Wednesday, May 07, 2008

On the 'Access to work, any time, any place' ePortfolio piece

Slam went the door...

A couple of weeks ago I answered a few questions for a forthcoming piece in the Guardian on ePortfolios. Here in Bucks we haven't committed to an ePortfolio yet, for a whole number of reasons (chief of these being a lack of clarity and guidance on what 'counts' as an ePortfolio). I was reminded of this vagueness on starting to read the article in the printed paper and online - plus part two of the article which escaped me in the printed edition.
If other contributors' contributions were similar to mine, then we were each asked a series of questions and then the answers were put together to comprise the articles. The first question is a pertinent one, and maybe it's no surprise that Becta's Bernie Zachary gives the only answer:
Q. Should all pupils have access to an eportfolio now?
A. Yes. The target within the government's Harnessing Technology strategy (launched in 2004) was that by spring this year the relevant agencies and authorities would be able to provide all learners of compulsory school age with access to this online learning space. BZ
If you've read anything about ePortfolios then you'll know that this appears to be not quite as things are, but exactly why I've never been able to place my finger on. If you look at Harnessing Technology then the occurences of portfolio or e-portfolio are there (seven times in seventy-two pages), but they are always (deliberately?) couched in vague terms. Have a look:

Why is this? If you're in Educational ICT and haven't been living under a rock for a few years you'll know that the focus has been on Learning Platforms, which have been seen as a catch-all term for everything - including ePortfolios, or at least "the ability to support" ePortfolios. There has been no clear guidance about what constitutes a portfolio, yet even within its text Harnessing Technology refers to what functions this mythological beast will undertake for learners. The targets (so it seemed to virtually anyone trying to work out what they meant and who didn't have a product to sell) seemed too easy to hit and therefore too hard to meaningfully define, which some would say is a good thing, but in my experience that's led to uninspired, lazily put-together applications which are about as appealing as [insert your own obvious analogy here].
A few of the comments in the Guardian article seem (to me, and it's just my opinion, remember) to be confusing an ePortfolio with an school's VLE, and elsewhere the Becta ideal of an ePortfolio being contained within a Learning Platform is given fresh air, even if to my mind this is a fundamentally flawed idea. Of course, the so-obviously-wrong-it's-crazy line about "open source depends on institutions have to provide their own support" is trotted out again... I mean, come on. People of Becta. Listen. Your web site runs on Apache, which is open source. Now, that doesn't necessarily mean that people in your offices have to look after the servers, although, being a Government agency, I guess anything's possible. You pay professionals to do that (I hope).
Possibly the most telling comment in the article, and the one that's the reason for the image at the top of this post, comes after the declaration that all pupils should have access to an ePortfolio now, when it's mentioned that it's now that Becta is adding guidelines to its documentation on Learning Platforms. Go figure, as too many people have already said.


  1. I can't understand Bernie's response to the question about products:

    '[Every learning platform on Becta's suppliers list has an eportfolio built in.] ... and "open source" versions can't qualify as they depend on institutions to provide their own support.]'

    Other people in Becta are very clear about the fact that the supplier's list is not about products it's about services, which could very well include supporting open source systems.

  2. "Here in Bucks we haven't committed to an ePortfolio yet". Presumably all schools, colleges, wbl providers using the same ePortfolio software has some advantages.
    1)Young people moving between providers could more easily take their work with them?
    2) Young people applying for courses on the Buckinghamshire Prospectus ( would be able to upload/attach work/expected results/aspirations/learning plans in support of their application without keying in the data once again?
    Can one eportfolio software application be imposed?
    Young people,teachers may be saddled with a system they don't much like and just ignore it.