Is the eportfolio system the key part of a VLE?


MyStuff logo

MyStuff – the OU’s eportfolio system we’ve built as a plug-in for Moodle – is now being used with several courses, and many more course teams are looking at how to make best use of it. I discussed issues of ownership in a previous posting. But what about some of the other design principles behind this system pioneered by Rachel Hawkins and Thanh Le?

MyStuff storageIt’s fundamentally an online personal content management system. You own your workspace and the content in it and can choose to share bits of it with others. All users are given the same amount of storage space. Some will not use it at all while others will no doubt fill it up very quickly. We’re keeping the limit under review.

MyStuff uploaded fileWhen you upload a document (word file, image, sound file or anything else) to MyStuff you can tag it with whatever keywords you like. It doesn’t go into a hierarchical folder structure. You retrieve documents later by searching for those tagged with particular keywords.

Most of us are very used to storing things on our PCs in a hierarchical folder structure and it is a pain sometimes to drill down to the right folder or to remember where you’ve put a document in the first place. Also sometimes you want to put it in two places, which you could achieve by creating aliases but who bothers with that? It would be good to try the tagging system on my PC itself for a while to see which is better.

MyStuff tag cloudYou can access documents by tag, by file type or by the week or month in which you uploaded them. You also get a view of recently uploaded documents. The tags are presented in a “tag cloud” which emphasises the most heavily used tags.

Another key feature to mention is that of compilations. These allow you to group and organise items of content into for example a PDF document or a zip file containing a series of linked web pages. You’d generally do this in order to present the content to someone else, perhaps for assessment purposes.

MyStuff will be available to all students and staff at the OU for any purpose they like – and can be downloaded freely by other institutions to install alongside Moodle for their staff. It has the potential to become one of the most useful parts of the OU VLE, though the jury is still out on how much it will be taken up for personal use.

Where it may really come into its own is when course teams design activities to use it for helping students to organise their studies, linked into the assessment process. MyStuff enables the creation of forms for the input of information in a structured format. One of our Business School courses BU130 “Working and learning: developing effective performance at work” is using this facility to help students develop learning contracts for their studies:

Stage 1 looks at what possible topics you might want to study.
Stage 2 looks at what we call your ‘learning context’; what you bring to your learning that might affect what you can study.
Stage 3 requires you to write your learning objectives.
Stage 4 asks you to decide how you should go about learning and what resources you will need.
Stage 5 deals with how you will be able to show us that you’ve done some high quality learning.

It will be extremely interesting to see the results of evaluations of this and other courses to see how effective this approach is, and whether eportfolio systems prove popular with students for organising their learning. Emma Purnell, a student at Wolverhampton University, says in an engaging video clip from the JISC Learner Experiences Programme:

It’s really strange, because for the last year, the technology that I’ve used in my life has been e-portfolio. It’s an addictive thing to use – both academically and socially.

We finished our course eight, nine weeks ago, and yet, we’re still on there every day. So I think it is definitely having a bearing on how we need to teach and how people are going to learn in the future.