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ePortfolios … Part Deux April 29, 2013

Posted by IaninSheffield in Management, Resources, Tools.
Tags: ,


The previous post outlined the reasons behind our investigations into ePortfolios. Here are some thoughts following those explorations.

ePortfolios mean different things to different people and are defined subtly differently. For Sutherland and Powell1 an ePortfolio constitutes a

… purposeful aggregation of digital items – ideas, evidence, reflections, feedback etc, which ‘presents’ a selected audience with evidence of a person’s learning and/or ability.

and this is where the highly informative and extensive JISC Infokit begins.

George Siemens summarises other definitions and also examines in more detail the components forming an ePortfolio, their benefits and uses and the steps necessary to implement a system, then create the portfolios themselves. Lorenzo and Ittelson produced a helpful overview through an Educause ELI Publication, covering definitions, issues and different types (student, teacher, institutional), rounded off with some useful case studies, though these are all understandably within a higher education context. To find material more closely related to primary/secondary (K-12) education, you need to dig a little deeper, but there is plenty there. Dr Helen Barrett produced a Google site which explores how ePortfolios might be provided through Google Apps and John Pallister provided a detailed and informative account of how Wolsingham School engaged its community in the eportfolio process … and product!

Process? Product? Both?

Our students will be recording and reflecting on their ongoing learning, activities and participation yet at some points the collection of artefacts they’ve aggregated will need turning into a product provided for an audience or audiences. It’s this process-product interaction which steered us towards considering an ePortfolio solution to service those needs. But, as I asked in the previous post, is it really a full-blown ePortfolio we need? Or might there be other options?


There are several continua across which different solutions can be mapped.

  • Control: the extent to which the solution is in the hands of the institution or learner. Is it locked down or open, rigid or flexible, fixed or customisable, learner-centric or institutionally driven?
  • Alignment: the extent to which a solution meets the specified requirements
  • Cost: always a thorny one! Accounting for the hidden costs is often problematic, especially attributing a specific value for aspects such as people’s time, whether the teachers’, technical support or administration.
  • Features: the range of features the solution offers.
ePortfolio Continuum

ePortfolio Continuum, Ian Guest (http://www.flickr.com/photos/ianinsheffield/) / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Here’s one example within which, from back to front, feature-richness and alignment increase, and indeed, likely does cost. And control? Well that could probably be argued either way. Some solutions may be feature-rich, more costly but be well-aligned with our needs whereas others might be more flexible, cheaper, but less well-aligned. So how to reach a more objective decision?
In some sense it could be possible to ascribe a numerical value to each of the potential solutions and thereby place them more objectively on each of the continua. A weighting could be applied to each continuum based on the degree of importance i.e. if cost is critical, that could be weighted more highly. In this way each solution could be scored and compared with other alternatives … but that’s quite some job. Particularly so when you begin to explore the possibilities out there:

About.me https://about.me/
Desire2Learn http://www.desire2learn.com/products/eportfolio/
Easy Portfolio (app) https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/easy-portfolio-eportfolio/id516212900?mt=8
eFolioworld http://v2efolioworld.project.mnscu.edu
epsilien ePortfolio http://corp.epsilen.com/k12/eportfolio/
Foliofor.me http://foliofor.me/
Foliotek http://www.foliotek.com/
Google Apps for Edu https://www.google.co.uk/
Mahara https://mahara.org/
OneFile http://www1.onefile.co.uk/tour_eportfolio_overview.aspx
PebblePad http://www.pebblepad.co.uk/
RCampus http://www.rcampus.com/eportfoliohomeshellc.cfm?view=cp
Relection2 http://www.symplicity.com/reflection
Sakai http://www.sakaiproject.org/
Taskstream https://www1.taskstream.com/solutions/student-assessment/
Wikispaces http://www.wikispaces.com/
WordPress http://wordpress.com/

… which is of course just a flavour of what’s available across the spectrum and is far from exhaustive, leaving us with much pondering, ruminating and exchanging of views still to be done.

1Sutherland, S. and Powell, A. (2007), CETIS SIG mailing list discussions [Online] Available at: https://www.jiscmail.ac.uk/cgi-bin/webadmin?A1=ind0707&L=CETIS-PORTFOLIO#3 (Accessed: 13 August 2012).


ePortfolios … or maybe not? April 23, 2013

Posted by IaninSheffield in Resources, Teaching Idea, Tools.

Yesterday I posted a speculative tweet:

Several people were kind enough to respond, but it quickly became clear how open I’d left the question. Since some responses revealed avenues I might not have otherwise considered, that actually proved to be rather serendipitous. (More about the responses in a post to follow). So perhaps it would be more sensible to outline what we’re actually looking for and see whether anyone can suggest other alternatives I’d not even considered.

