Wednesday, July 26, 2006

WikiSpaces for ePortfolios

This is the 20th tool that I have used to create my electronic portfolio. After I figured out that the new pages that I created did not automatically appear in the Navigation Menu (and that I needed to manually construct that menu on the left side of the screen), the process moved pretty smoothly. All URLs are automatically converted to weblinks. The tool allowed me to reconstruct my portfolio in less than an hour, copying the information from various online portfolios, including my Mozilla portfolio, where I had the URLs on the page (not just links). I easily uploaded my only file artifact (on the Portfolio-at-a-Glance page). All of my other artifacts are web links. The program gives the capability of uploading any type of a file, and then linked from any of the pages. This is a type of digital archive, where student work can be uploaded for later use. Their website says that they allow 2 GB of online storage (the largest I have seen) but it does not appear to allow organizing files into folders.

This system has the potential to offer interactivity, since each page can be edited by members of my WikiSpace. Therefore, I added a few ideas at the bottom of most pages that could be used to offer feedback on the artifacts and reflections listed on the page. Each page can also have a discussion attached to it. When I forgot to save the changes to a page, when I went back to that page, the program gave me the choice to reload the draft. Nice feature.

The tool has the ability to "Embed Media" but I have not implemented that feature. It looks like you add a link to a piece of media that is posted to another website, like youtube or odeo. I was able to add links by simply including the full URL but when the links are followed, they stay in the same browser window. I prefer to have the links open a new window (and the portfolio remains open) so that when an artifact is opened, the reader can close the window and easily return to the portfolio, rather than using the Back button.

A feature that I really like is the ability to backup the most recent copies of the pages in a space in HTML (or wikitext) and save the archive to my hard drive. That is a feature that I think is a requirement for an ePortfolio system. It backs up all files to the desktop computer, and maintains hyperlinks but not the navigation menu.

There is also no data management tool, to aggregate assessment data. Therefore, this tool would work for formative assessment (providing teacher and peer feedback on student work) but not for summative assessment. But the process for adding comments and feedback would need to be agreed upon with the readers, just as I have placed suggestions at the bottom of some of these pages.

WikiSpaces is offered free of charge to K12 teachers. This tool is not as easy to use or intuitive as, nor as elegant as iWeb. However, it is accessible to individuals as well as schools. The very nature of a wiki is shared writing, so this tool might work well for collaborative development of ePortfolios.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Using for K-8 Portfolios, a free service for K12 schools by Oracle, is the 19th tool that I have used to re-create my electronic portfolio. I am impressed by the ease of entering data. All URLs are automatically converted to weblinks that open in a new window. The tool allowed me to reconstruct my portfolio in less than an hour, copying the information from various online portfolios, including my Mozilla portfolio, where I had the URLs on the page (not just links). I easily uploaded my only file artifacts (on the Portfolio-at-a-Glance page).

This is the first tool that I have used that adds Interactivity to the portfolio (other than the blog tools). The software allows these forms of Interactivity:
  • Message Board - Invite people to post a message on a page
  • Ask Me - Answer questions (about anything)
  • Debate - Pick a topic and have a debate with others
  • Vote - Have an election or poll on a page
  • Brainstorm - Invite others to share their ideas on a page
I am very impressed with this interactivity, since it makes an electronic portfolio a socially-constructed document. The tool also allows the addition of "Stickies" that can be added by anyone and deleted by the page owner. The Stickie can be used for providing formative feedback as a portfolio and its artifacts are developed.

There are also five types of "Media and More" that you can add to a page:
  • Pictures - Upload your favorite GIFs and JPEGs
  • List - Make a list of assignments or other things
  • Mini Pics - Add artwork to a page from the Mini Pics gallery
  • Multimedia - Upload Music, Movies and Animations
  • Files - Upload files from Word, Claris Works and other programs
I noticed that when I used the List tool, I was able to add external web links (which turn the title into a web link), but when the links are followed, the site is opened in the same browser window. When a URL is added to a page, the link opens a new window (and the portfolio remains open just behind). That is my preference, so that when an artifact is opened, the reader can close the window and easily return to the portfolio, rather than using the Back button.

The only downside of this tool is the ability to export the data for use outside the system. All readers must be members of the community to be able to read the portfolio, which is very appropriate in a K-8 school environment (and why I don't have a link to the portfolio here). is available as school accounts only and the principal has to sign the AUP agreement with Oracle. There is also no data management tool, to aggregate assessment data. Therefore, this is a great tool for formative assessment (providing teacher and peer feedback on student work) but not for summative assessment. But that's not a bad thing in K-8 schools, where we have plenty of accountability measures, but need better online tools to facilitate formative assessement strategies.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

WebCT Conference

I just left the WebCT Users Conference, where I provided the closing keynote address. The feedback was good. I was told by one of the executives (who shared a ride with me to the airport) that it was the best electronic portfolio presentation he had seen, because I dealt with a lot of content. At other conferences I have received feedback that perhaps I put too much content into my presentation, but this was a higher education audience and I heard a lot of appreciation for the books I referenced. In the airport, I bought Friedman's latest version of The World is Flat, and skimmed it for the updates that he made since the book was originally published a year earlier. I also added a couple of new slides to my presentation, about his impression of skills needed for a "flat" world.

