Monday, August 2, 2010

2.3: Primary work into the role of the e-tutor

Goold, A., Coldwell, J., and Annemieke, C. (2010). An examination of the role of the e-tutor. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 26(5), 704-716 (full-text).

Work on the e-tutor's role seems to have been silent over the last few years, so Goold et al's article is timely and will hopefully lead to further studies. The article focuses particularly on the online tutor's role where asynchronous discussion is required; it would be interesting to see work relating to the breadth of online tutoring roles as well.

Of particular note is the use of team-teaching, which doubtless made it possible to deal with 70+ students per module!

Friday, June 18, 2010

5.*: Blended learning at the University of Queensland

I've just returned from the 2010 Blended Learning conference at the University of Queensland, Brisbane. My keynote was beamed through via Elluminate to a UK group at the University of Hertfordshire, and a Cloudworks area provided some further interaction (the Cloudworks page for my keynote here).

I spoke on whether blended learning is a valuable educational goal, suggesting instead that we ought to think in more transcendant terms along the lines of L. Dee Fink's Significant learning and Jack Mezirow's Transformative learning. I also made mention of Narayanan's slow pedagogy (PDF).

There were several particular standouts for me at the event.
  1. Martin Oliver's excellent address (in the Elluminate recording) reminding us of the importance with starting with a consideration of the extreme diversity of our student body, and the use of a Frankenstein's monster image that quite nicely sums up a lot of blended learning.
  2. The work of David Craven (UQ foundation year) and his work with Business Island, primarily because of its excellent simulation and use of real-life collaboration (it makes use of Second Life but will soon move to OpenSim).
  3. A fantastic look at the results of the eCAPS project (see initial promises here). This, to me, was in itself a good reason for making the trip to Brisbane. The eCAPS work will soon be published (I am hoping in at least one journal that will catch e-practitioners' attention). It represents a wonderful synergy between learner-centredness, a clear outcomes focus, sound application of education theory and - as a result - an elegant use of digital technology. I hope to get members of the team to New Zealand at some stage.
  4. A chat with Dr Lynda Shevellar (UQ), whose courageous and dedicated use of blogging and online discussion demonstrates both the necessity of a lecturer with a firm commitment to online discourse and the significant challenges to applying it to an on-campus group.
There was so much more... Dr John Harrison and colleagues' excellent use of podcasting and assessment in courses associated with journalism and broadcasting; sound wisdom from an opening panel; and the opportunity to talk with members of UQs ITS and the ways in which they actively support e-learning development. Each of these discussions were in a richer context than what I can hope to adequately write about here.

I would like to express my appreciation to Drs Helen Farley and Caroline Steele for the invitation, and the opportunity to be inspired again about the possibilities we have for enriching education!

Monday, May 24, 2010

5.*: OERs - a 'global south' perspective

Kanwar, A., Kodhandaraman, B., and Umar, A. (2010). Toward sustainable Open Education Resources: A perspective from the global south. American Journal of Distance Education 24(2), 65-80.

There has been much interest in the promise of OERs in education. In this article, the authors (all associated with the Commonwealth of Learning) report on the inconclusive experience to date and the uncertain future for various OER initiatives (such as the MIT Open Courseware initiative and the Open University's OpenLearn courses). There are three core issues:
  1. The benefits of OERs are not yet substantiated.
  2. The flow of OERs goes from developed to developing countries (from North to South).
  3. OER initiatives to date are reliant on donor support (yes, these things still cost money).
The authors report on a "we built it but they did not come" scenario whereby forty-six modules of OER material relating to school teacher education were made available in Zimbabwe. The problem: buy-in by education providers. Assocaited issues were to do with the generic nature of the materials themselves and the difficulties of finding suitable resources among the plethora available. Other implementations have been more successful, however the reasons for success have to do with clear provider partnerships... so, while the resources might have been used in these circumstances (where they might have been 'made to order'), it is uncertain as to whether the resources were re-used (the real benefit of OERs).

The authors report on another project linking international providers together to collaborate on developing an OER set of courseware... the project was not completed. The key lesson: governance and quality standards are required for such initiatives... the classic mix of project management and quality assurance, which costs money.

Design of OERs is expensive and takes time. We should certainly applaud those who participate in it, and who apply themselves to developing the OER economy. However we should also be realistic about the challenges and costs of OER development, and be realistic about the level of uptake. Sustainability is a real issue, and the significance of the change management required before OERs are seriously used in formal education should also be squarely faced. Ultimately it is educators themselves who need to be convinced of the vaue of OERs. Until OER use becomes truly convenient and flexible, and perhaps to some extent comprehensive in coverage, the barriers to use may well outstrip the benefits. It seems that there has been little real theoretical progress in OERs since Littlejohn's (2004) book Reusing online resources.

5.1.3: Where is the evidence for digital natives?

Couldn't resist throwing this one in... Is there anyone no longer convinced? Helsper, E.J., &Eynon, R. (2010). Digital natives: where is the evidence? British Educational Research Journal 36 (3), 503 - 520.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

e-Ako taking a deliberate break

I'm hanging up my blogging spurs for a while to concentrate on my PhD. I am considering a new format when I return... which is likely to be as late as mid 2011. It's been difficult trying to keep up specialist knowledge across multiple areas. My reading on e-learning will continue, but blogging drops in priority for a season!


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

5.3.2: Wikis in the latest JOLT

The latest Journal of Online Learning and Teaching (JOLT, 6[1]) is now available online (not a dedicated link - to the latest issue only). Three articles on wikis further the conversation [1 PDF] [2 PDF] [3 PDF]... but not, admittedly, by much! A pity that none of them consider learning outcomes using an experimental approach, which, I am convinced, the literature regarding the use of wikis in higher education actually requires. We have far too many of the 'What did students think?' evaluation; what we really need is an answer to how well did students learn? The studies also have small response rates and discrete surveys... which is not atypical in much e-learning research. This has the unfortunate consequence of results being highly contextualised and very fragmented.

It is perhaps indicative that we tend to give e-learning tools a go from our enthusiasm, rather than from a consideration of the lessons already learned; the literature review is performed after the evaluation to provide a context for what we did rather than what we will do. This approach is perhaps understandable from the standpoint of encouraging innovation, but it is a poor basis for research. I have no doubt that the authors of these papers learned a lot. As a reader, I'm left a little disappointed!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

5.3.3: The Electronic Portfolio Student Perspective Instrument

Article: Ritzhaupt, A.D., Singh, O., & Seyferth, T. (2008). Development of the Electronic Portfolio Student Perspective Instrument: An ePortfolio integration initiative. Journal of Computing in Higher Education 19(2), 47-71.

Ritzhaupt et al (2008) describe the development of an instrument designed to measure student perceptions of ePortfolios. The Electronic Portfolio Student Perspective Instrument (EPSPI) was tested on a sample (n=204) college of education students. Based on the ESPSI, three subscales were found to determine student perspectives toward ePortfolios: learning, assessment, and visibility.

Some points of interest to me:
  1. Ritzhaupt et al (2008) cite Meeus et al (2006) as suggesting two reasons for the popularity of ePortfolios in education: the contemporary bias toward constructivist pedagogy, and gains made in the accessibility and usability of ICT.
  2. Respondents to the survey (and therefore the agents of its validation) were students using the ChalkandWire eportfolio system (at a cost of "less than" $US50, with renewal options at half the cost per annum...!)
  3. The student perspective should be the basis of ePortfolio implementation (or at least an important consideration). Ritzhaupt et al (2008, p.52) remark that "no standardized instruments have been developed to capture this critical information".
The EPSPI was based on an extensive literature review, which identified four domains (learning, assessment, employment, visibility) and four primary stakeholders (students, administrators, faculty, employers). It's goal "was to capture critical information related to student perspectives and intended uses of ePortfolios to aid faculty and administrators in the decision-making process" (2008, p.54).

The inital instrument had 40 items, and underwent expert review and field testing (n=22). Each item also underwent testing through a 'cognitive interview' with three representatives of the population of interest, to ensure clarity. Eventually 34 items were decided on, and the resulting survey was made available as a Web form. Two hundred and four college of education students responded (no population number is provided).