Where we are

For some while now, we’ve been concerned that we don’t have a formal system:

  • through which students can record participation in co-curricular, school- and non-school-based activities, other than a brief section in their planner.
  • by which staff (curriculum, pastoral and leadership) can monitor and/or comment on student activity and participation, other than by checking individuals’ planners.
  • which feeds the aforementioned data into our reporting system. This process is currently a summative event undertaken by form tutors in negotiation with the students and for various reasons significant facts sometimes get missed.
  • which will provide an overview of all activity being undertaken and/or filtered down by for example Year group, interest category etc.

Where we want to go

So in summary we’re looking for a solution which:

  • allows students to record participation in co-curricular activities (long-term and fine-grained):
    • in different ways: online, by email, text(?)
    • in different forms: text, photos, scans, links
  • allows students to search, filter, organise, edit and append their records
  • is longitudinal, following students through school, year on year
  • can be monitored, searched and filtered by staff
  • allows staff to see summaries:
    • for different groups of students
    • under different categories
    • over time
  • feeds information into our reporting system
  • potentially at least, allows the students to leave school and take their record with them.

The above constitute our “Essentials” whilst the following might be considered “Desirables.” We need a mechanism which will:

  • showcase academic/mainstream curriculum work
  • allow staff to comment/provide feedback
  • allow peers to view/comment/contribute
  • allow ‘outsiders’ to view: parents, potential employers, admissions tutors
  • allow outsiders to contribute, comment etc e.g. work experience feedback.

Now the more astute amongst you will recognise that the essential criteria don’t precisely constitute an eportfolio. JISC1 summarises things quite succinctly:

…an e-portfolio is a product created by learners, a collection of digital artefacts articulating learning (both formal and informal), experiences and achievements.

the operation of which can be represented diagrammatically as:


Understanding how e-portfolios work (Adapted from Hartnell-Young et al 2007) [https://epip.pbworks.com/w/page/40907849/Defining%20e-portfolios]

So if we go looking for an off-the-shelf eportfolio system, will it be over-specified for what we need? Or maybe there are no eportfolio (or other) systems which do offer the specific functionalities we need? As Frasier would say “I’m listening.”


Drawing a Tube Map – how hard can it be?! March 4, 2013

Posted by IaninSheffield in Resources, Tools.
Tags: , , , , ,

Whilst I was working through my 365 project, it struck me that when concluded, to continue to be useful as a resource potential explorers would need a way of interrogating the posts. From the outset I made sure each post outlining a Web2.0 tool was tagged appropriately – with both a SAMR level and a category (or more than one) stating the affordances of the tool. The tags could then be used to filter posts corresponding to the type of tool a viewer might be seeking. However none of that could provide a overview and summary of all 366 posts and tools; for that I’d been considering using an infographic of some sort.

Right from the outset I’d had in my mind a graphic along the lines of the London underground map which had been morphed to use in other ways like Simon Patterson’s Great Bear which swapped the tube lines for fields or spheres of endeavour and the stations for people who were known in those spheres (like scientists, actors, authors etc), or Tubular Fells by Peter Burgess which used similar design principle to the Tube Map, but changed it to suit Lakeland Fells and walking routes. So in my version, Web Tube.0, the Web2.0 tools would be the stations, the categories of tools would be the lines and the SAMR categories become the zones. How hard could it be?!

Well it turned out … very! If I chose to use the London Underground system as a template (leaving aside the potential copyright pitfalls), with only 270 stations spread across 11 lines, I would be well short of my needs. I had 366 tools spread across 34 categories. So I tried using similar design principles (as Peter Burgess did in Tubular Fells), but quickly came to recognise the enormity of the task. The problem wasn’t drawing 366 stations on 34 lines, the real problem was where a tool fell into more than one category and the lines had to intersect … and some tools fell into four categories! In fact about half the tools fell into more than one category compared with less than a third on the Underground map. Then superimposed on top of that would be the zoning for the SAMR levels! Now all of that is doubtless doable and in fact I suspect a programmer could probably come up with some solution, but surprisingly an extensive search of the Web found few possibilities. Most ‘solutions’ suggest using graphics programmes like Inkscape, Illustrator or Freehand, but they seem to miss the problem – it’s not the graphical issues, it’s the computation that’s at the very heart of it. I came across a PhD thesis “Automated drawing of metro maps” which outlined the nature of the problem as follows:

Given a planar graph G of maximum degree 8 with its embedding and vertex locations (e.g. the physical location of the tracks and stations of a metro system) and a set L of paths or cycles in G (e.g. metro lines) such that each edge of G belongs to at least one element of L, draw G and L nicely. We first specify the niceness of a drawing by listing a number of hard and soft constraints. Then we show that it is NP-complete to decide whether a drawing of G satisfying all hard constraints exists. In spite of the hardness of the problem we present a mixed-integer linear program (MIP) which always finds a drawing that fulfils all hard constraints (if such a drawing exists) and optimizes a weighted sum of costs corresponding to the soft constraints. We also describe some heuristics that speed up the MIP and we show how to include vertex labels in the drawing. We have implemented the MIP, the heuristics and the vertex labelling.

