Category Archives: ePortfolios

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Google Apps

Facilitating group interaction in Google Apps

Google AppsOur pilot roll-out of Google Apps is going well.  To date we’ve invited 12,000 students and nearly 2,000 of them have signed up.  At the moment it’s up to students what they do with the tools and we’re staying out.  The possible uses for formal learning though are intriguing and I just had a chat with Rhodri Thomas about the next steps.

We’re looking at replicating our tutor group structure within Google apps.  That would have two initial benefits:

  1. You could email those in your group more easily
  2. You could share documents with them easily too

It also might make you feel some affinity with those in your group I suppose and be more likely to share things.  Some students of course might not want to be emailed by members of their group or to have documents shared with them so we’ll need to think about that.

Sharing documents with the wider world outside the University is also likely to be of interest.  Currently we’ve locked down the ability for users to share documents outside the my.open.ac.uk domain but there will soon be pressure to open this up.  You might have a collaborative project with people elsewhere or wish to share eportfolio content with a future employer.  There are also third party applications such as DocsToGo which apparently won’t work unless this option is switched on.

Our exploration of the use of Google Apps as an eportfolio system continues.  Eportfolios sometimes need to be assessed, and one of our key requirements will be to ensure that any content that is submitted for assessment is preserved in that state.  Another option would be to export it into our assessment handling (eTMA) system however the alterations to formatting when transferring out of Google Docs and into Word may mean it’s better to keep the documents in Google and invite the tutors to go there instead.


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Is the eportfolio system the key part of a VLE?

Category : ePortfolios , Moodle

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.


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Evangeline H Stefanakis

It’s My ePortfolio

Category : ePortfolios

One of the key philosophies behind the OU’s MyStuff and eportfolio initiatives elsewhere is that students should have complete ownership over their content. This is a vital concept which should help to nurture a sense of pride in the student in the materials they assemble and the ways in which they can present them. But “ownership” isn’t that simple.

Evangeline H StefanakisI’m at the ecoMEDIA-europe Conference on ePortfolios and Open Content in Katowice and have been prompted to think more about this during various presentations, including a keynote by Evangeline Harris Stefanakis (left) from Boston University.

It’s all very well to say a student “owns” their eportfolio but their institution is likely to control the eportfolio system and its functionality, provide the templates into which students are supposed to slot their content, and host and back up the students’ work. Assessors also have to have access to parts of it at times.

Evangeline’s research with schoolchildren demonstrated that where parents are given access to eportfolios the quality of materials improves dramatically. If this is confirmed by further studies it gives huge impetus to the eportfolio movement in general. But this is not perhaps because kids are so concerned about what their parents think but, according to Prof Stefanakis, because teachers can’t afford to allow materials to sit in eportfolios which don’t show improvements in their students’ knowledge and understanding. Portfolios make learning – or the lack of it – highly visible.

So it’s my eportfolio. My school provides the system. My teacher tells me what to put in it and which things I should leave out. My Mum and Dad can look at it and tell me if they’re happy with what I’ve done. Some of it will be assessed and used to help decide my future education and career. I’ll take it with me to university and later give it to my employers who will host it for me to see if I’m learning the things they want me to. It’s my eportfolio – is it?