While the survey certainly helped to validate the ESPSI, the actual impressions from students toward ePortfolios were less than impressive:
  • Results indicate "that respondents from the sample may not perceive their ePortfolios as a meaningful learning device" (2008, p.56)
  • "Only 19% of the respondents believed their ePortfolios would be beneficial to securing employment" (p.59)
  • "Fifty-three percent of the sample indicated they would not use an ePortfolio to aid the employment process if they were the employer" (p.59)
  • "More than half of the respondents suggested that they would not showcase their ePortfolios to friends (61%) or family (60%)" (p.59).
  • In open ended responses, "More than 25% of the respondents [n=92 who gave open-ended feedback] mentioned that faculty did not offer help with using ChalkandWire(c) and did not appear to understand the program themselves".
  • Other qualitative feedback included "negative comments about personal investment in time and money, comments indicating predominantly negative attitudes toward use of technology, and feelings of lack of choice and control" (p.64).
Phew. Not flattering - but, then again, not necessarily an inherent problem with ePortfolios as a concept. It may well be that the poor responses here were to do with implementation - and here is where the ESPSI may let itself down. It seems to measure student perceptions without a consideration of the implementation context. The authors identify this themselves (2008, p.66):
The purpose of the ePortfolio initiative appears to be a key issue for successful integration. For the administration,the system was implemented as an assessment management tool. This raises the question of student versus organizational control... the authors believe that that the low subscale means are representative of user resistance to system change and poor system integration.
The ESPSI instrument is available here. Personally, I see it as a positive step; I am in favour of standardised instruments as they enable comparative studies and can provide insight into good practice. What concerns me about the ESPSI is that it is a measure of student perspective rather than the effectiveness of implementation. It is here that the work of Joyce et al (see previous post) is particularly useful... there is scope, I believe, for an instrument based on their five roles.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

5.3.3: Meta-cognitive development through ePortfolios: A school evaluation

Article: Abrami, P.C, Wade, A., Pillay, V., Aslan, O., Bures, E.M., & Bentley, C. (2008). Encouraging self-regulated learning through electronic portfolios [Full text HTML]. Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology 34(3), np.

Abrami et al (2008) describe an evaluation of ePEARL (the Electronic Portfolio Encouraging Active Reflective Learning) application, developed for school use. ePEARL has been specifically designed to facilitate self-regulated learning and the development of meta-cognitive skills, based on a three-part model (quoted here):
  • The forethought phase includes task analysis (goal setting and strategic planning) and self-motivation beliefs (self-efficacy, outcome expectations, intrinsic interest/value and goal orientation). Tasks involved in the forethought phase are: set outcome goals, set process goals, document goal values, plan strategies, and set up learning log.
  • The next phase, the performance phase, includes self-control (self-instruction, imagery, attention focusing and task strategies) and self-observation (self-recording and self-experimentation). Tasks involved in the performance phase are: creation of work, and learning log entries.
  • Finally, the self-reflection phase includes self-judgment (self-evaluation and casual attribution) and self-reaction (self-satisfaction/affect and adaptive-defensive responses). Tasks involved in the self-reflection phase are: reflection on work, reflection on process, and awareness of new goal opportunities.
The evalaution of ePEARL use involved 62 teachers and approximately 1200 students. It was hoped that teachers would apply ePEARL using the self-regulation model of forethought, performance, and self-reflection. Unfortunately results were less than optimal:
  • The teacher survey (n=21 respondents) indicated that teachers were not using the application frequently enough (most using it 5 to 8 hours per month, well short of the requested 12 hours per month);
  • There were few positive differences between pretest and posttest scores (though the positive effects were in items of interest such as "students identifying strategies for achieving their goals; students documenting the processes they used when working on tasks; teaching students to identify strategies for achieving their goals; students using portfolios to demonstrate their strengths; students using portfolios to identify areas needing improvement");
  • Teacher focus groups indicated that teachers did not think their students capable enough to partiicpate in the self-regulation process (particularly the 'forethought' phase), not all teachers understood the term 'reflection' in the same way, and not all students were comfortable/able of providing efective feedback to one another;
  • A sample of student portfolios (n=66) "did not reveal widespread or extensive use of the tool. The majority of the portfolio pieces were reading responses, stories and poems, language arts presentations, social science or science projects, and music and art projects".
While the findings conclude with the paragraph...
However, on occasion, there were teachers who implemented EPs extensively; in these cases, teachers used ePEARL in both creative and practical ways. As a result, student portfolios in the classroom of these teachers were often richer, and demonstrated that students can learn self-regulation skills in order to improve their work and become better learners.
...specific results for these 'occassions' are not provided.

I can't help wondering if this project suffered from implementation flaws. Reading between the lines (and from the first paragraph of the conclusion) I suggest that:
  1. Teachers were asked to use ePortfolios in a way that might have been foreign to them, asked to apply a prescribed learning approach that not all thought was appropriate.
  2. Students were asked to apply themselves to a learning methodology that they were either not capable of participating in, or else were not supported in because of 1. above.
  3. The application itself was designed to facilitate a specific learning process (the self-regulation model). As a combined result of 1. and 2. above, this made the application itself inseperable from the process.
It seems as though to some teachers the ePortoflio was a peripheral experiment, rather than an integrated and central element of teaching and learning. It will be interesting to, as the authors conclude, "Stay tuned" with what follows.

As an addiitonal comment, the survey used instruments called the 'TLSQ' (Teaching and Learning Strategies Questionnaire) and 'SLSQ' (Student Learning Strategies Questionnaire). Both look to be pre- and post-test instruments customised to the K12 sector.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

1.1, 5.3.4: Linking two posts together

Two great pieces in my Google reader account this morning, which I originally thought to comment on separately:
  1. The latest VLENZ (no.166), outlining the promising development of linking an open source MUVE (OpenSim) with Second Life; and
  2. a post from Tony Bates, "Will lecture capture replace asynchronous distance learning?" in which he (rightly!) criticises plans of one US provider's plan to facilitate distance education through recorded lecture.
At first I thought these were worthy of separate comment (indeed, they are!) But then I started to wonder whether it might be better to use one as the lens for commenting further on the other. The VLENZ piece is concerned with advances in technology and what it might enable technically, whereas Bates' post looks at what is possible technically and how it has been applied to learning.

In e-learning we need both advances in technology and a self-conscious approach to how that technology is applied for the purposes of teaching and learning. MUVEs emphasise interaction, 'presence', synchronicity, simulation, activity within a virtual environment where resources can also be freely shared. The 'video capture' initiative described by Bates emphasises access, the view and explanations of the expert, the ability to watch, listen, and revise.

However most academic learning takes place through the reflection and deliberation. It is only insofar as these activities are supported that either might be considered truly educative. As Bates indicates, there are volumes written on the effectiveness of asynchronous distance learning. We have substantial insight as to what rests within the 'black box' of distance education. The challenge is to draw on those lessons that they might inform how we apply new technologies; both the VLENZ and Riverside cases are both generally concerned with 'distance education', which has a considerable literature and a very mature practice. My concern is that fully immersive MUVEs might supercede the deliberate exchange that might take place through, say, online discussion boards - which are by nature more reflective: "Hey, let's all meet in the virtual forest. We don't need those old bulletin boards anymore!"

I remain convinced that MUVEs will find their place as an extremely important addition to the distance educator's toolset - but I have reservations about synchronous virtual exchange being somehow inherently better than asynchronous discourse. It is here that Bates' critique provides a good check-point for the technology; just because it can be done, doesn't mean it should be done. Maybe MUVEs could make lecture rooms redundant and lead to more collaborative and situated learning. We just need to ensure that we don't overlook any advantages that are inherent to less 'wizzy' solutions in the process of transfer, or assume that we need to learn lessons about pedagogy from scratch.

I'm excited about the activities of the VLENZ group. The link between SL and OpenSim should be celebrated. But we should also be thinking ahead about the potential contribution such technologies might make. By considering - deeply - what we already know about effective education, we can save ourselves a whole lot of unneeded learning and mistakes later.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

5.3.3: Good things take time

Article: Wickersham, L.E., & Chambers, S.M. (2010). ePortfolios: Using technology to enhance and assess student learning [Full text PDF]. Education 126(4), 738-746.

