Learning Portfolio’s as a Journey, not a Destination…

Life’s a journey, not a destination
And I just can’t tell just what tomorrow brings

Aerosmith, Amazing, Get a Grip, 1993

I’ve used that quote as a tongue in cheek reference, to make a statement that learning is a process, and I like the song

In years past, I had been given the opportunity as a student to use Mahara and became completely confused and frustrated that it was not simple, when so many other things were. I then explored the world of portfolios and settled on Pathbrite as it was easy to use, drag and drop, and created containers instead of the look of a website, meaning that collections of content are displayed as independently themed topics with their own shareable URL. However, the recently updated Mahara that I am now using (as a member of staff) at UCL is an improvement and has prompted me to think more about how portfolios can be used for teaching and learning.

Some observations I’ve had is that there seems to be very little in the way of portfolio based assessment or use within higher education, unless it is for professional practice. I think this is a shame there are so many benefits for what I think of as ‘development of learning’ and building up improvements through feedback. There is clearly a gap between students who receive feedback but then don’t apply it and those students who do. In the assessment and feedback section in the NSS there is clearly a disconnect between the giving of feedback and students perception of what it is. I wonder, if that is because it is only something they ‘think’ they get at the end of their assessments and therefore no use as that work is now over. They just don’t see the value. The key is, IMHO, making the ‘value’ in any process or tool clear. This is where I think using something like a Portfolio comes in handy. Helen Chen talks about the ‘Learning Portfolio’ and how they can “connect the in-class and out-of-class learning experiences”.

The great thing about portfolios is that they don’t just have to include text. They can include audio files, sketches, plans, videos, tweets, graphics, diagrams, anything to help build a complete picture of whatever it is that is required. Writing an essay can be useful, but drawing a picture (through multi-media) is even better. Thinking about the exhibition example, if the instructor could hear what they had been discussing, through an audio file of their discussion or even a recording (Teams/Zoom) then he might be able to comment on that discussion as a group and nudge them in the right direction. The hard bit is presenting the journey in a coherent way. The other hard bit is marking them so having a clear rubric seems to been the best way forward.

I was chatting with a colleague, from our History of Art department yesterday about this very thing. They mentioned how they often ask students to set up and design an exhibition. They are given support to do this, with lots of sessions about different aspects to planning, from everything around the displays, including colours on the walls, the fonts in the guides, the space and information. The students create their exhibition designs, even making 3D cardboard mock ups which sounds great. But one of the frustrating things they have found is that students get things wrong, things that they had been told to look out for, the example they gave was that they choose a font on the basis that it was ‘pretty’ rather than any other design aspect. This is frustrating because they had been told about how to select these elements but that had got lost in all the many other details that they had to think about. They work in groups and the idea is that they all work together and produce an exhibition. What the instructor doesn’t get to see is how they got there. If they could, then he could jump in a remind them about things they may have overlooked. To that end, I have suggested that we set up Group portfolios so that they can all contribute to the exhibition. We can set it up so that they have series of tasks which they need to evidence and submit into their Group portfolio space. At set times across the module, feedback can be provided on their progress and the students can then use that ‘wisdom’ (aka feedback) to improve and include things that they have not necessarily thought about or have missed (like the font discussion!)

Setting it up will take some time but ultimately, it should help students to see the value in working together. They should be able to see how they can represent their contributions to the work they have been asked to do and they should also see how building up a portfolio in this way helps to convey their journey and hopefully, encourage this kind of thoughtful practice throughout their working lives. Working together using a portfolio to build up to a final piece makes contributions visible. A common complaint to working on a presentation together can be that there is always someone not pulling their weight, and so one person ends up taking over and putting it all together. I’m not suggesting that this couldn’t happen but what I do think is that it is harder to hide when all the parts are named and out on the virtual table.

They build their planning and design into their portfolio and then how do they produce the final piece? We could create a cardboard model (take a photo or film it and add into the portfolio) but they could also build a virtual gallery. Sketchfab is a 3D tool that means we can build spaces (like a gallery) and the objects to go inside it. I have seen examples of using Sketchfab with Mozilla Hubs which look amazing and something that I am going to explore.

