Our OU tutor has just highlighted the news that the UK government is now offering a basic eportfolio system for free, with a few bits and pieces added in. It is called the Lifelong Learning Account and it is an example of how important governments have been so far in promoting the use of eportfolios. Our group’s research on eportfolios also revealed that adoption is often driven by government or institutional pressures, such as that exerted by the European Institute for e-Learning (OU students can acess the results of our research here).
Despite this, up to a few weeks ago, I had never come across eportfolio systems in action, despite working in professional education for several years.
Putting this together implies that it has taken a huge amount of institutional pressure to get to the level of eportfolio adoption we have, and even that is not extensive. The truth is that eportfolios are barely used outside universities and I am not aware of any employers requiring them as part of a job application. There may be exceptions in fields such as design and marketing, of course, but I have my doubts.
Contrast this with the rapid adoption of technologies when they are easy to use and add obvious value. What about social networking, blogging, file sharing, digital music and gaming? They didn’t need government schemes and promotion by institutions to get going.
This broadly leads on to the argument set forward with vehemence by OU Professor Martin Weller in a recent blog post. He considers eportfolio systems overengineered, and that blogs are a perfectly adequate tool for most purposes. In particular, blogs have the benefit of being very user-friendly, so are much more likely to be used in practice, even if they are not as “whizzy”.
Is there any defence for the embattled eportfolio? Well, maybe. It is clear that eportfolios require an investment of time to put the information together before benefits can be realised. And, according to most proponents of eportfolios (such as Dr Helen Barrett) the key benefits relate to the way they encourage and facilitate reflection and so lead to more profound learning. This is a long-term benefit, not the sort of quick fix you get from looking at your friend’s photos from a party, or taking your music collection to the gym. Perhaps governments and universities are encouraging us to use eportfolios for similar reasons to the “5 a day campaign”, encouraging us to eat more fruit and vegetables. Maybe eportfolios are good for us, but we need some reminding, some help in understanding the benefits, and some encouragement.
What is certain is that this is an interesting debate where passions run high. I look forward to exploring it further.