Wickersham & Chambers (2006) report on a post first-semester evaluation of a programme ePortfolio implementation (n=26, masters level secondary teacher students). Using a 13 question Likert scale survey and two open-ended questions, they found the following:
  • Students had not made the connection between the use of an ePortfolio and the potential for enhanced self-knowledge, and knowledge and skills transfer. In fact, students were almost evenly divided in terms of a positive, neutral and negative response on the ePortfolio's usefulness.
  • Students did report an improvement in their technology skills however most commented in the open-ended questions that the technical interface was the greatest barrier for them.
This is a useful study in that it clearly demonstrates that ePortfolio use must be purposive, and that its benefits (realised through reflection and the gradual building of a collection of artefacts) take time to be appreciated by students. Wickersham & Chambers (2006, p.744) state that
What was learned from all results is the need to be more effective in helping students make that connection [between the ePortfolio exercise and their own development], and to integrate the ePortfolio concept firmly within the program.
Good things, says the cheese ad, take time.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

5.3.3: ePortfolio implementation and the threshold concept

Article: Joyes, G., Gray, L., & Hartnell-Young, E. (2010). Effective practice with e-portfolios: How can the UK experience inform implementation? [Full text PDF]. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology 26(1), 15-27.

Joyes et al's (2010) paper won a best paper award - and it's not difficult to see why. It's authority and groundedness are very clear, as is its significance for ePortfolio practice.

After an overview of ePortfolio activities within the JISC (e-portfolios are one of five main areas of activity) and an overview of the importance of ePortfolios, the authors provide five key roles for the successful implementation of ePortfolios in whatever setting.
  1. The role of purpose - "For successful implementation, the purpose/s behind the use of the e-portfolios must be aligned to the particular context" (p.22). The authors emphasise that ePortfolios cannot be understood outside of the context in which they are used.
  2. The role of learning activity design - "There must be a conscious design and support of a learning activity/activities suited to the purpose and the context" (p.22).
  3. The role of process - "The processes involved in the creation of the e-portfolio in the particular context must be understood and both technical and pedagogic support needs to be provided" (p.22).
  4. The role of ownership - "The e-portfolio processes and outcomes need to be owned by the student. This view leads to considering portability, choice of tool (use of their own phone, camera, audiorecorder, Web 2.0 application, for example)" (p.23).
  5. The disruptive nature of e-portfolios - "E-portfolios are potentially transformative and as a result are disruptive from a pedagogic, technological and an institutional perspective because they tend not to fit exactly within existing systems". Naturally, this means that ePortfolios are best implemented in a systematic way.
Joyes et al (2010) go on to note that, to many experienced ePortfolio users, the five findings above "may seem quite naive" (p.23). However they raise a very interesting point based on this observation - there is a threshold of knowing that the experienced have, but which the uninitiated lack:
The threshold concepts approach recognises that developing understanding is a developmental journey, both intellectually and experientially, but that once the threshold is achieved the perspective of an area is changed forever. Thus guidelines/ guidance will only make sense to a stakeholder if the threshold concept is understood and the preconceptions resolved. Is this why the wheel has been invented so many times in the e-portfolio area? (2010, pp.24-25).

Indeed, it may well be why the wheel is so constantly reinvented. We e-learning practitioners tend to avoid informed practice, letting our enthusiasm for the tool prompt us to action. As a result, we frequently miss the easy and important lessons lying on the sruface of literature. Articles such as this by Joyes et al (2010) demonstrate the very real importance of keeping up with developments in journals.

5.3.4: SLENZ project evaluation

Over to the SLENZ blog for an overview of the evaluation report (full report available in PDF). It is a little disappointing that the recommendations apply to how to apply future virtual world projects, rather than an analysis of actual effectiveness - though many comments provided in the report give valuable insight.

Well worth a read - and the student and teacher accounts provide plenty of food for thought. In particular, I take this away (from p.47):
In both subprojects, participants commented both on learners’ identification with their avatars, and the fact that working through their avatars in role-play situations enabled them to practice skills with a lesser degree of emotional inhibition. Thus students at MIT reported overcoming pre-interview anxiety by carrying out practice interviews in the build, and Midwifery students felt freer to practice scenarios with a peer in world than they would do under the eyes of their colleagues and tutors in the classroom.
So, there is a promising niche for these tools... I remain convinced that Second Life has a good part to play in education, provided its strengths can be exploited. The SLENZ project has helped to identify - and exemplify - various of those strengths.

Monday, March 8, 2010

5.3.3: Teaching ePortfolios and emotion

Article: FitzPatrick, M.A., & Spiller, D. (2010). The teaching portfolio: Institutional imperative or teacher's personal journey? Higher Education Research & Development 29(2), 167-178.

FitzPatrick & Spiller (2010) interviewed faculty who completed a teaching ePortfolio as part of a PG Cert in Tertiary Teaching at a New Zealand university (Waikato - my BMS alma mater!) What prompted their investigation was the discovery that preparing the ePortfolio was a highly charged emotional experience for some of their students.

The ePortfolio task required participants to prepare
a single document in which they were asked to present both summative information about their teaching achievements and reflections on their experiences and development as teachers. After they had finished their teaching portfolios, these participants wrote personal narratives about their experiences of compiling a teaching portfolio (2010, p.172).
The difficulties had by participants were twofold:
  1. Reflecting on one's abilities and experiences as a teacher is inevitably an emotional process, and
  2. The ePortfolio task was designed to result in both an outcome suitable as a professional folio and a space for personal reflection.
While most participants reported satisfaction at having completed the ePortfolio task (my favourite participant quote - "My portfolio somehow defused my worst mistakes - they lost their sting and instead became merely parts of a bigger picture", p.176) there was some confusion over who its audience was. Preparing a professional CV-type portfolio is a very different task to keeping a reflective journal. As a result of this feedback, the ePortfolio task has been adapted.

The two difficulties participants had are probably not surprising. I recently finished King's The handbook of the evolving research of transformative learning based on the Learning Activities Survey and was surprised to find in it a model relating to professional development for online learning. 'Fear and uncertainty' for staff is the first step in King's transformative model. If the professional development relates to one's identity as a teacher, an emotional response is to be expected (and FitzPatrick & Spiller draw on some very interesting literature in their discusion relating to this). The second difficulty, that of intended audience and scope of the ePortfolio, is worth storing away as an important lesson. While some ePortfolio applications permit multiple views that mean different views can be created for different audiences (yes, Mahara is one of them...), others permit only a single presentation of information. In the latter case, the end audience is a vital determinant of what is appropriate... your intimate reflections on the lessons you learned from your most recent teaching disaster may not impress a potential employer as much as the half-million dollar research grant you were awarded. Both are important to an educating professional of course, but one is more private. To close with the words of FitzPatrick & Spiller (2010, p.177):
While the emotions aroused in the compilation of the teaching portfolio were mixed, there were some recurrent themes. These related themes can be broadly categorised as uncertainty generated by the multiple purposes of the portfolio task and emotional destabilisation experienced in the process of taking stock of oneself as a teacher. Generally, the period of emotion accompanying 'strong commotion of mind' (Geisel & Meijers, 2005, p. 425) culminated in a sense of reaffirmation of the self as teacher. Some of the participants' ways of managing the stock-taking process, such as using metaphor, can be seen as strategies of self-protection in the light of the fact that the portfolio could also be a public record of achievement. As Kelchtermans (2005) argues, the presence of intense emotions signals that something of vital importance is at stake; in this instance it appears to be about traversing the jagged and uneven terrain of the path towards self-knowledge and growth as a teacher. We argue that this journey should be allowed to be a private one undertaken only with the support of invited companions and a trusted guide. It is not a story that should be recounted for official scrutiny.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

5.3.3: ePortfolios in a K12 setting

Article: Blair, R., & Godsall, L. (2006). One school's experience in implementing e-portfolios: Lessons learned. The Quarterly Review of Distance Education 7(2), pp.145-154.