I wasn’t reassured when further investigation led me to an application called Context Free which “… is a program that generates images from written instructions called a grammar” Err, yes, well I certainly found an example in the gallery that might help – 24 stations on 3 lines with only 4 points of intersection (& of only 2 stations each) required in excess of 750 lines of code (albeit some blank spacers & others single characters)!

Which is when I decided Web Tube.0 would go onto the back burner. I considered instead a dartboard or Mandala-style diagram which would adequately provide 34 sectors for the categories and outward protruding arcs for the SAMR levels, but I couldn’t easily resolve the issue of overlap where a tool spans several categories. I toyed briefly with the possibility of drawing a concept map (plenty of applications there), but once more it was the issue of the intersects. Recognising that the points of intersection were proving the stumbling block to this form of representation caused me to shift perspective and whilst considering, but rejecting the Periodic Table (overlapping categories once more!), I thought there might be merit in the grid-style layout. And that’s when I settled on:

366 Web2.0

cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo by ianguest: http://flickr.com/photos/ianinsheffield/8504100927/

It’s a simple alphabetic layout following the chronology of the posts and is only that shape for ease of viewing in its entirety; it could easily be a single row sweeping out an extended linear area … not so good for Web viewing perhaps? So at a glance the tools offering a particular SAMR level are easily identified. Finding tools in a particular category, for example concept mapping tools, requires a little deeper interrogation and perhaps at a higher zoom level. Whilst the colour coding helps here, some colours do tend to merge with their neighbours and are less easy to tell apart unless side-by-side.

I designed and created it using Inkscape, an open source, freely downloadable vector graphics editor … which means the output can be scaled without the pixelation you get if using a bitmap editor like Photoshop or GIMP. In addition it provides another useful feature for those viewing the output svg file using certain browsers, namely the capacity to add interactivity to the image. So moving forward it’s my intention to make filtering the complete toolset down to just the ones you’re looking for with a single click – so clicking on ‘Survey’ for example will hide all tools except for the survey ones. I know it’s possible, but I suspect it will take a few more hours work … assuming the audience wants it?! Be grateful for your feedback.

“I wanna tell you a story” February 19, 2013

Posted by IaninSheffield in Musings, Teaching Idea, Tools.
Tags: , ,

I hope those (more mature?) UK residents for whom the title quote has meaning will forgive the reference to a long-lived and for many, well-loved English variety entertainer, Max Bygraves. But his catchphrase neatly encapsulated what entertainers need to do – to tell stories. Or at least to adopt the role of storyteller. Storytellers hold your attention, stir your imagination, compel you to want to hear (read/see/experience) more, invoke an emotional response … make you care. Storytelling can be for entertainment and pleasure, but also help understanding, solicit co-operation or build coalition … or even sell a product or service. As Joe Sabia outlined, the influence of digital (and other) media on storytelling may not have changed the essential elements of storytelling, but I’d suggest they have enabled the following:

  • Reach – access to a much wider audience through the Internet and the social networks which magnify.
  • Richness – diversity and profusion of media through which stories can be expressed.
  • Revealing – allowing a wider range of creators, for whom traditional storytelling may have been less accessible, to appreciate that they have something to offer and the media through which it might be delivered.
  • Recycling – where content created by others can be reused to tell the same story in a different way, or weave an entirely different narrative, or be mashed together from different sources.
  • Requesting – the audience need no longer be passive receptors and can be invited in to contribute to, or influence the direction of the story

As teachers, perhaps we need to scrutinise more carefully the role of storyteller and how might exploit the techniques and processes of telling a story so that the experiences to which we expose our students become more compelling.

The ‘story’ I chose to tell for this #etmooc assignment was inspired by a single image a colleague showed me just last week. I wondered whether it could form the subject of a story, but rather than put it up front and centre, I chose to approach it obliquely. Other storytelling techniques such as 5-card Flickr put imagery front and centre in order to stimulate the imagination. I elected to use simple words to conjure images which would hopefully lead the reader in a direction such that the final reveal was a complete surprise. Progressively revealing more and more of the image hopefully served to stimulate the imagination further.

Master storyteller? Well not yet. With such little text, each phrase, each clause, each word needs to be chosen with care and precision. I could have done with a little more time, but you can only tinker so much and eventually you have to ‘ship.’ I think maybe the image reveal could have been done a little better and though I considered making it visible on every frame, thought it might detract from the story and the reader’s need to conjure their own image as they absorbed the words – doing that whilst pondering the imagery would have been too much I felt. One final thing, boy isn’t finding a piece of appropriate CC music for the backing track time consuming?! Wasn’t entirely satisfied with the final choice, but the days are only so long.

