E-portfolios –also called “webfolios” or electronic portfolios – can be defined as a collection of work in electronic form that allows the learner to provide a record of academic accomplishments (National Learner Infrastructure Initiative, 2004). As this collection of work is usually displayed on a web platform, from a technological point of view, e-portfolios can be also described as a “web-based information management system that uses electronic media and services” (EPortfolio Portal).

 

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The “cool” venue of the conference: The New Campus of the Queen Margaret University (you can´t scape the noise)

Although the original concept of portfolios was linked to artists, the possibilities of the web 2.0 technologies applied to education allowed to expand the concept to all sort of academic disciplines. In my opinion, electronic portfolios represent a powerful tool for:

a) empowering learners as ultimate owners of their own academic achievements

b) developing most sustainable ways of measuring that achievement.

The development of e-portfolios is still embryonic, with a great number of uncertainties around them. The E-portfolio Conference I attended in Edinburgh covered some interesting aspects such us:

  • · Accessibility of e-porfolios.
  • · MyStuff: The E-porfolio software of the UK Open University.
  • · Plagiarism detection .
  • · Blogs a platform for developing e-portfolios.
  • · Legal issues of portfolios.

Yet it failed to address other relevant ones such as:

  • · Standardization and interoperability of the portfolios.
  • · Ownership of the e-portfolios: institution or learner? (a repeated question throughout the conference, but never answered).
  • · Resistance from the educational establishment.

The conference’s path was likewise stressful due to the amount of workshops. In some sessions, such as the legal issues, there was no time for questions and answers. There was very little time for networking and sharing experiences and, and off course, as it is traditional in the UK, “lunch” means: fill your plate with (cold) food and scoff it all in a slot time of 5 minutes.

Here are is the summary of some of the sessions I attended:

  • MyStuff: The E-porfolio platform of the Open University.

The Open University in the UK supports at present 180.000 online students (undergraduates and postgraduates). 70% of them are mature students in full time employment. This predominant learners profile has compelled the OU to develop an online platform for electronic portfolios based on the concept of Web 2.0, and designed to be conected with Web 2.0 applications: MyStuff.

MyStuff is an open source information management software that allows students to create, store and organize their own learning contents. It also allows to re-use the materials stored (supporting, therefore, the sustainability of the resources). It can be accessed from any PC an students can decide what they want to share and what not.

 

The technical implementation of MyStuff was not mentioned at all, which was a shame, because the “father” of Moodle, Martin Dougiamas, talked in his visit to the University of Edinburgh about the possibility of integrating MyStuff into the new versions of Moodle.

Nevertheless, despite the increase in the use of MyStuff, the speaker from the OU admitted that the project was still in its early stages, facing still important challengues such as:

  • Stabilization
  • Conectability with web 2.0 applications
  • Embedding the application effectively into courses.

  • Legal issues of e-Porfolios

This was probably one of the most expected sessions in the conference, delivered by the director of the Centre for IT and Law of the University of Bristol. The speaker highlighted the importance of addressing the legal risks and costs of electronic portfolios from the beginning, rather than waiting until legal problems arise. When launching an e-porfolio project, HE and FE institutions should be aware from of the cost involved in tackling legal issues/risk and should include the financial provision of these costs in the project’s budget. Implementation of e-portfolios can be, therefore, more expensive than it was planed from the technological side.

According to the speaker, basic legal knowledge is becoming an essential skill for educational professionals. That is why some institutions, such as the University of Bristol, have started to provide with legal advice in-house.

Most of the legal problems usually arise from a poor operational and strategic planning. Institutions fail to embed the legal risks and costs throughout the planning process as a result of ignorance of the relevant law.

The most important legal issues around e-portfolios identified by the experts were:

  • Ownership and intellectual property not only of the contents, but the software and tools.
  • Liability for system failure, data losses and security breaches. The speaker advised to arrange an insurance cover against this possibility.
  • Maintaining data protection, privacy and confidentiality rights.
  • Accessibility of e-portfolios systems and risks of social exclusion.

Albeit the speaker introduced these interesting issues, there was no time for discussing them in detailed, in particular the first point: who owns the electronic portfolios. For what I have researched, it seems that, in the UK, the ultimate intellectual ownership of the contents stored in e-portfolios belongs to the institution, while in Europe and Canada the tendency is, that this ownership belong to the learners (as it should be).

The legal expert ended up his intervention by quoting some remedial strategies again legal risks:

  • Provide clear guidance, from the beginning, to both staff and learners about their rights and their legal responsibilities.
  • Document effectively all the decisions regarding legal risks.
  • Undertake a legal impact assessment while planning the project: who, for what and how can be legally prosecuted. Set up legal responsibilities from the beginning.
  • Audit the project on a regular basis.
  • Ensure that the institution has an effective disaster recovery processes and adequate insurance.