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e-Portfolios, Who might be the users? What are the benefits of an e-Portfolio for me?" The question depends on 'Who is ME?'

R J Tolley Updated Feb 2010

I was recently asked the question, in relation to e-Portfolios, "What's in it for me?" - In other words, "What are the benefits of an ePortfolio for me?" My immediate response was to consider, well 'Who is ME?': The following paragraphs are relatively brief and focus purely on mainstream education but in every case I want to try and highlight some of the exclusive reasons why we should be using e-Portfolios, apart from saving trees:

1. The Pupil The whole e-Portfolio is an expression of ‘ME’. It is that private place, free from MIS intrusion, where the student can feel at home in a self-decorated ambience that says ‘This is Me!’ through the use of selected ‘skins’, menus and fonts appropriate to ages and stages. In contrast the VLE is invariably seen as ‘school’ – it is formal and certainly not really ‘owned’ by the pupil. It should be noted that the very customisation and organisation of the e-Portfolio will be an indication of the pupil’s ICT competencies, learning strategies, business attitudes, lifestyle and work-ethic. – And this can start simply even at Key Stage 1. This sense of ownership moves with the pupil through the Key Stages, right on through to KS5 and on to university, employment or Adult Training schemes. The e-Portfolio has already proved its worth in providing a striking focus for Personal Learning and Thinking Skills (PLTS) in England and for the ‘Curriculum for Excellence’ in Scotland and is the medium for supporting students in the new 14-19 Diplomas. This pride of ownership or belonging encourages students to log on at home or elsewhere far more than if they were asked to open an exercise book or textbook. Simply, ownership encourages access, or, as one researcher, Eva de Lera called it, ‘the Joy of e-Learning’!

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2. The student at KS4 & KS5: Here we begin to see the glimmerings of real academia. Some high quality work at KS4 might be worth keeping and re-cycling at KS5. Similarly some hard investment at KS5 might well be worth building upon in FE/HE. Yes, I know that this work could be retained on memory sticks or DVDs, particularly if moving from one institution to another. However, the whole point of the e-Portfolio is that it is readily available for reflection, collaboration or evaluation by selected others, including tutors, without any further up/downloading. The ePortfolio has become the students’ conversation piece, shareable within defined limits, and yet a perfect celebration, at any age, of ‘This is ME!’

3. the Teacher: For the teacher, the pupil’s e-Portfolio is the place where first the teacher helps the child to understand the ability to select and ‘celebrate’ best practice. It is the place where the teacher can record informal comments that one would not necessarily write down in an exercise book nor write on a school report. It is the place where progression can be identified and compared even, in secondary schools, between the artefacts of different subject areas. It is the place where one can check ‘work in progress’ or even add notes to a student’s planner or diary. Informal or formative suggestions can keep the student going in the right direction before going off-track. Perhaps, most significantly, rather than carrying around piles of books for marking, (I know, in my hey day I often marked three or four sets of books every night!) the teacher can access the student’s work from home in order to track progress, even before the final work is submitted for assessment.

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4. the form-tutor: Not only from an academic perspective, the form tutor has the ability to see not just the evidences of the VLE but rather the more subtle and private pastoral responses or comments that a child might not want to write within the pages of an exercise book or the inevitable worksheets that might just get placed into a folder. How often can the more delicate comments about family life, young carers, personal tragedies and the like get missed even within a good pastoral system. Here, enclosed within the private ‘confessional’ of the e-Portfolio, notes can be written by the pupil knowing that the information is secure from prying eyes apart from the trusted permission of the formtutor.

5. the teacher as end-user: The e-Portfolio should not just be seen as a tool for the students. The best way to get familiar with the functionalities of the students portfolios is for staff to use e-Portfolios themselves, possibly in the first instance as a social or informal tool amongst disparate colleagues who hardly meet within departments etc. But soon the e-Portfolio can be used for staff CPD, informal sharing of curriculum ideas etc. In fact, because of the natural rich media functionality of the e-Portfolio it can also be used for all internal management practices and even as an institutional tool, displaying selected ‘windows’ to other institutions or authorities etc.

6. member of the SLMT: Whatever the size of the school, but certainly in the larger schools, the ability of a member of the SLMT to ‘look up’ a child, rather than just checking the bald facts on the MIS system is a very powerful asset. The ability to read about the child’s latest ambitions and interests, work in progress, ‘plans for the future’, possibly to check the comments of the child’s mentor and view the rich media that illustrate strengths and character is something that can be immediately to hand through the e-Portfolio. Traditionally, in order to expand upon the data

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the MIS provides, we know that any request from the SLMT usually takes days of repeated requests and eventual collation of responses from unvisited pigeon-holes or even unread e-mails. Now, even whilst an irate parent is on the telephone, the e-Portfolio can be called up and browsed whilst one of the SLMT is talking to the parent.

