Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Conferences "Down Under"

I am now stateside, after spending more than two weeks in Australia, ending with the ePortfolio New Zealand conference in Auckland. The ASCILITE conference in Brisbane was an interesting experience. I led a "Learning Circle" at the end of each of the first two days of the conference, focusing on ePortfolios and Digital Storytelling. We asked the participants on the first day to do a "fast write" with their reflections on the conference themes. After collecting their brief jottings, a few came up right away and audio recorded their reflections. The next day, we shared what had been collected so far, recorded a few more, and talked about illustrating the reflections with images. On the last day, we recorded the last of the audio clips, gathered as many images as we could, and then constructed most of two different digital stories in about three hours. In the plenary session on the last day, I showed both stories, even though one was not quite complete. While not the way I would prefer to put together digital stories, I learned what could be done under pressure!

On the following two days, I led workshops at QUT, including a half-day digital storytelling workshop. I was surprised that quite a few of the participants developed one-to-two minute stories that they recorded, after our very short hands-on activity. At least eight people had time to write a brief story and have it recorded.

On Monday, I was in Auckland, providing the opening keynote to the ePortfolio New Zealand conference. This meeting was organized by Eifel, as an extension of their conferences in Europe and last year in Melbourne. Although there were about 60 participants, and the conference only lasted a day and a half, it was a very good conference, one of the best ePortfolio conferences that I participated in. I thought there was a lot of opportunity for dialogue, built into the program and during breaks. On the second day, I shared a session on Digital Storytelling with a professional developer from Australia.

We decided to make the session somewhat interactive and hands-on. After demonstrations of a few digital stories, we asked the participants to spend five minutes doing a short reflection on the conference so far. We then had about a half hour to record their reflections. I have five people who recorded 30 second to one minute reflections. The other person recorded directly into PhotoStory. We played the clips at the end of the conference in the plenary session.

I was skeptical when we planned the ASCILITE activity, but it worked so well that I did a briefer version at the ePortfolio conference. Now, Eifel has some audio to add to their website about the conference. I think it also helped the participants see how the process works within a reflective portfolio framework. Oh, yes, and my new microphone was a great hit and worked beautifully with Sound Studio and with the one Windows computer I hooked it up to during my hands-on workshop in Adelaide. However, it did not work with my version of Audacity for the Mac. Hmmmm....

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Message from "down under"

I had a great 3-way Skype conference this morning with my husband and my daughter connecting us across two oceans and three different continents! I was just getting up (7 AM on Wednesday in Melbourne), it was lunchtime for my husband in Seattle (noon) and my daughter was going to bed in Budapest (9 PM) on Tuesday! The audio was awesome! I am so excited about this technology, that allows any groups to communicate over the Internet for free. The impact on relationships is powerful.

I'm writing this entry from Adelaide in South Australia, near the beginning of a tour "down under" beginning with a private school in Melbourne for two days, now working with the Government of South Australia, Department of Education and Children’s Services, at an ePortfolios for Professional Development conference. On Saturday, I head for Brisbane where I will work with Queensland University of Technology and the ASCILITE conference (more on that to come). I will then go to the ePortfolio New Zealand conference in Melbourne.

I was just blown away by a digital story told by a teacher here in Australia, who reads this blog. He bought the microphone that I recommended in an earlier blog entry. And his digital story about his ePortfolio journey was heartwarming and engaging. A wonderful surprise! I know this blog is being read, at least by a few people. When I explored David Tosh's Elgg blog, he mentioned that this blog was listed on some list of the top 20 educational blogs. I must resolve to make more blog entries, not use my travel schedule as an excuse!

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Motivation, Social Networking and ePortfolios

While at the NERCOMP ePortfolio Users Group meeting earlier this month in Poughkeepsie, one of the participants brought up the issue of student motivation and the popularity of Facebook on his campus. He wondered how to make ePortfolios as popular as Facebook. The value of this site, as well as its competitors, MySpace and Friendster is that they are social networking spaces. They are also voluntary, and Facebook accounts are available through many universities. They are just starting to move into high schools, but the privacy issues are very different because of the age of the participants. The Facebook concept is somewhat unique. According to Facebook's founder, audiences "want to build community around what they're consuming." According to an article in MarketSense:
"What drives the site is an offline dynamic and culture around it." What he means is that the Facebook communities revolve around a particular school. He can walk out into the school grounds and see everyone he knows in the Facebook. It's a closed community in some sense.
I also wonder how we can make ePortfolios more intrinsically motivating... more of a "want to" rather than a "have to" experience. The interface has to be engaging, and easy to use. Perhaps the environment needs to contribute to building community. There has to be a reason to return on a regular basis. Facebook claims that 70% of its users log in daily! The founder of Facebook is a Psychology drop-out from Harvard, not an IT major. Maybe that's what we need in the ePortfolio community: more developers who understand human nature than those who understand technology. My recent experience tells me that the technology can get in the way.

One of the principles I found in my dissertation research over 15 years ago is a simple equation: the benefits of any change must exceed the cost of that change. With the Internet, the benefits have become obvious and motivated a lot of the population to learn a whole new set of skills... and spawned a whole new way of life and conducting business. We are glimpsing the benefits for learning and schooling (I purposefully separated those two terms), using ICT to facilitate the teaching and learning process (another purposeful distinction). But learners need to see the benefits for developing an ePortfolio. We need to look at human nature to find that motivation. That's why I think these social networking tools, including blogs, have motivated young people to get engaged with them, but the goal isn't the use of technology... it is the connection to other people. That is the challenge for the ePortfolio movement today...

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Assessing Personal Portfolios

Today I received the following e-mail message:
Our Teacher Education dept. is having students keep one portfolio according to INTASC standards and then a second one that the students will organize and create for themselves. We have rubrics created for the first portfolio, but are wondering what you would recommend concerning how we would assess the portfolio they create for themselves.
Here is my response:
Why would you need to assess a portfolio that the students create for themselves? Why not have the students self-assess their own portfolio? They should have set some goals for their own portfolio. Did they meet those goals? How would they improve it? How will they update their portfolio as their "living history of a teaching/learning life?"

You know, then we treat a personal document, like a student's own portfolio, like any other assignment (such as assessing it), then they tend to have that same type of attitude toward it... just another assignment, or hoop to jump through (like their INTASC portfolio). Their own portfolio should be theirs to assess. If anything, you assess their self-assessment. Of course there will be some students that only work for a grade, and won't put much effort into anything that "doesn't count." Sadly, they are a product of our extrinsically-motivated education system. So if you must, only assess it as completed (Pass or "Not Yet"), with no quality indicators, other than those determined by the students themselves. Hopefully, they can be shown that their portfolio is meant to be their own "story" of their journey to become a professional educator. And we hope that in their own portfolio, they are modeling a lifelong learning strategy that they will share with their own students.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

The "e" in ePortfolio stands for "exciting"

I've just left EIFEL's EuroPortfolio conference, this year held in Cambridge, England. The first day was billed as a "PlugFest" which focused on the IMS technical specifications and showcasing interoperability between different systems. I wrote the following slide for my presentation the next day:
If we build it, will they use it?
And HOW will they use it?
What about the users?
What is the relationship between the capabilities
(and interoperability) of the tools, and the extent to which
they are used for lifelong and lifewide learning?
Why would learners want to use an ePortfolio?
I am concerned that more effort is going into tool development and not into the important human dimensions of this process.

During my opening keynote presentation, I emphasized:
  • Context: 21st Century Learning (Partnership for 21st Century Learning, Friedman & Dan Pink
  • Product: Digital Archive for Life (mostly the contents of my blog entry on 9/24 plus Educause Review article)
  • Process: Portfolios and Reflection
  • Digital Storytelling - In a half hour keynote, I only had time for one example of a reflective digital story. I also made sure that I only re-used a few slides from my speech last year.
I had a lot of fun talking about the progression of e-portfolio technology, starting on computer desktops, moving to CD-R, the Internet, DVD-R and now "pocket tech" pulling lots of items out of my pockets: iPods, flash drive, and three cameras - my new small Casio, my cell phone, and my Palm Zire 72.

I find these Eifel conferences very interesting, since they bring together people with many interests in e-portfolios from around the world. The proceedings document also provides many new perspectives to add to the literature on ePortfolios. I appreciated the paper by Simon Grant from CETIS that clarified a lot of the language/definitions around ePortfolios. There were also a lot of papers presented by a group from the University of Wolverhampton, and their PebblePAD system. I hope to get an account on their system so that I can see how it works, as well as a couple for my grandchildren on the version that they are adapting for primary school students. I really need to revisit my study of online portfolios, and add a few more: Carnegie Foundation's open source KEEP Toolkit, PebblePAD from the UK, and Interact's new ePortfolio add-on.