Blair & Godsall (2006) report on the use of an ePortfolio tool embedded within a (US) school CMS (Course Management System = VLE or LMS). The article discusses ePortfolio implementation in the K12 context.
Among the lessons:
  • Train teachers first - and have them train students. Blair & Godsall (2006, p.148) note that "Because teachers had a good working knowledge of the technology and were enthusiastic, when they presented their e-portfolio projects to their students, the students were not only quick to undertand the technology, but also quickly shared in teachers' enthusiasm" (and 163 students were involved!)
  • Use the ePortfolio as a work space. Student ePortfolios became a focal point for work-in-progress, peer-review, and resource collecting.
  • Have teachers develop their own ePortfolios. Naturally this increases teachers' own competence with the software, and also gives them opportunity to consider the use of ePortfolios from a more informed perspective.
Blair & Godsall (2006) evaluated student use of an ePortfolio drawing on their group of 163 students:
  • 64% find the process "easy".
  • Images were the most frequent document types added to ePortfolios (n=121), followed by Word documents (113) and PPT files (104). Of the other types, there were 39 audio files and 24 video clips.
  • 54% preferred the thought of a final test over a semester-long ePortfolio project.
  • Students were "somewhat noncommittal" about using ePortfolios to apply for jobs (73%).
Blair & Godsall (2006, p.151) remark that "Students can easily produce e-portfolios, but cannot make the conection between production and application". This arguably has more to do with educating the students than it does with any inability of the ePortfolio itself. In this study we have a wonderfully transparent look at how year 11 students view ePortfolios: fun; good as instruments for personal expression; but if they mean more work for assessment, well, give me the test!

The actual evaluation instrument used by Blair & Godsall consisted of seven yes/no questions, three LIkert scale questions, and a list of file types. It is unfortunate for the purposes of ePortfolio research that there is no single instrument that is widely applied.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

5.3.3: The AeP - significant work in the Australisian area

Article: Hallam, G., and Creagh, T. (2010). ePortfolio use by university students in Australia: a review of the Australian ePortfolio project. Higher Education Research & Development 29(2), 179-193.

Hallam & Creagh (2010) introduce the Australian ePortfolio Project (AeP), with a specific emphasis on the first part of the project (started in 2007). The project has already released its first report (2008, PDF or contents page), and Stage II is also now complete (report forthcoming).

The purpose of Stage I (in brief) was to "examine the diverse approaches to ePortfolio use by students in Australian universities in order to consider the scope, penetration and reasons for use of of ePortfolios as well as to examine the issues associatedwith their implementation in higher education" (p.181). Stage II worked toward building a community of practice and established a conference (the next conference is planned for early November, 2010).

The article provides a valuable introduction to the work done for the AeP, which is of foundational importance to ePortfolios in Australasia. The Toolkit is particularly impressive, leaving practitioners with no excuse for not embarking on informed practice. Links to further reports (such as the VET E-portfolio roadmap) within the AeP Web site reveal the considerable work being done in the Australian context.

The Stage I work summarised in the article consists of a selection of primary research informed by a thorough literature review. Findings indicate that ePortfolio activity in the Australian university sector is (or was?) patchy and somewhat fragmented - even within individual institutions. Teachers, managers and HR/professional development personnel have different expectations from ePortfolios. Student surveys compared expectations with experiences (for new students working with ePortfolios), and a separate survey and post-interview with students already working with ePortfolios.

Among the issues identified by Stage I include the need for cooperation across stakeholders to coordinate ePortoflio excpectations; the need for interoperability standards; and the requirement for faculty to link "learning activities, assessment and learning outcomes" (p.187).

The report/paper identify four future scenarios:
  1. A national ePortfolio model (government-owned and driven).
  2. A locally driven model (centred in the HE sector, but "aligned with cross-sectoral interests", p.189).
  3. A Web 2.0 model (student-centred selections of social-networking tools).
  4. A zero action model (the status quo).
My impression from the Ministry-sponsored document "Celebrating learning" is that the New Zealand scene is likely to follow future 2, with the Ministry providing a set of requirements (or, perhaps, 'guidelines') to coordinate interoperability.

The paper concludes with these words (2010, p.191):
There is immense scope for further research into and analysis of the impact and potential of ePortfolios in higher education, so that a better understanding can be developed about many aspects of ePortfolios, such as the diverse dimensions of knowledge construction, student attitudes, new teacher roles, employer expectations, eLearning-supported pedagogies, emerging technologies, interoperability and so on.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

2.1, 1.4.1: Not change resistant? Where's your Dvorak?

Image from Wikipedia.

I'm finishing Diamond's Guns, germs and steel, and his mention of the Dvorak keyboard got me thinking about the diffusion of e-learning. Only yesterday I was talking with a colleague about e-learning and diffusion, and the usual talk about the change resistance of faculty ensued.

I think we need to adopt a more empathetic approach to faculty and the reluctance some have to e-learning. So, here's a question to all you e-learning enthusiasts: Are you using a Dvorak keyboard? The QWERTY's history is such that we have no real reason for it nowadays; it was originally designed to ensure that the letters of a manual typewriter did not hit one another (and, today, we tend to clean our keyboard trays rather than untangle our letter keys).

A Dvorak keyboard layout is actually superior to the more entrenched QWERTY we all know and love/hate so well. The Dvorak has many advantages over the QWERTY (including less likelihood of carpal tunnel syndrome). It is possible, eventually, to type faster using a Dvorak and free online tutorials are available. There are many valid arguments for Dvorak over QWERTY, so, as e-learning enthusiasts not afraid of progress in technology when advantages are so clear, why have you not made the switch? More to the point, why are you not considering it...?

Your answer to those last two questions may well provide you with the basis of an empathetic response to faculty who struggle with the 'need' to adopt e-learning. Then again, this post might cause some hardy e-learning innovators, not scared in the least of progressive technology, to pry out their keys and rearrange them Dvorak fashion. If that's you, please leave a comment!

Some of these reasons for resistance to Dvorak adoption may well apply to e-learning, too.

Monday, March 1, 2010

5.3.3: ePortfolios making guides, or directors?

Article: Miller, R., and Morgaine, W. (2009). The benefits of e-portfolios for students and faculty in their own words. Peer Review 11(1), 8-12.

Miller and Morgaine (2009) describe how ePortfolios can be applied at all levels of higher education, "From matriculation [that is, enrolment] to graduation" (p.8). Their work collected statements from ePortfolio users, so that the "common benefits of well-run e-portfolio programs" could be explained in the words of users themselves.

The authors' perspective on the potential for ePortfolios is nicely captured in this quote (2009, p.12):
As students enter college, most do not imagine being responsible for their own learning. They believe that, somehow, teachers make them learn or, in some cases, prevent them from learning. Many even see assignments, required courses, and exams as obstacles to get around on the way to their ticket to the future—the degree. While there has been talk for many years about professors moving from “sage on the stage” to “guide on the side,” e-portfolios are developing as a teaching/learning context where this is likely to happen. The practices associated with e-portfolio—e.g., designing “authentic” assignments, using engaging and active pedagogy, periodic self-, peer- and teacher-formative assessments, and requiring students to reflect on their learning—help to move both professors and students into a teacher/learner relationship where “guiding” really works.
ePortfolios, then, have the potential to edge formal education toward a less didactic form of education. The benefits they cite from respondents seem to confirm the role of ePortfolios in:
  • encouraging metacognition;
  • helping students to link their learning experiences to course outcomes;
  • assisting students to perceive the integrative nature of formal education outcomes;
  • providing a flexible platform for learning activities across a student's learning journey;
  • helping students come to "the very powerfuil realization that going to college is about more than the degree" (p.10).
I particularly like this quote: "Reflection is like panning for gold, finding the valuable nuggets from among the gravel of day-to-day campus experiences" (p.10).

The shift to 'guide on the side' is explicitly stated in the quotation taken above however the accounts from faculty themselves imply a more directive role (from 'guide on the side' to
'director setting the vector'...?) Student comments mentioned the value of structured expectations and one specifically credited her professor as making valuable and directive suggestions... on p.11 the article concedes that "Faculty, of course, are responsible for designing and assessing the assignments that may be included in students' e-portfolios". So, perhaps the term 'guide' in this sense needs to be understood in the context of students exploring a landscape whose landmarks are already established.

