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A coda, or an unfinished symphony: debating e-portfolios

October 30th, 2007 by Graham Attwell

An interesting bit of discussion below provoked by a list serve post by Martin Owen citing a post by me on e-Portfolios. I am not in the least sure what Ray in trying to say in his musical metaphors. I think I will take it as a complement.
But his list is interesting. I agree with most of what he says. However I am not so sure of the practicality of the portfolio being housed in an external repository – or for that matter the desirability. MySpace is outside educational institutions but that does not make it a desirable place to host an e-Portfolio. The key is that the owner owns the data and that the owner can export, save and manipulate the data (and if necessary, transfer the data to another system).

And whist I might be sympathetic to controlling inappropriate content, I also think this is ultimately unfeasible. Better to teach students how to use everyday controls like spam filters. If something becomes forbidden it becomes desirable.On closed fora, I think sometimes fora (horrible word – forums sounds better though grammatically wrong) may be closed but sometimes should be open. And who should choose – that is the big control question.

Of course not all of the learner’s work will be stored on the e-Portfolio. But I think it is more than just a showcase. It can and will be most valuable where the work accumulates and progresses over time – the ability to review is part of the reflection process. That is why we try to keep our back catalogue of blog posts. A blog is more than a showcase of where I am now. It represents the development of my ideas over time.

But many thanks Ray for your comments and may the debate continue.

Martin Owen wrote:

>A positive coda to recent discussion.

Graham Attwell of Pont y Dysgu has written a long (7000 word) blog post on E-portfolios: “the dna of the Personal Learning Environment?”

“Facilitating reflection is not simple within a largely ‘input based’ curriculum where the main goal is to pass a series of prescribed examinations. The danger is that reflection is simply seen as irrelevant to the qualification driven motivation of many students within their school based learning (as opposed to outside school).”

In response, Ray Tolley writes:

Not so much a coda, rather a symphony?

I remember some 50 years ago studying ‘sonata form’ and marvelling at the repeated patterns of statement A followed by statement B and then the various interplays, inversions and underlying themes with the occasional unrecognisable additional pattern.

All this is so similar to the e-Portfolio discussion, being impressed by the various themes and undercurrents, inversions and occasional red-herrings. Graham’s paper is admittedly a well rehearsed statement, almost as polished as his live presentations – but perhaps more a symphony than a coda? Not quite a Beethovean symphony but more like Schubert’s Unfinished – nice music as far as it goes, but, as I have often thought, what did Schubert leave out and why? Did he give up because he couldn’t resolve the third movement? Did he really run out of time? or, Did he not feel comfortable with the obvious conclusion he was coming to?

Graham asks the right questions and manages to get about enough to make sure that people in high places understand the problems, but what about solutions?

I repeat a few of my conclusions:

1. The e-Portfolio must be portable, both vertically and horizontally – this suggests that it should be institution free and thus housed in an external repository. This will also resolve the massive complexities of having embedded e-Portfolios within a VLE and the obvious complications of ensuring that every proprietary e-Portfolio is interoperable.

2. It must be owned by the user and capable of cosmetic treatment appropriate to the learner’s age, stage and style. This interface will mature with the student, KeyStage by KeyStage and on through CPD and Lifelong Learning and Leisure.

3. It must be ‘generic’ in that it is not modelled on any one curriculum delivery pattern nor loaded with curriculum content. – Content is already well managed by each school’s VLE.

4. It must free of any direct MIS intrusion – it is the private workspace of the student – and not to be tapped into by socio-political data mining as has been suggested in European circles.

5. The ‘permissions’ for others to view should be under the control of the user – even named teachers should be allowed to see some parts (but perhaps not other areas?).

6. It must provide access for appropriate web2.0 tools. However, concerning inappropriate content, I do not think that an AUP is sufficient – there must be significant controls in order to protect the vulnerable teacher as well as the child!

7. In order to allow e-safe collaboration closed fora or blogging tools, survey and feedback forms should be inbuilt – this will allow true reflection based upon responses by both peers and other adults.

8. Not all of the learner’s work is stored on the e-Portfolio – it is a ‘snapshot’ or short-term showcase of what is relevant for a period of time.

I could go on, but for the sake of some, I’ll stop here. But for those interested in the musical allusions, think on:

– The last part of a piece, usually added to a standard form to bring it to a close.
– A portion of a tune which seems like a tail, or extra measures, added to the last A section. It is repeated for every chorus, however. (2) An ending for a tune, used only once after the final chorus. …
– A “tail” or short closing section added at the end of a piece of music.
– The Coda is a series of emphatic cadences that create a sense of finality in the movement. In Beethoven’s Ninth, Codas also act as “Second Developments” whose lengths sometimes rival or even exceed the other sections.
– A few measures or a section added to the end of a piece of music to make a more effective ending.

A coda, or an unfinished symphony?

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One Response to “A coda, or an unfinished symphony: debating e-portfolios”

  1. John Masters says:

    Please keep these excellent posts coming

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