The focus on reflection this year was also encouraging. One of the plenary speakers on the second morning showcased her reflective portfolios with her student teachers, and was very emphatic about the role of reflection is critical thinking and analysis. I am really looking forward to the next Eifel ePortfolio conference in Auckland, after my two weeks in Australia. This will be an opportunity for me to reconnect to my friends in New Zealand, and continue the dialogue down there.

Oh yes, the title for this entry came from one of the participants in the Cambridge conference, who made that statement after the opening plenary session on the second morning. "Exciting Portfolios!" Sounds good to me! I hope we implement them in a way that the users agree!

Monday, October 24, 2005

Working with 2nd grader

I spent a few wonderful hours this weekend with my younger granddaughter, digitizing the documents for her first grade portfolio. She was able to scan her documents with PhotoShop Elements. She even remembered where to Import and which menu item to use. She knew how to name her files so we knew what was in them. We also played with my brand new USB microphone. It is a commercial-grade condensor microphone that only needs a USB connection. We had fun recording her reading and talking. We now have almost all of her Kindergarten and First grade work digitized, but all of the artifacts are in JPEG format. I still need to convert them into PDF and then we still need to find the right authoring tool for the presentation portfolio. But that will need to wait until I return from Europe.

Friday, October 21, 2005

New NAP book

I just downloaded a new book (in PDF) from the National Academies Press: Rising Above The Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future by the Committee on Prospering in the Global Economy of the 21st Century: An Agenda for American Science and Technology, National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine. As described in today's The Scout Report:
For most of the 20th century, the United States was the pre-eminent leader in many enterprises that were based on advanced scientific and technological knowledge. In recent years, there has been a growing concern that the US may be losing its competitive advantage as other countries (such as India and China) continue to invest heavily both in higher education and the training of scientists and engineers. This very provocative and insightful 504-page report from the National Academy of Sciences takes a critical appraisal of the current state of these affairs, and also offers four primary recommendations along with twenty ideas about how best these recommendations might be achieved over the coming years. Some of these primary recommendations include creating attractive merit-based scholarships for those who wish to become K-12 science educators and lobby policy-makers to fight for tax incentives for innovation that is based in the United States. For those interested in this rather compelling issue, this is a report that is worthy of considerable time and attention.
I have a new PDF book to read on my upcoming flight to Europe!

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Online ePortfolio Research- elementary version

After focusing on higher education for so many years, the REFLECT Initiative is letting me work in secondary education, mostly researching high school e-portfolios. But finding tools that work with elementary students is a personal passion of mine. I just spent the last two days helping my granddaughters work on their electronic portfolios. The older one is in 5th grade now, the younger one in second grade. I was very actively engaged with the older one when she was in Kindergarten, first and second grade, partly because we showcased those portfolios at three different conferences, including NECC 2002 in San Antonio and NECC 2003 in Seattle. So the deadlines helped us get those projects finished. But with my increased travel in the last two years, and the fact that I now had two granddaughters to work with, we have not finished their e-portfolios. In the summer of 2004, we scanned all of their 2003-2004 work (third grade and kindergarten, respectively), but never organized it into any type of presentation portfolio. Since the girls had two days off school last week, and I was home, we decided to devote some time to the project.

In the past, we have used desktop common tools to construct these portfolios. The first Kindergarten portfolio was constructed using PowerPoint, converted to PDF, with lots of video inserted. The first and second grade portfolios were constructed with iPhoto and also converted to PDF. Because of their ages, most of their work was NOT created on computer, which meant we needed to do a lot of digitizing. That's why iPhoto worked well in the past to organize an entire presentation portfolio, and may work well to construct smaller pieces of these newer versions. But with the older girl now in 5th grade, she can handle major components of the work, and it just might get done! But now the task becomes finding the right tool so that she can work on her own portfolio!

We spent a lot of time scanning and taking digital photos of their work (the 5th grader scanned all of her own work, but I'm going to put a lot of the larger artifacts together into small PDF files using iPhoto books to group the separate scanned pages into single documents). We have a lot of individual images that need to be combined together into single multi-page documents, and PDF is the best format for the final versions of science fair projects, poetry books, etc. My mother gave them her old blue clamshell iBook with 284K RAM, 2 GB HD, OS 8.6, with Internet Explorer and an Airport card that I added to make it useful. Not sure I want to upgrade it any more, so it would only work for basic Internet access, not constructing a portfolio with desktop tools. I also took my daughter's old first-generation white iBook out, which I had just reformatted and installed Tiger. We used that computer for scanning with a small, cheap Canon (very slow). I sat with the 5th grader and showed her how to use TaskStream, thanks to their generosity providing me with two accounts, and she set up her first web page with little problem, using the oldest iBook (hers) connected to the home wireless network. She also uploaded some files from her parents' PC to a folder in her TS account, a much faster way to transfer those files from home or the PCs at her school.

I'll see how independent she can be without me sitting next to her. Her younger sister is another issue. As a 2nd grader with a lot shorter attention span, I'm not sure this program will work for her. We didn't get all of her work scanned today, but it leaves us something to do the next time I go out there. I will be experimenting with other tools over the next few months. This blog may be documenting another "online portfolio adventure" but focusing on early childhood-appropriate tools. One contribution that I made to their process was to donate my old 2 megapixel Sony mini-Cybershot camera to their family (the one that is the size of a Snickers candy bar... I have decided to move to a smaller credit card-sized camera). Several years ago, we gave them our old Mavica, that uses floppy disks, which worked OK, but the younger granddaughter has taken more pictures with my Cybershot, and knows how to work it very well.

The real challenge has been what I remembered when I set up my first e-portfolio: gathering all of the artifacts from different storage places. Another reason for an online digital archive. But I thought this picture, documenting the production stations, showed our progression in technology: my current G4 latest generation Powerbook, a first-generation white iBook, and a first generation blue clamshell iBook. All of them did their job in getting this project re-started!

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Education in a Flat World

In doing a Google search on Thomas Friedman's perspective on education, I came across a Press Release from the U.S. Department of Education with remarks by Margaret Spellings, US DOE Secretary, to the National Association of Manufacturers Meeting in DC, September 28, 2005. She quotes Friedman's concerns that "people won't even acknowledge that there is an education gap emerging and that there is an ambition gap emerging and that we are in a quiet crisis." She goes on to point out the efforts of:
states measuring our children's progress each year in reading and math, and by focusing on each student, and on each group of students, we can discover where they need help before it's too late.
The problem with these annual tests is that they do not give the results in a timely-enough manner so that changes can be made in the "teachable moments" that Spellings refers to earlier in her speech. She also reiterates Friedman's concerns:
As a nation, we have no more important task than to help our children develop academic skills, and character, and a little ambition if we are going to succeed in this flattening world...

But the long-term solution is to make sure that every member of our rising generation has the education and skills to succeed in the 21st century. The education gap, the achievement gap—the quiet crisis—will cast a very long shadow over our future if we do not summon the will to stay competitive. And competitiveness begins with education.
Competitiveness also begins with imagination and innovation. Spellings also provides examples of school districts who have achieved their "No Child Left Behind" goals, but does not provide any details. I wonder how many of those goals were achieved through mind-numbing drills that achieve short term gains in the reading and math skills measured by standardized tests, but do not address the kinds of competencies that will lead to innovation and success in a Flat world... those right-brain abilities identified by Daniel Pink (discussed in my August 15 blog entry): design, story, symphony, empathy, play, and meaning. Portfolios, not standardized tests, can document those abilities. If only our education leaders would put as many resources into classroom-based, formative assessment FOR learning as they do into state-wide summative assessment OF learning! Then, based on the work of the Assessment Reform Group from the U.K., researchers Black & Wiliam and the Assessment Training Institute's Rick Stiggins, we would see more student engagement and improvement of their own work.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Digital Archive for Life

I must admit it: I'm a CNN junkie! The news in the last three weeks has been riveting! I was in a hotel room in Minneapolis with CNN on all last night, and I woke up around 3 AM as Hurricane Rita was making landfall. The reporters all seemed to be saying the same thing, but they were in the middle of the action, although I often tire of the repetition of CNN's schedule (in the evening, wait three hours, and you'll hear Larry King, again!). But still, when reporting a live event, I'm hooked... even at 3 AM. I am relieved that Rita was not as destructive as Katrina. But with the triple blows to Florida last year, and the devastation so far this year, it makes you wonder about the impact of global warming... but that is a discussion for someone else's blog.

I mourned for the devastation of New Orleans. I have many fond memories of that city: my first trip there for ISTE's last Tel-Ed conference in 1998, over a Halloween weekend, where we gaped at the antics on Bourbon Street; the two weekends that my husband and I spent there before and after a Caribbean cruise that left from the dock behind the RiverCenter Mall; the NECC conference in 2004, held in that infamous convention center; my PT3 visit to the University of New Orleans to talk about ePortfolios on their Lake Pontchartrain campus; another PT3 keynote address to another group of student teachers at a conference at Loyola University; and at least one AERA conference held there. It was such a good conference city; I hope New Orleans returns to its vibrancy. I've heard of several education conferences that were scheduled in New Orleans that are being moved to other locations. It makes me sad. The city needs the revenue more than ever!

