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5th April-6th April Approaches to large scale e-Portfolio Implementation

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Sarah Chesney
7 February 2011

Following on from the specific context of the Lifelong Learning and Workforce Development once the funded period for this CofP has ended, the e-portfolio community of practice activities will broaden their scope. Taking the community into the next 'phase' will be Gordon Joyes and Angela Smallwood from the University of Nottingham.
This activity will present the JISC funded e-portfolio Implementation project which has examined large scale e-portfolio implementation.

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Gordon Joyes, Associate Professor, School of Education, University of Nottingham
Angela Smallwood, Associate Professor, Centre for International e-Portfolio Development, Information Services, University of Nottingham

The JISC funded ePI study (August 2010 – May 2011) is exploring large-scale implementations of e-portfolio use in Higher and Further Education and professional organisations in the UK. The study has involved 9 participating HE institutions, 3 FE colleges and 2 professional organisations in the UK. There are also 4 Australian and 3 New Zealand participants.
The study has sought to:
  • Identify a range of examples of wide scale e-portfolio implementations within HE/FE institutions and professional bodies that will inform practice/strategy;
  • Gather a range of case studies to support the articulation of models of implementation;
  • Develop an appropriate means of disseminating the outcomes that enables a potential user to understand the implementation issues and identify the cases that are most relevant to their own contexts.

  • A wiki has been used by the participants to develop the case studies and each one has identified areas of developed and developing practice and has offered exemplars of these. This has been used as a basis for eliciting the implementation journey that has led to current practice.
    ePI study participants will be invited to join the Cloudworks session as well as the wider e-portfolio community. We will present the ePI study models of implementation and examples of cases within the ePI study wiki. This would be an opportunity for those within the e-portfolio community to get an early view of the study outcomes and to contribute to a dialogue about implementation.

    Sarah Chesney
    15:09 on 7 February 2011 (Edited 15:13 on 7 February 2011)

ePI study participants have been invited to this discussion. We have also invited the JISC experts group, the current members of the E-portfolio Community of Practice and members of several mailing lists. We will be exploring four key questions in relation to e-portfolio engagement within institutions that have arisen from the ePI study of large scale e-portfolio implementations. These are:

  1. Why should we expect practitioners and their institutions to engage with e-portfolios?
  2. Why is e-portfolio implementation not straightforward and why is it different to VLE implementation?
  3. What are the key factors for success for practitioners and for large-scale engagement with e-portfolios  within an institution?
  4. How can the support of senior managers be gained?

Gordon Joyes
10:58 on 4 April 2011

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Gordon Joyes
7:42am 5 April 2011 (Edited 8:37am 5 April 2011)


Welcome  to this Cloudworks session that Angela and I will be visiting and contributing to over the next two days. The ePI study has been exploring large-scale e-portfolio implementations in the UK, Australia and New Zealand. We were interested in what institutions and organisations did with e-porfolios and then how they got to be introduced. The idea was to try to capture examples of practice and the implementation journeys. We are nearing the end of the study and reflecting upon some of the things we have learnt. We are  thinking through how best to share this with those who have an interest, particularly practitioners, those leading e-portfolio implementations and senior managers.  It seems that the issues related to e-portfolio engagement are various and complex and although this is one message we want to give - 'it's a difficult area ' or ' lots of people are using e-portfolios and so why don't you'  are not the best starting points. 

However what does seem a good starting point  are these four questions as they seem fundamental to engagment with e-portfolios by practicioners and their institutions.

  1. Why should we expect practitioners and their institutions to engage with e-portfolios?
  2. Why is e-portfolio implementation not straightforward and why is it different to VLE implementation?
  3. What are the key factors for success for practitioners and for large-scale engagement with e-portfolios  within an institution?
  4. How can the support of senior managers be gained?

It would be good to consider the questions themselves initially and also their suitability as a starting point for engaging with institutions (practitioners and senior managers ) about large-scale engagement.

Question 1 raises issues about purposes, benefits and evidence for this and also key drivers at an institutional level. 

Question 2 raises the issues of the  disruptive and potentially transformative  nature of the introduction of a 'student owned' space. It seems there is a widely held belief that e-portfolio implementation is no different to the introduction of a VLE.

Question 3  is an opportunity  for you to share your experiences of this and we will share early findings from the ePI study

Question 4 signals the importance of engaging with senior managers, but also recognises this is not straightforward as they are unlikely to have any experience of using an e-portfolio with students. What are the messages that senior managers need to hear?

Your thoughts, comments, experiences, views are most welcome.

Jacquie Kelly
9:01am 5 April 2011

Hi Gordon and Angela,

In your work with the large-scale e-portfolio implementations study, have any of the institutions identified a 'tipping point'? There can be key drivers but they don't necessarily tip e-portfolio use into large scale/ubiquitous use. I assume that because these projects are describing their large-scale implementation that they have senior management buy-in wrt e-portfolios.


