Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Ocotillo discussion

Posted today to Ocotillo Action Group Discussions Forum -> ePortfolio Virtual Guest Discussions:
I am so sorry that I will be on an airplane for the next 24 hours (to Australia), and I'm not sure what kind of Internet connection I will have when I get there, because I want to be able to participate in this discussion. Like David, I was in Vancouver earlier this month, and I am fascinated by the student perspective on their experiences with electronic portfolios. I agree with David's assessment that the current push toward using e-portfolios in the U.S. has elements of the "bandwagon" effect. In my work with Teacher Education programs across the U.S., the demands of accountability and accreditation have created a commercial environment that is, in my opinion, changing the nature of the portfolio, with less emphasis on intrinsic motivation to support learning and more extrinsic motivation as an accountability tool. At the Montreal ePortfolio Canada meeting, one of the representatives from the Minnesota ePortfolio project used the term, "poisoning the well" where learners are getting the wrong impression about portfolios from their only experience with one of the commercial assessment management systems. My colleague Joanne Carney found in her research that there were multiple dilemmas in electronic portfolio development, and the first was the "multiple purpose dilemma." But I digress...

The discussion so far has focused on how to engage learners in reflective activities that help them integrate their learning across courses and disciplines. I am anxious to hear more about David's research. A portfolio has a potential to support that reflective process, but learners need guidance from many faculty experienced in that type of learning...and who can model their own portfolios and folio thinking with their students. From my experience, few faculty have portfolios (other than tenure and promotion "files") and fewer still have electronic portfolios. I believe that before we can ask students to effectively use portfolios to support this type of learning, we need to get faculty engaged. That is what is so exciting about this conversation! For many of us, we didn't have these experiences in our own schooling; as with the integration of technology into teaching and learning, we have to learn as we go.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Laptop Addiction

One of the reasons that I haven't written a lot in my blog in the last four weeks is my three-week trip with sporadic WWW access, beginning with the EuroPortfolio Conference in France, and then sending my Mac laptop in for repair when I returned last week. I received it back today, and I cannot believe the sense of loss I felt during the week it took to get repaired. I still had access to computers at home and away... even a Windows XP laptop to warm my lap last week, and take on my trip to Vancouver. But it just wasn't the same as my Mac OS X G4 laptop. Then when my computer came back, the memory had been removed (a 3rd party upgrade!) and was sitting in little bags in the box. That was not the problem to be repaired! After I settled my anger down, and the man on the 800 number walked me through putting the memory back into the computer, I was back in business. My computer booted up, and there was the picture of my granchildren (my desktop background image). My anxiety slowly faded, and the laptop was comfortably back in my lap. Is there a 12-step program for laptop addiction?

It is almost frightening to realize how attached I am to this little computer... I spend more time with it than I do members of my family. But I also have to remember how much it connects me to the rest of the world: through iChat that kept me connected by voice to my daughter when she was living in Hungary and Alaska; through e-mail, that is my combination "to-do" list and professional communication tool; with my web publishing program, that helps me share my ideas with the world on my website; with my blogs for reflecting on my work and rarely (as in this post) on my feelings. I was able to function with those tools on other computers, since they had most of the same software or used web-based software, but it wasn't the same: a different keyboard means a lack of fluency when you communicate with your fingers (I've been touch typing for decades). I also find using web-mail to be less productive than using a desktop program where I have maintained e-mail files, many dating back for five years or more. Even though I made backups before I sent the computer off for repair, it just wasn't the same!

I'm planning to replace this laptop in the next few months, probably after I go to MacWorld, maybe even before Christmas. I've had this computer for over 2 and a half years, a record for me and laptops (I always wrote a new one into all my grants)! But I want a faster processor, larger hard drive, Bluetooth and a DVD recorder. I'm trying to decide which size to get: the small 12" screen which is even lighter and more portable, or the 15" screen, which is the one I have now... the size of the screen that works best with my middle-aged eyes. Whichever one I get, I know I will get just as attached as this one.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

UBC e-Portfolio Conference

Yesterday I provided the keynote address at the University of British Columbia's e-Portfolio Conference. The theme of the conference was "reflection is not a mirror, it's a lens." I modified my presentation from France and Montreal by adding new ideas on reflection, especially as it relates to the work of Jennifer Moon, James Zull, McDrury & Alterio (the storytelling researchers from New Zealand) and the foundational thinkers: Dewey, Habermas, Kolb, and Schön. It was exciting to be able to explore these ideas, and to share my own synthesis of the literature on reflection, before I related these concepts to digital storytelling and blogging.
Supporting Reflection in Electronic Portfolios: Blogs, Wikis and Digital Storytelling
This presentation will focus on the role of reflection in electronic portfolios and the tools for scaffolding reflection: blogs, wikis, digital stories and built-in forms. The presentation will cover a brief overview of the literature on reflection and learning (Schon, Dewey, Moon), including some new perspectives on storytelling as reflection on experience to improve learning (McDrury & Alterio), and the role of reflection in brain-based learning (Zull).
It was such a pleasure not to talk about assessment and accountability; it was so refreshing to focus on deep learning supported by reflection. I had a full hour for my presentation, and included more digital stories; it was nice not to feel so rushed, like the half hour that I was allowed in Montreal and France. Following my presentation, there were three panels: three faculty members from UBC sharing their experiences with reflection for transfer learning; three researchers discussing The Learning Landscape (David Tosh, Tracy Penny Light and Helen Chen by video conference); and a wonderful student panel. I understand that video of all of the presentations will be online soon.