But on a less personal note (for me), what I found especially poignant about the Katrina news stories were the pictures of the "lost" children that CNN showed last week. They say that showing those pictures resulted in at least a dozen solved cases. But I was also concerned about the devastation that the citizens of Louisiana endured. In addition to the tragic loss of lives and homes, hurricanes also wipe out family artifacts, physical memorabilia including family photographs and videos. I remember the story of the man who kept a diary every day of his adult life, only to have it wiped out when his New Orleans home was flooded. I remember all of the silhouettes on CNN after Hurricane Katrina, where families no longer had the photographs of their missing children to post online. However, in a few instances, teachers who saw student names listed on TV, sent in their photos to the CNN website. This anecdote illustrates the central role that schools can play in the preservation of these artifacts. How can schools help families to preserve these artifacts in multimedia formats, and post them online in free websites like OurMedia.org?

There is a movement in Canada and Europe to establish an electronic portfolio for every citizen by 2010. As I wrote in an earlier blog entry, the potential of e-portfolios to support lifelong and life wide learning is limited only by our current technologies, limited experience, and narrow vision. Instead of an e-portfolio, a concept that is not widely understood, what would happen if every citizen was issued personal web server space that they would own for a lifetime? Like a virtual indexed filing cabinet, this Digital Archive for Life (DAL) would provide space to store the raw materials for e-portfolios, archives of family records, genealogy and digital stories, autobiographies, child development data (such as digital versions of New Zealand's "Plunket books"), evidence of personal and professional accomplishments, and all kinds of personal information. From cradle to grave, we could store and celebrate the results of lifelong and life wide learning. And in cases of tragedies, like hurricanes or floods or the isolated cases of home fires, or the more likely catastrophic hard drive crash, we would have our memories preserved.

The other issue that the victims of Katrina faced was the loss of personal records: health records, financial records, the documentation of our lives that we all take for granted... until it is destroyed. I remember the stories of the doctors who had to use their best professional guesses as to prior health history while practicing what they said was worse than 3rd World medicine! Who knows if they would have access to the Internet in a disaster, but what if we had a smart card that we could carry in our purses or wallets, just as we usually never leave home without our credit cards, where our medical history could be stored for just these types of emergencies. I understand that these cards are used in Germany to store medical history and health care information. In the richest country in the world, why don't we have access to this type of information? This subject was briefly mentioned tonight on CNN, of having more electronic medical records. Perhaps that is a deficit of our decentralized health care system, but that is also a topic for someone else's blog!

But the point of this blog entry is not to advocate for more cards to carry in my purse. This information needs to be stored online, in a server bank that is built like the Internet, to be able to withstand a catastrophic event, with redundancies and security, as a place to store our personal information, artifacts, memories. I pay $7.77 a month for 5 GB of server space to store my electronicportfolios.org website (and I don't use 20% of it!). I just received notice that .Mac accounts have increased storage space to 1 GB for $99 a year (it's about time!). This is not a lot of money out of my pocket. But I'm a techie... it's what I do. Where is the easy-to-use webspace for the average citizen to store their essential information? Yahoo only gives 15 MB. The Gmail service from Google offers 2.5GB of e-mail storage! They also host the Blogger service, that I use to create this blog. That is all a good start. But what we need is that Digital Archive for Life, where we can store our most important information... so that we won't lose our favorite digital photographs due to a hard drive crash. Backups to CD-Recordable discs or even DVD aren't the long-term answer. Who knows how long that media will last, or can be read, and physical media can be destroyed in a disaster? We need reasonable online storage space, with a transparent, idiot-proof content management to organize it... our own personal archivist!

I used to advocate for portfolios stored to CD-ROM (or now DVD). I realize now that is an interim solution. Just in the last week, I've experienced the weaknesses of online portfolio systems that go down for technical reasons; I've also been frustrated when the network in a school is down, making training nearly impossible. But that is no reason not to move in this direction. What we really need are online repositories for high quality content (including DVD-quality video, not the emaciated versions of movies that individuals can stream today). Some day, we will have the bandwidth to handle that type of data, as corporations and cable companies are able to do today. But what do families do with their precious family memorabilia? That is our challenge! Anyone want to join me in this pursuit?

Sunday, August 28, 2005

EPortfolio New Zealand

I decided to participate in the ePortfolio New Zealand conference that will be held in Auckland on December 12-13, 2005. It just delays my departure from "down under" by three days. That conference follows e-portfolio meetings in Adelaide (December 1-2) and Brisbane (ASCILITE conference on December 4-7 and Queensland University of Technology ePortfolio Symposium on December 8-9).

Monday, August 15, 2005

A Whole New Mind

Last week, I bought (and read completely on a cross-country flight) Daniel Pink's new book. A Whole New Mind: Moving from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age. As the inside cover states:
A groundbreaking guide to surviving, thriving, and finding meaning in a world rocked by the outsourcing of jobs abroad and the computerization of our lives.
Pink refers to the "left-brain" dominance of the Information Age which needs to be balanced with the artistic and holistic "right-brain" dominance of the Conceptual Age. Pink points out three factors that are fueling this change: Abundance, Asia, and Automation, and that right-brain thinking has become a critical component of successful companies who must compete with lower-priced workers from Asia. He outlines six essential high-concept, high touch aptitudes or senses that will be essential for success in the near future, and some are already essential in this age of outsourcing (excerpts below from pp.65-67):
  1. Design (not just function) - "It's no longer sufficient to create a product, a service, an experience, or a lifestyle that's merely functional. Today it's economically crucial and personally rewarding to create something that is also beautiful, whimsical, or emotionally engaging."
  2. Story (not just argument) - "When our lives are brimming with information and data, it's not enough to marshal an effective argument... The essence of persuasion, communication, and self-understanding has become the ability also to fashion a compelling narrative." [and he uses digital storytelling as one of those examples!]
  3. Symphony (not just focus) - "What's in greatest demand today isn't analysis but synthesis--seeing the big picture and, crossing boundaries, being able to combine disparate pieces into an arresting new whole."
  4. Empathy (not just logic) - "But in a world of ubiquitous information and advanced analytic tools, logic alone won't do. What will distinguish those who thrive will be their ability to understand what makes their fellow woman or man tick, to forge relationships, and to care for others."
  5. Play (not just seriousness) - "Ample evidence points to the enormous health and professional benefits of laughter, lightheartedness, games, and humor."
  6. Meaning (not just accumulation) - "We live in a world of breathtaking material plenty. That has freed hundreds of millions of people from day-to-day struggles and liberated us to pursue more significant desires: purpose, transcendence, and spiritual fulfillment.
Pink makes the point "...back on the savanna, our cave-person ancestors weren't taking SATs or plugging numbers into spreadsheets. But they were telling stories, demonstrating empathy, and designing innovations. These abilities have always comprised part of what it means to be human. But after a few generations in the Information Age, these muscles have atrophied. The challenge is to work them back into shape." (p.67)

I will continue his discussion of Story in a later blog entry. Dan Pink's book goes along very well with Friedman's book, but provides much more practical suggestions about how to make the transition (something he calls a "Portfolio" of strategies at the end of each chapter on the "six senses").

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

E-Portfolios and NCLB

I received an e-mail today with the following questions:
What is the connection between electronic portfolio usage in schools and NCLB compliance? How do I persuade teachers, parents, and school administrators to embrace electronic portfolios at the district level?...Do you know of any resources that detail the connection between e portfolio usage and adherence to NCLB?
I responded with the following: You ask some interesting questions. I am curious why you want to persuade teachers, parents and school administrators to embrace electronic portfolios at the district level? For what purpose? There are many ways to implement electronic portfolios, and according to Activity Theory, the instruments (or tools) have a major impact on the outcome of the process, as does the purpose. Are you looking for an electronic portfolio, or an assessment management system? They are different tools, with different goals and outcomes. One is student-centered, the other is institution-centered.

Keep in mind that virtually all of my experience with e-portfolios has been in Teacher Education/Higher Education. My sense about electronic portfolios in K-12 schools is that the emphasis on portfolios has diminished since the passage of NCLB. Although some states use them for high stakes accountability, I still see paper portfolios in general to be a classroom or school-based implementation. I believe that the purpose for their use has a great deal to do with their effectiveness to support student learning. I also believe that to use e-portfolios effectively, the schools need to meet the ISTE Essential Conditions as a pre-requisite for implementation. Just on the basis of access to technology and skilled educators, many schools could not support the effective implementation of e-portfolios.