JISC infoNet

Gordon Joyes
9:28am 5 April 2011 (Edited 9:38am 5 April 2011)

Hi Jacqueline

I am not sure 'tipping points' fits that well with the journey's we have captured, though there are key moments/decisions that led to wider use these were part of an interative journey that seems influenced by a range of factors - funding from internal and external sources being one of these .  'Tipping points' seems to imply that once this event happened engagment took off. We asked the participants within the project to identify milestones and describe their journey's in relation to these. What this revealed was the importance of  the key 'central' units / personnel who 'understood e-portoflios'  that had a role in shaping practice and informing policy and the ways they engaged volunteeers in 'pilot' work. These champions who could demonstrate / share practice, show examples of student e-porfolios, capture the student voice to illustrate the benefits were instrumental. So one key moment was a champion doing just this to a teaching and learning committee - this was very influential in getting Heads of School etc on board. We have found students using the e-portfolio and sharing practice with each other supported further use and this has been equally influential.

Perhaps those involved in these journeys might have additional comments to make on this.

Simon Cotterill
10:11am 5 April 2011 (Edited 10:13am 5 April 2011)

Hi Jacquie,

I agree with Gordon, at least based on our experience at Newcastle University, that there hasn't been a 'tipping-point' on an institutional scale. Perhaps still to come ;)

Rather, there have been subjects / contexts where portfolios have 'taken off' (including Medicine, Postgraduate Research, PGCE and other areas) and then champions have added their support for institutional roll-out - but this is / will be a slow, incremental and variable process across many Schools , even with central support.

'Why should we expect practitioners and their institutions to engage with e-portfolios?'

In our experience at Newcastle University the drivers for portfolios and their primary purpose differ considerably between contexts (reflective learning, Robert's agenda, assessment etc). That too seems to be a force against a single 'tipping point' across an institution - at least in cases like ours where the eportfolio implementation journey could be considered 'middling-through', rather than 'top-down' or 'bottom-up'. 

with best wishes,


Gordon Joyes
10:21am 5 April 2011 (Edited 10:44am 5 April 2011)

Hi Jacqueline

The assumption made about senior managment buy in for large-scale implementations is an interesting one that I did not really address in my last response. Many participants talked about working 'under the radar' with senior managers not actually showing an initial  lead.  Learning and teaching strategies can often be ammended after practice with e-portfolios has begun to be established or are so generic that e-portfolios are not even mentioned per se. Interestingly in some instances an institutional issue such as PDP or emloyability or more recently graduate attributes might be seen as something the university senior management need to address. This is the point at which the e-portfolio becomes something on the radar insitutionally - it does not mean however that it will 'take off'. The 'central unit' / personel and the champions expertise is then key in raising awareness of the ways e-portfolios can support this. They can do this because their responsibility is to inform the learning and teaching committee or similar body.

Gordon Joyes
10:32am 5 April 2011

Hi Simon

This 'middle through' process came through very strongly in all the journeys. As over time new opportuniites for e-portfolio use arise effective uptake is likely to occur  if expertise and support is present within the institution - this signals the important role played by those leading from the middle and the network of champions (including student voices).

Simon Cotterill
11:03am 5 April 2011

Hi Gordon,

>This 'middle through' process came through very strongly in all the journeys

Thats really interesting. In the past, QAA requirements for PDP were initially seen by some as a 'stick' for top-down implementation of portfolios. Are most of the 'middle through' implementations driven by 'carrots' (perceived benefits), rather than policy 'sticks' (appreciating the two things are linked)?

Also, was there much variation on what constitutes the 'middle'? In Newcastle, much of the initial drive for portfolios came from one specific faculty, with central interest later.  Were we unusual in this respect?


Kevin Brace
11:07am 5 April 2011

My observations here at Aston, fly against lecturers percpetions of the eportoflio as a student owned space.

My discussions with academic and support staff perceive the e-portfolio as other innovative way of providing students with ways to assess continual [reflective] work. That's to say they are not aware of the potential of the student owned space and the potential pedagogic shift from teaching to learning. But I'm seeing a more gradual &  pragmatic view of the affordances of an e-portfolio over a VLE.  So I'm seeing a gradual realisation of the potential of an e-portfolio lead by the keen early adopters (Pharmacy, PG-CERT, placement officers) - not really a threshold or eureka moment.  So it's a phased understanding of the term e-portfolio, but not overtly a push for deeper / regular reflective assessments per se.  But overall a postive atmosphere, supported by SMT - ensuring that the e-portoflio is viewed as a centrally supported tool.  I also think the growing imporance of PDP will also push it further into the overall "enhancing graduate attribute"agenda - knowing that the fees are going up! 

