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A-level inquiry chief backs 'e-portfolios'

Tomlinson wants schoolwork files online so university admissions tutors no longer have to rely solely on grades.

EMPLOYERS and universities will be able to tap into cyber profiles of pupils' schoolwork using technology being developed by the Government's exams watchdog.

The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority is spending pound;126,000 on research into producing electronic portfolios which are accessible online. These would contain drawings and graphics, examples of pupils' work, and recordings of their performance in an oral exam.

The idea is backed by Mike Tomlinson, the Government's exams investigator, who believes portfolios could form the basis of a national database of students' achievements.

He believes they would give a more useful and complete picture of the abilities of a school-leaver than a simple set of exam grades.

Mr Tomlinson was appointed last month to investigate England's exam system after completing a two-part inquiry into the controversy over A-level grading.

The Government accepted most of his recommendations but asked the former chief inspector to do further research including looking at how computers could play a greater role in assessment.

Electronic portfolios are one of his key proposals. They would include coursework for individual subjects online, and would be multimedia, including pictures and video recordings.

The QCA is funding research by Ultralab, the educational technology research unit at East Anglia Polytechnic University, on the scheme.

The eVIVA programme, due to complete its first trials in July, is being tested by 250 key stage 3 information and communications technology pupils in 10 schools.

As well as allowing students to submit written work online, the system includes a viva exam using an automated voice, and passes their recorded replies to an assessor.

Orange, the mobile phone company, has provided the speech technology, and set up a system allowing students and teachers to receive text-message alerts when work is added to the portfolios.

Martin Ripley, QCA principal manager of new projects, said a handful of electronic portfolio schemes had been researched in the UK and the US, but that eVIVA was the first the watchdog had wanted to back.

Professor Stephen Heppel, Ultralab director, believed eVIVA would inform future work on portfolios, as it was designed to record milestones in progress in schoolwork as well as exam results, and could be updated regularly.

Pupils trialling the scheme at Bishop Lovett secondary on the Isle of Wight have been adding copious notes explaining the composition of their portfolios. ICT teacher Rob Ellis said: "We have an image of them doing the final, spoken, part of the eVIVA on mobile phones while they're out cycling on their paper-rounds."

But the idea of e-portfolios was rejected by Professor Alan Smithers of Liverpool University, who warned they would create information overload for employers and universities."No portfolio approach has caught on so far in this country because the information has been hard to digest," he said.

Mr Tomlinson has also been looking at how technology can improve exam marking. He is proposing that boards scan in scripts electronically, so that they can be distributed and marked online.

The scripts could then be divided, so that a single marker could work on just one question.

Exam board Edexcel is piloting scanning and electronic distribution of scripts, while the QCA said it used the method successfully on a "substantial number" of the 600,000 key stage 3 maths tests it marked this summer.

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