I suggest that you also read the White Paper that I wrote for TaskStream that is also on my website. You might also read the paper that I wrote with Joanne Carney entitled, "Conflicting Paradigms and Competing Purposes in Electronic Portfolio Development" submitted to Educational Assessment, an LEA Journal, for an issue focusing on Assessing Technology Competencies, July 2005.

The real issues around e-portfolios have to do with the purpose for assessment: assessment of learning (summative) or assessment for learning (formative and classroom-based)? In my opinion, high stakes portfolios are killing portfolios for learning; that is, portfolios used for accountability are not student-centered and are mostly despised by both students and teachers (see my blog entry of February 11, 2005). However, e-portfolios used as assessment for learning, to provide the type of feedback that supports student reflection and improvement of learning, have the potential to engage students in their own self-assessment. Some e-portfolio systems are also assessment management systems, and some are work flow managers that effectively facilitate feedback between students and teachers. I just wrote an entry in my blog about just this issue and its relationship to transformational ICT.

That type of system has the potential to support assessment for learning which Rick Stiggins proposes can increase student test scores at least one-half to two full standard deviations. In addition to Rick Stiggins and Anne Davies, I draw on the work of the Assessment Reform Group in the U.K. and the meta-analysis of Black and Wiliam to guide my thinking on the role of portfolios to support Assessment FOR Learning.

While we are not directly studying the relationship between e-portfolio usage and the accountability requirements of NCLB, the REFLECT Initiative will be studying the role of electronic portfolios in learning, engagement and collaboration through technology. This research project, sponsored by TaskStream, is the first national research project that seeks to answer a series of questions about the use of electronic portfolios in high schools (primarily). We are not only providing tools to students, but providing professional development to teachers around issues of student engagement, assessment for learning, project-based learning, effective implementation of technology, digital storytelling and reflection to support deep learning.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Work Flow and the Flat World

As I finish the first TaskStream-sponsored regional workshops for The REFLECT Initiative, I've realized that this particular customized system is more than an online digital archive, electronic portfolio and assessment management system. It is really a "work flow" manager, handling the flow of work from students to teachers and assessors. This whole idea of "work flow" in classroom-based assessment has not been emphasized enough. As I see the interconnectedness of the tools, I get a glimpse of an environment that has the potential to streamline the teaching/learning/assessment process. These are the types of tools that have revolutionized global business.

I've been wanting to make a blog entry about Thomas Friedman's book, The World is Flat. As Friedman says, "the global playing field is being flattened" by the effective use of a variety of information and communications technologies. His book is subtitled, "a brief history of the twenty-first century." He outlines the ten flatteners that are revolutionizing the global supply chain of services and manufacturing since Y2K. His MITWorld Real video conference, recorded May 16, 2005, provides a good synopsis of his book, but I highly recommend reading the entire 473 pages. It is a fascinating look at the global economy where our students will need to compete in the future.

When I was at NECC, the head of the George Lucas Education Foundation recommended that all educators read this book. Friedman's chapters on education, that he calls "The Quiet Crisis" and "This is Not a Test" should be required reading of all teachers, principals, superintendents, parents... all of the stakeholders in education. He discusses some dirty little secrets, like the Numbers Gap (the low percentage of science and engineering degrees in the U.S. compared to India and China); the Ambition Gap (declining work ethic and career goals); and the Education Gap (not enough students in the pipeline with sufficient preparation for science, math and computing careers).

What does educational work flow management software have to do with the global economy? The challenge for education is to adapt to using information and communications technologies (ICT) to help narrow these gaps. It's not enough to just put computers into the hands of students and teachers. Businesses found that the presence of computers did not, by itself, make the difference; their productivity didn't increase until the underlying work flow and processes were revolutionized/re-engineered/transformed by ICT. Friedman's book is full of these examples in business. The challenge for us in education is to find those flatteners, before it is too late, when we can no longer afford it. The potential exists for using technology to provide all stakeholders with just-in-time information about student learning and achievement, while also providing an environment where students can track their own progress, assess their own work, and tell their own stories with pride through their online portfolios. Perhaps these tools could be one powerful flattener in education.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

A new keynote topic

I've just sent the following description to the EuroPortfolio conference for my keynote at their next meeting in Cambridge, England on October 27, 2005:
Title: E-portfolios: digital stories of lifelong and lifewide learning
Description: The potential of e-portfolios to support lifelong and lifewide learning is limited only by our current technologies, limited experience, and narrow vision. Let's imagine what could happen if every citizen was issued personal web server space that they would own for a lifetime? This Digital Archive for Life (DAL) would provide space to store the raw materials for e-portfolios, archives of family records, genealogy and digital stories, autobiographies, child development data (such as digital versions of New Zealand's "Plunket books"), evidence of personal and professional accomplishments, and all kinds of personal information. From cradle to grave, see examples of how we could store and celebrate the results of lifelong and lifewide learning.
This keynote will give me an opportunity to focus on a variety of developments that are already taking place, like OurMedia and other websites that offer more limited free webspace, such as this blogging service! I can also share more of our digital family stories. In a half hour, I won't have time to share my thoughts on the importance of reflection, storytelling and deep learning, but I'll make sure I model it!

A Week on Vancouver Island

For the last six days, I have been on Vancouver Island, participating in a Symposium on Assessment for Learning sponsored by Anne Davies of Classroom Connections International. I participated last year in a different capacity, but this year, I came with a project to complete in this "hothouse" environment. It has been an excellent transition to my new role in K-12 education. The week also takes me back to summer sessions in Santa Barbara with my graduate program: intense, rejuvenating, high task but also high touch. I realize now that I miss those opportunities for intense learning, that I came for one reason, but am leaving with other perspectives. I realize how much I get out of these experiences with people who share similar philosophies and values. Of course Kingfisher Lodge is a lot different from LaCasa, but both places now provide many pleasant memories.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

A New Article

The first of three EDUCAUSE reports, titled "An Overview of E-Portfolios," is now published at:

According to one of the authors, George Lorenzo, the second and third reports on e-portfolios - one on teaching and learning and another on institutional e-portfolios - are near completion.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Final N.Z. Report

I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to New Zealand, taking this opportunity to reflect on my last two days. My conversations with the Ministry of Education on Tuesday were very interesting. In my first meeting with the tertiary (higher education) group, we talked about the need for coordination between the various sectors. We also talked about the potential for using Interact, which I will be following the development with great interest. There was some discussion about Moodle, but I didn't know if an e-portfolio component was under development, like with Interact. We emphasized the importance of building a digital archive that would follow a learner across the different sectors.

My meeting with the early childhood people was most interesting. They shared with me their curriculum materials (I took home a notebook, CD and DVDs, which I still need to read/watch). We found a lot of common ground. They showed me some of their "learning stories" and I showed them excerpts from my granddaughter's e-portfolio. I also showed them some digital stories and we talked about the possibilities with some of their early childhood centers. Many of those learning stories contained digital images plus text, so I explained (very briefly) the process of taking digital images and turning them into short videos with narration (digital stories).

On Wednesday, I met with a group at the University of Auckland. They were intending to use the Open Source Portfolio, and we had a long discussion over lunch about the philosophy of portfolios (purpose, audience, student-centered vs. institution-centered, etc.). When I made the statement that electronic portfolios should begin a birth and last a lifetime, one member of their group immediately said, "I agree!" From then on, our conversation focused around the need for compatibility across educational sectors (echoes of my discussion on the previous day). They mentioned the "Plunkett book" that every child in New Zealand receives at birth from a visiting nurse, where their growth and development is recorded. There was a lot of energy in our discussion around the digitization of the contents of that book, even imagining the potential for digitally updating those records using wireless technology like the delivery truck drivers have now!

We also talked about Donald Norman's concept of the "information appliance" and the direction of the iPod/Palm/iPaq/PDA technologies. We did a lot of visioning and also discussed the upcoming semantic web, something that I really need to study in more detail.

I thoroughly enjoyed our conversation. What is intriguing to me is the potential for these visions to become a reality in a country the size of New Zealand. Of course, the infrastructure requirements need to be addressed, especially that seamless digital archive of a learner's development/life work, from cradle to retirement and beyond. Reminds me of that article in Educause that I mentioned in an earlier blog entry.
Beyond the Electronic Portfolio: A Lifetime Personal Web Space
Rather than limit people to the e-portfolio model, why not develop a model providing a personal Web space for everyone, for their lifetimes and beyond?

Those possibilities press so many of my hot buttons: e-portfolios, digital stories of deep learning, digital family stories, autobiographies, etc. I feel so privileged to be a part of these conversations. I am so thankful for this opportunity. I look forward to continuing this dialogue with educators in New Zealand. It is so exciting to follow what is possible when there is a will, and not too much bureaucracy to get in the way!

Sunday, July 17, 2005

A Wonderful Week in N.Z.