The students will gain a lot from using a range of tools with expert guidance through taking this very hands on approach to working in a team and producing a complete exhibition. They will not only learn about planning and designing an exhibition, but they should be able to learn a lot about themselves too. Collaborating on campus, and then collaborating online, can be totalling different experiences and a nice touch to complete this portfolio learning experience could be some recognition of that. They will have come along way and capturing their sense of achievement could be a nice way for them to start their own personal portfolio or even a blog. Who knows?

Resources and links relating to portfolios

A portfolio collection with some useful links
Bath University collection of examples and links
UCL Mahara resource centre
Digital Education blog post

5 Things to think about when choosing an ePortfolio

I am often asked about resources for students specifically about what they can use for creating a place for reflection. I have been looking at ePortfolios for years. Not just as a space for reflection but also as a space for capturing the skills and experiences of time at University. It doesn’t matter what that is, whether you are 18 or 80, if you spend time to learn, then you will change. The main thing is that you change, and that you have spent time and money to reflect and experience new things. Although most students don’t think about it until they are in their final month of their final term. With this in mind, I have put together what I think are the five most important things to think about when choosing an ePortfolio

1. Transferability


Imagine you have been diligently adding to your collection of work for the whole time you have been at university and when you leave you to find out that you also have to leave all of that work behind. Not good. Look for a tool that allows you to take your work with you, including comments from others who may have commented or added to your collections.

Photo by Disha Sheta from Pexels

2. Ease of use

Ease of use

It is all very well having an amazing tool that has all the bells and whistles, but if you have to be a computer scientist to use it, it is more or less useless. Also remember that it needs to be easy for the user, not for the institution. Easy to use means that you don’t have to think about it, it is intuitive.

Image via Pexels @Laylow

3. Privacy


You have the right to privacy. One of the ways that we can learn is through reflection, and many of our thoughts can be private and be useful. Look for a tool that allows you that right.

Photo by Mateusz Chodakowski from Pexels

4. Compatibility


This means that you can add the tools you use already. If you spend a lot of time posting to social media, maybe there are some things there that you can use to add to your collection. Choose wisely and think about what you are doing on social media to see if you can add any of those posts to your ePortfolio.

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

5. Delete-able


Don’t choose a tool that won’t allow you to delete content that you don’t want anymore. If your account can’t be deleted then the content will remain forever and sometimes, that is not appropriate for you. In some cases, because you have linked content from other platforms, they can be hard to unlink, make sure your tool makes this easy.

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

There are obviously more than five considerations but if you are being encouraged to use an ePortfolio then these are five very important things to think about ūüôā

‘Non-traditional’ learning (for higher education)…portfolios and badges

The projects that I work on aren’t really projects in the technical sense. ¬†I like to think of them more as adventures into the unknown. ¬†They have a beginning and an end, but they don’t stick to specific milestones. ¬†Nothing is rigid and the work I am doing involves people, which means that anything can … Continue reading ‘Non-traditional’ learning (for higher education)…portfolios and badges

Latest Posts

Lost in Disruption #DMLLExpo

The Disruptive Media Learning Lab at Coventry University is one of those places that when you enter it you start saying “WOW”. ¬† I was there yesterday for their “Lost in Disruption Expo“, invited to give a keynote with Jacqui Speculand¬†(raising her hand above) who is their Principal Project Lead. I met Jacqui when she … Continue reading Lost in Disruption #DMLLExpo


Something went wrong. Please refresh the page and/or try again.

Let’s connect.

‘Non-traditional’ learning (for higher education)…portfolios and badges

Cool dude with a badgeThe projects that I work on aren’t really projects in the technical sense. ¬†I like to think of them more as adventures into the unknown. ¬†They have a beginning and an end, but they don’t stick to specific milestones. ¬†Nothing is rigid and the work I am doing involves people, which means that anything can happen, particularly within higher education. However, I do get results, or rather ‘they’ do get results. ¬†This isn’t about me, it is about the students and how they manage their university experience. I am interested in how they bring together all the experiences that they have at university and how these translate into skills that they can use.