The article is recommended as a good introductory commentary on the potential for ePortfolios.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

5.3.3: ePortfolios outside the wire

Article: Wang, S. (2009). E-portfolios for integrated reflection [Full text PDF]. Issues in Informaing Science and Information Technology (6), 449-460.

Wang (2009, p.449) starts by saying that "Currently, e-portfolios are viewed mostly as a tool of assessment and showcase, but less as a tool of active learning"; this is not the New Zealand experience as far as I am aware. Anyway, Wang proposes an ontological reflection model for ePortfolio use.

While it is disappointing to not see reference to the considerable work being done in the UK (and no reference to open source tools beyond, err, 'OSP'), Wang does make the connection between artefacts and learning objects and suggests a model linking course objectives to rubrics, rubrics to assessments... and, ultimately, student work to assessment outcomes. So far, so good - but next Wang describes an ePortfolio tool designed to facilitate the process of the model.

I have noticed this sort of thing before (see earlier comments on Swan): the development of a model followed by a highly structured application/solution that enables that model to be followed. This seems to be a US approach, as no UK or Australiasian literature I have seen (in published form - I have seen some review articles) attempts this. In the UK and Australasian contexts the trend seems to be toward tools that are much more open-ended and flexible.

The fatal flaw in Wang's work is really this phrase on p.457: "This paper recognizes a lack of applications of e-portfolios for integrated reflection beyond course-based teaching and assessment...". It is a pity that Wang did not read further afield, nor consider how reflection might be structured outside of the ePortfolio application itself. Structuring reflective activity using offline guides and questions can enhance the application of reflection within the ePortoflio environment; the two do not need to be integrated into the ePortfolio tool itself. Indeed, separating the brief from the tool enables the tool to be far more flexible than the case presented by Wang.

Hmmm... perhaps the fact that the study was "supported by" Chalk & Wire Learning Assessment Inc., who (perhaps coincidentally?) market the ePortfolio system Wang recommends, has something to do with the thrust of the paper...? What came first, the system or the model? At least with open source and flexible solutions such as Mahara, you need not constrain your use of an ePortfolio into a conceptual model that may actually be limited in scope.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

5.3.3: Trusted links for data - and the lifelong ePortfolio

Article: Kirkham, T., Winfield, S., Smallwood, A., Coolin, K., Wood, S., & Searchwell, L. (2009). Introducing live ePortoflios to support self organised learning [Full text PDF]. Educational Technology & Society 12(3), 107-114.

Kirkham et al (2009) give background on how ePortfolio systems might link with third party data providers once trusted links are established. The benefits of this are many:
  1. External data relevant to the user can be verified.
  2. User ePortfolios are updated dynamically by the agency storing the data.
  3. The ePortfolio becomes a real focal point for the user's abilities and certifications.
The case study provided reports on the TAS3 (Trusted Architecture for Securely Shared Services) project which, provided it is on track, will be complete by end 2011 (it is likely that it will be based on SAML 2.0). The project seeks to create a set of compliance standards that will permit agencies to share data in mutually trusted ways.

Why is this exciting?

Well, it is one thing to say that you have a Masters degree from the Open University on your ePortfolio and quite another to be able to portal your offical grades (as verified by the University's own student management system) into your ePortfolio view. Once a trusted architecture is available (and adopted), the vision of a verifiable ePortfolio for life is that much closer to fulfilment. Employers will be able to have the claims of an applicant's CV verified from the ePortfolio itself. Students will be able to see their latest grades and timetables from within their own ePortfolios. Employees can have their professional development activities automatically added to their ePortfolio from their institution's record-system.

Of course it is one thing to develop a trusted architecture, quite another for it to become a standard across the agencies whose data would add value to an ePortfolio. But the work of TAS3 is a vital opening step. Once we have an architecture, hopefully agency commitment will follow.

Monday, February 22, 2010

5.3.3: The netfolio and peer interaction

Article: Barbera, E. (2009). Mutual feedback in e-portfolio assessment: an approach to the netfolio system. British Journal of Educational Technology 40(2), 342-357.

Barbera (2009) provides an interesting study comparing the performance of two groups using ePortfolios: one in a classic, individualised sense (Group A n=15), the other using a 'netfolio' system that required peer review of ePortoflios (Group B n=16). The difference in performance between the two groups is considerable, with Group A students in the B to C grade range, Group B students in the A to B grade range.

The difference between Group A and B performance is ascribed to collaborative peer feedback that is formative in nature. However it is not a simple case of requiring peer feedback on ePortfolios to improve student performance. These results may or may not be transferable to other situations. Note the caveats that apply to this study:
  • All students were enrolled in PhD studies (and so were interdependent, highly motivated learners with high levels of expertise).
  • Group B required "more attention to the dynamic of the class and more complex grading on [the lecturer's] part" (2009, p.350).
  • There are hints in the article that Group B had to invest far more time in the course (even though students did not seem to mind this, based on the overall satisfaction they reported).
  • Peer review was a required aspect of assessment.
It would be interesting to see how transferable the principles of netfolio might be to other learning contexts, particularly given the nature of the learners themselves in this case. The obvious dedication and enthusiasm of the lecturer/researcher here is also relevant to the success of the exercise. The lecturer had to work harder, students had to work longer, the intervention was highly structured and the students were highly motivated. That said, the results from the peer netfolio exercise were clearly improved.

So, technology in this case leads to improved learning... but not on its own. The learning system here requires more energy however the learning outcomes more than justify it. The key for other practitioners is how to adapt the netfolio concept in ways that are realistic for students who are emerging as scholars - and ensuring that adequate learning time is allocated to the peer exchange.

5.3.4: Affordances of 3D learning environments

Article: Dalgarno, B., & Lee, M.J.W. (2010). What are the learning affordances of 3-D virtual environments? [Full text PDF] British Journal of Educational Technology 41(1), 10-32.

As I read this article (which is the subject of a Webinar this afternoon NZT through ascilite), something occured to me: of course 3-D environments have a critical contribution to make to formal education. However, as with most techological interventions, it is not a comprehensive contribution. The five affordances proposed by Dalgarno & Lee make this point implicitly.

After a very useful discussion about immersion and presence, the authors present their affordances:
  1. 3-D VLEs can be used to facilitate learning tasks that lead to the development of enhanced spatial knowledge representation of the explored domain.
  2. 3-D VLEs can be used to facilitate experiential learning tasks that would be impractical or impossible to undertake in the real world.
  3. 3-D VLEs can be used to facilitate learning tasks that lead to increased intrinsic motivation and engagement.
  4. 3-D VLEs can be used to facilitate learning tasks that lead to improved transfer of knowledge and skills to real situations through contextualisation of learning.
  5. 3-D VLEs can be used to facilitate tasks that lead to richer and/or more effective collaborative learning than is possible with 2-D alternatives.
These are all well and good (I particularly like the honest use of the word 'can') - however there is much left unsaid that helps to further legitimise (and contextualise) these affordances. Firstly, not all of these advantages apply to everything that is taught in higher education. Take philosophy, for example - 'spatial knowledge representation of the explored domain', facilitating 'experiential learning tasks' and applying 'transfer of knowledge and skills to real situations through contextualisation' are, well, not directly relevant. Even 'increased intrinsic motivation and engagement' and 'more effective collaborative learning' are questionable affordances for this type of subject. Here, then, is my point - the affordances are not comprehensive or universally applicable. They are inherent in the technology only insofar as the subject area itself stands to benefit from them.

The examples cited by Dalgarno & Lee illustrate my point above. In support of affordance 5, they cite a study by Jarmon, Traphagan and Mayrath (2008), who:
tell of how students in a graduate-level communication course work together and in collaboration with architecture students at the same university. The communication and architecture students are tasked with creating a virtual presence in SL of two green, sustainable, urban housing designs, that are later physically implemented in a low-income neighbourhood in Austin, Texas. Successful completion of the course assignments and projects is contingent on the students in both disciplines interacting extensively with educational and non-academic participants, both in real life and in the 3-D virtual world. Positive interdependence is also evident in that the communication students are reliant upon the domain knowledge and expertise of the architects, and vice versa (2010, pp.22-23).
Now, that just makes sense. I wonder the extent to which this example also applies to more abstract or theoretical collaboration, where there may be only a concpetual outcome. After all, this is what much of formal education is concerned with.