This was the first e-portfolio conference that I have attended in the last three years that included the learners' voices. It was very validating to hear these students talk about their e-portfolio experiences. There were many ideas that the students expressed that echoed some of my concerns:
  • the commercial tool they used (iWebfolio) was easy to learn but not very creative...not something they would want to show to an employer
  • they questioned (resented?) receiving marks for their reflections... they much preferred a "pass/no pass" approach to evaluation
  • they needed extrinsic motivation to do the portfolio initially, but were starting to see the value in the process

These are challenges that the field needs to address: how to motivate learners to engage in the types of folio thinking that support deep learning. From those students, it was apparent that many were writing their reflections to meet the requirements of the assignment, to get the highest mark, not to really learn from their experience. Many wrote what they thought the faculty wanted them to write, not what they really felt. Perhaps that is another dilemma to add to Joanne's list: the motivation dilemma. These students mentioned that, in their busy lives with many other courses, they only wrote their reflections because it was required for a mark (an extrinsic motivator). Without that requirement, they would not have engaged in the reflection on their own (no intrinsic motivator), even though they got a lot out of the process when they were done. One student indicated that if an activity is not graded it is not valued. What does that say about the impact of evaluation on learning? I know this is the reality of schooling, and these comments came from adult learners who were very articulate. What does that say about trying to get adolescents to reflect on their learning? I think it calls for strategies that are more engaging for young learners. The process of reflection could become the process of filling in blanks on a web-based form. That just doesn't do it! We can do better than that! I think that is why my message about reflective digital storytelling is so well received.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Reflection on Reflection-1

For the last half of last week, I attended the annual conference of the Association for Personal Historians, a professional organization "whose members are dedicated to helping others preserve their personal histories and life stories." Here are a few thoughts I wrote in my PDA during the final session:
As I sit here listening to stories from others telling personal histories, I am reflecting on the differences between introspection in counseling and therapy (something I have limited experience) or personal development (something I have extensive experience, especially with my Fielding friends), personal history storytelling (something I am exploring now in APH), and reflection in portfolios (an essential part of my specialized expertise). It occurs to me that the process is essentially the same. What differs is the purpose and the audience. The emotional content of both is unmistakeable, although in academia we tend to ignore it. I think we should honor the affective side of learning, which shows up in our reflections. That is what is so powerful about storytelling - it gets to the level of what is most important in our lives.
Traveling on the long plane ride back to Seattle, I read more of Jennifer Moon's book on Reflection. She highlights four major theoretical roots of reflection: Dewey, Habermas, Kolb & Schön. I also provided the keynote address for the ePortfolio Canada meeting in Montreal on Saturday. Some of the comments made me think about the differences between:
  • learning portfolio and portfolio learning
  • assessment portfolio and portfolio assessment
The first term in each pair refers to product (portfolio is the noun), the second term represents more of the process (portfolio is the adjective). These two pairs remind me of a discussion in Kathleen Blake Yancey's book, Situating Portfolios. Some time in the near future, I will focus on the meaning behind that difference in terminology. In the meantime, I am preparing for a presentation on Reflection in Electronic Portfolios for the University of British Columbia next Friday, which will probably inspire much more reflection, and entries into this blog.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Summary of Online Tools Study

(Posted to the E-PAC and YahooGroups listservs)
This is a good opportunity for me to share with the E-PAC my "Online Portfolio Adventure" that I conducted this fall, prior to my trip to the EuroPortfolio Conference in France several weeks ago. When I showed some examples of my experiments, Barbara Cambridge recommended that I share my experience with the E-PAC. If you have followed my blog, this will be old news.

Since early September, I have been reconstructing a new version of my electronic portfolio using, to date, 17 different software, services or online portfolio publishing strategies. I started out be constructing an Excel spreadsheet with my favorite artifacts (all weblinks to documents already online), classified those artifacts into categories of competency, which was a constructivist approach to building my portfolio. Then I proceeded to construct my portfolio based on those classifications. You will find a running record of my experiments online at: http://electronicportfolios.org/myportfolio/versions.html

I tried Open Source software, commercial software (including Blackboard's Content System), free website builders, blog software, content management systems and some home-grown tools. I haven't finished exploring all that I want to look at, but you can read my reflections of the process (links to my blog) along with seeing the results using each of the systems (where the account is still active). I also downloaded each version where that option was available, and also stored the downloaded version on my website.

