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 -
    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
  • Design and Analysis of Reflection-Supporting Tools in Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning by Seung-hee Lee.
    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!