A way of capturing all of this is through ePortfolios combined with Badges.  You need both.  Yes, yes, you do.  The portfolio represents a bigger version of everything that the student is involved in, the badges are the specific sets of skills or activities, based around evidence, that capture what their contribution was.

Badges + portfolios = 3D student/person 

This balance of skills and context provides a lovely way of demonstrating who the student/person is, and what they have contributed to their activities. ¬†I’m finding that students don’t just enjoy creating the portfolios, they are gaining confidence, they are able to articulate their experiences and they can see what they have achieved (as well as how they have grown) and are guided by their tutors through sets of Badges. ¬†Examples of the work of the iChamps¬†who have been working alongside academics to bring digital skills to life show this very well:

Charlie Cosstick

Ursula Grover

Courtney Rowan

Clarissa Chay

Rebekah Kulidzan (now at LSE)  

The use of Pathbrite combined with Badges is a project that will end in July 2017. ¬† This has been applied with Geography and soon, Social Sciences students. ¬† I’m supporting more and more interest in this combination of development and digital literacies skills as we move forward with this project but I hope that when it ends, that we can use this model to enhance more educational and research experiences in this innovative way.

Another good thing from Scotland – Badges (yay)


Things I love about Scotland:

  1. Lovely people
  2. Edinburgh with the CRA in June was beautiful. So much culture.
  3. I love that they wanted to stay in the EU.
  4. They rock Badges.

I was looking for resources about Badges for the session I am running tomorrow with UG students from Geography.  I gave the talk last year but this year I wanted to show the students what their Badge would look like and who else was issuing Badges.  Last year, I could tell them about IBM, Samsung, City & Guilds and the NHS.  I thought there must be more and there are.  I discovered a wonderful site from the Scottish Social Services Council.  Not only can you be issued a Badge through their site, but there is a webinar about Badges (and not just for Social Services practitioners) covering all aspects from what is a Badge, how they can be used, how to issue and even how to future proof your service.  The webinar is a full 60 minutes but there is so much information and if you listen to the whole thing you can get a Badge.  This is not a trivial, motivational use, in order to get the badge I need to say what I learnt from the webinar and how I will use it in my organisation. It made me think and listen.  Awesome.

What (one thing*) I learnt from the webinar

It was refreshing to hear from an organisation with a practical, real-world use of open badges.  In particular, my key takeaways are around usage and application.  Robert Stewart sets out clearly how Badges (with evidence) can be used to evaluate events.  I really liked the Bronze, Silver and Gold attendance badges.  If you attended you get the Bronze (thats the hook to get you to see what a badge is) Silver attendance is what did you learn and plans for action, as well as sharing; Gold Рhaving attended the conference or event, what have you done in your organisation.  Then you have evidence of action as a direct consequence of your event and not via a survey but with evidence.  It made my heart sing!

What I plan to do

I am going to take the idea forward of sharing.  There is huge interest in the use of Badges to engage academically. In particular co-curricular activities and I will ask people that when they gain their badges to share what they have done. I really liked the use of # in the naming of the Badges.  This also ties in with ePortfolios (inspired by Katie Coleman) where the evidence is part of a bigger picture of the online identity of the person.

The application has been submitted!

*I have a whole bunch of ideas but I need to digest all the things I have realised as I was listening, including format of presentation, resources etc

Lost in Disruption #DMLLExpo

IMG_4596The Disruptive Media Learning Lab at Coventry University is one of those places that when you enter it you start saying “WOW”. ¬† I was there yesterday for their “Lost in Disruption Expo“, invited to give a keynote with Jacqui Speculand¬†(raising her hand above) who is their Principal Project Lead. I met Jacqui when she came to Southampton University for our Open Badges in HE conference in March, although we had been in touch via Twitter we had never actually met before but our common interest in the use of Open Badges meant we had so much in common.