This summer we will add it as a (LTI) link to Blackboard, and also add the Turnitin link to it. By doing so I want to ensure it is perceived as important (to supporting students) as the VLE - in years to come.

So it's a continual journey that started a few years a go by Dr Anne Wheeler & Professor Alison Halstead - lighting the path for others. As the journey forward continues we gather advocates along the way, infecting others around us with the happy e-portfolio virus :OD

Angela Smallwood
12:44pm 5 April 2011

Hi Simon

Yes I think 'the middle' takes various forms depending on institutional culture and history.  Often there seems to be a key central unit, perhaps with limited power in the institution, which starts to build a cluster of interest - again this is configured differently in different institutions.  From there, activity seems to travel most often to grassroots implementations which then empower the 'middle' to promote a case to senior management.  But I was talking to a colleague from Australia just yesterday who can quote a very large-scale institutional implementation driven very definitely by senior management championing.  So there is a genuine range of experience out there.  How many routes to achieving senior management support might there be??? Colleagues with variant models - please write in!!

Angela Smallwood
1:13pm 5 April 2011

Hi Kevin

A very interesting point you make about individual lecturers using eportfolio within individual modules as  if it is just another elearning tool to apply within an isolated course unit, without picking up on its potential to support the gear-change/culture-change from teacher-led to student-owned learning.  I think other developments with eportfolio around students creating groups and working collaboratively, sharing and commenting on each other's draft work, etc are the kinds of happenings which take us forward, once some basic shifts have been made.  Newish features in the HE landscape which may help those more basic shifts happen, and may help staff see the broader potential of the eportfolio and its importance as student space (by contrast with the VLE which is really teacher space?), are initiatives which get learning out of the black box of the individual, teacher-governed module - so: student award schemes/ your 'graduate attributes' example, careers education, work placements, study abroad, volunteering.  These hopefully will prompt much greater recognition of how diverse the student learning experience is and how beneficial it is, for many different parties, if the student is supported to join it up.

Geoff Rebbeck
2:34pm 5 April 2011

An interesting idea around the idea of tipping points. Here are a couple of ideas. In the world of new technologies, tipping points occur when users are able to equate the new with the familiar and see that the new contributes positively to the familiar. That was a relatively simple and quick point reached over the VLEs, because VLEs (put simply) sought to imitate on line what teachers and students have tradtionally done. Portfolios are conceptually complex and there are it seems no simple hooks to help. They reqwuire a diffreent course design to use them. 

We can see that the use of a portfolio to capture reflective thinking and recording, allows the creation of narratives of learning rather than the traditional assessed levels of learning. This appears to offer a more profound and personalised capture of learning. As teachers we can't ignore the fact that there is a potentially better way for learners to deepen their learning. Portfolios are 'values led' not 'process led' and that immediately makes it harder for us because senior managers will always want to know the numbers. Portfolios are the antithesis of multiple choice asessements that use check boxes which is an efficient way for a College to mass-mark student work. 

Angela Smallwood
2:56pm 5 April 2011

Hi Geoff

Well one of the issues we'd like to open up is how eportfolio implementation is in fact NOT like VLE implementation (not quite the point you were making I appreciate!).  I can see what you mean about a tipping point for VLE roll-out, and there are scenarios in disciplines with rich traditions of reflective practice where eportfolios are not essentially new and where the familiar can merge with the newness such as it is  fairly readily.  But where there is no such tradition, actual user need seems a major driver - where the eportfolio offers to take the user away from a familiar problem into a new solution and may also usher in new pedagogic possibilities.

On your second point - for me, eportfolio brings vast possibilities for the role of formative learning activities, including formative assessment and feedback - which is, in a way, about process, deeply thoughtful design of learning process.

Sarah Chesney
4:57pm 5 April 2011

Hello all, this is a really thought provoking discussion.  Thinking about the responses is necessary  if e-portfolio enthusiasts want wider adoption of the technology. Here are my first responses to Gordon and Angela’s questions

Why should we expect practitioners and their institutions to engage with e-portfolios?

Is there an argument that e-portfolios can be an efficient way of administering complex assessments and records of learning?  By efficiency I mean that the e-portfolio process would appear to be economical in terms of saving paper, less risk of losing a valuable record of learning and maybe some time saved especially in the turnaround time between submission and marking. Surely in this current economic climate, it’s  a duty for educational establishments to examine their processes and change if efficiencies can be identified without harming the student experience?

Why is e-portfolio implementation not straightforward and why is it different to VLE implementation?

