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.