Saturday, March 04, 2006

Google as an ePortfolio

Seeing Andrew Flowerdew's presentation at the Naace conference on The Learner, the School and the Wider Community reinforced some things I'd been thinking around recently. There are a number of discussions between us here in Buckinghamshire and Atomwide (and similar issues in West Sussex) around ePortfolio storage solutions - should the LEA stump up for portfolio storage space or should individual schools cover this aspect of a VLE...
Anyway, this got me to thinking about GMail (or GoogleMail as it must now be known in the UK). Google are offering a raft of services which could easily form aspects of an online portfolio...

  • GMail - 2Gb of storage plus email (!) and chat facilities
  • Could setting up GMail for domains mean that it would be possible to control aspects of access and sharing?
  • Google Pages - the oh my gosh you really can do that online web page creation tools (bundled with 100Mb of storage space) - here are my Google Pages set up as a very simple online portfolio.
  • Google Reader to amalgamate feeds from wherever - most of these are other people's information sources, but there's no need why they couldn't be my Flickr pictures, my 43 Things, my current playlist / reading list / wishlist, etc. etc.
  • an anticipation that the the long-coming GDrive will soon arrive in a world of infinite storage - here's an interesting quote:
    ...As we move toward the "Store 100%" reality, the online copy of your data will become your Golden Copy and your local-machine copy serves more like a cache. An important implication of this theme is that we can make your online copy more secure than it would be on your own machine...

Sound like a very useful portfolio anyone? Let's face it, children are going to be entering schools with existing rafts of online information - should we expect them to incorporate this into our systems, or simply tap in to what's already there. It's a similar argument to the portable devices such as PSPs, iPods, phones, etc. - should we supply children with restricted versions of PDAs or instead make our systems flexible so that they can use their technology to effectively aid learning? Of course, Google's not the only provider of these services, but using them helps me refine my thinking - others are of course available...

[Alternatively, if you don't want to wait for the GDrive and have a GMail account, you could always use another third party application to use your GMail account storage as an effective network drive. Above is how it looks on your (XP-based computer), below is how it appears in your GMail Inbox]

Ultimately what I'd love to see what be the Moodle profile page linking with all sorts of external data sources... but maybe that's a job for Elgg, which we're looking at using for a first step into the world of online portfolios. It looks like Elgg requires Apache though, which might make things interesting at Atomwide...


  1. There is an issue that needs clarifying here; the function that you expect an e-portfolio to serve. Folks in the HE community see them as an online super-CV that you can use to support applications for jobs or academic posts. The original model is an artist's portfolio. In schools, e-portfolios are most commonly referred to in conversations about DiDA. There, the term refers to a course-specific portfolio of evidence. That's an entirely different beast. FWIW I am unconvinced of the value of the former type in the flowing environment of a school; the latter is a sensible way to extend existing paper-based course portfolios.

  2. The DiDA-type function might be the current view of an e-portfolio in schools - but looking at the wider QCA view I'd say that that is a small start to something that could (should?) become far more wide-ranging. Surely there are different types of ePortfolios? One, which might well address the portfolio-based DiDA or AVCE qualifications, could conceivably be part of 'my' overall portfolio, which really would be something to do with lifelong learning.
    Ideally (from my point of view) a learner's ePortfolio in school would be a timed, structured link to (or, rather, a feed from)their existing portfolio - i.e. its primary affiliation should be to the learner and not the school, given pupils' mobility and the changing nature of 14-19 education, etc. As soon as I get hold of a copy of Andrew Flowerdew's presentation I'll dig out the relevant slide!

  3. The 'many types' is the point I'm making. Completely different systems with different functions, all called the same name because of some superficial similarities. Early adopters understand this, but I greatly fear it will come back and bite us later.

    If you propose to make the student-created element of a portfolio portable, what about the teacher-created element (feedback, marking)? Would they be relevant to other teachers?

  4. Well, in theory, a decent piece of assessment would be based around explained scales / standards / grades / etc.... I'd say that the relationship between a student's portfolio and a school system might be...
    » the student stores whatever they want to outside of the school system - extra- and non-curricular stuff, curricular stuff, whatever
    » when they become "attached" to a school, the school's learning environment has the ability to interface with this - pull information across (assuming it's tagged for the school to access? not sure). Once a copy of this information is stored within the school's "learning environment" it can have marks, comments, assessment info attached to it
    » if the student wants to, they can then pull the information back from the school's environment - complete with marks, comments and the full marking criteria, so that anyone who sees a "mark" with the work can see its context...
    Of course, this all depends on standards, interoperability, etc. - but importantly it would allow the learner to be in control of their own material and the school to then use that as part of their evidence to an external examiner etc. - this would also mean that the external examiner would only need access to the school system and (crucially) not the learner's system.
    ...and yes, I agree that "eportfolio" is far too generic a term, would it be better to identify a whole range of services / functions and then have different flavours of portfolio? Not sure...

  5. Coming back to this after a few months, we've now got our Chalkface ePortfolio system in public beta, and run slap into this confusion. Different users have completely different ideas of what it is supposed to be for. It's like the blind men and the elephant.

    In fact, ours is a general-purpose subjective assessment tool, but I would not dare advertise it as that because it is unfamiliar terminology to most teachers.