I attended most of the conference, sitting in on all of the presentations about their newly-released electronic portfolio product, that is integrated with their course management system. While they have not provided me with a demo account yet, to be able to add that system to my "Online Portfolio Adventure," from the literature and the demonstrations, it appears to be student-centered and allows individuality and creativity. They are keeping the assessment management separate from the portfolio, developing another product called Caliper which is designed as a comprehensive assessment system. Caliper is not available this year, and it was not clear when it would be released, but the portfolio is available now for the more current installations of WebCT.

The man who presented the Caliper tool talked about the "positivist" (Caliper) and "constructivist" (Portfolio) versions of their tools (institution-centered vs. student-centered)! I was asked by one of the leaders from one of the pilot sites whether I worked with them on their portfolio development, since it seemed to represent my philosophy. I told him that I did not, but that my philosophy is published on my website for anyone to read! And I base my philosophy on some of the early portfolio literature, where the positivist/constructivist tension is introducted by Paulson & Paulson in 1994.

Since WebCT has been acquired by Blackboard, I am wondering what will happen with the original Blackboard portfolio. It was obvious at this conference that every WebCT product was being re-branded with the Blackboard name. Next year's users conference will be a combined WebCT/Blackboard conference in Boston.

The new WebCT portfolio only allows students to have a single portfolio, although they can create different views for different audiences by turning sections on and off. The tool has a blog and appears to seamlessly save any work created in a course into the portfolio, where it will be preserved after the course is over. If discussions are saved, the entries (other than the portfolio owner) are made anonymous. One feature that is not fully developed appears to be the export function. I understand that the tool will allow students to export their work, but not the structure of the portfolio, something that I think is essential.

I also got a peek at the new version of the TaskStream WebFolio builder that will be released next Tuesday, July 18. I am impressed! I will provide more details after I have a chance to update my portfolio with the new version.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

NECC06 Conference

NECC 2006 is being held in San Diego. I worked with two of my REFLECT site coordinators to make a presentation during the first session on the first morning. We were impressed with the number of people present during that early hour, on the morning after the fireworks. We were also impressed with the types of questions being asked. After the presentation, I ran into other people who were there, and the dialogue continued.

This morning, one person asked me the usual question about my recommendations about free or low cost tools. Of course I said that was not the first question to ask... determine the purpose first, and then look at the tools to best meet those goals. He asked about Elgg, an open source ePortfolio tool. I told him that this software had a lot of promise as a blog, archive and social networking tool, all important components of a working portfolio. However, it is still missing the presentation builder that allows a learner to organize presentation portfolios for different purposes or audiences (a component that is part of their development plan). Of course that is one problem with open source software... without a business model to support the development, it can take longer to implement changes unless there is a regular funding stream. My experience with commercial tools shows that the companies are very responsive to their customer base, and have the resources to support ongoing support and development. Educators in schools need to recognize that they often get what they pay for, and the commercial market needs to look at how to make their products more affordable for schools. Somewhere in between free and $?? there is a sweet spot. I'm not sure we are there yet.

In the Open Source resource area, I found an electronic portfolio being designed to link with Moodle. When I looked at a demo it became apparent that this tool is being created as a digital archive of student work, with reflection on each artifact as it is uploaded. However, it does not have a presentation builder, so that a learner can construct a reflective story about a group of artifacts. While talking to the developer, he indicated that the Open University in the U.K. was building an electronic portfolio that they are tying into Moodle, that has five developers and so they are planning to include a presentation builder with templates. This open source software will supposedly be available in 2007. I hope I will see it at the EuroPortfolio conference in October in Oxford. I also learned that the University of Denver is thinking of modifying their portfolio system and making it available to the public for free.

I just heard Nicholas Negraponte talk about the $100 laptop that is being designed primarily for students in third world countries. Fascinating project. Their website says that they are not marketing to individuals or to school districts in the U.S. Their primary target groups are national governments in the developing world. But I think I have seen a vision of where laptops will be in the next decade. What I like is the low power requirements (>2 watts) and the ability to charge the NiMh battery by human power. I also like the simplicity of the system. I agree with several of his points: we don't need Caps Lock keys, and the software today is very bloated. When I think about what features I currently use in the software I have, and the time it takes to load the system, I long for the days when I could turn on my Radio Shack WP10 and just start writing!

I sat in a presentation on the University of Vermont's Portfolio Connection, a research project on electronic portfolios in teacher education programs throughout the state of Vermont. I was impressed by Joyce Morriss's Webquest on electronic portfolios. Their findings are very interesting: the student assessment portfolios built for accreditation are deadly dull; the professional portfolios that the student construct for showcase and employment are diverse and show the students' authentic voice!