Geoff makes a good point. I think if we recognise that the VLE has not challenged the role of the lecturer as the authority and expert in the way that some have predicted, then we may have some of the answer to this.  E-portfolio learning turns the processes on its head – the learner comes to the tutor with their version of learning, as opposed to the tutor giving the learner a version of what needs to be learnt. Sense making and reflecting upon learning are complex and tricky processes to judge.  In comparison, the status quo is not necessarily challenged in a VLE (although it can be).

 I’m going to think about the other two questions and save my responses for tomorrow.


Meaghan Botterill
12:00am 6 April 2011 (Edited 3:21am 6 April 2011)

Hi all,

Shall try to get all comments in here, but might have to add more later as only have limited time. Firstly, re 'tipping points'. I agree with Gordon & Simon re this, in our institution, we are not past a point of no return, nor had a driver that has actually tipped the scales in terms of ePortfolios, however we nearly did.

ePortfolios were introduced as part of a initiative to improve the use of educational technologies in learning and teaching within RMIT. We had full support of the DVC(A), Jim Barber, at this time. He wanted ePortfolios to be used to change assessment practices, predominately based on student centred learning approaches. To this end, he had a vision that all students would have access to ePortfolios by 2015 through a Graduate Attribute policy. Jim as a person (and his position) made him a very powerful player in the internal politics at senior executive level. He was immenently capable and practical and saw the need for major change in the L&T space.

However, late last year he left after becoming VC of the University of New England. We have since had a new DVC(A) who does not share Jim's previous vision of ePortfolios, nor graduate attributes in the same way. The power vacuum created upon Jim's leaving, also allowed the senior executive team to start to question the validity of ePortfolios in the L&T space, with one PVC saying when I gave a presentation of student work in ePortfolios, 'that's all well and good, but I could do that with pencil and paper'.

The support of senior management is absolutely essential and from my experience is near pivotal to being a 'tipping point' in the introduction of disruptive technologies as these push people, both staff and students out of their comfort zones. This is of particular concern where there is an over- reliance on auditable rating scores, such as the Course Experience Survey and Good Teaching Scores as there is here.

The implementation of ePs here has been managed from the outset. I was seconded from another area of the university to lead the ePortfolio project and to develop the community of practice across RMIT. What has been important here has been to link the use of ePortfolios to the strategic directions of the university and be able to develop communities of practice in those areas. The two key drivers here has been professional accreditation with external bodies and also our mandatory Work Integrated Learning policy. ePortfolios provide a way to evidence student placement and graduate attributes that is not possible through a VLE. As word of the innovations spread throughout schools, colleges etc, people start to wonder if ePs will work for them.

As Gordon stated above:

The 'central unit' / personel and the champions expertise is then key in raising awareness of the ways e-portfolios can support this. They can do this because their responsibility is to inform the learning and teaching committee or similar body.

I totally support this. Key personnel and champions are pivotal here. We have 5,200 students currently using ePortfolios in their programs / courses and we have never advertised that there is an enterprise level ePortfolio system available here, people have come to us. In some cases this has been because a head of school was able to mandate that they would be used in a program, however, in most cases it has been because 'there is talk in the staff room'. 

One of the ways it is possible to 'spread the word' through a 'middling' process here is through the policy that all new Academic A & B's (without teaching degrees) must complete a Grad Cert in Tertiary Teaching and Learning. One of the units within this is Teaching with Technologies which introduces new staff (often younger than the mean age of academic / teaching staff) to the suite of educational technologies available including ePortfolios. Here (as students) they get to see how an ePortfolio can support their own learning and lead to transformative assessment practices. 

As the ePortfolio project leader, one of the things that I am particularly sensitive to is the group level dynamics that operate across the university. Most groups (one way or another) distrust people from other groups, and this can be across identity groups, e.g. late baby boomer male professor who is a technophob with a young female Gen Y new lecturer who loves technology, or organisational groups, e.g. someone from a central service group being parachuted in with a panacea to fix all the L&T ills within a program. Underpinning all of my work is the development of core trust / interpersonal relationships and being the support for the community of practice. To this end I regulary organise events that allow people to move out of their discipline silos and meet with people from other areas. What is really interesting in these events, is that the conversations become focused on pedagogy (with ePs) and learning and teaching. This ability to connect people from outside discipline areas is really beneficial.

Will try and add more a little later, have to go now.


Janice Whatley
8:06am 6 April 2011

I have read the discussion with interest, as we are just about to implement an e-portfolio system as a trial.

One problem is deciding what aspects of the range of possible uses, we should be targetting. As I don't think any one system will manage to satisfy everyone's wish list.

Personally, I believe the e-portfolio should remain under the ownership of the individual student, as their personal record of learning, and a vehicle for reflection. However, as they start to use the system they will need help, so tutor presence would be necessary for students to gain reflective skills, and an ability to identify critical event learning experiences, and how to articulate them. So I think a gradually lighter touch as the student becomes more adept at recording learning.