I have been in New Zealand for a week, and my head is just spinning! First, I participated in the ULearn05 conference in Auckland during the first three days last week. It reminds me of the special quality of our early Alaska computer conferences. It was a special treat for me to reconnect with Ian Jukes as well, who was a favorite presenter at our early Alaska conferences. I enjoyed sharing my passion for digital storytelling, both in a hands-on workshop and in my closing keynote address on Wednesday afternoon. I was really impressed with the special Maori ceremonies that opened and closed the conference. I just wish I understood what was being said.

On Thursday, I traveled to Christchurch, and had a short meeting with the developer of Interact, about the portfolio tools that he is building into this open source learning management software. I am very interested in the development of this software. I had downloaded an earlier version of Interact and placed it on my own server space, since the requirements were simply PHP and MySQL. I am anxious to see the next version of the software, which he hopes to have ready by the term starting in August. On Friday, I met with the Christchurch College of Education, and by the end of the afternoon, I had more converts to doing digital storytelling as part of e-portfolios.

On Friday evening, I flew to Dunedin for the weekend. I spent many hours this weekend with the authors of the book on Learning through Storytelling in Higher Education. My head is still spinning from our wonderful conversations this weekend. I will be thinking about our dialogue a lot over the next few weeks. For the first time, I made a presentation to nurse educators plus some hands-on e-portfolio activities in a computer lab, and showed a lot of digital stories. Yep, more converts to digital storytelling! It became apparent that health care professionals can use digital stories in their practice. It was very special to talk about reflection at such a deep level with these "experts" on storytelling in learning. Today we had more dialogue and I showed more digital stories. Their observations about the poetic quality of many of these stories confirmed my own impressions, shared at the Kean conference in June.

I have returned to Christchurch, preparing for three more days of meetings before my return home. This has been a magical trip. There is something very special about the people of New Zealand! I hope to come back on a regular basis!

Thursday, July 07, 2005

One Portfolio for Life?

There is a movement in Europe and in Canada to create "E-Portfolios for Every Citizen by 2010." There is also a discussion of "one portfolio for life" which evokes many reactions. My initial response was to separate the one "digital archive of my work" for life, and the multiple presentation portfolios that I might develop for different purposes and audiences throughout my life. I know there is an effort to build systems that integrate all aspects of our digital lives, or as Serge Ravet expressed it,
  • My digital clone - A digital representation/extension of my self – my eSelf
  • My work companion - A tool blended into my learning/working environment
  • My butler - A service provider to one’s self
  • My dashboard - An informative display of the state of my skills and knowledge
  • My planner - A tool to plan my learning
  • My IPR management assistant - A tool to value and exploit my personal assets
An educator from New Zealand sent me a link to an entry from her blog, discussing issues around digital identity:
In time our e-portfolio record of learning might develop into a massive “learning identity construction” digitized database “A real celebration of learning across a lifetime” that would make today's efforts seem mute, silent screen versions in comparison.

The tension in this extrapolation is that it is not unlike the “consumer identity construction” information databases that can already reveal our predilection for hanging out in wine bars and txting lovers at the end of the day.

The e-portfolio might be likened to "wiki for data from a security camera, VISA card statement and mobile phone bill", in that both allow the construction of digital identity.

And both might misprepresent the complexity of what it is to be human through representing identity as data.
My concern, in our rush to jump on the bandwagon of "a portfolio for all" and "portfolio as digital identity," we are missing the essential purpose of portfolio as a concept and process as well as product. By broadening the concept of the portfolio, we may be thereby weakening its use for learning. Once again, I remember Catherine Lucas' cautions about portfolio use, especially "the weakening of effect through careless imitation." The broader definition of portfolio also serves to confuse the issues.

I recently heard about assignments in an "electronic portfolio class" where students were asked to create an electronic portfolio for a dog or a cat! If the "heart and soul" of a portfolio is reflection, how can you create a portfolio for a dog or cat? It seems to me that they are creating more of a digital scrapbook than a portfolio. Again, the problem is with definition. A portfolio is a personal document, not a documentary. That class sounds more like a website development course, which just furthers the confusion of what an electronic portfolio really is.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

NECC05 Conference

I can finally relax. All of my presentations are over. I did a hands-on workshop for NECC on Sunday. Then, I met with the site leaders of the TaskStream REFLECT Initiative research project on Monday. It was a great day. All the time we spent focusing on the planning for this workshop was well worth the effort. We were able to facilitate a lot of discussion among the participants, and to lay out the research plan, and the various components of the professional development (the regional workshops, the online professional development, the onsite visits, etc.). After this meeting, I was more excited about the project. I also realized how much work was ahead of me. This will be much more intense than my PT3 grant. And I thought I was retiring!

The National Educational Computing Conference (NECC) is just like "old home week" or "same time, next year" - my annual renewal with my technology-in-education buddies. It is fun to reconnect, to announce my retirement, and to celebrate with 15,000+ people! I also did a presentation yesterday called, "Enhancing Student Voices in ePortfolios through Blogging and Digital Storytelling." The desciption of the session was:
Are your e-portfolios standardized checklists of skills or constructivist stories of learning? Learn about open-source or free strategies that increase student voice in learner-centered e-portfolios.
The overwhelmingly positive reaction from participants who were there has been very gratifying. I had one of those "Aha!" experiences when I realized at the end of my presentation, the link between my "Choices" digital story and my message about ePortfolios. When I quote Robert Frost's poem (and my last titles were: Go where no one else has gone... and leave a trail), I urged the participants to take the road "less traveled by" with ePortfolios. Make them digital stories of deep learning, not standardized checklists of skills!

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Kean Conference

Yesterday was the last day of the Kean University Digital Stories conference. It was also my last day working for the University of Alaska Anchorage. (Those two events are related.) I spent a very busy week, flying to Newark on Monday, finishing up the conference DVD on Tuesday, burning 220 copies of the DVD on Wednesday, and then the conference on Thursday and Friday. I was one of the five "experts" on Thursday, presenting all day. Then I got to just sit in presentations on Friday. There were some magical moments, like the BBC digital stories shared by Joe Lambert on Thursday morning, and the "I/O brush" shared by Kimiko Ryokai from MIT on Friday morning.

This conference had a very special feeling, probably because of its size (200 people) and the location worked well. The weather cooperated, and the conversations were especially rich. I'm hoping they decide to repeat the event again next year. It was a great opportunity to see more stories and share ideas. No hands-on, but a lot of conversation between attendees, mostly from New Jersey, but other participants from 11 states and the Virgin Islands! Many of the stories shown were about family, with two breakout presentations on this topic, including one by my own husband!

The Kean conference DVD was the first draft of a DVD that I want to develop on Digital Family Stories, to support the workshop series that we will eventually launch. Of course, I would not use the Kean faculty stories, but some of the family stories that I am starting to develop with my family and others, beginning in Anchorage last month. Dan and I need to spend some time doing "pro bono" workshops to refine our content and process.

Monday, June 20, 2005


I'm writing this entry in a new Widget that is available for Tiger (Mac OS X 10.4). I have this widget on my Dashboard, and can make an entry quickly! Sort of reminds me of the old days of Mac OS 9 when we had extensions and Apple menu items. But this is cooler and more stable!

Thursday, June 16, 2005

New Business Card

Since I am retiring from the University of Alaska as of July 1, 2005, I designed a new business card for myself. I decided it would read:
Helen C. Barrett, Ph.D.
Researcher and Consultant
Electronic Portfolios and Digital Storytelling
to Support Lifelong and Life Wide Learning
I just decided I didn't need an organization on my business card... just my mission statement. Maybe I'll make another one for Digital Family Story:
Helping families preserve and celebrate their favorite stories

Wednesday, June 08, 2005


In a comment yesterday, I was asked to elaborate on my statement in my blog entry on the MNSCU eFolio Research: "... These findings further validate my concern that we cannot lump all electronic portfolios in one basket:..." The last part of that statement was, "a rich description of the conditions of implementation is critical to understanding the results." In other words, "the devil is in the details" on all levels: how the portfolio is conceptualized (including the purpose), the process and the product. I have written earlier about 50 Words for Portfolios or Alan Levine's reference to the poem about the blind men and the elephant. Portfolios can be created for many purposes and with many tools. In fact, the AAHE reported six categories of uses and these categories were used in the analysis of the data from the respondents in the Minnesota eFolio study:
  • Educational planning
  • Documenting knowledge, skills, and abilities
  • Tracking development
  • Finding a job
  • Use for evaluation in class
  • Performance monitoring in the workplace

My only criticism of this list is that the terms reflection and learning are not overtly stated, but assumed within at least the first three categories/purposes. I also believe strongly in the impact of Activity Theory on the implementation of electronic portfolios, that the purpose and the tools have an inextricable impact on the outcomes. Here is a diagram from the Theory that shows the relationship between the different aspects of the activity/system:
  • Subject - the individual or group whose point of view is taken in the analysis of the activity
  • Object (or objective) - the target of the activity
  • Instruments (Tools) - internal or external mediating artifacts which help to achieve the outcomes
  • Community - one or more people who share the objective with the subject
  • Rules - regulate actions and interactions within the activity system
  • Division of labor - how tasks are divided horizontally between community members - any vertical division of power and status
There is currently a dissertation in process that will be looking at the impact of purpose and tools in the process of developing electronic portfolios at two universities, using the lens of Activity Theory to understand the differences. I am looking forward to reading the analysis.

