When is an ePortfolio not an ePortfolio?

Interesting conversation happening with Prof Pat Thompson, Derek Moore, Simon Bailey and fellow tweeps. We’re considering how blogging and ePortfolios are similar or different. My question came as a response to Pat’s post ‘Should doctoral researchers blog’. I say yes:) I did during my PhD and for me it was a great way to network, share information about myself, observations, milestones I had achieved, etc (check it out here). When I tapped into an online community I could say ‘this is me, here’s what I’m about’ and refer people to that space. I appreciate that Pat lists the pros and the cons, getting folks to think critically before starting. I think WordPress is a great platform because it is user-friendly and there are lots of help guides and tutorials available online, such as this one.

The key questions Pat advises when one is considering setting up a blog are also very similar to those I ask early career researchers to engage in when thinking about setting up an ePortfolio. I work with a range of people in Higher Ed on blogging and ePortfolios. I’ve actually just finished a meeting with a Professor and showing him how to set up a WordPress blog so that he can share ideas with people from outside the university (NGOs, etc). He does not want to add his CV to it, just information and links to a book he wrote and from what I sense, plans on keeping the content very focused and his ideal audience is people outside of the institution and students. He also wants people to leave comments and questions, so there is this aspect of a conversation space as well.

A little while ago I read this article ‘Should graduate students create ePortfolios’ from 2011 by David Brooks. He says:

…graduate-student bloggers are speaking to a closed circle and using pseudonyms. In other words, we aren’t crafting professional, Web-based identities…

…e-portfolios include a CV, teaching philosophy statement, some videos of them teaching, student evaluations, transcripts, a biographical page, an explanation of their thesis or dissertation topic (maybe even an excerpt or two), as well as links to things like their favorite academic blogs, online articles on pedagogy, or upcoming conferences in their field.

All of the students I spoke with said their online presence was a great social-networking tool. It helped them meet people who were in their disciplines but outside their universities.

Nowadays graduate students can maintain very public blogs for networking with others, writing reflections, etc and are indeed crafting professional web-based identities, have an informative bio page and those who teach may include a teaching slant as well. Helen Barrett uses the word ‘bPortfolios’ to refer to ePortfolios created when appropriating a blogging platform. What about social media? I can use Twitter for more professionally-oriented conversations such as this and networking in a very public way and I think my tweets are evidence of my knowledge about particular topics. Are old distinctions breaking down? How do we conceptualise ePortfolio and blogging practice in a changing landscape? What does this mean for how we advise fellow staff and students?

This space is essentially my testing ground and I write to reflect on how I see boundaries blurring and how this impacts the work I am doing, advising on, etc. I invite discussion on these issues and look forward to your insights:)

Is is about purpose or platform? Is it about the kind of voice or identity one is developing? Inger Mewburn, founder/author of The Thesis Whisperer writes about forging a digital identity (useful contribution by her via LSE here). I read her blog during my PhD days and followed the #phdchat tweets and for me this digital identity also meant forging particular kinds of connections with others.

If we compare mine, Pat and Simon’s use of WordPress for example, are all blogs a blog in the same way or are mine and Pat’s more ePortfolio like? Simon also includes his publications, link to his research profile and thesis but it’s not an overt personal branding exercise. Is the distinction related to how personal or professional one gets or the way in which one blends these? Or is it about the artifacts one collects, links to, showcases etc and the broader argument one is making that these kinds of resources or reflections are meant to be evidence for something bigger? Are blogs and ePortfolios different kinds of digital dossiers for our identities? Or is a blog an artifact subsumed within an ePortfolio?

A little while back I told people the following:

While blogs are often seen as narcissistic ‘ramblings’, ePortfolios have a distinctive personal-professional dimension which also invite judgement of you by others on a professional level. However, a blogging platform such as WordPress can be appropriated to create an ePortfolio. Helen Barrett refers to this approach as the bPortfolio. Some institutions have custom ePortfolio templates for lecturers and students. UCT does not, but his is actually advantageous to us: 1) we have the freedom to choose which platform to use and how to design our templates (visual design, labels on navigation tabs, etc), and 2) should we ever move institutions, we do not lose ownership of our ePortfolios. 

And added this video (below). But I still question some of the definitions and similarities/differences that are assumed in particular claims. ePortfolios are not necessarily always closed and institutionally branded with standard templates. But in moving out of a ‘default template’ is one also moving away from a definition? In such cases, what are we moving towards when using more open and versatile platforms such as WordPress?

2 thoughts on “When is an ePortfolio not an ePortfolio?

  1. The blind men and elephant parable may be a good way to explain the individual purposes e-portfolios have to different viewers, depending on their perspective. If I was chatting to a postgrad student and wanted to know more about this students’ thoughts/learning, I would love to find that he/she had used a bPortfolio approach for representing what was going on. In this case, WordPress would be a great platform as the portfolio had a development purpose. On the other hand, if I were chatting to an architecture prof, interested in the assessment of a large group of students’ work over a year, then I’d have to also concerned about the consequences of the choice of platform for eportfolios for their assessment purposes. In this case, a standard template may be appropriate.

  2. Nicola, I have just completed my e-tivity 3 for the e-marketing course at UCT and I can honestly say I have loved it.
    I love to be creative and I have found that marketing myself online has allowed me to write creatively as well as use creative tools such as an infographic to illustrate my skills to the public and hopefully to potential employers. I would also just like to take this opportunity to thank you for all of your guidance and for helping me to create and maintain my blog. It has been a great experience! 🙂

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