E-portfolios – 7 reasons why I don’t want my life in a shoebox
E-portfolios have taken up more conference time and wasted effort than almost any other learning technology topic I can recall. The idea’s been around since the nineties but isn’t it odd that no one seems to have one? And if they do it's forced upon them by an institution or LMS. Never has so much time been devoted to something with so little real impact. An army of researchers, academics and vendors have been touting the idea that everyone should have a shoebox of ‘stuff’ which they fill up as they go through life as 'reflexive' lifelong learners. Politicians and educators of the ‘control freak variety’ love the idea, but like identity cards, the rest of us seem to be completely indifferent. So why have they not taken off?
I may have invented a new word here. E-portfolios are largely confined to education, and some vocational adult learning programmes, but the 40 odd mainstream VLEs preclude any real interoperability. Buy a VLE and you’re stuck with their e-portfolio, a specially designed shoebox in a specially designed boutique shoe shop.
Hopelessly utopian, it is the perfect example of something that turns out to be the opposite of what was intended; a shoebox of stuff so attached to institutions that you have to leave it behind. E-portfolios have been institutionalised and therefore rendered useless for students by the very people who are meant to be equipping them for life.
3. Human nature
Human beings do not behave as educationalists would like them to behave. That’s because education has a flawed and simplistic view of human nature (usually behaviourist). People are lazy, procrastinators, messy, change their minds and quite often want to forget what they’ve done. Neither is endless 'reflection' on out learning a natural process. Some reflection yes, but not the overcooked form of e-portfolio reflection that is often recommended and rarely done. Human nature mitigates against us having our life in a shoebox.
4. People are not learners
People do not see themselves as ‘learners’, let alone ‘lifelong learners’. It’s a conceit, as only educators see people as learners. Imagine asking an employer – how many learners do you have? People are individuals, fathers, mothers, employees, lawyers, bus drivers, whatever….but certainly not learners. That’s why an e-portfolio, tainted with ‘schooling’ will not catch on. By and large, most adults see school as something they leave behind and do not drag along with them into adulthood. And how often are e-portfolios recommended by people who don't have one themselves?
5. Boundary problems
Media are linked on the web and cannot be easily stored in a single entity or within a single entity, so the boundaries of a real e-portfolio are difficult to define, and will change. An e-portfolio would have to cope with my social networks but they are proprietary. We want to be part of all sorts of expansive and variously porous networks, not boxed in. Blogs, for example, seem to much mroe expansive, open and accessible.
6. Plus ca change
The only thing that will not change is the fact that there will be change. So e-portfolios will be no sooner built than redundant. The technology, and culture around technology, will change. And as these changes occur, e-portfolios will be unable to keep up with the changes. In another sense, people sometimes want change, and don’t want their baggage dragged along behind them.
7. Recruitment myth
I spent a lot of time recruiting people and what I needed wasn’t huge, overflowing e-portfolios, but succinct descriptions and proof of competences. If by e-portfolio you mean and expanded CV with links to your blog and whatever else you have online, fine. But life is too short to consider the portfolios of hundreds of applicants. Less is more.
The big one is Blackborad, but that locks you in like a prisoner in a dark dungeon, similarly with WebCT. These are largely used because they come with the package. Others such as PebblePad, RAPID, EPET, LUSID were developed by institutions and therefore limited in all sorts of ways. There are many, many more and that is part of the problem. Too many people decided to create too many products, with too much JISC funding, without due attention to the market and sustainability.
Let’s get real
Lifelong learning in a shoebox? Not really, most are institutional affectations that end up as relics. Justifying e-portfolios on the basis of lifelong learning won’t wash. It’s too ambitious. So let’s get real. I can see their use in limited domains, such as courses and apprenticeships, but not in general use, like identity cards.