Lest my perspective here be misconstrued, I see an exciting future for 3D learning environments - and, as an aside, for m-learning - but it is vital that we place these technologies in the context of teaching and learning outcomes, and not try to hawk them as complete solutions that ought to be applied in all educational circumstances. Yes, there are real affordances. But there are also real contexts in which they apply.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

5.3.3: Ministry document, "Celebrating Learning"

I've been a bit remiss on this one... the Ministry of Education report, "ePortfolios - Celebrating learning" was released in August 2009. It is a report that reveals much about central support for ePortfolios in New Zealand, and is rather outstanding for its clarity and, well, good sense.

The report also reveals the challenges of implementing a single ePortfolio solution across an entire formal education sector, from Primary through tertiary. I think the report makes very sound recommendations, based on its analysis of needs and existing practice. Essentially, the recommendations are:
  1. That LEAP2A be adopted as an interoperability standard (Mahara is LEAP2A compliant).
  2. An open source, LEAP2A ePortfolio option be centrally provided (though not mandated).
One interesting finding of the report is that Primary users have specific needs, needs that powerful tools such as Mahara do not cater for... all a 5 year old should be required to do is upload a digital photo of his or her latest painting for the family, not manage views or take responsibility for an individual account! So, on a national basis, it makes great sense to adopt a standard rather than an application.

The report is also an excellent introduction to ePortfolio practice, making various suggestions for practitioners. Cosnider this list of what to consider when getting started with ePortfolios:
  1. Purpose.
  2. Ownership.
  3. 'Duty of care'.
  4. Teacher capability.
  5. Time.
The report also suggests that "Simplicity is a good thing to remember. Start 'small' but think 'big'" (p.17). Nice. Based on the reports own recommendations there is one additional factor to consider when getting started with ePortfolios:
  • Application features (particularly LEAP2A compliance).
This report is a strong indication that informed high-level discussions are taking place on how ePortfolios might be best considered in a lifelong context.

1.1.2: Compulsory 101 for e-learning thinkers

Article: Njenga, J.K, & Fourie, L.C.H. (2010). The myths about e-learning in higher education. British Journal of Educational Technology 41(2), 199-212.

This sort of article always draws my eye - exposure of 'myths' involves the sort of self-criticism that I think e-learning thinking benefits from. The authors suggest that e-learning can only benefit from "a dose of techno-negativity or techno-scepticism... so that the gap between rhetoric in the literature (with all the promises) and actual implementation can be bridged for an informed stance towards e-learning adoption" (p.199). Here's their list:
  1. e-Learning is a saviour; its redemptive power is overreaching and every educational institution should adopt it.
  2. e-Learning can replace human interaction.
  3. e-Learning cuts the costs of education, for instance, e-learning courses are cheaper to deliver than the traditional face-to-face or distance learning.
  4. Providing numerous courses and an abundance of information is beneficial, and can enhance learning.
  5. ICTs should become the primary medium of learning in higher education.
  6. Leisure (including playing and entertainment) and learning are separate activities.
  7. e-Learning will make HEIs more competitive and they must seize it or be declared institutionally redundant.
  8. Establishing the infrastructure (hardware and software) in e-learning is the most difficult part .
  9. e-Learning will see the demise of traditional campuses.
  10. e-Learning can decrease absenteeism and lower dropout rates among students.
No real surprises here, I guess - and only 6 is really questionable (and not just because Prensky is the reference!) It is probably just overstated. Other than that, many of the items on the list remind me of bold claims being made in the early days of Web-base e-learning.

Of course we should not err on the side of dismissiveness. Online access enhances informal learning, providing access to a huge set of text, multimedia and collegial resources; done well, it can refocus instructional development, improve student access to education, provide flexible study pathways, and can even prove better than alternative educational experiences (depending on how its done). Our positive claims become questionable when we project value on to the technology itself, rather than the means by which it is applied.

Monday, February 15, 2010

5.3.3: ePortfolios coming of age - and a bit on Mahara...

Article: Waters, J.K. (2009). E-portfolios come of age (full text). T H E Journal 36(10), 24-29.

Waters (2009) talks of how ePortfolio tools are coming of age as applications in their own right - no longer as appendages to learning management systems even though SSO (Single Sign On) with LMSs is now standard. The reason for ePortfolios coming into their own is largely because of the predominance of Web 2.0 flexibility, which ePortfolios must both imitate Web 2.0 flexibility and also integrate Web 2.0 presences.

Actually, there is one mistake in the article (printed twice); Moodle was not the inspiration for Mahara. We started with a clean slate, inspired by the potential for a flexible and open source ePortfolio system - and drawing on our dismal impression of the various proprietary tools we had experienced (some of which are listed in Waters' article). Only one member of our steering committee was deeply involved with Moodle, and I was the only other member on the steering committee with administrative Moodle experience. The Moodle connection comes in with Catalyst, the Moodle partners who developed Mahara to our specification - and its strong links with Moodle are further reinforced by the fact that Moodle is widely adopted in New Zealand, where Mahara was proudly forged! An early SSO integration with Moodle was therefore a priority for the developers.

In addition to mentioning Mahara as an application illustrating this coming of age, Waters lists Epsilen (see overview), Angel Learning, and (intro video)... and Google (in the form of mash-ups). However, in my view, until Google 'mash-up' can provide a feature such as Mahara's views it will not be a viable alternative to a user-controlled ePortfolio (see workflow). The full openness of a Google solution would be its greatest weakness.

5.3.3: The prime directives for an ePortfolio

Link: Tolley, R.J. (2008). The prime directives for an ePortfolio.

The past few posts on this blog have benefitted from the comments of Ray Tolley, whose work I link to here. Ray's ten 'prime directives' resonate strongly with me - and, oddly(?) enough, they are reflected in the design brief we gave for the development of Mahara. As we consider how ePortfolios might thrive outside of the classroom, criteria such as Ray's will no doubt be discussed more widely.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

5.3.3: ePortfolios and what we need to know

Article: Yancey, K.B. (2009). Electronic portfolios a decade into the twenty-first century: What we know, what we need to know. Peer Review 11(1), 28-32.

Yancey's (2009) brief article is, in some ways, disappointing - it does not draw deeply from the vast literature on ePortfolios, instead opting to treat the book Electronic Portfolios 2.0 as its major source. Now, I have only read the first book the author was involved with, called Electronic portfolios, so I cannot comment on the worth of the 2.0 version. But this article does not fully deliver what it's title promises, and it is disappointing not to see some of the very valuable UK-based research directly cited (this despite the author's own admission that "our knowledge-base is both wide and culturally complex", p.32). Anyway, there is still ample value in the article!

Among Yancey's (2009) what we know's:
  • Student engagement is a critical aspect of ePortoflio development
  • Student engagement is, in part, a result of students having control over their ePortfolios and not having to work too much in a prescripted environment
  • Students using ePortfolios tend to perform better than those who do not (though the possibility that this is because only more successful students would tend to use them is not acknowledged)
  • The choice of ePortfolio platform is important; "the ways the technology is programmatically formative" (p.29) should be considered.
  • Reflection across courses - 'meta-reflection' is a good (my) term for it - is proving highly valuable. Typically assignments require students to reflect on what they have learned within each course; ePortfolios broaden the scope of reflection, enabling "a shift from discrete courses to a larger frame of reference" (2009, p.30).
  • A Skills Matrix (like a table that students populate with artefacts to demonstrate their attainment of various skills) can help to guide meta-reflection.
  • Reflection is a valuable exercise encouraged by the effective use of ePortfolios; the process is more important than the outcome. Yancey (p.32) notes that "Many colleges and universities... found that helping students develop a 'capability to reflect' is a critical educational outcome, in and of itself".
What we need to know:
  • The influence on ePortfolio tools to student outcome.
  • The nature of reflection in the development of ePortfolios.
Not a bad list - but far from comprehensive. I do agree wholeheartedly though that the 'What we need to know' areas are very rich ones for further research, particularly the latter one on reflection. The first, relating to ePortolio tools, is also important - but I think the current case study research speaks for itself on the matter of tool choice (see previous comments relating to Swan's article).

