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e-Portfolios: Some Thoughts

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I have been working a lot with Moodle over the past few years and have been really looking at how it might be used to
accomplish multiple goals for classroom teachers. There are many ways to extend Moodle and the following is one way school, teachers, and students might extend Moodle, I am specifically looking at how to extend Moodle as an Electronic Portfolio.

This has come up recently in multiple discussions, and  I thought I would share some ideas that I have regarding this. To frame this a little the majority of this piece is an actual email sharing some ideas with one of our local administrators. I have also heard people discussing portfolios in multiple places. One is at Nazareth College where they have recently moved to Moodle as their learning management system. They have multiple requirements for their portfolio from the School Of Education, and the college as a whole. I also heard that a local school district was going to start to use Moodle for teacher portfolios, how they were going to accomplish this I am less aware of. Then one of our technicians passed along an article on Mahara, a portfolio system that interfaces with Moodle. This and the conversations that I have with my co-worker Brian C. Smith with ways of creating portfolios and my own e-portfolio creation led to a rather lengthy email, and this post. The following shares a bit about how I see Moodle and how e-portfolios might work.

First this is much more than simply thinking about what technology to use to accomplish an e-portfolio. The following are some
ideas on how this all might work and some of the work that I have seen and done with regards to creating electronic portfolios.I do know there are some portfolio pieces that plug into Moodle. With that being said I also see value in looking outside of Moodle for creating a portfolio, here are my thoughts on this.

Moodle has been designed primarily as a way to engage student in the learning process. It is set up to have students create meaning within a structured space. This is a way for a teacher to guide students to achieve their best with regard to the goals and outcomes of the course. So for example as a Social Studies teacher my goal is to help students learn about the process of government and how politics, culture, and economics influences the  decisions leaders of countries and people. Within Moodle I can use the tools that are available in that space to have students construct meaning around ideas such as socialism, religious diversity, and a variety of other concepts. The down side to this is that the  meaning that was created is lost at the end of the year, as Moodle is designed as a learning management system, and is designed within the context of a course.

I still see great value in using Moodle as a space to do the dirty metacognitive work of learning. I gives students a space to be reflective and obtain access to files and documents that teachers want to provide, and engage in activities that are both student driven and teacher facilitated.

However with regards to a portfolio it doesn't meet the needs with regards to a longitudinal space for students, as a portfolio should be designed with the individual who is creating it in mind. The other thing to think about with this is what is the goal of a portfolio for the student?

I know in a earlier conversation portfolios have been seen as an alternative assessment for some educational programs. This differs greatly from the concept of a professional portfolio an artist or architect may have. Not to say that similar things can't be achieved with portfolios focused on alternative assessments,as both of these should still maintain an individual focus.

So I have two ideas with regards to how a portfolio may look for a student who is in the graphic arts world. I happen to know three different artists that use the web to showcase their work. Two of the three I have helped actually create their portfolios, and have made similar suggestions as I will outline below. Since a portfolio should be a space to share your work and ideas you want something that will allow you to focus on the content, or idea that you'd like to showcase, as well as maintain other pieces that are related to your work. In most cases you not only want your work to be represented, but also why working with you, or hiring you, would be a great experience. From a professional portfolio I want to be able to put my best foot forward and showcase those things I think represent my style and talents. Finding an employer or client that shares some of your artistic beliefs seems to be something that would be important, beyond simply finding a job.

With this in mind I think there are two pieces software that fit this scenario. Not to say that there aren't other ways of accomplishing this, but rather that these were two ways we can achieve the goal with the educational institution that we work in. Both are web based and accessible to the outside world and I believe both would allow students to take their work with them when they left. Both of these criteria should be part of the way a student portfolio is created. It should go with a student, and not simply end when they leave the institution they started with. I will also share a little about how I think that spaces such as Facebook, Flickr, and other social networking and sharing sites fit into this.

The first piece of  software that I would look at is called Wordpress and is a blogging software, this is used all over the place and whether it is the software specifically or another platform this is one way to achieve the goal, again Wordpress is offered in our region, hence sharing it specifically. This allows posting of content in a chronological format and many professionals are using this as a way to showcase their learning and work in many fields including the arts. There are many examples of people who have used this software for their own portfolios or website in general. From the perspective of how this might look as a portfolio one example is a college professor who is using Wordpress as her dossier, her name is Liz Lawley and she teaches at R.I.T. http://mamamusings.net/dossier/. I will share a few other examples latter that share similar examples.

