Interoperability standards are obvious enablers to e-portfolio transition and progression, all the more so since there is wide acknowledgement that a ‘one size fits all’ approach to e-portfolios is inappropriate for the diversity of institutions in the school and FE College sector.
EPISTLE guidelines 3: Transition
A key factor in the success of e-portfolios in supporting lifelong learning is that data contained within them is transferable to enable learners to access and develop their e-portfolios as they move between educational contexts and employment. Interoperability standards and specifications can help to enable this so that data can be transferred between an e-portfolio system and an institutional or organisational system (e.g. VLE, student record system, employer system) or between e-portfolio systems.
However, these standards are still evolving and a number of Jisc projects such as EELLS and EPICS have tested different specifications with varying success and are informing further development work in this area.
Since 2001, when the first version of the IMS Learner Information Package (LIP) specification was published, several Jisc projects have experimented with limited exchange of some e-portfolio information between different systems. This has not yet extended to implementing the possibility to transfer full e-portfolio information belonging to learners between institutions.
Many problems have been found with IMS LIP. In 2005, the IMS ePortfolio specification was published which built several missing features on top of IMS LIP. Around the same time, the British Standards Institution (BSI) commissioned a UK version of IMS LIP, UKLeaP which developed in parallel with IMS ePortfolio. However, it too was closely tied to IMS LIP, and has subsequently been abandoned.
Together, IMS ePortfolio and UKLeaP have given a good idea of the kind of information which practitioners and developers think would be useful to be able to communicate for e-portfolio interoperability. This covers digital artefacts themselves – things learners have written or created – together with a structured representation of, for example, the kind of information that is given in CVs and application forms (useful for application and transition), as well as the information that is generated and used in the context of supporting PDP or CPD.
IMS ePortfolio added structures for ‘presentation’ and ‘view’, covering the use of e-portfolios as presentations. The ISLE project offers a number of potential scenarios where transfer of e-portfolios materials would be required, for example, between institutions and between institutions and employers. Assessment is the only area of e-portfolio use which these specifications do not cover so well as the information required is tightly focused around specific sets of skills, abilities, or competences, and the certification of learners’ attainment of them.
However, the growing consensus of opinion within Jisc-CETIS and elsewhere has been that IMS ePortfolio is too complex, and not straightforward enough, to expect any large-scale implementation and uptake.
Meanwhile, the HR-XML consortium has been continually developing specifications for the exchange of human resources-related data, and this overlaps significantly with e-portfolio information.
In December 2006, the Portfolio SIG initiated the idea of LEAP 2.0, which would take up the development of a much simpler and more practical UK-originated specification. Alongside LEAP 2.0es, in 2008 Jisc funded a Portfolio Interoperability Prototyping project (PIOP), which prototyped what the developers felt was a much more straightforward and practical XML specification, based on the Atom Syndication Format. This is providing the main (but not necessarily the only) XML ‘binding’ of LEAP 2.0, simultaneously providing a solid basis for LEAP 2.0 in development practice, and drawing from the larger set of concepts that are still being brought together in LEAP 2.0 to underpin further development.
Several developers, involved with a number of Jisc projects, have already participated in the PIOP work, and at the time of writing it is hoped that more will do so over coming months, to extend the capacity for interoperability across more e-portfolio tools that are currently in use.
It is always worth keeping in mind that effective interoperability between e-portfolio tools and systems depends vitally on identifying correspondences between the e-portfolio practice of the various institutions, and ensuring that what corresponds in practice is represented in compatible ways when the relevant information is given in the format used by the interoperability specifications. A mere conformance to a technical specification will never, by itself, ensure that e-portfolio information generated in one institution is able to be reused in practice in another context or in another institution.
Even if the transfer of information is not possible in certain situations, as a minimum, learners should be able to download their materials from the e-portfolio system to a portable storage device such as a memory stick. In the Kent PLPP project, a system was developed using PETAL for learners to extract their materials from their e-portfolio. The Helpp project helped learners to be able to download selected materials from their ‘Elgg e-portfolio’ area such as files and blog entries as a zip file to portable media such as memory sticks and DVDs and then access through an HTML file; this is outlined in their presentation to the Jisc CETIS Portfolio Special Interest Group.
Linking to the institutional virtual learning environment (VLE)
Whether you are purchasing a stand-alone commercial product or implementing an in-house solution, it is essential that the product complies with standards to enable interoperability with your institutional VLE.
Learners will also need clarification about how the VLE relates to the e-portfolio and why they are using the e-portfolio system as well as the VLE. For example, in the FILE-PASS project, learners had the expectation that they would have to use the VLE and were confused when introduced to the e-portfolio system especially regarding the e-portfolio system’s role in their learning.
Linking mobile computing
Cotterill et al. (2006) and others at the 2006 EIfEL e-portfolio conference, showed the possibility of linking mobile devices with e-portfolios. Learners are very comfortable with mobile devices and will expect, very shortly, that they can link these with their e-portfolio (Stefani et al. 2007).
The WOLF project explored how mobile devices such as PocketPCs can be used by teaching assistants to record and reflect on experiences in the classroom. The devices were synchronised with the College’s Moodle VLE. The WOLF website provides a wealth of resources including project reports and presentations about the technical issues of deploying the PocketPCs, an ongoing literature review about personal digital assistants (PDAs) and mobile learning and the pedagogy of mobile learning, and resources for practitioners.
By 2011 our mobile learning guide was reporting that:
'Many, if not most, providers of virtual learning environments and e-portfolios have developed a mobile version of their offerings.'