Thursday, February 11, 2010

5.3.3: Key findings from Swan (2009)

Article: Swan, G. (2009). Examining barriers in faculty adoption of an e-portfolio system (full text). Australasian Journal of Educational Technology 25(5), 627-644.

Swan (2009) reports on an 'exploratory implementation' of ePortfolios in a teacher education programme. ePortfolios were used in particular for student placement reflections and evaluations.

Swan performed in-depth interviews with faculty and university supervisors for some insight into their experiences (n=15) as evaluators of ePortfolios. Interviews took between 45 and 75 minutes.

Key findings:
  • Faculty tended to rely on their existing means of evaluating students. Student ePortfolios provided additional insight into student experiences. Faculty were used to reviewing the reports of cooperating teachers and were content with the feedback on those reports, so seldom made use of the additional information available in student ePortfolios. They also felt tha they knew their students well enough to not need to consult the eportfolios. Those supervising larger numbers of students werre more likely to make use of the student reports in their ePortfolios.
  • Supervisors liked the data storage capability of the ePortfolio. The fact that all information was availle through the same paperless interface was perceived as a plus.
  • Providing feedback to students through the ePortfolio system was perceived as 'redundant'. Supervisors met with their students on a regular basis anyway, so they did not se the point of repeating themselves when giving written feedback on the ePortfolio.
  • Accreditation (final marking) can be messy. Respondents indicated that they found the final marking (or 'accreditation') of the ePortfolio difficult, because information was so spread and marking is often left to the last moment. I suspect that the problem in this case was to do with the ePortfolio platform itself (Open Portfolio) and the requirements of the accrediting body.
Swan (2009) concludes with the observation that, in his case, "the culture of assessment in this research setting is far from ideal for meeting the loftier goals of an e-portfolio system" - a vital lesson from the 'coal face'. Conversations, it seems, be centred on assessment systems, practice and aspirations rather than 'which tool should we use' or 'which course should we try it on'. Swan (2009) talks in terms of gaining faculty 'consensus' (a common theme in ePortfolio literature), and 'centrifugal force' surrounding implementation. As Swan hinted at earlier (see previous post), implementation involves challenge:
It may be that project leadership must not shy away from conflict and possibly be courageous enough to actually initiate and see it through to resolution.
This certainly resonates with experience! There are a number of implicit lessons from Swan's work:
  • Take systematic change seriously. It is not enough to add an ePortfolio into a workflow; it must be embedded within systems. This, of course, requires change management, intensive conversation and negotiation, listening, changing...
  • Choose the tool carefully. I have not examined the Open Portfolio tool, but from the article screenshots it looks highly customised. This can be problematic, as highly customised tools lack flexibility and can serve to reinforce older systems rather than provide opportunity for new ones.
  • Understanding faculty workflows is vital. After all, it is faculty who will ultimately determine the effectiveness of implementation. If all an ePortfolio does is add an optional extra to their responsibilities, it is no surprise that they may not use it at all. On the other hand, an effective and smooth-flowing system that saves time and improves their ability to interact with students' ideas is likely to achieve its own success.
  • Get students to create their own final submissions. Swan (2009) found that student information tended to be difficult to compile when needed for accreditation; why not get stduents to do this themselves, according to clear guidelines? The problem Swan encountered may be to do with the constraints of a highly customised system however transferring aggregating work to the stduent seems a very clear and valuable exercise - both for faculty, and for the students themselves. It seems Swan is working on further customising the ePortfolio platform to permit better summaries of data... (see second bullet above).
A very useful article, with some very important lessons for implementing ePortfolios at a programme level. In the days ahead I hope to draw additional ePortoflio-related lessons from literature together.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

5.3.3: ePortfolios: More research needed at the coal face

Article: Swan, G. (2009). Examining barriers in faculty adoption of an e-portfolio system (full text). Australasian Journal of Educational Technology 25(5), 627-644.

I'm beginning a focus on e-portfolios, because I have a keynote to present in late April and I need to get back in touch with the literature!

Swan (2009) reports on the implementation of an e-portfolio system in a teacher preparation programme in Kentucky. Swan (2009, p.629) begins with the need for more work in the area of "the schisms created by the intersection of faculty practice and system design"... in other words, more work is needed on how ePortfolios might be effectively integrated within the systems and structures of academic programmes, and the faculty responsible for them. Institutional studies, Swan suggests, are numerous... but there are not many "at the user-utility, program assessment level" (ibid.) How do we effectively operationalise ePortfolios within programmes of study?

Swan answers the question of effective operationalisation with reference to:
  1. the emergent perspective, that is, from the understanding that the interface between people and technologies is symbiotic and unpredictable; and
  2. interaction resistance theory, which holds that the differences between "designer intention and user perception cause implementation problems" (2009, p.629).
So, the greater the change, the more implicit resistance to that change and the more potential there is for problems. Swan (2009, p.670) rightly observes that "Adaptation is necessary by both the developer of the system and the members of the organisation to facilitate adoption... a high level of conflict management is crucial to achieve success" (ibid.)

Swan provides an excellent platform for further studies in ePortfolio implementation/operationalisation at the user-level. His introduction of the emergent perspective and interaction resistance theory ring true to my own work in institutional change and development in e-learning where leadership, conversation and improvement (I was going to write 'compromise' as the result of conversation, but in fact it is ultimately improvement) form a tri-unity of absolute importance.

More on the findings of Swan's study tomorrow...

Monday, February 8, 2010

5.1.1: The realities of Web 2.0

Source: Boyd, D. (2009). "Streams of Content, Limited Attention: The Flow of Information through Social Media" Web2.0 Expo. New York, NY: November 17.

A good, honest and interesting look at the phenomenon of Web 2.0. The "Four Core Issues" are very thought-provoking in terms of calls for Education 2.0!

This quote seems a useful (part) mission statement for higher education:
...the tools that consumers need are those that allow them to get into flow, that allow them to live inside information structures wherever they are, whatever they're doing. The tools that allow them to easily grab what they need and stay peripherally aware without feeling overwhelmed.
Now, I'm not sure of the 'grab what they need' part, but I like the 'getting them into flow' (citing Csikszentmihalyi) - and the 'staying peripherally aware without feeling overwhelmed' neatly describes my own appreciation of e-learning (even having completed the e-primers). Reading between the lines (and even on them), this article provokes serious challenge to those suggesting an egalitarian, open and networked Education 2.0.

5.3.2: Student behaviour in wikis

Article: Meishar-Tal, H., and Gorsky, P. (2010). Wikis: what students do and do not do when writing collaboratively. Open Learning 25(1), 25-35.

The article describes the editing behaviour of n=60 graduate students required to contribute to a wiki containing course concepts. The article demonstrates good practice in wiki design:
  • A compulsory task
  • A clear objective (building a glossary of key terms)
  • Beginning with an existing set of definitions
  • Recognition of the complexity of the task
  • Specific instructions.
The article cites previous findings indicating that students have a reluctance to edit one another's work or even to criticise; one study reported that a completed collaborative wiki resembled a threaded discussion "that lacked integration and unity" more than a polished document.

The authors constructed a taxonomy of actions that would be useful for further studies into categorising wiki use by students. All 60 students edited the wiki, with 2986 editorial changes made. The most common activity was adding sentences: "Additions occurred three times more than deletions and 4.3 times more than moving entire sentences" (p.31). However, findings indicated an uneven level of activity:
  • About two-thirds of all sentence deletions were carried out by two students.
  • 33% of all grammatical changes were made by one student.
  • One student carried out 478 of the total editorial actions (16% of the total).
  • About 10% of students were "extremely dominant" (p.32) in the activity.
These dominant students are further described:
The dominant students were ‘specialists’ who created near ‘monopolies’ on certain kinds of editorial actions: one ‘mover’, two ‘deleters’, one ‘stylist’ as well as one student who served as ‘formatter’ and ‘linker’. These roles and behaviours were assumed without any direct instruction, apparently quite spontaneously.
The authors suggest that editing behaviour might be correlated with student traits... far more interesting to me is how they graded the exercise, and whether the 'dominance' of some students served to alienate their peers and shape the overall outcome so that it was, perhaps, less representative of the class. It is interesting to note that these findings relate to graduate students... I wonder how editorial behaviour might change among undergraduate students?

