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.
The use of blogging software for student ePortfolios is not new. 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, 2013.
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., 2013
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:
- support of individual learning (ePortfolio as process)
- participation in the production and publication of knowledge (presentation of content and artifacts)
- 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.
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.