More Activity Theory

One of the reasons that I use Activity Theory to understand the impact of tools comes from this discussion:
Activity Theory differentiates between internal and external activities. The traditional notion of mental processes corresponds to internal activities. Activity Theory emphasizes that internal activities cannot be understood if they are analyzed separately, in isolation from external activities, because there are mutual transformations between these two kinds of activities: internalization and externalization It is the general context of activity (which includes both external and internal components) that determines when and why external activities become internal and vice versa.

The Activity Theory emphasis on social factors and on interaction between agents and their environments explains why the principle of tool mediation plays a central role within the approach. First of all, tools shape the way human beings interact with reality. And, according to the above principle of internalization / externalization, shaping external activities ultimately results in shaping internal ones. Second, tools usually reflect the experiences of other people who have tried to solve similar problems at an earlier time and invented/ modified the tool to make it more efficient. This experience is accumulated in the structural properties of tools (shape, material, etc.) as well as in the knowledge of how the tool should be used. Tools are created and transformed during the development of the activity itself and carry with them a particular culture - the historical remnants from that development. So, the use of tools is a means for the accumulation and transmission of social knowledge. It influences the nature, not only of external behavior, but also of the mental functioning of individuals.
This quote supports my belief that electronic portfolio software tools have a major impact on how individuals perceive the portfolio development process.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

New Readings

Thanks to the UBC e-Portfolios blog, I found some new online readings.
  • "Beyond the Electronic Portfolio: A Lifetime Personal Web Space" EDUCAUSE Quarterly | Volume 27 Number 4 2004 - http://www.educause.edu/apps/eq/eqm04/eqm0441.asp?bhcp=1
    Rather than limit people to the e-portfolio model, why not develop a model providing a personal Web space for everyone, for their lifetimes and beyond?
  • "Overcoming Obstacles to Authentic ePortfolio Assessment" by Steve Acker. Campus Technology http://www.campus-technology.com/print.asp?ID=10788
  • Design and Analysis of Reflection-Supporting Tools in Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning by Seung-hee Lee. http://www.itdl.org/Journal/Mar_05/article05.htm
    Individual and group reflective thinking are the subject of this paper. Reflection supporting tools for computer-supported collaborative learning provide learning opportunities that are parallel to individual and collaborative activities in a classroom setting. Collaborative reflective thinking is a product of group sharing through discussion and other reflection supporting tools. Results show significant support for the reflective process, especially in computer-supported collaborative learning environments.

Monday, June 06, 2005

eFolio Research Reported

I was finally able to view the April 14 MNSAT telecast of their Satellite Broadcast, “Electronic Portfolios for Lifelong and Lifewide Learning: Research and Practice.” The content focused on the research that Darren Cambridge completed about the eFolio Minnesota project. Darren surveyed 500 of the 30,000 users, and did in-depth interviews with 20 portfolio developers. His findings, as he reported them in the telecast, are further support for developing electronic portfolios for lifelong and lifewide learning. His definition of the roles of portfolio learning:
Portfolio learning is lifewide in the sense that it tries to facilitate learning that happens not just in the classroom, not just in formal learning, but in the workplace and in family life. It is lifelong in the sense that learning is something that happens throughout one's life, through different stages of life, not just within a particular academic program, but from cradle to grave.
The MNSCU eFolio Minnesota tool is an online environment in which the individual is provided 3 MB of online storage, and the purpose for the portfolio is determined by the owner, although when used in an educational environment the initial purpose may be prescribed. Even so, the telecast described examples of the system allowing layers in the portfolio for different audiences. The website describes it as:
a multimedia electronic portfolio designed to help you create a living showcase of your education, career and personal achievements. All Minnesota residents, including students enrolled in Minnesota schools, educators and others can use eFolio Minnesota to reach their career and education goals.
In the teleconference, I found Darren's findings with the adult portfolio developers in Minnesota to be very encouraging. I see no reason why these findings wouldn't also apply to K-12 students. As he said,
"...what we learned about how people are introduced and supported: the need for a group of peers working together and real audiences to bounce ideas off of in the experimental stage where the portfolio is beginning to form and to take shape is very important. And then looking at the interface of the personal and the professional that has been shown to be so important to the sense of ownership and integrity of the portfolio; that it's not something that's handed to you by an institution or by the government, but that it's something that you've made that represents you as a full human being."
Peter Rees Jones from Leeds University in England was also on the telecast. He reported on some of their experience in building linkages between the world of work and the world of formal education. His statement about learner ownership is also important:
"It is clear that there is a relationship between where people have a sense of ownership and the success of an eportfolio project. Where people have that sense of ownership they do engage with it [the portfolio] and they will use it regularly. "
As I develop the research design and professional development activities for The REFLECT Initiative, these findings will be shared as central to the policies and practices of implementing portfolios in high schools. The finding about the sense of ownership is one that I have addressed before, but now is validated by some of the research. When Darren Cambridge says, "This works!" I hope policy makers will pay close attention to what "this" is: the learner-owned model that the eFolio Minnesota project has implemented with a focus on the individual, not on the institution. These findings further validate my concern that we cannot lump all electronic portfolios in one basket: a rich description of the conditions of implementation is critical to understanding the results.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Palm LifeDrive

I am making this entry on my brand new Palm LifeDrive. It is a Palm with a 4 GB hard drive! It also has WiFi and Bluetooth. I've already made a call through my cell phone, but I'm using the WiFi right now. I'm using my wireless keyboard as well. I have my Comcast e-mail account set up and I have sent and received e-mail over WiFi. The web page browsing is strange, but I'm using the standard Blogger page. I love learning new toys!

Monday, May 23, 2005

Accountability and Portfolios

I am posting this message that did not get sent to the AAHE eportfolio listserv before it was shut down. I was responding to this message sent by Trent Batson from Rhode Island:
... My sense of the eportfolio phenomenon in the US is that the assessment/accountability end of the spectrum is where most of the money is right now. My own hope from the push toward assessment-management is that these systems will get eportfolios in place on many campuses and then other uses will be discovered
Trent, I agree with your statement that e-portfolios are being adopted because of the assessment/accountability needs of institutions. The challenge with that scenario is that we are turning off a lot of students (and perhaps also faculty) in the process because of high stakes accountability. Perhaps formal education is validating Lee Shulman's assertion that one of the five dangers of portfolios is "perversion"! As he says in Nona Lyons' book (1998) With Portfolio in Hand,
If portfolios are going to be used, whether at the state level in Vermont or California, or at the national level by the National Board, as a form of high stakes assessment, why will portfolios be more resistant to perversion than all other forms of assessment have been? And if one of the requirements in these cases is that you develop a sufficiently objective scoring system so you can fairly compare people with one another, will your scoring system end up objectifying what's in the portfolio to the point where the portfolio will be nothing but a very, very cumbersome multiple choice test? (p. 35)
At the IRA conference earlier this month, I got a round of applause for the statement, "High stakes accountability is killing portfolios for learning." In the drive to use portfolios as assessment OF learning, we are in danger of losing the power of portfolios to support reflection and assessment FOR learning. I'm starting to collect stories about student rebellion against this approach, like the college student in a midwest university who ran for student body president on a platform to get rid of the campus-wide assessment portfolio. Then, there are high school students in the Pacific Northwest who built a bonfire and burned their mandatory graduation paper-based portfolios (eSchool news quoted me on this story as the opening of their article about the TaskStream research project.... Of course they didn't quote me on the other story about the high school student who offered a $50 reward to recover her lost writing portfolio.) I tell both of those stories in more detail in the TaskStream White Paper.

I also think purpose is inextricably linked with process (per Activity Theory) and the tools tend to be developed to support the primary purpose. In my incomplete survey of different online tools to construct e-portfolios, it was obvious to me that the tools tend to favor one approach over the other. Those tools that purport to be more "assessment management systems" tend to provide an institution-focused structure that makes it much easier to "score" but more difficult for the learner to tell their own story of their learning. There were some systems that I tried where I could not create the portfolio that I wanted... I was forced to use a pre-set template. For me, the bottom line is "ownership" - and I was pleased at the ePortfolio conference in Vancouver, B.C. last month where the general consensus of the participants and presenters was that learners owned their own portfolios. Based on that statement, the tools should support that ownership in every way possible. I am finding that those systems based on an online database to capture assessment data provide far less creativity in appearance and organization than other tools. So I am making a plea to educational institutions for balance in the purposes for implementing e-portfolios, and to the software developers for more creativity and flexibility in the presentation tools.

