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Some Questions and Thoughts About EPortfolios

I'm working through the concepts and implications of ePortfolios for both learning and career/professional development. Some questions and thoughts that are emerging for me. . . (note--this is very raw)

Purpose
ePortfolios can serve a number of purposes. They can be used as a record of learning, for job searching, for personal and professional development, as a way to manage your online identity.

Many of the issues below are influenced by the purpose of the ePortfolio. If it's being used primarily as a way to record learning, then that will influence what you include in the portfolio, its format, the tools you use, etc. Clearly it's critical to first be clear about WHY you're setting up and maintaining an ePortfolio.

The concept of using an ePortfolio to manage your online identity is particularly interesting to me. In a world where we are increasingly turning first to Google to get information on a person, it seems that managing our online identity is becoming more and more important. How to do that is the question. When I Google "Michele Martin," my blog is the third entry that comes up, with my bio as a sub-entry. So even if I have an ePortfolio, my blog will supersede it as the "real" portfolio of my work--which has interesting implications of its own.

Some people argue that an ePortfolio is unnecessary--that your blog IS your portfolio--that an online journal is more authentic than a more "static" portfolio presence. Maybe this is true, especially when I factor Google into the process.

Ownership
Who owns your ePortfolio? Is it yours? If you set up your portfolio while you're in school or while you're working for a particular organization and you use a proprietary system, then in some sense it doesn't belong to you. My personal belief is that we should use more open, flexible systems to maintain a portfolio and that the portfolio should belong to the person. But organizations--particularly of the "command and control" type will want to "own" the portfolio as their way of trying to "own" what's included.

Privacy

Related to ownership--who should have access to your portfolio? Access would determine to some extent the content you want to include. Privacy issues also relate to purpose. If you're using it primarily for job search, then you don't want the ePortfolio to be a "private" document. It defeats the point. But if you're using it as a documentation of your personal learning progress, then maybe you do want to make it more private. But if you keep personal learning too private, then you lose the benefit of social learning that comes from having others see your thinking, comment on it, point you to other resources, etc.

When I first went online in 1995, I was much more wary of sharing my "real" identity. The Net was so new, we didn't know what could happen. Now, I find that I'm far more comfortable with sharing my "real self," and think that it's actually important for me to not hide behind anonymity. I'm forced to "own" what I say. And again, I can manage my own online identity by claiming it.

Content

What should be included in an ePortfolio. It goes back to purpose, obviously, and your comfort levels with privacy. Some of the things I wonder about including--should you include "work in progress" learning materials? If a potential employer or client sees this "raw" material, are they able to evaluate it as a sign of a lifelong learner or do they see you as less informed for asking questions and not always having the answers?

If I decide to share work in progress, at what point is it "ready"? I struggle with this particular question all the time, needing personally to tread the fine line between sharing process in order to get feedback, etc. for learning and refinement and not sharing too early when even I am not sure what I'm saying.

What about sharing my social bookmarks, social networks, etc.? Some ePorfolio users I've seen include links to their de.licio.us bookmarks, Flickr photos, and to the social networks to which they belong. Is this good? Is it too much information?  In one way we can make connections to other people because of these ideas. But does it become information overload? Does it reveal something we didn't want to reveal?

Many ePortfolios include audio, video, photos, etc. of the person maintaining the portfolio. I wonder about the impact this might have on job search in particular. There's a reason that employers aren't allowed to ask for photos from a potential applicant. Has our society progressed to a point where they can look at this information without prejudice? I don't think so. But if you don't include this type of information and others do, what does this do to your ability to compete in the job market?

Tools
What tools to use? There are a lot of Web 2.0 tools that lend themselves to use in developing an ePortfolio, most notably wikis and blogs. (Here I'm thinking of using blogging software as a tool to set up and maintain a portfolio, not in the traditional sense of maintaining an online journal). Which tools make the most sense to use? 

Format and Design

If your ePortfolio is for public consumption, then design becomes really important. Like it or not, we're all influenced by how something looks. Are we more attracted to this or this? Part of what influences tool selection, I think, will be design implications. In general, what you can create with blogging tools (or HTML, for that matter) is going to be "prettier" than what you see with wiki tools--at least for now. Yet in many ways, it's easier to work with wiki software to create an ePortfolio. So which  should win--design sensibility or ease of use for the person maintaining the portfolio?

Creativity vs. standardization

Should an ePortfolio be standardized or should we have complete freedom to create? This becomes more of an issue if a portfolio is being developed in conjunction with some institutional effort. Schools and organizations will want standardization, but does this really allow people to tell the whole story about themselves? If I have to fit into your preconceived notion of a template, will that mean that there's an incomplete picture of me through my ePortfolio?

This comes to mind for me when I look at Lillian's porfolio vs. viewing  Bernard's. Lillian created her portfolio with a lot of freedom. Bernard had to fit into an institutional framework. Although he tried to be creative within that framework, he wasn't able to create the same integrated site that Lillian was able to set up. Going back to design issues--Bernard's site isn't a holistic view of Bernard. It's the difference between an original work of art with all that it reveals about the person and seeing a picture that someone colored. There's only so far you can go in revealing yourself in a coloring book.

I tend to think that we should maximize opportunities for creativity. Each choice we make in all of the other areas above in some sense allows us to both understand something new about ourselves as well as reveal something to others. If the purposes of an ePortfolio include learning and professional development/job search, it seems that standardization will be too confining for both of those purposes. Even as  a potential employer, I'd be more interested in reviewing the portfolio of someone who had complete freedom to do their own thing. It will tell me far more about their interests, approaches, etc. But that's because I'm willing to do the thinking and analysis. Will everyone be willing to do that? No. So does that mean that we must inevitably move to standardization in order to deal with issues like discrimination, etc.?

In this process, I'm becoming even more aware of digital divide issues, particularly related to the kinds of customers my clients work with. We have a hard enough time helping people present themselves well through resumes, interviewing, etc. When (and I think it's only a matter of timing) ePortfolios become the standard, how does this put these people at an even greater disadvantage?

I'm trying to unpack and work through all of this as I work on my own ePortfolio, as well as think through how to work with others on the process. The more I delve into it, though, the more questions open up and the bigger the implications in many ways.

Comments

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Hello, Michelle. In response to your comment "Privacy issues also relate to purpose. If you're using it primarily for job search, then you don't want the ePortfolio to be a "private" document," I disagree. I believe that in today's world, people need to consider that their work is their intellectual property, and it need to be treated with as much respect as possible. With the sophistication of many ePortfolio tool (and general web tools, for that matter) there should be some consideration for invitations, networks, and permissions. Given that I would prefer to keep my identity *relatively* sheltered, I would prefer to use an ePortfolio tool that allows me to be able to securely (knowing that there is no true security) invite desired viewers into my portfolio with having it (and my body of work) online for anyone else to see. I should have some control of my information.

That's a good point, Royce. I agree with you that each person should maintain control over their information and determine what parts they want to share and with whom. I was coming from the idea of having a learning portfolio, for example, where you might not want anyone to see what you were working on vs. having a job search portfolio where you would want to make that information more public. There are going to be layers of this that I think everyone has to decide for themselves. The key is making sure that they have the tools to do that and that they have the information to make some considered choices about how, what and with whom they will share

It does raise a good point as far as how private someone wants to be about their work in terms of protecting intellectual property. I personally am fairly comfortable with sharing, so I think that I'd have less of a problem with making a lot of my work more public. But I know that not everyone agrees with that approach.

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