'e-portfolios are as diverse and unique as the individuals that populate them…'
EPISTLE project – Guidelines 4: storage and access
Different systems will have been developed for different purposes and those developed primarily to support assessment may be different to those developed to nurture a continuing process of personal development and reflective learning. Whatever the primary steer of the development, the e-portfolio system will usually comprise:
- A ‘reflective’ tool such as a blog or an online journal
- A tool for the creation, development and maintenance of a web-based, digital online portfolio
- Provision for providing feedback between students and tutors
- An area for the storage of digital artefacts
- Sharing functionality and publishing to the internet
- Diagnostic and competency testing tools.
Types of e-portfolio tools and systems
There are a variety of types of e-portfolio tools and systems available:
- Self-contained systems, standing apart from other institutional systems (which is how most have been developed)
- Components of larger systems, typically virtual learning environments (VLEs) or as one of a set of functional requirements for learning platforms
- A set of software tools which have the functionality to support the production of an e-portfolio, a means of drawing together and integrating material from different sources.
Within each of these there are different technology options, for example:
- Commercial VLEs such as Blackboard may have an additional tool that can be purchased and integrated with the VLE i.e. see the Blackboard Portfolio System
- A stand-alone commercial product such as PebblePad and iWebFolio
- An open source product based on, for example, Mahara
- Web 2.0 tools such as Evernote and WordPress – Many social networking sites and blogging tools are available on the internet and research shows that these can be incorporated into the learning environment and support active learning. An explanation of social software tools can be found in the Jisc infoNet resource ‘Social Software’ infoKit and an example as to how these may be used can be found in the video included in the Learner Perspectives section
- A self-developed in-house system. The Open University has developed its e-portfolio and discussed the advantages and disadvantages of such an initiative
- Specialist system eg, In-Folio developed for accessibility.
There can be advantages and disadvantages to any option, for example using a single e-portfolio package may require the end users to adapt their educational paradigm to that of the software developer’s.
The Jisc distributed e-learning regional pilots programme demonstrated that a simple, single software solution was inappropriate due to the diversity of approaches to e-portfolios and the wide range of learner needs, with experience from Thanet College supporting this. Other Jisc projects have shown that to support learning effectively e-portfolio systems should be able to accommodate the differing pedagogic models and curriculum approaches of each programme.
Aggregated web services
An alternative to implementing a single e-portfolio system is to use aggregated web services which are integrated with a user interface.
A number of projects have been working to develop web services for e-portfolios including MANSLE. In this project, individual web services were used to support the learner when undertaking personal development planning and portfolio development. Initially existing functional web services, including those from existing Jisc projects such as HORUS, were repurposed, conforming to interoperability standards and then integrated with a user interface to form a new tool. The MANSLE project demonstrated that this approach supports rapid implementation to meet diverse curriculum requirements.
Implementing an e-portfolio as part of a portal is a further option. The Kent Personal Learning Portal Pilot (PLPP) implemented PETAL as part of uPortal. In this case learners would log in to the Portal and then have access to a wide range of support materials about academic study skills including plagiarism, referencing, citing, ICT skills, writing skills for the academic environment as well as the e-portfolio. The PLPP project has developed a schematic overview of how these materials are linked together and to the e-portfolio tool.
Open source e-portfolios
Jisc projects such as ePet and PETAL have explored the use of open source software, such as OSP (Open Source Portfolio), as the basis for an e-portfolio system. Some of these, such as ePET, were originally developed to meet the needs of a specific subject such as medicine but Jisc has funded them to be extended for more generic use; for example as part of the EPICS-2 project, blogs and elements of social networking were incorporated, together with integrated support for evidencing structured outcomes. ePET’s website shows the core elements of the system and then additional functionality that can be added according to the specific subject needs.
Although open source software provides many technical options, several projects, for example FILE-PASS, have found that the financial advantages of using open source products will need to be counterbalanced with additional technical support supplied by the institution (see appendix B of their Final Report). In addition, it is vital that there is a strong and active community to help support the implementation of an open source product; the Kent PLPP project used an offshoot of OSP (PETAL) and their implementation was hindered by the limited support available to assist in their technical implementation of this tool.
The ‘PETAL 2′ project myWORLD has now moved on from OSP and is using Sakai, which subsumed the OSP product. Another open source product is Elgg; this allows learners to create a public or private blog, upload files and share these with the community. The Helppproject is using Elgg to provide support for students on placement.
Mahara is probably the most extensively used open source e-portfolio tool, especially by those who use Moodle as their institutional VLE. For examples of use and screen shots visit the e-Portfolio Implementation Toolkit. The case study from Massey University, New Zealand includes an example Service Level Agreement for a Mahara hosted service .
Web 2.0 tools
Many social networking sites and blogging tools are available on the internet and research shows that these can be incorporated into the learning environment and support active learning. Students may be more receptive to tools such as Bebo and Facebook because they use them in their day to day lives. For example, students at Dartington College use Blogger and MySpace as part of their informal PDP (see presentation).
Cotterill et al (2007) consider if this means that institutions no longer need to purchase e-portfolio systems. It is argued that there is still a need for some level of structure in most learning contexts and hence a requirement for specialist e-portfolio software:
'Intrinsic structure in an e-portfolio may be useful to provide ‘scaffolding’ to support learning pedagogy or meet requirements for assessment. Skill sets, objectives, outcomes and competencies are by definition structured and can be explicitly supported in e-portfolio. Structure is also important in the transfer of portfolio data using recognised interoperability standards such as IMS LIP, IMS e-portfolio, Europass-CV & HR-XML). These standards, which support structured data, are becoming increasingly important for job/course applications and supporting continuity in lifelong learning.'
It is this structuring that differentiates Web 2.0 tools and an e-portfolio system. So in the Helpp project, although a blogging tool is used for reflection, structured feedback and guidance are provided by tutors. A learning contract has also been deployed within the blog tool to guide students on their learning outcomes for the placement; this is discussed in a video from the Helpp project. The way forward may be to incorporate some of the social networking tools into e-portfolio systems and in some cases to provide a direct link, for example, to Flickr.
Web 2.0 tools can also eliminate some of the cumbersome elements of web services applications. The MANSLE project developed a plug-in around the Flock web browser in order to create more lightweight e-portfolio ‘widgets’. This helped eliminate some of the technical weightiness that surrounded the original web services application such as the XML structure of the portfolio. As a result, the Flock MANSLE plug-in (which also works with Firefox) produces a persistent free-format editor which allows the aggregation of photos, text, etc by dragging and dropping from the surrounding web environment. Data is stored on the central MANSLE service using the same mechanism as with the original application.
Types of system
E-portfolio tools and UK institutions who took part in the Large Scale Implementation Study.
|PebblePad||Mahara||Other tools eg WordPress||In-house development|
|Wolverhampton, Edinburgh, Thanet, Bradford, Northumbria||Birmingham City, Thanet College, Southampton Solent, Newham College||Dumfries & Galaway||Newcastle|