Progressively revealing an image is a useful technique on large screen displays, perhaps using IWBs to tease out the storytelling in our younger students. Rather than show a whole image at once, use the IWB spotlight or eraser tools to reveal just a small section and ask students to first describe what they see, then as different scenes are shown, how or if they might be related. It’s surely the process of filling in the background for oneself that stimulates imaginative thinking?

366-366 posted. All has been said and done. January 1, 2013

Posted by IaninSheffield in Tools, Web 2.0.
Tags: , ,

As 2012 unfurled, I began a 365 Project, though one with a twist – 366Web2.0. Here then are my reflections on the project.


cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo by Asja.: http://flickr.com/photos/asjaboros/6520949843/


In total, 366 AudioBoo podcasts (actually 368 because two applications merited extending to two podcasts) were recorded, representing almost 16 hours of audio. The reality was a little more demanding however since many applications were new to me and needed a degree of exploration prior to producing the podcast. Each podcast also required assembly of a blog post through which to deliver it and though brief, wherever possible a supplementary resource was sourced and added; sometimes a video, sometimes an artefact from the tool. All told then, preparation, recording and writing the blog for each post took between 15 and 30 minutes, sometimes longer. In other words, producing 366 occupied over 120 hours i.e. three work weeks.

Bang for buck?

Was it all worth it? Did the benefits outweigh the costs? I guess there were two beneficiaries: anyone who might have chanced on a post, found something of use, then took that away to develop further. Unfortunately I’ve no way of knowing the extent to which that happened since the viewing figures data from Posterous are notoriously unreliable and I find it hard to believe that any of the Boos I made attracted over 100 listens (The top Boo apparently got 832 listens!). Even then, with few comments posted, and there were few, it’s difficult to know if anyone found anything of value in the podcasts or blog posts. I must say here though I’m grateful to John Johnston & David Noble on Edutalk for their continued support and encouragement … and am honored to be included as a member of the Edutalk community.

I can write with a little more confidence about the second beneficiary – me. Right from the start I wanted to learn a little more about podcasting and whether I had the ‘right stuff’ to produce them. Well there’s no question that I learned something! I certainly find it difficult to speak with the ease and fluency that most of the other podcasters I listen to on Edutalk, EdtechCrew, Tightwad Tech, EdTech Talk and elsewhere seem to do. But part of that’s the format I guess; I’m not loquacious enough to talk into a mic. on my own for long (Couldn’t help but marvel at a recent podcast (Episode 397) from Wes Fryer where he spoke with clarity and focus for almost an hour solid … whilst driving home from a conference!). I guess I’m more of a listener and responder, perhaps better suited to dialogue rather than monologue.

I also learned a little more than I normally would about the new tools I came across. Usually I’d simply bookmark and tag them for future use, but if I was going to be talking about them in 366, I needed to explore them a little more fully. As a result I found several that have now become part of my ‘go to’ toolset that I return to and refer others to regularly; that rarely happens with tools I don’t take the time to explore more fully.

What might I have done differently?

Although I decided at the project outset what I ought to include in each podcast, I soon departed from that and tended to ‘wing it,’ often perhaps being more descriptive rather than as analytical or critical as I might have liked.  I sometimes wondered whether the supporting blog post was really necessary; could I have done the majority of it through AudioBoo by making greater use of the description and tag fields? AudioBoo have also recently introduced ‘Boards’ which can hold Boos having a common theme, a potentially useful addition for grouping my Boos, by tool-type perhaps. I did feel however that including a video with each podcast (where possible) perhaps provided a different perspective and also might have been more appropriate for those who prefer visual explanations rather than just audio.

Another area which gave me pause for thought was the attempt to try to categorise each tools using the SAMR model. Trying to pigeonhole a tool in this way is not without problems as the blog posts in the ‘About’ page explain. My hope was that offering a tentative level might spur debate about the ways in which the tool might be used, how that could be interpreted and challenge us to think beyond a surface level of simple usage to a deeper appreciation and understanding of how we might use it. Why am I using this tool and am I (and my students) getting the most from it?

End of the line?

The year is done and the project over. Or maybe not. Given the degree of commitment required to produce a podcast/post per day, I’m not sure I could sustain that into 2013; I also have other avenues I want to explore. However new tools continue to emerge and in order to better understand their potential, I do need to give them more than a cursory glance. Perhaps then this offers a way to extend 366 and use it to review and record Web2.0 tools on a continuing basis, albeit with a less demanding schedule.

Maybe there is life in the old dog yet?