25 Apr

Portfolios and assessment? A workshop

Last week I attended the DEANZ Conference 2016 at the University of Waikato. It was the first time that I participated in the this conference that centers around open, distance, flexible and mobile learning.

At the conference, I facilitated a workshop on Tuesday, 19 April 2016. I titled it “Portfolios and assessment? Ideas for making them work together.” It was an invitation for novice and experienced portfolio users to put their heads together and discuss how portfolios could be used for assessment purposes. While we don’t want to bring in assessment into everything, particularly portfolios that can be so much more than just an assessment task, we can’t escape the reality. Students want to know what they are creating portfolios for and sometimes creating a portfolio for assessment is necessary.

While we may not like it, how we do that is the interesting part because portfolio assessment does not have to be like any other assessment. We can try to do it in a way that suits portfolio work instead of simply replicating activities done through a learning management system.

We started out the workshop getting to know each other (19 people), and particularly our opinion on assessment in a quick fire introduction round. We had the entire spectrum of opinions on assessment represented, and it ranged from ‘the opium of this world’ to being a very important part in the learning process when done correctly. This was a good start because that way we would have good discussions in the small groups to tackle the questions that I wanted participants to discuss:

  1. What do you want portfolio assessment to look like?
  2. How does it differ from other assessment?

The small groups of 3-5 participants engaged in lively discussions and produced the results that you can find in the slides.

Common to the groups was that the assessment of ePortfolios needs to be purposeful and include a reflective element. The latter would allow to dig deeper than in other activities that are assessed because the students’ thinking are queried more. One group mentioned in particular that a portfolio could not just be a library of evidence, but hat the reflection on the gathered evidence was very important and was the aspect that made the portfolio.

The formative aspect of portfolio assessment was also highlighted in a few groups as well as the connection to work-integrated learning. That brought up the question how experts from industry could evaluate a portfolio when they often aren’t experts in assessment. One participant said that university could help facilitate this process and assist. Involving industry in assessing internship portfolios would bring in a different perspective on the work of the students.

It was also mentioned that portfolio assessment was not to be the solution for everything. It should be used when it was appropriate and the activity allowed for it. This brought us back to the purposefulness of the portfolio and the assessment of it.

One group acknowledged that portfolio assessment was often more work, but said it can often more interesting to assess than other activities. Furthermore, it allowed for self- and peer feedback.

ePortfolios can drive better learning because they allow for more interaction with the learning artifacts, allow learners to reflect on their learning and the learning of their peers and can be used for strong formative assessment purposes.

In this discussion we hardly touched on the technical side of things because we needed to look at the concept first. Technology was mentioned briefly a few times when different user groups of the assessment data were mentioned as they would need different lenses into the portfolio and potentially different aggregation of the portfolios they are to look at. Furthermore, multimedia would also play an increasing role in the future going away from text heavy portfolios to more visual portfolios that included more video and images where appropriate and possible.

Portfolios would need to serve many “multi”:

  • multi media
  • multi purpose
  • multi content
  • multi method

This would not always be possible in one single portfolio, but the portfolio content – evidence and reflections – would need to be able to be re-arranged for the specific purpose for which the portfolio is created because there is always an audience for the portfolio.

Our short workshop drew out ideas and thoughts from the participants on the topic of portfolios and assessment, and the results show that there is a lot of different opinions on how portfolios could be used for assessment purposes and what a portfolio should not become. Portfolio should still be student-centered and not just an assessment tool. It is important to keep the purpose of the portfolio in mind and use it wisely instead of just out of necessity or because everybody else uses portfolios.

25 Apr


Hamilton in New Zealand doesn’t have the best reputation and is certainly not one of the prettiest towns in the country. However, I do like going there because it’s usually for conferences that are organized by either the University of Waikato or Wintec. Both tertiary institutions, or rather their staff, know how to organize great events. It’s always nice meeting up with people I know and learn from them and their colleagues.

One of those events earlier in the year was WCELfest16, the eLearning conference of the University of Waikato organized by the WCEL (Waikato Centre for eLearning) team. And yes, you pronounce it like “whistle”. Because pretty much every lecture room is equipped with lecturer recording hardware and software, the WCEL team recorded all sessions, and I recommend checking out the WECELfest resource page (as well as the ones of previous years) for some great presentations.