This would not sit well with using an e-portfolio as a tool for assessment, where the tutor is in control, although outcomes from assessment could be included in an e-portfolio if relevant.

So keep the VLE for assessment, and provide an e-portfolio for personal learning would be my suggestion. But is there a system out there good for implementing in this way?

Several years ago we did a small trial of a system, and lack of support from to level management, meant the trial ended, even though we did see advantages for the students.


Kevin Brace
8:14am 6 April 2011

This thread really shows the differences between implementation methods if pushed from above to meet the updraft of early adopters - who've often have been working under the radar for many years.

I see no distinction between the adoption of VLEs to that of e-portofolio's due to the same fact. That tipping point or threshold was never a mass realisation for VLEs,  and I see a similar smouldering update of e-portfolios across the sector. The real tipping point experienced by the few  will be those organisations who have strong SMT push & clear strategy to "make" it happen. Others will continue to evolve organically. The Australians seem to have seen the light and as we know are embracing the whole LLL / e-portfolio concept , with gusto - and are beginning to leave us in their wake. Do we know why this is? Is it just down to cost saving or a true paradigm shift? Perhaps we should ask Julie Hughes, who has just been on a tour of Australia !o)

The problem as I see it is that we [in here] see the potential of e-portfolios to cover all aspects of life long learning - but the wider HE sector only use it in isolation ; placement learning, professional/vocational courses; e.g.nurses, mid wifes, social workers, PG-CERT, and those who have embraced ePDP- but I guess we're all busy people. For the rest of HE it's business as usual - with a few curious fellows seeing potential.  As adminstrator and staff developer for PPAD here, I still work with those who are keen to know more, and am trying to build a local CoP.  Which is the same process and level of "understanding" & uptake as Blackboard and Turnitin , i.e organic.

We do have champions in some Schools, but as I mentioned earleir , it's still the unofficial model of peer infection that (still) seems to help buy-in and movement towards thresholds. Yes we all know that the learner centredness of a 'folio challenges academia in distruptive manners, but I don't see that here, as I stated earlier - it's a gradual process, very similar to other technologies.  The technology that has really taken off since I've joined Aston, is video lecture capture. And we see it growing, maybe because that's less disruptive, and requires no change in pedagogy!!???  <cynical>

Donald Clarke makes a much stronger point than mine about the misalignment / skewing perceptions of how HE sees e-portoflios to the rest of the world, than I'm hinting at:

I still think e-portfolios will eventually replace VLEs, as soon as we manage to change assessment processes, and adopt more blended learning delivey models. Driven perhaps as a direct result of the new consumer market model we're all being pushed towards  - rather than a holistic move towards social constructivist learning models & innovative e-assesement?

Phew - time to work now. Will catch up with you all soon.

Regards Kevin.

Gordon Joyes
8:52am 6 April 2011

Hi Meaghan

Great to have your contribution. It raises for me a key issue that seems to arise from the ePI study in general. It relates to the need for senior management support alongside this middle through process that engages with practititioners within the institution and possibly outside. RMIT is not alone in having a member of the SMT who 'understands' e-portfolios and is central to early developments but then moves on to leave a situation in which there is a SMT vacuum.   It does seem that the middle through process is highly successful in gathering the sort of evidence of the benefits of e-portfolio use and stories of implementation including examples of e-portfolios and voices of students experiences using them. It does this because this is exactly what a lecturer needs to understand how the e-portfolio was used for a particular purpose and understand whether this might 'fit' their context. Because there are so many purposes gathering these examples and having people (like you) and students (like yours) advocating use is precisely what is needed to promote wider use. These authentic stories are essential but as has been pointed out in an earlier contribution they may not be the type of evidence that the SMT may want.  I guess what will convince a member of the SMT might be evaluation evidence that shows improvements in retention and progression, impact on employability, together with other potential efficiency gains as well as the  evidence of the student voices about learning gains. The ePI study did not find evidence of this type of evaluation occuring. Those involved in implementation were busily working supporting those who wished to be engaged in the process; connecting with those in other institutions , often attending workshops/ conferences and presenting at them. They were not activley engaged iin thinking strategically aboout how to ensure the SMT fully understood the impact of e-portfolios within their institutions - focussing on the things that would be important from their perspective.

Gordon Joyes
10:03am 6 April 2011 (Edited 10:44am 6 April 2011)

Hi Janice

e-portfolio tools have moved on considerably even in the last two years fortunately but the issue is probably that approaches to teaching and learning in FE and HE may not have changed that much.

Evidence from the ePI study indicates that the  choice of tool in the UK more recently has been associated with the VLE in use and whether this tool suited the purposes intended. As a result those using Moodle have tended to adopt Mahara - many FE colleges are also using this. Figures I have seen indicate that PebblePad is the most widely used ePortfolio in HE with Mahara in second place. Very few institutions in the UK use the Blackboard e-Portfolio tool though we do have one in the ePI study.   We have captured examples of use of these tools for a range of purposes including assessment.

