already published to their weblog, in the context of an ePortfolio. As an example, all weblog posts tagged with "Noteworthy" on D'Arcy Norman's weblog

The structure of a live flow can be directed, but it is able to adjust to easily conditions (both internal and external) without arbitrary constraints (such as those imposed by an HR department).

8074781_5fc00f32cf.jpg Photograph by Mortalcoil

ePortfolios

Background Information

The Teaching & Learning Centre has been involved with some ePortfolio-related projects, most notably a pilot project conducted by the Faculty of Education's Master of Teaching Program. This pilot was designed to evaluate the technical and pedagogical implications of an online ePortfolio, as well as a community website, as part of the MT curriculum.

We have also been fortunate to play a lead role in the development of the Pachyderm interactive presentation authoring software, which was used to create the published ePortfolios in the MT pilot project.

What is an ePortfolio?

Some of the issues regarding the description, creation, and use of portfolios are outlined below…

Background Information

The Teaching & Learning Centre has been involved with some ePortfolio-related projects, most notably a pilot project conducted by the Faculty of Education's Master of Teaching Program. This pilot was designed to evaluate the technical and pedagogical implications of an online ePortfolio, as well as a community website, as part of the MT curriculum.

We have also been fortunate to play a lead role in the development of the Pachyderm interactive presentation authoring software, which was used to create the published ePortfolios in the MT pilot project.

What is an ePortfolio?

Some of the issues regarding the description, creation, and use of portfolios are outlined below…

My Pachyderm ePortfolio

In the process of getting ready for our session on Thursday, I started to put together an ePortfolio for myself using Pachyderm. I’ve done several “sample” ePortfolios before, but not a full-blown attempt. Something about eating your own dogfood… So I gave it a shot. It’s still pretty rough, and the “Projects” and “About this…” sections are still empty, but it’s a start. I need to flesh out most of the pages as well, as I’ve currently just got command+c command+v content migration from blog posts and wiki pages.

I found the process difficult – not because of the software (Pachyderm actually worked really well for this, aside from one minor bug I found) but because I kept thinking “But, that’s what my BLOG is for!” – many of the pages are just vectors for links to pages on my blog.

Pachyderm ePortfolio

In the process of getting ready for our session on Thursday, I started to put together an ePortfolio for myself using Pachyderm. I’ve done several “sample” ePortfolios before, but not a full-blown attempt. Something about eating your own dogfood… So I gave it a shot. It’s still pretty rough, and the “Projects” and “About this…” sections are still empty, but it’s a start. I need to flesh out most of the pages as well, as I’ve currently just got command+c command+v content migration from blog posts and wiki pages.

I found the process difficult – not because of the software (Pachyderm actually worked really well for this, aside from one minor bug I found) but because I kept thinking “But, that’s what my BLOG is for!” – many of the pages are just vectors for links to pages on my blog.

Pachyderm ePortfolio

Interface 2006 ePortfolio Session Background Wiki

Patti and I are putting a wiki page together to support our ePortfolio session at Interface 2006 in Lethbridge this Thursday. The session is nominally about the ePortfolio pilot project we’re doing with our Faculty of Education, but I’m hoping we’ll get to have a discussion about ePortfolios (HATE that “e”) in general.

I just added some “What is a ePortfolio?” content, and it feels like it could turn into a thesis pretty darned quickly. Not sure I want to go down that road, though…

The wiki page is really rough at the moment, and woefully incomplete, but we’ll be polishing it up over the next day or so.

Patti and I are putting a wiki page together to support our ePortfolio session at Interface 2006 in Lethbridge this Thursday. The session is nominally about the ePortfolio pilot project we’re doing with our Faculty of Education, but I’m hoping we’ll get to have a discussion about ePortfolios (HATE that “e”) in general.

I just added some “What is a ePortfolio?” content, and it feels like it could turn into a thesis pretty darned quickly. Not sure I want to go down that road, though…

The wiki page is really rough at the moment, and woefully incomplete, but we’ll be polishing it up over the next day or so.