Here’s why I’m advocating no choice in eportfolio platforms

maharaAt the university at which I work, some instructors feel it is too restrictive to insist students use the ePorfolio platform provided. Some instructors allow students to use whatever they want, others are unsure. Is it okay to allow freedom of choice in the type of ePortfolio tool students use? Hmmmm… I pondered this for a while. But when I heard that students and some instructors felt that ePorfolio assignments could and should be submitted via presentation tools and website creation platforms – I decided to come down on the side of no. My argument is below and I welcome yours in the comments section.

ePortfolios exist to provide

  • persistent, online spaces to store and curate artefacts created or saved by an individual so they can track their learning over time and access and re-use resources they create and/or have saved
  • tools with which an individual can contextualise and aggregate existing artefacts and create new content
  • ways for the artefacts to be displayed and re-displayed to multiple audiences

Mahara is the tool that the the university for which I work has chosen because it works with their online learning platform, it is secure for file storage – and it is authenticatable in terms of assessment.

This last point – being authenticatable – is vital in meeting our obligations to ensure our assessments are robust. Unlike website platforms like Weebly, WordPress and/or Google sites; only a student account can be used to access a university-linked Mahara ePortfolio. When a Mahara collection is submitted for assessment, that collection is locked for editing – whereas a link to an external product could link to a website that was empty when the link was submitted and edited after the submission date.

Using Prezi or other types of presentation software to submit an ePortfolio assignment is missing the whole point of ePortfolios in an educational context. In addition to the authentication issues mentioned previously, a presentation tool is simply a way of presenting information and it is not output alone that is behind the use of ePortfolios in education. EPortfolios provide one space for reflecting on learning, of aggregating and curating useful resources and creating new content that students can return to over time. This is a vital part of the incidental learning ePortfolios provide. A consistent “home base” in Mahara to store, aggregate and display their work doesn’t limit students’ ability to use other tools for creation.

In addition to the authentication and pedagogical reasons behind using the Mahara ePortfolio, there are practical issues. Firstly, the university IT support service supports Mahara – so support is readily available. Secondly, markers will not have to familiarise themselves with the ins and outs of multiple platforms nor have to download and install specialised plugins to view assessments. Thirdly, students who use Mahara will develop proficiency in it over time – so as their assessments scaffold up in difficulty, the difficulty of using Mahara will decrease. And finally, the consistency use of Mahara across courses means students will be storing assignments, reflections and resources from their program and be able to access them after they graduate – starting them off in their professional lives with a single content-rich pool of resources from which to draw.