We have found that many institutions have produced online support materials and include e-portfolio technical support as part of their  online  help-line.  However because commonly  the e-portfolio instances of use tend to be grounded within a particular context for a particular purpose the pedagogic support is commonly provided by the module lecturer. A central unit often provides support for the lecturer with the pedagogy, i.e., supporting the learning design . You will see from the other contributions that it is this aspect that can be the most troublesome aspect.

Because each context for implementation is different, each starting point is too. The most common approach for pilots is to either find some problem that may need fixing, i.e. something that there is some dissatisfaction with that an e-portfolio would improve and/or find someone interested in using the e-portfolio because they can see a particular purpose for it. This is usually because there is a new module/ course , a new peadgogic approach to be adopted, a new field work element etc. Importantly in these cases the e-portfolio is the 'best' pedagogic solution. It is interesting that I know of one   pilots that  initittially used a VLE to support e-portfolio processes but subsequently found that an e-portfolio tool supported the processes involved more easily across a wider number of purposes and contexts.

You might like to read a little about the evaluation of 20 + JISC projects that included e-portfolio use 2006-9 and the threshold concepts around implementation  that seem to exist in this area. You can find this in the 2nd part of this paper


Gordon Joyes
10:25am 6 April 2011

Hi Kevin

Interestingly there is a lot of evidence that a strong senior managment push does not necessarily engage people in developing effective practice  in a wide range of potential contexts. The aarly wave of adopters of e-portfolios in the UK where this has occurred found that the journey still involved the same organic process of individuals/ groups developing a practical understanding of how to use this in their contexts and then this influencing others. The when the time / climate was right others would recognise the value for their courses and join in.  The journey to establishing wide adoption was not straightforward even with top down direction and support. What is interesting is that we have evidence that  more recently making an eportolio freely available students has resulted in quite wide spread use alongside any other specific use proscribed within modules/courses.

There are insitutions that are recent adopters that do seem to have taken a whole insitutional mission approach that involves graduate attributes including digital literacies and have recognised the role that e-portfolios can potentially play in this. It willl be interesting to see if their journey's to large-scale engagement are any less troublesome.  

Your point about Australian Universities was one that I was interested when we began the ePI study and we have included, RMIT, QUT, Curtin and VET as case studies. You will see from Meaghan's contribution that the journey at RMIT has been no less troublesome for them with her middle through work crafting the way forward.  Angela also has contacts with Australian Universities and perhaps she and Meaghan might comment on this.

Roger Emery
1:55pm 6 April 2011

2.Why is e-portfolio implementation not straightforward and why is it different to VLE implementation?
Sounds like some bad comedians joke:
"What's the difference between e-Portfolio and VLE implimentation?"
One is forced on hard pushed academic staff by evil central services, the other is forced on hard pushed academic staff by their needy students.
Which one is which you ask? Both apply to both, if you listen to some, and neither apply to both if you listen to others. Very much a local experience dependant on departmental/management attitudes, subject requirements and infectious individual champions and their exemplars...or rumours of bad experiences and advice to steer clear.

The tipping piont here is in process I would say and, similar to the VLE is probably going to take five years to show a nopticable 'tip' (on year 1.5 now). There is no dicernable point, but a more of a feeling that, as with the VLE, somewhere along the lines it became part of the normal working practice and standard tool in the box of learnign equipment. But I could not put my finger on a date, month or semester. The VLE is still developing (13 years since our first teaching support appeared online, but there were network drives and local CBT before that - does that count? was it one long process over many years?) and I would worry if its development stopped.

4. How can the support of senior managers be gained?
Answer: Time
Yesterday, I watched a senior manager enthused so much by the idea of e-Portfolios she asked if she could have one (yes) and went off to start playing. This was purely an accident of timetabling that she was at a staff dev day and had arrived early for her own session, so sat through my colleagues session to academics about e-Portfolios. A senior manager wouldn't normally necessarily have or make time to do this, they would read briefing papers and make decisions. How do you show examples of engaging, media rich e-Portfolios and demonstrate their uses as a paper appendix?


We've got a long way to go here, althoguh we already have travelled far. Need more exemplars and successes to see where we have got and if its in a direction that is beneficial to the students.


Angela Smallwood
2:55pm 6 April 2011

Hi Roger

Really interesting contribution to our thinking around comparing ePF and VLE implementations - thank you.  And I love the story about the role of pure accident in engaging a senior manager.