A very interesting study... it's great to see some primary analysis. However the findings are, for me, a bit disturbing. Participation was far from equal... was the outcome, then, far from optimal? Might a better level of student activity resulted had the assignment required students to prepare (say) a set of short-answer definitions individually, marked by the lecturer and returned with individualised feedback?

Saturday, February 6, 2010

5.1.3, 5.3.1: The non-bloggin' generation

A recent Pew Internet Project report, "Social Media and Young Adults" (PDF), examines how those in the teens and early adulthood years (18 to 29) interact with technology. One of the interesting finds: blogs are not a high-use, highly interactive medium for young people. Bloggers in the age group went from 24% in 2007 to just 15% in 2009. Among adults, well, about 11% of users over 30 maintain a blog (the "Are blogs for old people?" news item cites the Pew report). The attention of young people is shifting to social networking. Twitter, the report found, has a 37% use among online users aged 18-24, 25% use among those 25-29, and 22% use among those aged 30-49; 19% of all online adults use Twitter. Virtual worlds (it is not clear if this statistic includes virtual worlds such as World of Warcraft) are used by about 4% of online users.

The report contains lots of useful information relating to internet uptake and connectivity, gadget ownership (cell phones, computers, mp3 players, gaming devices) and overall trends in internet use. I found this take on ReadWriteWeb thought-provoking:
But blogging? Passé, says the report. The medium once used for sharing either news and/or personal thoughts and feelings is no longer popular among teens. The why is simple: Facebook. With the ability to update your status on social networking sites, the need to communicate using long-form mechanisms like sentences and - ugh! - paragraphs is no longer necessary. Instead of summarizing a day's events via blog post for example, a teen may simply update Facebook multiple times throughout the day with the details as to what's happening in their life at the moment...
Longer forms of communication are being sacrificed for smaller, more convenient, bite-sized pieces. What will this mean for a generation already struggling with general literacy? I think the "young people are using it so we should" argument starts to rapidly fall down here... the genre of use for social networking is immediate, brief, and more descriptive than reflective.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

1.1, 5.2: A history of CAL

The latest issue of JCAL (the Journal of Computer Assisted Learning 26[1]) opens with an article reviewing the history of CAL (Hartley, "The evolution and redefining of 'CAL': a reflection on the interplay of theory and practice", pp.4-17). It is interesting to see the initial links CAL had with instructional design; the early experiences of success through a behaviourist approach, and its subsequent critique (based on a lack of student control and dialogue, even though effective feedback was a built-in element, leading to the early success); discussion of Pask's and Papert's work. It is remarkable how similar the issues faced today are with those faced 30 years ago - even in the days well before the internet.

Consider this from p.7:
By the 1980s, the educational potential of computer technology had been recognized through wellpublicized research projects that, as noted, drew on a range of theories and suggested innovative shifts in pedagogy.However, these developments also addressed the educational system itself, and it was recognized that their exploitation and further progress required substantial funding and an engagement with government and the research councils at the highest policy levels. The resulting decisions would affect the scale and direction of the CAL enterprise.
And so, largely, the situation remains! The article describes the shift from behaviourist to constructivist and collaborative development in CAL application, and highlights the importance of 'teachback' (student dialogue with a teacher on conceptual issues), conceptual maps as an aid to dialogue, and sound instructional design. These are timeless principles for e-pedagogy. The article also touches on the use of simulation and online communications. With regard to the latter, Hartley (2010, p.12) notes the importance of asynchronous, written dialogue over synchronous:
But there are well-known problems in maintaining coherence between interweaving threads of discourse, keeping the dialogue pacey and on-track, and maintaining the active interest and participation of group members. In conventional argument, spoken contributions typically add illustration or justification for statements, but in computerbased systems, managing synchronous discourse where participants are at a distance, contributions have to be short and succinct to maintain pace and point, and to invite a ready response. These considerations require an engaging and relevant topic, a view of the nature of argument and functional types of statements that carry the intentions of participants. Ideally, records should show the ongoing structure of the argument, and be available for reflection and for students’ further work.
Following a brief discussion of the potential of learning objects and the use of VLEs in education, Hartley (2010, p.13) ends with a cautious note on the contribution of Web 2.0, Web 3.0 and virtual worlds:
Further developments, e.g.Web 2.0 and 3.0, and the Semantic Web will open up the use of virtual worldsenvironments, with avatars and a mix of spoken and written language interactions. Underpinned by research, these facilities should stimulate the creation of innovative learning contexts enabling students and teachers to be more participative in the design, application and evaluation of these innovations.
Hartley (2010) also notes Laurillard's Conversational Framework (E-Primer 5.2) as an attempted framework for conceptualizing the learning process - though he criticizes it on the grounds that "technology has also enabled learners to be more influential participants in CAL and frameworks should take into account and support student autonomy and informal communication in learning" (2010, pp.13-14). An upcoming article by Luckin et al [cited as Luckin R., Clark W.,Garnett F.,Whitworth A.,Akass J., Cook J., Day P., Ecclesfield N., Hamilton T.M. & Robertson J. (forthcoming 2009) Learner generated contexts: a framework to support the effective use of technology to support learning. In Web 2.0-Based e-Learning: Applying Social Informatics for Tertiary Teaching (eds M.J.W. Lee & C. McLoughlin). IGI Global, Hershey, PA. (in press)] contains an alternative model, which may prove very useful (see However Hartley (2010, p.14) notes that the model "contrasts with current educational models that are more instrumental and organizationally based", and so it may be a model that does not suit the formal education context at all. Hartley's work is an excellent overview of CALs history and some of its curent challenges; a reminder that not all of the issues we face are new, and that there is substantial value in looking back as we consider what may lie ahead - particularly for those of us whose exposure to e-learning does not predate the Internet.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

5.3.5: Smartphones give you wings

One of the award winning papers at December's Ascilite conference was Cochrane & Bateman's (2009) "Smartphones give you wings: Pedagogical affordances of mobile Web 2.0" (PDF). The paper draws on four years of research experience.

The paper notes that "the smartphone market is set to exceed computer users by 2014", a significant statement when one of the main barriers to m-learning is considered: The lack of a standard feature set on mobile devices. Smartphones now provide the ability to download, create, store and share multimedia (audio, video, photos, text) files over wireless internet as well as via WAP. The time of the WMD (Wireless Mobile Device, not that WMD) is upon us!

Cochrane & Bateman's paper is mainly concerned with Web 2.0 integration based on a community of practice model and "student-centred social constructivist pedagogies" (p.143). Table 1, on p.145, gives an excellent list of affordances, linked to particular pedagogies. Links are provided to YouTube clips, providing a 'grounded' perspective (sorry, lame joke - many of the perspectives come from a case study in a landscape design course, the perfect setting for m-learning. Others include music, performing arts and design). Cochrane & Bateman also provide guidelines ofr establishing m-learning in educational settings.

It is no wonder this paper won an award - it is well worth a read, as it clearly presents the potential for m-learning while also providing situated examples. That the case studies focus on those 'creative industries' where sharing multimedia files makes direct sense shows that m-learning is establishing a viable and valuable place in higher education.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

5.1.1: Web 2.0 'suicide'

Happy New Year! Actually, that's probably quite a weird salutation given the title of this blog post... An app has been developed to help you delete your Web 2.0 presences, as reported at While the backlash against social media is probably not extreme, it is interesting to note that at least some users are wanting to backtrack from their online presences. Sad that Facebook has blocked site access to the app (as checked 3pm NZT 4 January)... now, that's not very social of them.

In an earlier blog (now removed and archived), I noted that many young people actually 'outgrow' their use of social media. A NYT article linked to from the DailyFinance one confirms that this is still the case. Can we continue to use the trends toward Web 2.0 and social networking as indicators pointing us toward 'Education 2.0', particularly as those trends seem to be slacking and people may becoming less involved in online participation as they used to be? Could it be that the growth of Web 2.0 connectivity is waning, plateuing, or even declining in actual time spent online?