7. Governors: Some years ago an analysis of the bottom 100 failing schools identified a common feature as that of a lack of concern by the schools’ governors. This is steadily changing and, more than any annual report, website or VLE, the ability to browse through the ePortfolios of willing pupils (and their parents) can demonstrate the details of what pupils feel is worth celebrating, both within school and the wider community.

8. the parent(s): Far too often in this era of single parent families, two wage earners and even double-jobs, one thing that can often fall by the wayside is the actual interaction between parent and child relating to the child’s progress in school – with the resultant trauma of the end-of-year school report and Parent’s meeting. How often does the average parent see what their child is doing at school or, how often does the child’s teacher see what additional support or coaching the child might be getting at home? Now, on-line, on demand, anytime accession of the child’s progress is possible. Obviously much of this can be true of the VLE, but the actual viewing by the parent(s) of a pupil’s work in progress, of notes and comments within the ePortfolio, of the showcasing mentality is all made so much more directly accessible through the e-Portfolio. As one delegate said at the recent Sponsors’ conference, the parent no

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longer greets the child with ‘What have you done at school today?’, nor the child saying, ‘Look, let me show you what I have done today!’, but rather the parent can greet the child with, ‘Wow, I’ve seen what you did today, Well done!’.

9. the new school: Transition is, to my mind, the key word in e-Portfolio design. As a pupil moves on, class by class, year by year, Key Stage by Key Stage and school by school either laterally as one moves schools for relocation or other social factors, or as one moves vertically through the age groups, so the need to transfer appropriate information to the receiving teacher(s) is essential but so often impractical. Yes, MIS data may be available within the school or transferred by the LA to the new school, but what about the ‘whole person’? With all their particular strengths illustrated through a range of appropriate rich media teachers can quickly identify or support the appropriate placement of a child far more effectively than any set of grades or brief teacher comments can do.

10. a mentor: Not well developed in the UK but the Americans have a welldeveloped system of mentors – like ‘academic God-parents’ – who are willing to stand as an impartial overseer providing encouragement and a ‘listening ear’, particularly when young teenagers need it most and often when parents may not be so experienced or articulate when it comes to understanding the ‘school machine’. How many of us, as Uncles, Aunts or grandparents would like to be a permitted mentor, viewing the pages of the child’s e-Portfolio and offering encouragement, advice or a subtle or implicit commentary on the child’s progress?

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11. other collaborators: Collaboration is still a new science for many as an e-learning skill. How often have we said in the traditional classroom setting, ‘Now get into groups, and solve this problem.’ Organising groups in advance in order to set up electronic collaboration is not always that simple or instantaneous over the VLE, whereas it is quite possible for individual students to establish their own e-safe groups from the school’s list. The additional benefit of the e-Portfolio is that as a tool for safe collaboration it encourages the continuation of the activity beyond the confines of the classroom. To be able to collaborate within the safety of the e-Portfolio system allows the synergistic learning of 2 + 2 = 5. And not only that, we then have an audit trail whether within a blog or wiki to identify who contributed what and when, and what the final understanding of the session was for every individual.

12. careers counsellors: Already several Careers modules in schools are operating very successfully as an e-Portfolio in their own right. The e-Portfolio is the natural place for careers counsellors to advise and encourage students in their thinking which can be shared on-line with parents far more easily than the formal invitation to attend a school function for careers advice. The individual research, understanding of Gardner’s 12 Intelligences, Understanding British Industry, Job Applications and C.V.-writing all lend themselves to an individualised e-Portfolio where young students at KS3 can begin to consider their Options for KS4. Using their e-Portfolio students can develop a theme from early on, even at Key Stage 2, under a page such as ‘My Future’. This can then evolve with the advancing maturity of the student.

13. extra-curricula tutors: The average student only spends 21% of their waking hours in school - what of the other 79%? Many children spend time in additional studies, courses or clubs where progress of activities could be recorded electronically. Yes this could be on a non-school system but

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of how much more mutual benefit can it be to both the various tutors of external organisations and the school to see the whole picture of the child. On my grand daughter’s e-Portfolio are places to celebrate the many things that she does ‘outside’ of school including her many ballet and dancing certificates and medals, her progress in her Saturday morning Swimming Club and also her regular Friday evening sessions with a dyslexia specialist.

