Beyond coursework

4th November 2005 at 00:00
E-portfolios are revolutionising learning by allowing children to chart their progress and build up a CV, reports Dan Buckley

The government's proposal to provide every learner with a lifelong e-portfolio, has sparked considerable debate about the role, location and operation of such a scheme. At face value, the e-portfolio is an online coursework store, managed by teachers, that allows for easier moderation and marking. Alternately, the e-portfolio holds the key to a radical change in the way learning can occur inside and outside of our schools.

An e-portfolio can serve to widen the range of supported learning styles, as it is just as easy to store video, photographic, auditory and 3D Cad work as it is written work. The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority has already committed to recognising such new forms of assessed work, and the recent development of the Diploma in Digital Applications (DIDA) is a step in this direction. In ICT terms, it is simple to control access so that children can manage their e-portfolios with decreasing assistance from adults, without being permitted to delete anything of assessed importance.

Such self-management of learning opens the door to the inclusion of work from outside school and clear progression to adult learning and evidenced CVs.

Allowing multimedia, self-managed evidence files are a worthwhile benefit as it is in the area of assessment that most transformation is likely to occur. Research confirms that we should be integrating assessment into the learning process. Analysis of a learner's e-portfolio could provide suggestions as to what could be improved and how to go about this. If the learner acts on this advice and provides a piece of work as evidence, the e-portfolio could re-analyse and provide feedback. Although the portfolio would be drawing on self-assessments, peer assessments and even parental assessments, it could suggest which items should be put forward for formal verification. If this seems a bit far-fetched, take a look at four developments that currently appear to be converging on these functions First, the world-agreed Sharable Content Object Reference Model (Scorm) standards, which allow websites and programs to "talk" directly with your e-portfolio and automatically feed back what you have achieved on the site.

All new e-learning materials, including the BBC online curriculum, are being made Scorm-compliant.

Second, the new version of Windows (Vista), due to be released in the middle of next year, allows assessment tags to be attached to any piece of work by anyone or automatically by a website. Virtual folders then form dynamically by searching through these tags. Microsoft's Class Server already has some connection between content and curriculum criteria.

Third, internet peer review sites are growing quickly. For example, allows children to write a story based on a topic that interests them and then have it peer reviewed. Although the assessments are based on opinion rather than criteria, they are valued by thousands of children, especially the child whose critique of Harry Potter was reviewed by the author. It maybe shouldn't surprise us how important peer review is becoming on the internet, given that this was the original reason for its creation.

Finally, Every Child Matters is based upon the notion of the child at the centre of a process supported by an infrastructure that allows for the sharing of information. This notion of the complete picture around which services assemble to help the child to progress has demonstrated its effectiveness through initiatives such as Notschool.Net. This is a site set up by Ultralab for students who have been out of education for a number of years. The system provides them with an e-portfolio that they add to and manage. Beginning with their interests, it groups them into communities of peer learners. These are then guided towards gaining evidence for recognised qualifications.

But the universality of e-portfolios and their multi-age, multi-stage nature could clash with the idea of a content-based curriculum. This dilemma has been recognised by a number of states and countries around the world from Northern Ireland to Tasmania, both of which have decided to move towards a more competency-based curriculum. With children contributing to different aspects of their e-portfolios, working at different paces within mixed-age communities, interested in different content, gaining rich and diverse assessment on their creative multimedia evidence base, it begs the question: how would you teach them in groups of 30? If we are building schools for the future today, we must look beyond the e-portfolio being simply a coursework folder with an "e" in front.


* Get started For free tools for getting started with e-portfolios visit Or you might wish to prepare your students for greater self assessment. There are hundreds of simple self-assessment rubrics to get you started on the web, but the one at http:rhem.spschools.orgspecialprojectswebqueststudentrubric.html is quite liked by students.

* Read up on the debate www.educause.edupubeqeqm04eqm0423.asp?bhcp=1


* Get a definition



* To follow the references from the main article: Microsoft Vista

Northern Ireland

Tasmanian curriculum

Not school

Government e-strategy

QCA new futures meeting the challenges

DIDA site about efolios

* Communities to monitor




The ePistle project

Nesta futurelab - children as knowledge builders


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