If the goal of a teacher locally was to create a portfolio for students we would be happy to work with that teacher creating a space for them and their students to learn about how to use the software, as well as how a portfolio might be used to show their ideas and learning. This would give the students a web presence that if it needed to move with them there are ways of exporting the blog to their own personal space, though we would have to look at policies with regards to this. Overall the goal of a student using the web to showcase themselves in a professional way is something we should be teaching students.

Another software option that I see value in, but we aren't currently using locally is called Mahara, and is a portfolio software that is suppose to tie to Moodle to allow content to be moved between the two systems. This interconnection is the reason that I am interested in this as a portfolio tool, as well as it being focused on the individual. This is the software that I have been using myself and have been thinking about ways to incorporate the different digital spaces that I am part of into this space so I can share my work with others. There is a bit of a different look and feel and can be used as a place to collect learning artifacts and allow the student to design what they see as their profile for the world, just as Wordpress does.

To me the real goal of a portfolio whether professional or for assessment purposes is to create an individually focused space that allows the student or learner to collect things that they would like to showcase as their own. This would allow physical and virtual artifacts to be shared. As I have talked with others about this often times the question of using Facebook and other social sites to do this. I truthfully haven't considered it from an institutional perspective as there is too many hurdles to overcome this as a possibility. With that said I do believe that Facebook could be used as a platform to share and showcase someones portfolio. I know that there are examples out there and I have also seen many people use Facebook to promote their own product such as restaurants and their artwork. This is another reason that we need to provide students with thinking about creating a digital face to their work. Without engaging students in the practice of self reflection on their work we are preventing them to truly be thinkers, as well as how to share their work appropriately, no matter the platform we choose. As for Facebook and Flickr if students are using these spaces to present their work we should work towards finding ways of showcasing this. The downside to some of these spaces is the question of ownership, who truly owns the content that students are producing on these sites. Not to muddy the waters, but this issue should be shared with students as they create things digitally.

I hope this has given you some ideas of the possibilities at this time with regards to the possibilities of the three software platforms that I have outlined. To summarize if teachers are looking for portfolio options I may look at Wordpress or eventually Mahara. If they are looking for a space to extend their classroom then I would start to look at Moodle.

As for some additional examples of artists portfolio's the following three have some different looks and backgrounds. Dana is a graphic artist and actually created his main site at http://danaryan.com/ and is using the following blog tool to showcase additional work that he is doing http://www.danaryanillustration.blogspot.com/ . I didn't work with Dana on this but I think his portfolio shows some of the possibilities.

The following site is Natalie Sinisgalli who I worked with some on the design of her site http://www.nataliesinisgalliphotography.com/ . Again she is using a website, but has also incorporated a blog to showcase additional work.

The last is probably the simplest of the three and is my friend who is a toy designer. Andrew asked me, prior to the world of blogging exploding, if I could help him create a web site. I created the following all in Dreamweaver and web development software http://amachulski.com/ . I have however worked with him in the past year or so talking about how we can leverage blogging software such as Wordpress, and other social media sites such as Etsy, Flickr, and Facebook to gain exposure for his plush toys. Again interesting ways to collect and showcase his work.

Each of these artists have used their own talents and resources to showcase their work. However each of them is creating a personal space using the web for their product, which is two fold it encompasses their art, but also their personalities. I believe that either Wordpress or Mahara would give Sulyn's and other students throughout BOCES the ability to showcase their talents and skills on the web.

Lastly I have included a few pieces on Mahara. First is my own portfolio, that I have been testing out and learning about http://portfolio.tadgeobrien.com/view/view.php?id=8.  The second link is a piece on why someone believes that there is value in Mahara http://www.markdrechsler.com/?p=392.

The last is a few links to the Australian e-Portfolio Project and their work. I haven't read all of these but am slowly working through them as time allows. These are large PDF files so they take a bit to load. The main site is at: http://www.eportfoliopractice.qut.edu.au/.