I have not yet drawn any conclusion from this exercise, other than to say that there are definite trade-offs between "ease-of-use" of the commercial data-base driven systems, and the creativity of the other tools that allow the portfolio developer more control over the "look and feel" of their pages. As an experienced computer user and web page developer, I was frustrated with the rigidity and "forms" or "template" approach of the commercial systems as well as the current version of the OSPI. I recognize that this will be important for novice computer users and students who need that type of scaffolding. However, I was looking for the capability of creating alternative pages of my own design in many of these systems, which did not exist. I also wanted to be able to see all of the artifacts that I had uploaded (my digital archive) and was surprised that at least one of the commercial systems did not let me see an inventory/list of my uploaded documents.

I also tried to provide a first look at various characteristics of these systems, including:
- Type of software
- Cost - and How much storage space is provided for the cost
- Who the license agreement is with: the individual who owns the portfolio, or the institution that has adopted/developed the software/service/strategy
- How the portfolios are hosted: centralized server or an institution's or individual's own server space

After going through this exercise (and I am still not done), I have made new friends (and probably made more than a few people mad), but I have learned a lot about what is available in the commercial and open source space. I have also discovered how very different the tools are, and how much the tools impacted the process as well as the final product/outcome. Activity Theory works!

My next task is to look at ePortfolio software built specifically for K-12 students (a much shorter list!). But that will be after I return from the Australia ePortfolio conference in December.

Monday, November 01, 2004

Reflections after EuroPortfolio 2004

Last Friday morning, I gave a keynote address at the second EuroPortfolio conference as well as chairing a session of papers as well as facilitating an open table group on digital storytelling. They kept me very busy! So on Saturday I spent a tiring but wonderful day along the banks of the Seine, walking from Notre Dame to the Eifel Tower. We dragged our computers with us and were able to find a small Internet cafe near The Louvre, where we were able to connect our computers to their Ethernet connection. I never found a wireless connection except at the conference center for two days. But I was able to stay connected the whole time I was in France. My next "nerdy" move will be to see if I can get my cell phone to work on roaming over here. If I start coming over here more often, I might take that step.

I am so pleased that my half hour message made such an impression on folks, especially the speaker who came right after me, Professor Bob Fryer from the National Health Service University, which provides professional development to the largest employer in the UK. I also liked his message as well. What impressed him was the affective nature of what I was saying about the role of storytelling in reflection. Of course, it never hurts to show a 2nd grade autobiography, or a graduate student's letter to a former teacher, or my own story of Choices on The Road Not Taken. We cannot ignore the emotional side of learning, since brain researchers tell us how critical is the affective environment. So I am even more convinced that my new message is right on target: electronic portfolios without digital stories of deep learning --without the learners' authentic voice-- are sterile checklists of skills. As I stated in my presentation:
If your eportfolios are just digital paper (text and images on the screen) you are losing a wonderful opportunity to really tell your story in your own voice. With the capability to add multimedia, audio and video, we can truly create an engaging environment to document the milestones of our lives.
I went on to talk about Story as Legacy. I asked:
What is your story? We all have a story to tell in our portfolios. These digital stories provide opportunities for a richness not possible in print. Some stories will represent the fresh innocence of youth, some will reflect the experiences of a rich life. The audiences might be worldwide, like the BBC Wales, but most likely the audiences will be small and intimate. These digital stories aren't just for professional development, or C.V. --they are our legacy for those who come after us...the stories of our lives we give to our children's grandchildren.
Just a note on technology- I wrote this entire entry on my Clie PDA while either traveling to LaRochelle on the bus or train, or sitting in the Paris airport waiting to board my flight home to the U.S. While I am not able to post to my blog from anywhere (YET!), I can write anywhere. In fact, as I reviewed some of the writings I have stored on my PDA, I realize how much of my best ideas were written using Graffitti!

I was also impressed with Australian Elizabeth Hartnell-Young's presentation on creating portfolios using mobile devices like cell phones, PDAs, etc. And after seeing the demonstration of the e portfolio system being built in Flash at the University of Wolverhampton in the U.K., with input forms sized to fit PDA screens, I am very excited about the possibilities in the next few years.

With the convergence of multiple technologies into mobile devices (i.e., cameras in cell phones and PDAs, voice recorders in high quality digital cameras and PDAs, digital photo storage in MP3 players) we will soon carry in our pockets all the tools we need to record in multimedia the "first draft" of our own personal histories.

And even though the current versions of the mobile technologies resemble the capabilities of the earliest digital cameras and digital audio recorders, I know the quality will only improve. That's what makes this whole field exciting! Even though my current Palm-based device wouldn't hold all of this entry in a single file, it was a minor inconvenience to have to open a second document. I am beginning to appreciate the "division of labor" in the technologies we can use in our e-portfolio and digital storytelling activities.