Saskatchewan Learning

I just received notification about a new resource posted online at the Saskatchewan Learning Website:
A JOURNEY OF SELF-DISCOVERY: Facilitator's Guide to Reflection and Portfolio Development [PDF]
This guide has been developed to support facilitators as they lead learners through a process of thinking about what they know and can do (reflection). Through involvement in these activities, learners identify the knowledge, skills, and attitudes they have developed, and create evidence of their learning. These general activities are intended to be adapted by facilitators to meet the needs of any group.
This is a great resource for those facilitators who help learners with self-assessment in preparation for PLAR portfolios (Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition).

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Reality Check!

Every few years, I need to do a hands-on technology project with school-age students, as a reality check on my theories about electronic portfolios or digital storytelling in education. This week, I worked with two dozen eighth grade English students (my daughter's students at a private school in Anchorage). The experience was eye-opening, exhausting and exhilarating! We produced 22 digital family stories, between one and three minutes long. We spent one day in a portable classroom, where only one computer had Internet access. I had a small office to do the audio recording, which did have high speed wireless Internet. As a private school, there are not the technology resources available (the classroom computers were still using Windows 98). There was no computer lab available to us during the period when the class met, but we reminded ourselves that is was a writing activity, not a computer lesson!

While we struggled with the technology (or lack thereof) as well as the wide variation in students' technology skills, we explored a variety of strategies to be able to accomplish this task with the resources at hand. Several students brought in their own computers, usually at the wrong time. After all of the student stories were written, recorded, and pictures collected, we were in the school until midnight last night, putting them all together using iMovie5, which worked for us flawlessly! We will duplicate a CD of the movies for all of the students next week. It's been an eye-opening experience for me: how to do 22 digital stories with 8th graders using two Mac G4 Powerbooks, two scanners, two digital cameras and a few other internet-connected computers for finding pictures.

We are both planning digital stories about the process. I was reminded that the project we did with these students in 6 hours of class time (plus a lot of pull-out time for individual work) is what we normally do with adults in 16-24 hours. These are not CDS-quality stories, and we ran out of time to select music to go along with any of them, but most of the students were very pleased when they privately reviewed their stories with me this morning. But I also realize that it would have been impossible for my daughter to do this project alone, with the constraints she has, both in block scheduling (we didn't see the students every day) and with the technology constraints. And she only had 13 students in each class! I have a greater appreciation for my fellow Apple Distinguished Educators who support these types of activities in schools every day! I also know why many, if not most, teachers would not take on such an ambitious project without a good support system, which is lacking in many financially strapped educational systems today. Nor is there time in the curriculum because of accountability demands....but that is another story!

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

10 Years Ago

Last Friday, I filled out the paperwork to officially retire from the University of Alaska. I am presently cleaning out a few boxes that were still here in storage, going through old files since 1992! One folder held an especially poignant document: the purchase order for the first web server in the School of Education, dated May of 1995! Ten years ago this month. It was from that web server that I published my first pages on electronic portfolios, using the transition.alaska.edu URL. That Mac web server had a 1 GB hard drive, and ran steadily for about 4 years before it was retired. I now have a flash drive in my purse with that much storage! My how technology changed over the last ten years! I just read an online article about the new standards for HD DVDs being debated by the tech companies: up to 30 GB per side!

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Podcasting with Audacity

I'm up in Anchorage, working with a variety of people on Digital Storytelling. Last week, I met with my daughter's 8th Grade Language Arts classes, and gave them a brief introduction to Digital Family Stories. Tomorrow, we start constructing their own digital stories. Yesterday, I worked with a colleague and a young mother, to help them both begin the process of recording their stories. One had been working on her story for several months; the other for just a day. By the end of the day, they both had recorded their stories, adding a music track, and were ready to add images to the timeline of their video editors.

I was a little out of my comfort zone, mostly because I was helping them use software that I don't normally use (Audacity and MovieMaker2) on a platform I normally don't use (Windows XP). So, we plunged in together, learning as we went along, making the usual mistakes, and referring to the online reference manual only when we were desperate. By the end of the day, we produced what I suppose is called a "Podcast" file...a digital audio clip suitable for use in a variety of formats, including a digital story, a website, or an iPod or MP3 player.

I had seen Audacity before, but normally use Sound Studio on my Mac to record audio. We normally record each paragraph of a story as a separate file, and then place them in order on one audio track of the movie editor's timeline. On the second audio track, we place the music, and adjust the volume so that it doesn't overpower the voice. But since we were working in MovieMaker2, the free software that comes with Windows XP, we only had one sound track available. So we had to construct the sound track outside of the movie editor. That's why I plunged into learning Audacity.

Audacity is free, open source software, available for Mac OS X, Windows or even Linux. Once I experimented a few times, I determined how to work around the limitations of the software to meet our needs. For example, after recording a track, when you record a second track, it places it in the same file, at the beginning, so that both tracks play simultaneously. Maybe there is a setting I don't know how to change, but we figured out that if you open a new file, record the second clip, select all of it and copy it, you can paste it at the end of the timeline of the first clip (a process we repeated until the story was complete). Within about an hour, both women had their 3 minute stories recorded, paragraph by paragraph. Adding the music was another challenge, but I was able to import a second track in Audacity, and lower the volume under the voice-over track, and produce a final audio file that included both narration and music.

Why am I struggling with free software for this task? Why not purchase software that will do the job more effectively (and also, why not just use iMovie on a Mac???)? For the simple reason that I am working with novices who already have Windows XP computers, and they just want to get started learning the digital storytelling process. Rather than making an investment in new software, which has a higher learning curve (and level of frustration), we chose to use what they had, or could download for free. I warned them about the limitations of the tools, and that they might outgrow the software very soon, but I wanted them to have a successful first experience. Of course, I may grumble later about the difficulty of publishing these movies to more accessible formats, like DVD, but that will be all part of the learning process.

I have been having a debate with other digital storytellers about the pros and cons of using the more high end tools (Adobe Premiere, Final Cut Pro, Pinnacle Studio, etc.). Those are all what I would call "pro-sumer" tools: lots of capability, but with complexity comes confusion and frustration at the beginning of the learning process. And since I began my career studying how people teach themselves how to use personal computers, I know that a positive first experience is important, and the ability to intuitively explore a tool contributes to the process of self-directed learning. One of my mantras (from my dissertation) is, "When learning new tools, use familiar tasks, and when learning new tasks, use familiar tools." When we make it too hard, we turn off the beginners. My goal is to get them excited about what they have achieved, and to understand the process, so that they can transfer that enthusiasm and awareness to more advanced tools when they are ready.

I am convinced that philosophy works with adult learners. This week, I will have an opportunity to test it out with 8th graders. Stay tuned (and wish me luck!)!

Sunday, May 08, 2005

The Work of Stories

I'm at MIT's Work of Stories conference in Boston, in a session on Stories in the Classroom. The presenter read a passage from a book and asked us to do a fast write. Here is mine:
That last passage sounds like the type of writing we do in blogs. It is the personal, reflective, first person narrative that is so powerful. I'm also convinced that the power of digital storytelling is in the storyteller's own voice...both literally and rhetorically. That is why I do what I do... what drives my work: to help people find their voice... in their words spoken from the heart.
This was an interesting conference. On the first day, I thought I was on another planet, where almost every presenter in the breakout sessions I attended read their papers to the audience. Is this what an academic conference is really like? Luckily, on the last two days, the presenters either told stories themselves, or had more engaging slides on the screen. There were the usual problems with the technology in a few of the rooms, like the sound didn't work. But I gained some new ideas. It is always delightful to hear Joe Lambert speak, since he provides both humor and quick insights. I also made some new acquaintances, people interested in similar topics. There were a group of us that tended to show up in the same breakout sessions.

The Saturday night session provided examples of MIT faculty storytelling projects. I was especially impressed by one graduate student's electronic brush, that was a combination micro video camera and a brush for electronically painting on a screen. We saw videos of kindergarten children using the brush to copy colors, objects or short video sequences, and then paint what they captured on the computer screen. I hope we will see this tool available as a commercial item soon.

