25 Years of OU: 2007 – eportfolio


In the latter half of the 00s eportfolios gained a lot of attention and there was a proposal that all universities be mandated to provide students with eportfolios that they could take with them between institutions and employers. There was an IMS standard and several providers such as PebblePad and Mahara. The OU set about developing its own system (as it often does), called MyStuff.

Part of the role of IET’s Masters programme (before it was axed) was to act as a testbed for the University more generally. So we developed a module called H808 The Elearning Professional, which had the new OU system at its core. My colleague Robin Goodfellow led this and I was one of the contributing authors.

The intentions behind MyStuff were good – to allow students to gather different types of media and outputs in one central place, that they could share and alter the view upon. However, it was not an easy piece of software to use, and we spent a lot of course real estate talking about the technology itself. These comments from students in a 2009 evaluation of the course attested to some of these frustrations:

“We ‘did’ ePortfolios to death! Surely far too much study and assessment emphasis on them – at the expense of other elements of eLearning we might have examined at all/or in more depth.”

“MyStuff – big disappointment, especially as it is core to learning on course.”

MyStuff was quietly abandoned as a university initiative and although eportfolios are used in some courses, they haven’t really been adopted across our teaching since. I think a lot of my rather negative view of eportfolios arose from this experience. But I was probably unfair. Eportfolios are interesting when they begin to influence course design and pedagogy. The Eportfolio Ireland project which spans several institutions is an example of where they have been deployed successfully. I still come down on the side of blogs as a more effective eportfolio and giving students a domain of their own may be a better way to realise many of the aims of eportfolios. But the underlying motivations of eportfolios are sound I think, which can be summarised as:

  • Breaking assessment into smaller chunks
  • Gathering different types of evidence
  • Giving learners control over the collection
  • Combining formal and informal elements
  • Ownership residing with the learner across institutions
  • Redesigning courses to produce different pieces of evidence

Covid 19 bit: The pandemic has really highlighted what many of us have been saying for years – exams are a pretty crappy assessment method. They also present a weak point in the overall education process – high stakes, one off assessment that takes place at a set time and set location. When this fails there is little else to fall back on. In the online pivot you have three choices then: Redesign assessment away from exams, do exam type things (eg a set of questions to be answered over a longer period), or reproduce exams using proctoring approaches. The latter is pretty much declaring that you hate students, and the companies involved seem to pretty much hate higher ed, so, erm, don’t go that route.

There are often requirements from external bodies (such as professional associations) that require some form of exam, so the exam-like option will remain for many subjects. But a more eportfolio framed approach may well be a way to redesign assessment – even if it doesn’t involve actually using an eportfolio. And no, you don’t need blockchain for this.

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