This ain’t yo mama’s e-portfolio, part 3

So, to pick up on parts 1 and 2, part 3 is an examination of some of the uses and possibilities of feed-driven architecture for dealing with the varying ways we might understand a portfolio, which—as Stephen Downes notes here—is in the midst of a pretty significant transformation. A change premised on re-imagining the portfolio as not so much a static receptacle for work completed, but a dynamic space for both reflection and presentation of an on-going development, or “portfolio-ing” as Alan Levine’s comment points out. This shift parallels the way many are approaching their actual work in this field (and many others, something Jon Udell calls professional blogging) as part of an ongoing, networked conversation about process and collaboration, rather than some isolated, fixed product.

An RSS-Driven Departmental Portfolio Review Project

Writing processAll of which makes me think about the project Professor Sarah Allen and I have been working on for her Writing Process course. Each member of the class was asked to create their own blog and post various papers and revisions to the blog as a kind of digital notebook in which they would publish the work for peer review and feedback (all of which fed back into the course blog, a now “classic” course aggregated model for using blogs at UMW). The class was focused on process, and part of the approach was to understand writing as a dynamic, unfolding art form that must be labored over with numerous revisions, iterations and approaches.

During this year’s Tech Fellows program Sarah and I came up with an RSS-driven framework for delivering the “final” version of a English majors essays to a secure space so that faculty could conduct a blind review for assessment purposes. The samples would come from a select group of English courses (Sarah’s Writing Process course being the test case). Traditionally this was handled through a BlackBoard drop box, wherein the essays were uploaded without students names and then reviewed by faculty. To do this they would have to download the papers, print them out, comment on them, than convene with other members of the review committee to discuss the them.

The thought Sarah and I had was there’s has gotta be a better way to streamline this portfolio review process. So, what we did was rather simple, Sarah had all her students writing in their own blog throughout the course of the semester, and publish their revised essays as they finished them. Once a student considered an essay to be a final version, they tagged it with “final paper.” We got the sitewide RSS feed for every post tagged with “final version” and fed them into a blog called ELC Assessment.† The assessment blog is now populated with final, anonymous essays that the department review committee can comment upon from anywhere and have a distributed discussion about the writing, better yet it is all easily protected so that only English, Linguistics and Communication faculty can access it (we left the example open, because it’s a proof of concept).

UMW Lablogs

Image of UMW LablogsUMW Biology professor Steve Gallik provides yet another example of how an RSS-driven infrastructure can make things a whole lot easier, and provide students with a practical portfolio of their lab work. I posted about this project earlier this academic year and Steve and I will be presenting it at the EDUCAUSE Southeast Regional Conference. This was a grand experiment, and I think it has some serious possibilities for thinking about managing a scientific portfolio of experimentations and labs.

In short, Steve Gallik developed an entire suite of online laboratory resources wherein students can record the results of their experiments, something he terms an Online Laboratory Suite. Well, if that’s not impressive enough, Andy Rush and Steve Gallik conceptualized a way to take the experiment results for each student and create a RSS feed for it. When each student signs up for an account on Steve’s Online laboratory Suite, they are immediately sent an RSS feed that they place within a spam-blog plugin like FeedWordPress on their own blog, choose the category to publish it to, and before you know it they have an aggregated, feed-driven lab notebook (or a LabLog) of their work that automatically updates as they complete their online labs.

What I like about this project is how clearly it suggest that whether or not you can program your own laboratory software like Steve Gallik, having a publishing platform that is framed around syndication effects everyone. If we do have online lab software being used by a department, isn’t it about time we expected to have an RSS feed for student work? Steve’s LabLogs represents a powerful model for thinking about how students can easily re-publish their own labs into a format they can control, re-publish, and re-purpose as they see fit.

The Macaulay Honors College E-Portfolios Using WPMu

Image of Macauly eportfolios siteJoe Ugoretz, who is the Director of Technology and Learning at The Macaulay Honors College (part of the CUNY system), has been pushing the envelope in terms of the small pieces loosely joined approach to integrating technology into teaching and learning. Joe, with the agile help of Jeff Drouin, has been using open source CMSs, wikis, and blogs to great effect during his first yearat Macaulay. After a few brief e-mail exchanges with Joe about using WPMu as an e-portfolio system, he invited me up to talk his crack cadre of graduate student Tech Fellows about the small pieces loosely joined approach to educational technology. And as always, I focused on the work UMW has been doing with WPMu in particular.