I suppose I might explain that the ePF/VLE comparison stems from some discussion Gordon and I had recently about some ideas around the role of the middle-through development agents in implementation models for ePF, and the notion that, for ePF implementations, consensus-building is maybe more intricate, diverse and ultimately powerful perhaps.  The ePI study seems to show several cases where support for epf implementation has involved middle-through activities drawing different departments (academic departments and central services) out of their silos and into collaboration. Superficially this may look like any other half-way decent strategy for rolling out a new initiative - but it seems qualitatively different from any top-down 'consultation of all the stakeholders'.  Does this ring a bell with anyone???

Gordon Joyes
3:34pm 6 April 2011 (Edited 3:36pm 6 April 2011)

Hi Roger

Sounds like you are arguing against the 'tipping point' notion , but are describing  the long and ongoing developmental journey that establishes effective practice. I suppose the point that is made in many of the contributions so far is that e-portfolios even though they can have many purposes  it is sometimes not easy to see how they fit within existing pedagogy. In some cases they seem to fit like a glove to existing practice, for example, in competence/ standards/skills based areas and where the notion of the reflective practicioner is well established like Medicine, Nursing,  Dentistry and Teacher Education. In other areas they can seem to impose an alien framework on established practice even though every discipline I think would endorse the notion that students should take control of their own learning and develop the skills needed to do this. VLEs  have not seemed so challenging to established practice as they  allow for both efficient transmission of knowledge and/ or knowledge construction - in fact they have become better at enabling both especially when coupled with other tools for learning. 

One thing we have noted is that those who are advocates for e-portfolios seem to engage in a different language to those who are new to them. This can be  because they may be talking about a context of use , a purpose or process not associated with a particular discipline (or perhaps not described in that way in the discipline) .e.g. reflection is well established in engineering/ sciences, but the process is an evaluation of a method/ solution/ analysis. But it is also because advocates seem to understand that they have to  design a learning activity in which e-portfolios are used and provide support for the processes involved, so even if they can be seen to 'fit' there has to be an 'effortful' process to rethink the learning process from the learners perspective.

I like your story about the senior manager arriving early and catching an e-portfolio session. Serendipity can play a role in infuencing implementation in these ways and shows how important it is to have someone capturing what is happening in  the institution and sharing this practice with colleagues - this does then allow for these moments. I am not sure how powerful a story the examples of use are without some contextualisation for senior managers - perhaps a multi-media presentation is the report that is needed for senior managers. Are there any out there?

George Roberts
5:55am 7 April 2011 (Edited 12:40pm 23 August 2011)

As ever catching up. Thank you Gordon and all for the excellent discussion.

I remain a little concerned about the apparent lack of distinction between eportfolio processes and practice on the one hand, and the reification of those processes and practices in an eportfolio system on the other. From a lifelong learning perspective the development of processes and practices is important. For institutionally located assesment and accreditation the latter appears necessary. However the available tools - pace the excellent intentions and work of their developers - do not, in some cases anyway, appear to be developing these processes and practices beyond the very local use of the tool for assessment in particular modules or other narrowly confined settings (e.g. extra-curricular awards, careers service-led pdp statements, etc).

I am also seeing a convergence - in institutions - of eportfolio practices and systems with VLE practices and systems. Starting from the VLE perspective, this is probably a good thing, leading to some increased sense of "ownership" of the VLE space by students. But starting from the eportfolio perspective, this might not be such a good thing.

Is the problem the need to systematise assessment practices in order to scale up "efficiently" i.e. mark a lot of students' work by a very few people (lecturers, tutors, instructors, assessors)? Can a tool which provides for the systematisation of assessment practices ever provide the sense of freedom required for the development of lifelong learning practices in learners (unless lifelong learning is conceived as lifelong testing and continuous judgement against others' standards)?

The eportfolio cycle (for me) has four key nodes: collection, selection, reflection and presentation.

The first three nodes, collection, selection, reflection, (again for me) are adequately provided for in an approach to practice by a disparate set of tools (with some overlap of functions between them):

  • contemporary citation management tools (particularly Zotero)
  • social bookmarking tools (particularly Bibsonomy, Delicious, Diigo)
  • cloud-based notebooks (particularly Evernote)
  • resource collections (particularly Slideshare)
  • tagging practice (leading to a somewhat idiosyncratic taxonomy used sort of consistently across a range of tools)
  • social networking (particularly with Twitter, Facebook, Cloudworks)
  • blogs (particularly Posterous and a quasi institutional Wordpress installation)
  • collaborative authoring tools (particularly Google docs and PBWorks)

The fourth step in the portfolio cycle, presentation, is only partly provided for by the blogs and the collaborative authoring tools. And, particuarly, if the presentation is to be used for systematic high-stakes assessment, this approach to practice - while possibly sufficient - probably will not scale.