14. work experience employers: Employers are generally busy people who, despite their willingness to support the school, will invariably find getting to know and understand nervous and on-their-bestbehaviour pupils is a frustration. How much simpler to preview the e-Portfolio presentation of the visiting students and then to be able to talk directly with them about the artefacts displayed. The pupil’s letter of application, signed insurance and permissions documents, along with notes on Health & Safety etc can all be in one place. Progress comments, a work diary and any special advice or instructions can be equally accessible by employer, supervising tutor, parent and pupil, anytime, anywhere, all collated together in one section of the e-Portfolio. (Wow! It was never as simple as this when I used o supervise Work Experience Placements!)

15. exam board approved assessors: There is already a well-established set of criteria for OCR’s NVQs. There is no-doubt in my mind that a similar system will be expected for schools’ examinations, probably starting with the 14-19 Diplomas. Here candidates, assessors, internal verifiers and external verifiers all have the convenience of appropriate levels of access, including ‘lockup’ of completed units. All of this is already happening at NVQ level

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– the simplicity and convenience of this has been well documented by current users – it is down to the rest of education to catch up.

16. UCAS (Universities & Colleges Admissions Service): For many years, in the UK, 6th-form students have always seemed to get into a last minute rush about drafting, re-drafting and finally presenting their UCAS submissions in a perfectly structured format, grammar checked and spell-checked numerous times. As much as I can see the value to the clearing house of a standardised format, it has always frustrated me that my star students were not allowed to put more into the quality of their presentations. Now, the e-Portfolio can meet both requirements. Formal data, and free-form text, whether downloaded directly from the MIS or pasted into the UCAS boxes can be done in standard format alongside other more informative rich media such as a 3D video representation of a technology project, part of a stage production, an impressive interview or group discussion. Not only does this give a fuller picture of the ‘whole person’ but it is so much more practical. Students can build this up over a longer time-span, already having got used to the format from previous years.

17. FE/HE interviewers: Following on from the above, the limitations of traditional interview scenarios are well known. Obviously the student invariably realises that they forgot to relate some important point; there is inevitably the one panellist who asks long and abstruse questions requiring specific and difficult answers; whilst other panel members have little time to tease out valuable insights. The availability of the ePortfolio to provide a much wider and deeper picture of the individual and for panel members to focus on their own particular

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interests, even before the interview date, is of immense value. Having sat on both sides of this particular table on many occasions, I cannot think of a more equitable and incisive facility than what the ePortfolio can deliver, efficient for the interviewer and fairer for the interviewee.

18. potential employers: Particularly on the continent and in the context of e-Portfolios, there is a move towards ‘data-mining’. How this might be done is beyond this immediate discourse. However, as employers now regularly sift through hundreds if not thousands of jobapplications, the e-Portfolio becomes even more significant. Employers look for evidences of things like teamwork, attention to detail, the ability to deal with the unexpected or a respect for the company’s image. Many of these things are far beyond the descriptions within a CV. The ePortfolio can present various richmedia clips which can eloquently reveal many facets of an individual.

19. suspension tribunal panel members? Having supported both staff and pupils in what can be difficult circumstances it has been my responsibility to act as ‘A Friend’ in several cases. In this scenario the e-Portfolio can do so much more to illustrate a child’s circumstances than any set of reports or the record, if any, within a Planner or Homework Diary. Wise social workers can see through a history of comments either by pastoral staff, teachers, parents or the child his/herself. Obviously such content would need to be handled properly and with the appropriate consents in place but again, looking at the ‘whole picture’ of a child’s positive attributes can only help the child in their hour of need.

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About the Author: Ray Tolley has been a teacher of Design & Technology and problem solving since 1963 and of ICT since 1981. Since retiring his company (Maximise ICT Ltd) has continued to supply staff support and more recently has developed eFolio particularly for the UK market. For further information about eFolio check out the links below.

Ray Tolley

FEIDCT, NAACE Fellow, ACIQ, MBILD

ICT Education Consultant Maximise ICT Ltd P: http://raytolley.v2efolioworld.mnscu.edu/ B: http://www.efoliointheuk.blogspot.com/ W: http://www.maximise-ict.co.uk/eFolio-01.htm E: support@maximise-ict.co.uk Winner of the IMS 'Leadership Regional Award 2009'

Images from Dreamstime.com & FlickR Cartoons from MS ClipArt eFolio examples by the author

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Who Uses an e-Portfolio