Sunday, June 05, 2005

Merritt Workshop

Last week I attended BCCampus's Spring Workshop on Educational Technologies in Merritt. As usual, I learned more over beers with new friends than I did in most of the official sessions, but that's kinda the point of these things, right?

I picked the all-day session on e-portfolios with David Tosh and Kele Fleming. There were lots of interesting tidbits in the first part of the day, but my notes are focused on overlaps with my own interest in planning portfolios. Here are my highlights and ideas in point form, because I'm too lazy to craft decent paragraphs out of my scribblings:
  • David talked about the UK's focus on Personal Development Planning for Higher Education, which will require university students to have their own PDPs by 2007 -- this is an obvious example of the convergence between e-portfolio implementation and the type of work I'm doing with Bridges on career and education planning
  • Further to that career planning/e-portfolio connection, Kele mentioned that she's been noticing a trend toward e-portfolio implementations in universities that are initiated in the schools' Career Centers. That seems like a real difference from what I was hearing a year or two ago, when portfolios were going to be used primarily for collecting artifacts and assessing coursework -- I like this "new" focus on personal portfolios for planning the future. I need to do more research on what college career centres are up to these days.
  • For the reality check along those lines, they mentioned York's cancelled project to initiate e-portfolios from their career centre. It reminded me that I hadn't checked back on Karina's excellent project blog for a while -- it struck me that her research probably helped her organization realize that they weren't ready for e-portfolios on the scale they thought...but then after the project died, smaller groups (faculties, departments) started poking around and asking her questions about e-portfolios. This is significant.
  • Universal, one-size-fits-all e-portfolio solutions seem destined to fail in universities. Successful implementations will be more focused on very specific learning goals (maybe documenting your student-teaching experience) within smaller groups. I wonder how many organizations will go further in the process than York did and build or buy complex campus-wide portfolio "solutions" that don't get used because they never properly figure out what they are trying to accomplish? E-portfolios are in buzz mode...still generating more light than heat.
  • Kele talked about an initiative with Paul Stacey to explore connections between BC's portfolios and post-secondary admissions. Cool idea, but there seemed to be some skepticism in the group about it. Having talked to my operative in UBC's admissions department, it seems a bit far-fetched -- they've got a very specific assembly line approach to applications that leaves no room for personal expression.
  • We had a good discussion about whether employers will value e-portfolios for hiring, and the consensus seemed to be a general mockery of the concept in our group. I tried to reframe it a bit: the portfolio as a rich representation of someone's professional and intellectual identity that would only be important to the employer when they were down to a few finalists for a position, rather than the portfolio being seen as an uber-resume used for filtering out hundreds of applicants. The group was curious about my on-the-fly example of current employers googling an applicant and using the search results as a sort of emergent e-portfolio for the applicant that was never intentionally assembled. They didn't much like this idea, but it's the reality already.
  • We covered some of the tired process/product talk and assessment for learning vs. assessment of learning -- no real insights here, but it was good to talk a bit about student resistence to the whole thing, either assessed or not.
  • There was some discussion about "selling" the benefits of e-portfolio usage to students and instructors, but I’m not convinced that you can dress them up to make them “cool”. Apparently students want to see examples of good portfolios, and they also want to see their instructor’s portfolio ("why should we do them if you're not even bothering to try?").
  • Dave talked about the importance of social interaction and customization (personal control over the appearance of portfolios). The former got me thinking about obstacles, especially how hard it is to get students to blog and create connections around curriculum -- why are they going to care enough in an assigned portfolio project to really get into it?
  • In the second half of the day, we got to work with three e-portfolio applications to compare their philosophy and interaction, which was really interesting. The Open Source Portfolio is a glorified resume builder with a terribly clunky interface -- it felt like punishment to have to use it for half an hour. The interface for KEEP Toolkit was way worse, using all kinds of bizarre interaction that seemed to ignore the past five or six years of usability and web development. I failed to see why anyone would use it for anything. As I've written elsewhere, ELGG was great, but people seem to have a hard time seeing it as an e-portfolio solution.

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