I have to say something about their Lab space. ¬†On the top floor of their Lanchester Library (another link, we have a Lanchester building at Southampton University) named after Sir Frederick Lanchester ¬†¬†an important engineer of his time and soon to be featured as part of a Heritage Funded project at Coventry University. ¬†This space is a complete conversion of the third floor of the library. ¬†As soon as you open the door you feel inspired to learn. It has that feeling of open space it is light and well laid out with jazzy spaces for sitting, I think they called it the “Google hill” a wooden tiered structure for sitting and holding talks. ¬†There are spaces for collaboration, sectioned off by huge whiteboards, tastefully designed and used by students all the time. ¬†I have created a little¬†video about the space here. ¬†It is the sort of space that you are probably best describing with images so I’ll let that video speak for itself. ¬†One of the takeaways I had from the space was that it was well designed, well used and because of the light and the layout it made you want to learn. ¬†It is so true that your environment has a huge impact on how you feel and your behaviour. ¬† Part of the space belongs to the DMLL team. ¬†That is also a revelation. ¬†The team consists of Subject Librarians, Teaching staff, Education Developers, technical innovators, I call them that, they are not their real titles but they are not Learning technologists, they don’t look after a VLE and get people to use it. ¬†They are much more than that, the team is like an innovation engine, all working together, to explore ideas and get it right. ¬†Jacqui mentioned that it was a safe space to fail, somewhere to try out a concept, tweak it and adjust it before it is no longer a project, where is can be rejected or adopted by the university. You so need that. ¬† In addition to all of these people they had student interns working with them, and some of them they took on to be members of staff.

The Expo itself was held in the space, ably Chaired by Helen Keegan. There are teaching rooms all round the edges of the space, some with glass walls and some as regular spaces but all have Apple TV, so the use of iPads to connect wirelessly is in place and has been for some time. ¬†Each of these rooms can be booked via the devices on the walls using Outlook as the booking system. ¬†No need to complicate it by using the regular university-wide booking system. ¬†We were talking in “The Grass” an intimate tiered space, covered in fake grass. ¬†It was a completely different experience to talk to 60 0r 70 people and being able to see all of them. ¬†People were not just sitting up, but they were relaxed and listening, genuinely listening,¬†it was much more engaging to talk and listen here, again, because of the environment. ¬†Yes, we could have a room with 70 people in it. ¬†It is not the same, even the grass had something to do with it!

The talks were excellent – I listened to Brian Lamb talking about how the VLE has been designed to put is into the silos that we are trying so hard to get out of. ¬†He also talked about “Splot“, a tool he has created to make it so much easier to write. ¬† He spoke of Sandstorm, a collection of open access apps that are a toolbox of web-enabled tools for academia. ¬† Jim Groom (DS106) talked about how we need to be more aware of how our data is used, he talked about lots of things including “A domain of ones own” project at University of Mary Washington to encourage academics to write more about their work so that they raise their academic profiles but they own their presence, and it is syndicated to the university. ¬† ¬†MOOCs and their corporatisation. And he showed us the “back to the future” 80’s console room.¬†¬†I could go on and on. ¬†Both Brian and Jim gave inspiring talks , I even listened to the podcast by Jon Udell on the way home on the train.

There was so much to see and listen to I hope we can see it all again. ¬†I missed some sessions because I was preparing for my talk, but the tweets looked really interesting. ¬†They asked me what my takeaways were from the day and I said about the space because that just hit you as it was so different from the ‘usual’. ¬† ¬†But I also think that it is essential for progress and for the students to experience something like that. ¬†You need the space to explore and develop, and to meet the challenges of the new world of Higher Education. ¬†We can’t keep doing what we have always done. We will become irrelevant and students need to have the benefit of this in their own space before they face the real world. ¬† I hope that I can go there again and show others, and to work with the Innovation Engine that is the DMLL team.

The day captured in social media (Storify)