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Using media for e-portfolios and Personal Learning Environments

March 17th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

Another quick article in the ‘rethinking e-Portfolio and Personal Learning Environments’ mini series.

One of the problems in Technology Enhanced Education, I am coming to think, is that new media are very different from traditional paper and book based media. And as Friesen and Hug (2009) argue that “the practices and institutions of education need to be understood in a frame of reference that is mediatic: “as a part of a media-ecological configuration of technologies specific to a particular age or era.” This configuration, they say, is one in which print has been dominant. They quote McLuhan who has described the role of the school specifically as the “custodian of print culture” (1962) It provides, he says, a socially sanctioned “civil defense against media fallout”  – against threatening changes in the mediatic environs.

So what is appropriate content for an e-Portfolio may not be that required by our education systems and institutions, Much of university education is based around essays. Research is still judged by publications in scholarly journals.

Essays and journal content do not make for inspiring web content, however good. Indeed like most other people, I simply print out papers I want to read. But more importantly such paper oriented publications lack the richness that the web can bring, through linking, through the use of multi media, through links to people and increasingly through location specific enhancement.

This problem is not unique to education. As the Guardian newspaper reports, it is also a pressing issue for publishers nervously awaiting the arrival of the iPad and wondering how to produce materials for both print media and for use on a mobile device.

The Guardian interviews Wired editor Ben Hammersley who says “Digital convergence pushes content to more and more devices, but for the requirements of each can be very different. For example, location data can be important for reading stories on the iPhone, while linking is essential for web publishing, and typography has to change for publishing on a tablet computer.”

Hammersley is developing a new content managements system to overcome this problem. Called ‘Budding’ , the system appears to be based on mark up code to allow multiple use of texts.

“Having to learn to write in markup isn’t an imposition, any more than having to learn shorthand or telegraphese. And as with learning any new language, you gain a new soul: writing in markup would allow you to embed code” Hammersley explains on his blog.

“The ability to embed code within a story gives us whole new realms of possibilities for journalism and publishing. Digital platforms are connected and location aware, so why not use that? At the moment the answer is “because your infrastructure won’t let you,” but if it could, the potential is extraordinary.”

In another blog entry he says: “One of my basic points is that having lots of metadata means you can do lots of really nice stuff when you transition from print to online, or print to multimedia. But that metadata needs to be captured and stored as close to the original author as you can. The moment when you can write this stuff down and store it is fleeting, and once it has passed, it has passed forever, for profitable values of forever at least.”

And according to the Guardian: “Budding should also provide an archive for writers as the project aims to transfer the writing and editing online to the cloud, and export it from there to multiple formats such as Indesign or blogging software.”

This sounds very much like part of a Personal Learning Environment to me: a tool which can allow us both to capture contextual learning where and when it happens and to repurpose it for presentation in different media, including on-line through an e-Portfolio and in written formats for essays and scholarly publications.

The only draw back I see is the mark-up language – would academics, students, learners use mark up. Maybe they would, if there was enough obvious gain. And maybe we could develop a simple menu allowing the markup to be added from a visual editor. After all, word processors juts use a menu system to add mark up to text (and a long time ago with Word Perfect the mark up code was written).

Ben Hammersley says he is going to offer Budding free to authors. I’ve signed up for a trail. But could we work out a mark up code for a PLE or e-Portfolio?


Friesen N and Hug T (2009), The Mediatic Turn: Exploring Concepts for Media Pedagogy, In K. Lundby (Ed.). Mediatization: Concept, Changes, Consequences. New York: Peter Lang. Pp. 64-81.

McLuhan, M. (1962), The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

4 Responses to “Using media for e-portfolios and Personal Learning Environments”

  1. Michael Rowe says:

    Thanks for this post. I had a few thoughts while reading it that I thought I’d raise.

    First of all, the idea of using markup to separate content from presentation is why XML was designed, so it’s not a new idea (unless I’ve misunderstood the idea behind the post). We use RSS to distribute content that can be displayed in any number of ways depending on the platform we use to view it. How is this different from what Hammersley is suggesting?

    I also wonder about the phrase, “Having to learn to write in markup isn’t an imposition”. I’m pretty comfortable using markup, whether it’s HTML or some kind of wiki-based format, so I can imagine learning yet another system of rules. However, I think I can say quite confidently that there are very few students and academics who will (at least in my limited experience). Following on from the idea of using markup to create some sort of PLE / portfolio, doesn’t that limit what the PLE can be to what the designers of the markup language end up creating?

    Finally, the idea of “transferring writing and editing to the cloud” as a form of archiving and distribution seems like it’s already been done. Does Hammersley mean something like Google Docs, or WordPress?

    I guess the point I’m trying to make is that I don’t read anything in the article that seems new in any way when compared to tools that already exist. But as I said, maybe I missed the point.

    Thanks again for a thought-provoking post.


  1. Schools are a socially sanctioned civil defense against the printed word. They are custodian of print culture


  1. […] can see lots of practical (and probably theoretical!) problems here – so was interested in this post from Graham Attwell on PLEs that refers to Ben Hammersley’s budding as: This sounds very […]

  2. […] – Educational Research. Website of Pontydysgu ltd., a Welsh educational research institute.Via Me gusta:Me gustaSé el primero en decir que te gusta esta […]

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