NECC 2006 is being held in San Diego. I worked with two of my REFLECT site coordinators to make a presentation during the first session on the first morning. We were impressed with the number of people present during that early hour, on the morning after the fireworks. We were also impressed with the types of questions being asked. After the presentation, I ran into other people who were there, and the dialogue continued.
This morning, one person asked me the usual question about my recommendations about free or low cost tools. Of course I said that was not the first question to ask... determine the purpose first, and then look at the tools to best meet those goals. He asked about Elgg, an open source ePortfolio tool. I told him that this software had a lot of promise as a blog, archive and social networking tool, all important components of a working portfolio. However, it is still missing the presentation builder that allows a learner to organize presentation portfolios for different purposes or audiences (a component that is part of their development plan). Of course that is one problem with open source software... without a business model to support the development, it can take longer to implement changes unless there is a regular funding stream. My experience with commercial tools shows that the companies are very responsive to their customer base, and have the resources to support ongoing support and development. Educators in schools need to recognize that they often get what they pay for, and the commercial market needs to look at how to make their products more affordable for schools. Somewhere in between free and $?? there is a sweet spot. I'm not sure we are there yet.
In the Open Source resource area, I found an electronic portfolio being designed to link with Moodle. When I looked at a demo it became apparent that this tool is being created as a digital archive of student work, with reflection on each artifact as it is uploaded. However, it does not have a presentation builder, so that a learner can construct a reflective story about a group of artifacts. While talking to the developer, he indicated that the Open University in the U.K. was building an electronic portfolio that they are tying into Moodle, that has five developers and so they are planning to include a presentation builder with templates. This open source software will supposedly be available in 2007. I hope I will see it at the EuroPortfolio conference in October in Oxford. I also learned that the University of Denver is thinking of modifying their portfolio system and making it available to the public for free.
I just heard Nicholas Negraponte talk about the $100 laptop that is being designed primarily for students in third world countries. Fascinating project. Their website says that they are not marketing to individuals or to school districts in the U.S. Their primary target groups are national governments in the developing world. But I think I have seen a vision of where laptops will be in the next decade. What I like is the low power requirements (>2 watts) and the ability to charge the NiMh battery by human power. I also like the simplicity of the system. I agree with several of his points: we don't need Caps Lock keys, and the software today is very bloated. When I think about what features I currently use in the software I have, and the time it takes to load the system, I long for the days when I could turn on my Radio Shack WP10 and just start writing!
I sat in a presentation on the University of Vermont's Portfolio Connection, a research project on electronic portfolios in teacher education programs throughout the state of Vermont. I was impressed by Joyce Morriss's Webquest on electronic portfolios. Their findings are very interesting: the student assessment portfolios built for accreditation are deadly dull; the professional portfolios that the student construct for showcase and employment are diverse and show the students' authentic voice!