Terry Anderson keynote

Terry Anderson of Athabasca University was the keynote speaker. He shared insight on engagement and quality in blended and flipped classrooms. A lot of things that Terry presented were not entirely new to me, but it was great to have him mention them to confirm my knowledge as well as provide some nuggets of insight from a different perspective. He provided a good summary of blended learning and why it is important.

Back in 2008 he already said that learning is a dance: The technology sets the beat and the time whereas the pedagogy defines the moves. This is a nice metaphor to describe the connection between technology and pedagogy and shows that both of them are important. Leaving one out would not allow the other to exist.

Terry is an avid supporter of online educational resources (OER) and encourages others to contribute to OER and share their work. In his keynote he stated an obvious truth, but one that needs re-iterating because not many people take it to heart. He said that teachers should get over their shyness and put their material out there because nothing is ever perfect.

I agree with him on that. If we waited until we delivered perfection, nothing would ever be made available online. I’d rather share something and receive feedback on it because then I can review it, revisit it and work on it rather than doubt myself all the time. I try to share as much as possible of my work publicly online. Working on an open source project makes that somewhat easier because a lot of our work needs to be publicly available anyway in order to communicate with our community and do our work.

However, I decided early on that I would also share all my presentations (not work internal ones though when they need to be kept confidential) online and not just the slides, but also the actual recordings to allow those that couldn’t attend an event to benefit from the recording. Since Slideshare nixed its audio recordings in 2014, I still need to re-upload a heap of older presentations and haven’t had the time to stich the audio and the slides together as I have to for a bunch of presentations as I didn’t have screen recording available at the time. But I will get to that eventually.

Nowadays, all my recordings are on YouTube, and my slides are on Slides and also uploaded to SlideShare where people can download them easily.

But back to WCELfest.

ePortfolios in education

I was part of a session that looked at the use of ePortfolios in various contexts. The organizers had asked me to share examples of ePortfolio use around the world before we looked at three examples from the University of Waikato in more detail.

I’m privileged to be working with a lot of great ePortfolio enthusiasts around the world who use Mahara. So I could show a series of examples drawing from the great pool of diverse usage.

There is also a recording of the session.

After this overview, Stephen Bright from the University of Waikato shared his CMALT ePortfolio and explained why he had it set up. It’s an example of a professional development portfolio used to gain accreditation.

He was followed by Richard Edwards who shared his experience using ePortfolios for group work with his student teachers. Mahara didn’t get in the way of the task and allowed the students to be flexible in how they wanted to organize, lay out and present their group portfolios. Often, one person in the group took charge of arranging all content instead of all students working on the portfolio. The students didn’t yet fully exploit all the editing possibilities and thus the portfolios were still very text heavy. Over all, using the ePortfolio allowed students to present their evidence more effectively.

Last but not least, Sue McCurdy presented on work placement portfolios. She described the ePortfolio as evidence collection and “CV on steroids”. The ePortfolio turns a job applicant into a real person, shows real skills and also personality. Sue’s students work quite heavily with images and these depict student behavior well because often the students are subjects in them. Thus, a future employer can see the applicant in action.

Richard Edwards gave another presentation that centred around the different purposes of an ePortfolio. An ePortfolio changes depending on the purpose for which it is created. Therefore, questions of purpose, learning, ownership, agency and structure of the ePortfolio amongst others are important and determine how the ePortfolio is developed and what sort of evidence is put into them. He sums his findings up very well in saying that the task design and the purpose are more important than the choice of the tool.

There were a few other sessions on other topics that I attended. It was clear throughout the day that knowing the “How” of teaching and creating engaging learning activities for and with students is important. Technology is and will continue to play an integral role especially because it allows us to teach and learn in different ways or more flexibly. However, the affordances need to be understood and time given to teachers, instructors and lecturers to experiment, explore and make the technologies part of their teaching repertoire instead of just assuming that everybody knows how best to use them.