The panelists at the closing session provided an overview of the three days, invoking a bit of controversy, but providing a good way to end the weekend. As one participant observed, "Some people said it was too academic, others said it wasn't academic enough!" That means the program provided both theoretical and practical insights. I'm glad I traveled all the way across the country to attend what was basically a free conference.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Whirlwind Workshops

On Friday and Sunday, I conducted a couple of hands-on workshops which were very interesting. On Friday, I led two half-day (2.5 hours) workshops at Kean University in New Jersey on the Tools for Digital Storytelling: Windows in the morning, Macintosh in the afternoon. I based the workshops on my webpage with a "Getting Started Tour of the Tools."
Digital Storytelling Tools for Windows XP
In this hands-on session, learn about Windows software used for digital storytelling. We will create a short digital story using a photo editor to manage images and two different programs to edit video. All software used will be available for free download from the WWW.
Digital Storytelling Tools for Macintosh OS X
In this hands-on session, learn about using the Macintosh iLife tools for digital storytelling. We will create a short digital story using iPhoto to edit images, and iMovie to edit video.
I was really pleased with the Windows workshop. The software was loaded on the laptops, but not on the presentation machine, so I quickly installed the software before I ran it, to show how easily it could be up and running. We walked through a sampler of Audio Editors and Image Editors, but focused most of our time on MovieMaker2, PhotoStory and Photo to Movie. We used my "Short Movie" exercise (7 images of D.C. and a 23 second recording of President Reagan). A few of the participants hung around almost an extra hour! My impression was that I was really learning along with the participants, not too far ahead of them with these tools, so we had a lot of fun. The afternoon workshop was the first I have conducted using the newest version of iLife (iPhoto5 and iMovieHD). Apple moved some of the commands between versions 4 and 5! I fumbled a little, but we got through all of the programs, including creating movies with those same 7 images using iPhoto, iMovie and Photo to Movie.

On Sunday, I did another hands-on workshop at the International Reading Association Technology Institute in San Antonio, immediately after my after-lunch keynote address. The lab at the San Antonio Convention Center had about 30 Windows computers and 30 Macs. I looked at the computers when I arrived in the morning and couldn't find MovieMaker on the Windows computers. So I loaded the sample files on the Mac desktops. However, one of the more tech-savvy participants found it, so she quickly helped those sitting at the Windows computers to launch the software and also, thanks to two flash drives, load the files. The podium had presentation stations for both platforms connected to a switch box, so I could do a short demo on iMovie for the Mac users, then switch over to MovieMaker2 for the Windows users. We were able to construct a rough edit (add the sound track and place the 7 images on the timeline) on both platforms at the same time, all in 40 minutes!

That is the shortest hands-on workshop I have ever conducted! But people left having some idea about how digital stories are built, using one of these tools. I also realized how similar and different the tools are. MovieMaker2 has the capabilities of iMovie five years ago, but the three step approach seems to scaffold the approach a little more (1. Capture Video, 2. Edit Movie, 3. Finish Movie). With iMovie, there are more options and capabilities (especially the still motion "Ken Burns" effect), but the initial experience for novices can be a little more confusing (how to get started? which tab to click?). To say the least, I was exhausted at the end of that short time, but felt good about what we were able to do, with thanks to Diane Tracey (who asked me to do the workshop and helped the Mac users) and that other techie, whoever she was, who helped with Windows. My public thanks!

Saturday, April 23, 2005

On the Other Hand

I should balance the negative comments that I made after the LIFIA Forum on Electronic Portfolios in Vancouver. I mentioned the first report from the research on the eFolio Minnesota project conducted by Darren Cambridge. I am anxious to see the full report about the first portfolio system available free to the population of an entire state. It was one of the systems that I tried during my "online portfolio adventure" last fall. Lifia has announced the availability of ePortfolios to all Lifia members, using the Avenet software, the same company providing the software for the eFolio Minnesota.

At the Lifia meeting, I also appreciated the emphasis on learner ownership of their portfolios. That seemed to be a theme that was emphasized over and over throughout the two days. I especially appreciated an educator from North Vancouver, who emphasized her 3 Rs of portfolios: Relevance, Respect, Responsibility for learning. Another theme that resonated with me: the portfolio as "identity formation" and "expression of self" which reinforces the learner-centered nature of portfolios.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Frequently-Asked Questions

I've decided to add another page to my website: Frequently-Asked Questions about Electronic Portfolio. I designed it as a quick guide to documents on my own site. I will soon add links to other web pages on the Internet that further elaborate on these questions. I also created an FAQ on Digital Storytelling.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Poisoning the Well?

I've just finished three days in Vancouver, B.C., focusing on ePortfolios, first at the LIFIA Pan American Forum on ePortfolios, and then doing the keynote at the preconference session of the BCEd Online conference. It is interesting to compare the two meetings. The LIFIA meeting brought together a small group of ePortfolio researchers and developers from across mostly North America and a few from Europe. For the first time, I heard some of the results of the evaluation of the MNSCU project, of the eFolio Minnesota, available to any resident of that state. What is fascinating to me is the positive response to the use of their system, which is not mandatory. It makes me think that the power in portfolios is "choice." I was heartened by the pervasive opinion of the LIFIA participants, that learners owned their own portfolios (not the institution or provider).

After my keynote presentation for BCEd Online this morning, I had a teacher come up to tell me about his own son, in the 10th grade, where B.C. requires students to begin their required high school graduation portfolios. As he expressed it, his son hates his portfolio, at least the way he is required to do it. His teacher told him not only what he had to put into his portfolio (based on the provincial requirements) but also what he couldn't, even though those items were the most meaningful to him. I want to ask, after all, who's portfolio is it? Or is it really a "portfolio?"

It made me think about some comments that I heard last fall, from the developer of the Minnesota project, that some of these mandatory implementations of portfolios were "poisoning the well" for many learners, both at higher ed and K-12. The little I hear about what is happening with the top-down mandates has that same effect. It breaks my heart, because we are ruining for many learners the whole portfolio concept, due to uninformed implementation.

I made the public statement this week, that high stakes assessment and accountability are killing portfolios as a reflective tool to support deep learning. Those mandated portfolios have lost their heart and soul: not creating meaning, but jumping through hoops!

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

REAL Portfolios

I have a new title for one of my presentations: REAL Electronic Portfolios: Reflection, Engagement and Assessment for Learning. The presentation will focus on the role of these three elements in portfolio development. I'm really into acronyms these days... acronyms that also have literal meanings, such as the REFLECT Initiative using those same concepts: Researching Electronic portFolios: Learning, Engagement, Collaboration through Technology.

Friday, March 04, 2005

A Successful Day

On February 25, 2005, I led a day-long ePortfolio Dialogue Day: Digital Stories of Deep Learning for Students and Faculty for Maricopa Community Colleges in Tempe, Arizona. Following on the success of the ePortfolio conference on Reflection at the University of British Columbia, the Maricopa organizers selected five students to participate in a panel, and then show their portfolios over the lunch hour, along with five faculty members. The audio recording of the student panel is also online at the Maricopa site.

I also received very positive comments from the conference evaluations, which showed that the faculty participants gained a lot of practical knowledge and many were looking forward to a later hands-on workshop using Maricopa's home-grown MyePort tool. I was really pleased that we were able to walk through a simple planning process and give them an organizing tool to list, categorize and reflect on their artifacts in preparation for the upcoming workshop.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

50 Words for Portfolios?

I find it interesting (and frustrating) that many educators are using the word "portfolio" to represent what I would be more apt to call an online repository or collection (or an assessment management system). There is a huge misunderstanding about what portfolios are and part of the problem is the widespread use of the term to mean many different things. Alan Levine refers to the classic story of the blind men touching the elephant (and each describing something different, based on their sense of touch). My friend John Ittelson says it is like Eskimos having 49 different words for "snow" but those who don't live in that environment tend to see it all as the same cold white stuff. That's why I try to always use an adjective with the word portfolio that describes its purpose (learning portfolio, assessment portfolio, employment portfolio, working portfolio, presentation portfolio).

Thursday, February 17, 2005

ESchool News

My interview with eSchool News was published yesterday. As usual, some of my comments were taken out of context or misquoted, but on the whole, the article outlines the REFLECT Initiative sponsored by TaskStream. The opening story is innacurate. I said it might be urban legend, but the reality of how some students feel about their portfolios can be seen in the trash cans at the end of the school year. He also didn't tell the complementary story, the other side of the coin, about the student who offered a $50 reward for the return of her lost writing portfolio, as related by Jim Mahoney in his excellent book, Power and Portfolios, published by Heinemann. The reporter also began by talking about "how students feel about creating learning portfolios" when I was really talking about students creating assessment portfolios. But then, most readers wouldn't know the difference. On the whole, though, it was a good representation of what we want to do with the REFLECT Initiative.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Revenge of the Right Brain

Here is a fascinating article from a recent Wired Magazine, where the author, Daniel Pink, proposes that success in the Conceptual Age (following the Information Age which is ending) will come from our abilities to use our right brains for more creative activities. Using Naisbitt's concept of "High Touch" he proposes:
High-concept means the ability to create artistic and emotional beauty, to craft satisfying narratives, to detect patterns and opportunities, to combine seemingly unrelated ideas into a novel invention. High-touch means the ability to empathize, to understand the subtleties of human interaction, to find joy in the pursuit of purpose and meaning.
This article provides one more argument for including reflective portfolios and storytelling in the curriculum of schools and colleges.