It was great fun for me, in particular because I started out in this field as a tech fellow at the CUNY Honors College almost four years ago. So going back talking about this stuff was pretty cool, and I could warn them to resist getting too deep into blogs and wikis lest they get hooked and never finish their dissertation, only to find they have become a fanatical, raving EdTech lunatic 🙂

So I recently discovered that Joe has decided to pull the trigger on a WPMu driven portfolio project, and it is alrady up and running, you can read more about it on his blog here and see the actual site here. How cool! Joe is an impressive guy, and he is not afraid to experiment with these powerful, open source publishing platforms, which at CUNY means a lot. To quote Jon Udell talking about UMW two years ago, Joe has really put the Macauly Honors College in the catbird seat when it comes to instructional technologies. He is not afraid to experiment with a wide array of open web and open source tools, and he understands the importance of deploying them rapidly and always already as beta to see how they will fare. That is the pace you need to keep currently, and it is why most of the rest of CUNY is screeching to a devastating standstill when it comes to instructional technologies (Bernard L. Schwartz Communication Institute’s Blogs@Baruch being the other brilliant exception, thanks to Mikhail Gershovich and Luke Waltzer).

Moreover, Macaulay has a manageable incoming class of 300 students every year, all of which are distributed amongst seven different senior colleges of CUNY (I think it’s seven?). A small college loosely joined that may prove an extremely powerful example of how these tools might bring a de-centralized learning community into some kind of online focus. Needless to say, I love Joe’s style and I’ll be watching the Macauly Eportfolio project closely over the next year.

OK, that’s enough about e-portfolios, now it’s time to get ready for Faculty Academy, miles to go before I sleep.

† We got the feed for this tag by first using sitewide categories feeds for WPMu where all the posts were categorized as “final paper,” but the MuTags RSS feed extension—which you have to pay $50 for—will prove the better option, for students can just tag their posts as final paper (or what ever) and you get a sitewide feed for the tag without the sitewide categories feed hack which can get ugly. Once you have the sitewide RSS feed for this tag, just activate the FeedWordPress plugin and it will automatically re-publish any post within the WPMu environment tagged “final paper.” What’s nice about the FeedWordPress plugin is that it will sync all changes to a previously published post. Also, you have options to not include post author, you can prevent a linkback to original post, as well as the ability to place all feeds for a certain tag into a specific category of the assessment blog (so all of Sarah’s class papers will be placed in the category “Writing Process”). Groovy! —or should I say Groomy?

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3 Responses to This ain’t yo mama’s e-portfolio, part 3

  1. Mikhail says:

    Thanks for the plug, Brother Jim. As always, you are our inspiration. In CUNY’s defense though, Laguardia Community College’s e-Portfolio program is pretty darned impressive. I’m not sure what they use but they are definitely open to open source tools.

  2. Reverend says:


    I am familiar with LaGuardia’s eportfolio system, first time I heard about it was back in 2004. It was relatively unique back then, and I still like the way it allows a student to feature their work. This student’s portfolio is a good example of the power of such a program.

    That said, they are using BlackBoard’s eportfolio, and along with that comes some real questions. Is this just a fixed space that students create once as a model and then walk away from? Can they take it with them when they go? Or does LaGuardia’s BlackBoard installation have to house it forever? Can they use multimedia? Are they eportfolio-ing (in Alan’s sense of the term)? And what about that ugly URL?

    This model really embodies everything the one I am outlining above is moving away from. It is a centralized depository for static work, not a vital trace of a student’s development. Not to mention the web design and interface limits the ability for a student to really express themselves aesthetically as they would like. I think it may have been impressive back in 2003, but it really isn’t in 2008. And not simply for aesthetics reasons, but for the larger realities of capturing the stream-driven ideas of education that reflect the development and reflection on thought over the course of study–which cannot be encapsulated in a static space that is hard to find and far less than open.

    More than that, take a look at the carrot system involved in this process, the portfolios are reviewed, graded, and then a monetary reward is accompanied for those students who go through al the workshops. It is the most industrial, capitalistic approach to an ePortfolio you can imagine. It is an inauthentic assessment model, that undermines much of the process minded nature of how the web works.

  3. Mikhail says:

    Are the advanced e-portfolios through Blackboard as well. My sense was that they used multiple platforms.

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