13 Apr

Live on air

Two days ago, David Bell asked me whether I’d like to join him and Allison Miller in a session on “ePortfolios for education and life” the following day. I was intrigued because I’ve known both Allison and David for a few years now, and it’s always good to catch up and discuss portfolios with them be it in person or online.

While I’ve participated in a lot of webinars over the years, it was quite the experience. It was my first time being in the presenter area of a hangout live on air. I had participated in a few as an audience member, but now I was in the hot seat. In contrast to webinars, you don’t really see the rest of the audience, and while they can ask questions, I was missing the regular backchannel that can be challenging to follow when you are presenting but is so useful for sharing additional information amongst all participants.

It was a fun experience thanks to the great company I had and a topic that I like. I also enjoyed David’s easy style of asking questions and moderating the session.

31 Jan

Career portfolios – gathering evidence for the Field Guide

At last year’s AAEEBL conference, a new initiative was founded: Writing The Field Guide to ePortfolio. The writing part is accompanied by a series of webinars. The Field Guide is geared towards administrators and decision-makers in higher education. In essence, it’s going to be an executive briefing on ePortfolio and thus a fairly short but information-packed and valuable publication.

Why a Field Guide?

Primarily, the question “How” is going to be answered to support them in realizing the concrete potential of ePortfolios and their place in their institution not just for one department or a small group of students but at scale across the entire campus.

To answer “How”, the Field Guide author team is looking at the following areas to be covered in 12 chapters (working titles):

  1. What does it mean to move to a portfolio-based institutional learning ecology?
  2. Redesigning learning: ePortfolios in support of connected, social, and reflective pedagogies
  3. Authentic learning and teaching
  4. Reflective practice and folio thinking
  5. Learners and the digital era: Digital identity; literacy in digital forms
  6. ePortfolios and institutional challenges: Assessment, outcomes, engagement, retention, completion, quality
  7. New ways to demonstrate achievements: Warranting evidence
  8. Transition to career and career development
  9. Learning analytics and the learner
  10. Creative teaching portfolios
  11. Internationalisation and global learners
  12. How important is the technology

Career portfolios

I chose to be part of chapter 8 and look into portfolios preparing students for their career and support career development. There are four other collaborators on my team from institutions of higher education in Australia and the U.S.A.:

The five of us have the challenge to condense our ideas into three pages for the Field Guide (yes, that includes abstract and references and everything else!). Fortunately, we can link to more extensive resources and case studies elsewhere online. Some of them may sit on the companion website for the Field Guide that is going to be set up.

Our timeline is short (chapter drafts are due by the end of March) and our ideas are many. Currently, we are in the gathering phase, which will come to a conclusion soon. We decided to focus on the following areas for the gathering of articles, research and supporting arguments:

  • Why do we do what we do, i.e. work with ePortfolios?
  • Are employers demanding ePortfolios?
  • Do we need our résumé anymore?
  • Where do authentic experiences come to play?
  • How is the voice of the student translated?
  • What about assessment as work-integrated learning?
  • How is career development and not just career entering supported?
  • What about branding – self- and institution branding, self-marketing and promotion?
  • How do graduate attributes fit in?

These are a lot of areas to cover off in three short pages. During our current brainstorming phase, we may consolidate a bit more and see what we’ll include eventually.

How you can help

While we already have a good amount of information and resources, if you have research or studies or surveys that could support our writing in the above mentioned areas, please let us know in the comments.

For example, we’ve come across a couple of employer surveys from 2008 and 2013 in which they were asked about their position towards ePortfolios. If you conducted your own survey at your institution or with employers recently (within the last two years) it would be great if you could share it. Did you conduct a survey amongst students or graduates or even alumni on their use or perceptions of a career portfolio? Does your career services department have evidence of portfolios supporting students entering the workforce or continuing at university?

Or if you prepared a document for your own administration in which you highlighted reasons for implementing career portfolios and have research for us to look into, please let us know.

10 Jan

Goodbye 2015 and hello 2016

The new year is now already over a week old, but I think it’s still OK to post a review of last year. This is a short one in pictures highlighting some of the places I was fortunate to visit in 2015.

It was an exciting, joyous, adventurous but also sad year (I’m not going to talk about the latter though publicly online [yet]), and I was ready to start 2016. Let’s see what it has in stock.