Learners will require sufficient and timely access to appropriate computer equipment and the internet. Easy access is essential to ensure learner use and engagement with the e-portfolio; in the ISLE and FILE-PASS projects e-portfolio implementation was limited because not all learners had ready and reliable access to computers with network access. In the ePISTLE project learners stressed that they needed reliable and ready access to computers so that their e-portfolio building could be ‘iterative, incremental and timely’. In the Kent PLPP project, systems had not been optimised to the correct monitor resolution and this delayed the project and its impact.
Although it is generally accepted that an e-portfolio is web-based, this can cause issues for learners. For example, those working in the National Health Service (NHS) who wish to record experiences and data but may not have ready access to a computer or to a computer that can access the internet. The MANSLE project found that an e-portfolio which always required web access was not appropriate for some learners. Therefore a client application was proposed in the first phase of the project which could be installed on a computer, updated and synchronised when possible.
'Student evaluation of their experience indicated that access to a version of the tool which they could update locally and then synchronise with the remote server would provide a useful and more usable approach than the network-connected version piloted.'
MANSLE final report P.20
It is not always possible to provide this functionality but tutors and learners need to be aware that in some cases, computer access may be restricted and that this should be accommodated in the implementation of the e-portfolio. For example in the case of the implementation of the e-portfolio at Utrecht University technical issues with access led to learner and tutors abandoning the e-portfolio and returning to email and Word documents.
Jisc projects are exploring user authentication for e-portfolio systems and associated e-resources. A number of options are available but Shibboleth, a relatively new and complex system has been trialled by a number of projects. In the Kent PLPP project a number of different possibilities for authentication were considered when implementing an e-portfolio within a portal; it was found that Shibboleth although considerably more complex and requiring higher set-up costs was in the long-term more cost effective since the incremental costs would stay relatively constant.
Shibboleth seeks to facilitate the exchange of data between institutions and their partners and is an open, standards-based solution which is led by Internet2, a consortium led by universities working in partnership with industry and government to develop and deploy advanced network applications and technologies. It determines if a user has the appropriate permissions to access a resource. Critically it focuses on whether the user has the necessary permissions rather than identifying the user.
Initial implementations have raised a number of concerns such as the level of technical knowledge required and the technical infrastructure to support Shibboleth. For example, in the ePISTLE project, the Shibboleth authentication and authorisation caused problems with a participating school because of an issue with its internet connection. This led to packet drops and rendered the e-portfolio inaccessible to learners (see Guidelines 4). As projects and institutions become more familiar with Shibboleth, more guidance will emerge and will be available on the Jisc website.
For the moment, if it is not possible for institutions to implement Shibboleth, then as a minimum, single sign-on for e-portfolios using, for example, LDAP should be implemented within institutional frameworks as found in the ePISTLE Project (see Guidelines 4).
Storage will inevitably need to be considered in terms of duration from various viewpoints. This is reasonably straightforward while the owner of the e-portfolio is registered with, studying at, or working for the organisation hosting the e-portfolio. After they leave the question of how long the hosting arrangement should continue will depend on a variety of factors.
EPISTLE guidelines 3: Transition
During the early stages of the e-portfolio implementation, storage requirements for the system will be difficult to predict. Learners will want to store many different types of assets – from Word documents to multimedia presentations. These can be used to evidence learning within and across modules or learning outcomes and so assist learners to integrate their learning or take a holistic view of their learning.
This will have storage space implications – sufficient space needs to be allocated so that learners do not become frustrated with a restricting system. It may be appropriate to store large files (video and audio) external to the e-portfolio. Also, institutions may wish to prevent the upload to the e-portfolio of executable and similar files.
In the Kent PLPP project, users were provided with 100MB of storage. Curyer et al’s 2007 report, ‘Developing e-portfolios for Vocational Education and Training (VET): Policy issues and interoperability’, indicates that Australian HEIs provide between 3MB and 512MB of space.
Cambridge’s research at Minnesota indicates there are three stages in learner development and use of e-portfolios that may provide some help when planning storage requirements:
- Experimentation – in this stage, the user will explore how to represent their learning and performance
- Living document – at this stage, the learner has an e-portfolio which they perceive to be valuable and will not change its structure significantly. Updates are made on a regular basis
- Archived – when no longer useful.
After leaving your institution, learners may wish to continue to maintain and develop their e-portfolio in your system. Learner motivation for e-portfolios is linked strongly to the ongoing access and storage of e-portfolio after leaving an educational institution (Aschermann 1999).
If learners cannot utilise all the work that they have created after graduation then there is less incentive to use an e-portfolio. Learners will also be anxious about what has happened to work after they have left an institution (see ePISTLE Guidelines 2). You should consider developing a plan for the storage and ongoing storage of this work and the provision of appropriate resourcing after the learner has finished studying at your institution.
One model may be to provide graduates with access to the system for 12 months and then make it available via subscription to an alumni service. This would help finance the service and provide a link for your institution to your alumni. A read-only option could also be made available for a longer period of time.
This will be an important issue when e-portfolios are part of the admissions process and subject to verification checking, for example, one institution checking the validity of an e-portfolio. Further information is provided in ePISTLE’s Guidelines 4.