Monday, September 02, 2019

Develop an ePortfolio System?

I received the following inquiry:
My wife and I homeschool our children and participate in a local school system and we're surprised to find that with the bit of research we've done, there seems to still no great tool for creating and managing eportfolios for our children! I ran across your website while doing some research and I'm wondering if you think differently? Is there a clear "winner" or great tool for keeping an electronic record of our kids' work that I'm just not seeing?I'm a software developer by day, so I'm tempted to build something myself!
My response:

Since I started studying ePortfolios in education in 1991, I have seen a whole variety of ePortfolio systems developed. Most of these systems were developed for higher education to address the requirements of Teacher Education accreditation, as well as High Impact Practices in Undergraduate Education. Some examples: Pebble Pad (developed in the U.K.), LiveText, Taskstream, and Tk20 which merged to become Watermark, and IMHO the most successful HiEd tool (today) is Digication. There is a robust open source ePortfolio system developed in New Zealand called Mahara. It was developed for both K-12 and higher education. Scholastic developed an ePortfolio system, based on their Timeline product. Others developed early versions of ePortfolios using HyperCard/HyperStudio (in the 90s, before Internet-based tools). Here is a page I published in 2012 that discusses the different categories of ePortfolio tools:

In the K-12 space, Seesaw seems to dominate the elementary school market. The schools that I worked with mostly use "common tools" to develop ePortfolios, especially blogging platforms that allow adding pages for showcasing work (Blogger, WordPress) and GSuite tools (formerly Google Apps): Google Docs/Sheets/Slides and Google Sites to organize a showcase portfolio. There are commercial add-ons to Google Apps that give teachers a dashboard to access and manage documents students include in their portfolios (i.e. Hapara). I could probably develop an ePortfolio using the Microsoft suite, but haven't had the need. In the last 15 years, I explored the use of a variety of tools to develop my own showcase portfolio using the same content: (you will notice that many of those systems are no longer available).

In my opinion, an ePortfolio should have maximum opportunity for customization and personalization. I have seen highly structured systems fail because they usually reflect the programmer's conception of what a portfolio is, rather than the learner's. It happened to the systems adopted by some of the states (which have been discontinued, such as Rhode Island, British Columbia).

There are a variety of processes that need to be incorporated into a portfolio system: 
- Purpose: what are your goals... what are you trying to achieve with an ePortfolio?
- Collection: developing and maintaining a digital archive of a student's work
- Reflection: reviewing and reflection at several levels - on individual pieces of work in a working portfolio (perfect for a blog), and on a collection of work, in a showcase portfolio (best showcased in a series of hyperlinked pages).
- Selection: Identifying specific pieces of work that demonstrate the outcomes/goals/standards that are being showcased in a portfolio
- Direction:  a form of reflection that allows learners to set learning goals, based on prior work
- Presentation: a showcase at the end of a term
- Feedback (ongoing) and/or Evaluation (end of term)

This page contains several versions of an article that I published that discusses how to balance the two major purposes for portfolios:
The working portfolio (sometimes called the workspace) allows a learner and teacher to facilitate day-to-day learning and collection of work - sort of like an ongoing learning record over time; and the showcase portfolio, which provides a snapshot of highlights of work at a particular point in time (end of term?). I also discuss three levels of portfolio development:
1. Collection/organization of digital work
2, Workspace portfolio
3. Showcase portfolio

The challenge in developing a single ePortfolio system is that learners have a wide level of technology skills, and what works with middle/high schoolers, probably won't work with students in early grades (and vice versa). I really haven't found a system that works across the K-12 system and into adulthood. The dream of a single ePortfolio for life is really too impractical. ePortfolios have become silos, created at a specific educational level and not continued after the student leaves. In the late 90s I experimented with Adobe Acrobat (and I'm still using it today for publishing artifacts), In 2004, I focused more on Internet-based tools. More recently, I have started to explore elements of social networking tools. Facebook has many elements that could be part of an ePortfolio system, including Timeline, Life Events, collection of videos, images. But the showcase really isn't there... an example of a tool developed for a different purpose. I did a TEDx Talk in 2010 at an International School in India that discussed "Blurring the Boundaries between ePortfolios and Social Networking":

In today's technology environment, the tools need to be accessible on a variety of mobile devices. I put together a diagram and paper asking, "Is the future of ePortfolios in your pocket?"
I call Reflection the "heart and soul" of an ePortfolio, and published this site:

I recommend you look at Mahara as an open-source system developed for education, because it meets a variety of my requirements (a blog/journal organized chronologically, a showcase tool or individual pages, and groups for collaborative learning, etc.). My favorite personal portfolio is the old Google Sites (haven't taken the time to convert to the new Sites).