Gordon Joyes
2:15pm 11 April 2011

Thanks for the contribution George

Here are some thoughts on some things you raise. I think the evidence is that learners only begin to appropriate the sort of tools you are referring to as they progress through their courses and  undergraduates and college entrants are varyingly digitally literate  in quite limited areas  , i.e. gaming, social networking, texting, tweeting,  word processing,  emailing , retail etc.   It maybe there is the need for a tool provided during the period of time within an institution that allows students to develop an understanding of  the key processes and their benefits for learning using a personal learning space ( the e-portfolio tool) that is distinct from the lecturers space (the VLE). 

I was involved in the development of  this matrix that appears in the PDP -UK newsletter to illuminate the range of different e-portfolios purposes and the processes that were applied across these purposes.

This is by no means exhaustive, but is a useful way of making this distinction between purposes and processes.   It is interesting that planning, feedback and collaboration do not appear in your list of processes.   It maybe that there are some key processes that occur in all purposes, but some processes take on a major importance in some and they don’t appear in your list.  I think an important distinction in developing e-portfolio use for learning within courses is that there is purposefully designed learning activity – designed by someone other than the learner  (noteably not all of these purposes are related to assessment ).  The  learning processes can also occur as part of a personal tutoring or PDP agenda that scaffolds the processes so that the learner can move to set their own purpose. In all of these however I think reflection AND planning or what some have called reflection towards action or prospection is what seems to provide the personal ‘learning’ purpose.

It is interesting to note that the ePI study found the use of the term ‘e-portfolio’ was not used by many – due to varying preconceptions about what this might mean. Discussions with lecturers by those involved in supporting 'implementatino' surrounded the learning purpose and the processes involved and the most effective ways of supporting this.  In some cases the VLE might be suggested and the e-portfolio tool  and/or other tools. Interestingly the language used would be Blackboard, Moodle, PebblePad, Mahara etc. rather than the VLE and e-portfolio labels. Such an approach means the possibility for other tools to emerge that support these learning purposes and process and hopefully for the students to understand the ways freely available tools can support their need (hopefully) for continuing to support their lifelong and lifewide learning.

Adam Blake
1:33am 20 April 2012

I'm coming to this cloudscape very late, but hoped to tap into the experience of those following it.

I'm helping oversee a needs analysis for an eportfolio solution on behalf of the schools of Nursing, Pharmacy and Medicine at the University of Auckland. I found the recent JISC ePI final report hugely helpful in getting a sense of the complexity of planning & implementation involved:

Having completed initial scoping discussions with teaching staff who have requested the eportfolio, undertaken with the assistance of an external web development/content management firm, we're at an important juncture:

1. seek to develop and implement (with external developer assistance) some form of customised platform that attempts to meet all needs as identified/perceived to date; or

2. use the most readily available open source platform (two identified so far being Mahara, already in use in our Faculty of Education, and WordPress MS, in use as an eportfolio platform at the University of British Columbia along with in-house web administration assistance to prototype how users' desired functions might look and work in practice. Piloting and refinement of needs and solutions would follow over subsquent years. Perhaps at some point with the clarity gained from this, a proprietary solution like PebblePad or Chalk & Wire might be introduced, or the open source solution used for prototyping might instead be further developed for wider implementation.

Based on my research to date and key recommendations regarding implementation from the 2012 JISC report, option 2 seems to be the better approach. But perhaps not, and perhaps there are others?

I would be grateful for any insights from those who are going/have been down this path, particularly those who have been involved in implementation of an eportfolio in a health education context. A key concern that has come out of scoping is the potential breach of patient confidentiality should a student inadvertently post material regarding one of their clinical placements to an eportfolio platform that might not be 100% secure.

Kind regards


Sarah Chesney
3:43pm 26 April 2012

Hi Adam, thanks very much for posting here.  You are correct, this discussion has slowed to halt but I still get notifications where there is activity such as a posting.  I know you have looked at the ePI final report, but have you seen the Toolkit which was a result of the  ePI funding?  It's here and is a valuable resource that may provide some answers to your questions EPI Toolkit

You raise an important point about patient confidentiality and you may like to look at the resources developed for educators working in the north of England in health care practice settings ALPS. Part of their work looked specifically at eportfolios. 

Hope this helps and maybe someone with direct experience of using an eportfolio with students will be able to give you a more detailed answer.  If you don't have any joy here have you seen the Linked In E-portfolio research group or had a look at the Centre for Recording Achievement mailing list (sign up here)?

Best wishes



Adam Blake
1:57am 3 May 2012

Hi Sarah

Thanks very much for this info! The ALPS resources in the health education context are a real find, especially the ePortfolio Project Report.

I have also been using the EPI Toolkit you refer to to help guide how we approach selection and implementation, particularly regarding the importance of establishing and evaluating pilot projects.

We're just at the beginning of what will clearly be a long journey...

Thanks again.


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