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

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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


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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)


Residential reflections on TEL PhD Cohort 9 #Rocks

I’ve just got back from a week residential as part of my PhD with Lancaster University. ¬†I am part of Cohort 9 and although we have been discussing and talking together online since January, this was the first time that we met face to face. ¬†In the beginning we were all a little nervous, not sure what the week held, where we were going, but we would have a presentation on day 1 so we needed to get all of that behind us and get on with it. ¬†I was extremely excited about meeting everyone and to be learning new things over the week, I was also keen to meet some of the previous years cohort, including some who I already knew, which was also part of the residential.

Day one came and I immediately felt like I had known some of them forever. ¬†Such a lovely, funny and very clever bunch of people. I learnt so much from them all. ¬† The week was set up to include social and academic activities, so after the first day of orientation and presentations in the pm, each morning we had a lecture with a member of staff or previous students on the programme. ¬†We would then look at various academic skills necessary for the programme and we had feedback on our research proposals. ¬†After listening to the speakers I found myself questioning what they were saying and applying perspectives that I hadn’t really thought much about before. I guess in my world, I’m just getting on with everything, but I now realise I can change things. I have an opportunity now to put some meat on the bones of the ideas that I had half formed in my mind and really push forward with digital literacies practices and challenge existing practice and beliefs.

It was only when I was on the train home and looking at the literature that I needed for my research project that I realised how much I had learned.  When I read one of the papers again, it made so much more sense and I think it was because of the jargon. Every community has their own jargon, whether you are in an institution or not, organisations, disciplines, etc all have a language that you use, that becomes familiar and it is not a barrier to learning.  After the residential, reading a paper I was looking for certain things, structure, chains of evidence, theoretical frameworks, all of these things I had read about before but not really deep enough to sink in.  But yesterday, on the train home, they did.   I have been inspired to explore and challenge, and I am excited to be on this journey with everyone (<Рthat was soppy, sorry).

As a student, I think Digital literacies skills are now more important for ever. ¬†Notably, I practice what I preach and this morning I have already been adding and responding to our Deep Space 9 (Cohort 9, see what we did there?) Group on Facebook, chatted via What’s App to Margaret (fellow member of Cohort 9) and now writing this post, whilst¬†doing a Mooc with Udemy on Leadership. ¬†I’ve¬†created a list via my Momentum chrome extension and am preparing further¬†blog posts and a Keynote for next week, all of this will be recorded in my portfolio.

So, onwards and upwards. ¬†Cohort 9, you are awesome and we’ve only just begun (cue The Carpenters¬†here).

Everybody wants some (digital literacies skills)

Digital literacies (Fiona talking about them)
Hmm…digital literacies anyone?

We had a fantastic conference on March 8th, ‘Open Badges in HE’ (I wanted to call it BadgeCon but there you are) at the University of Southampton. Over 150 people attended in person, and 100 online, from around the world. ¬†We were very fortunate to have both the UK and US perspectives on education using Open Badges with our keynotes, Doug Belshaw and Carla Casilli. ¬†Both highly respected in the badge and education world, so it was a real honour to have them talk to us about the application and implementation of open badges in higher education. ¬†We have captured a lot of what went on during the day via Storify and the iChamps are blogging about it. ¬†It’s always after the event that the real conversations get started and I have already been talking to a range of people across the university and beyond, interested in how they might implement badges into their own practice. ¬†It got me thinking about how everything that I am involved in revolves around digital literacies skills and competences.

In the last few months since I wrote my last blog post I have been here there and everywhere, but the underlying theme of the work I do, the research I undertake and the conferences I speak at, have always been digital literacies. ¬†The importance of being able to work, live and learn effectively cannot be understated and I always bring it back to that one area. ¬†Don’t ask people to run before they can walk. ¬†If you are interested in implementing new curriculum support your staff and your students (or your customers and employees) to inform themselves of the concepts of digital literacies. Why is this important? ¬†Don’t just assume they can or they know how to use hashtags, or that they will grasp concepts if they are not engaged in the global world. ¬†I’m trying nor to use the phrase 21st Century skills (its 2016 folks) we have entered that space.

So, before you think about implementing a new concept or idea think digital literacies. ¬†What are they? ¬†Many before and after me will write reams about what they mean but essentially it is about communicating, creating, collaborating and critical thinking, with a bit of citizenship thrown in (lots of C’s). ¬†Being digital literate isn’t a state that you will arrive at and tick a box saying ‘complete’. ¬†It is something that is forever moving forward and is part of the life long learning set of skills, bring on the key phrases around agility and flexibility, being rigid and inflexible isn’t going to be an enabler to becoming effective ¬†and efficient in a global world.