e-portfolios as condensed expressions

A TED presentation by the e-portfolio guru, Helen Barrett, is shared on Celia’s blog. Helen takes the latest developments in technologies, such as social networking tools, to find ways to enrich the development of  e-portfolios. One point I found interesting is drawing and focusing on the intrinsic impact of e-portfolios. She likens it to the passion to learn, the flow of discovering events, and the excitement of inquiry. She suggests new technologies have the potential to support and display these actions and feelings. ‘Dynamic celebrations’ is what she hopes e-portfolios become.

I agree. However, what user-friendly software/freeware exists that would house such reflections through imagery, sound, words, song? For instance, blogs are static – though they encourage interaction, which Helen believes is important to allow in e-portfolios. As well, Flickr has some features that allows personalization, etc. I would like to discover some platforms that cater to dynamic content, interaction, and usability. If anyone knows of such a product, please let me know.

I also liked the notion of interacting with e-portfolios. But not just comments. I want to experience someone else’s condensed expression of themself. Perhaps this may mean streaming part of their e-portfolio into mine. Or capturing part of their visuals onto my desktop. Or engaging in a dynamic exchange, such as in a virtual world visit with them. I think there is great potential for such developments.

Imagine creating such a presentation and sending that link to a potential employer, your students, your community?

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Free publishing tool

I’ve just finished up an article about a Canadian academic  journal that I created 3 years ago, which was driven by graduate students . If it weren’t for the 50 volunteers (who became mentors to authors) and a free online platform, we wouldn’t have been able to launch this valuable service.

During my role as founding journal editor, I came to know pretty well the free online platform, the Open Journal System, created by John Willinsky and a team at UBC and SFU in Canada. This is a group of people who believe in the free dissemination of ideas and work in order to increase the knowledge base, networks, and sharing of research.

I think this tool could be used in learning by having students create their own ‘journal’ of sorts. The platform manages documents, submissions, communication, and presentations. It also has a French language feature, and the design/look is customizable. In essence, it could become a student-driven project showcasing their work, opinions, thoughts, and reflections in a collaborative and professional way.

Cooperative or collaborative learning?

I am getting a bit confused when I read about the use of the terms collaborative and cooperative learning. It seems the terms are used independently and represented as different approaches, or they used interchangeably. For instance,

  • Stephen Downes uses the term collaboration when talking about group work, and cooperation among networks in his latest presentation.

 

  • Harold Jarche  uses the two terms with collaboration applied to a model of action for informal groups, such as communities of practice, and cooperation with loose networks.

CCC_ based on mathemagenic

  • and Terry Anderson and Jon Dron talk about groups being helpful with completion rates and satisfaction, and networks being a support and resource (is this cooperation?). The added category of collectives is a larger community found through social networks that contribute (collaborate?) information and resources.

This is my interpretation of these postings. In general, my understanding of the term cooperation, as lauded by Johnson, Johnson and Smith (1991) in their notion of cooperative learning, is to help each other by working together to achieve something. It also could lead to new ideas and solutions.  In turn, collaboration is an intentional act, as well, to build or create something.

With both terms, I think they are stating the same thing that, either through direct interaction or by sharing our ideas, resources, and understandings in an open and accessible way, we are collaborating and cooperating at some level. For instance, my decision to post through a pubic blog and Twitter is a decision that stemmed from my wanting to connect with my field and colleagues (collective and  network ) by sharing my ideas, offering my honed resources, and communicating/dialoguing. For many years I read in silence and followed a number of people who posted openly. Now I have become an active participant. I feel that I am cooperating and collaborating more to improve learning and question the uses of technology.

Besides, within in nonlinear and informal settings, such as with social and information networks, creating a strict definition counters the point of allowing concepts, words/terms, and discoveries to emerge through collective and dynamic efforts.

Promoting online programs via the web

Tony Bates recently posted comments on an article about informing potential online learners better. I couldn’t agree more with this article (Meyer, K. and Wilson, J. (2010) ‘The “virtual face” of planning: how to use higher education web sites to assess competitive advantage’ Planning for Higher Education, Vol. 38, No. 2).  In my recent doctoral study I examined the needs of online graduate students and surmized the following:

Marketing Online Programs

For online learning initiatives, the Internet becomes a key venue to market programs and provide important information. Considering most of the study’s participants did not live near the university under study, it is assumed they accessed most program information online. Placing online all information about graduate programs and courses, appropriate departments and faculties, and the university alleviates unnecessary telephone calls and helps potential students make informed choices. Merriam (2001), Merriam and Caffarella (1999) and Cross (1981) also found a main barrier for adults to pursue education was the lack of information to make decisions. Creating more accessible information by a university, especially through institutional web pages, was suggested by Harris and Jones (2007) and Meyer (2008).

For instance, potential graduate students can access faculty web-sites and other electronic resources that:

  • Promote online programs through text, sound, images, and videos;
  • Provide quality statements and accreditation procedures used to develop online graduate programs;
  • Display testimonials from previous online learners;
  • Offer notification services for graduate program changes and events;
  • Allow access to sample online graduate courses;
  • Announce upcoming orientations for future graduate students, and
  • Provide access to other important information, such as university services, the Faculty of Graduate Studies, library resources and services, and staff contacts.

As well, exploration of the best ways to design web pages, structure digital information, and meet user needs would ensure students gain answers to important questions at any stage of their graduate program, such as during initial inquiry, while registering, at mid program, or near completion. Furthermore, examining the websites of successful online education providers could supply ideas and strategies for creating virtual environments that serve the informational needs of potential and current students. Also, using well designed websites as a promotional tool can reduce costs associated with printed and mailed materials.

Accessing info on university websites

Through CSHE, Harris and Jones offer some strategies in Creating Effective Website for University Teaching: An Educational Framework. Foremost, decisions about website construction also involved the institution. For instance, consistency in website design is important to maintain. That is, core elements and location of information is important to ensure students can easily navigate important info.

This applies to information on the institutions, faculty and department websites. Distant students complain that information on programs, procedures, resources and contacts are hard to find at times.

As well, access to information is mostly relegated to enrolled students and staff, subverting the idea of open access. One main reason is copyright issues of uploaded works by other authors or the protection of intellectual properties of university staff. Another reason is “in large part to technical legacies and established patterns of practice”.

However, accessible and easily found information is important for a number of reasons. First, prospective or current students can gain information important to the progression of their programs (requirements, forms), and can make informed decisions about course, instructor and advisor selection. Also, sharing such info within the institution helps with course-wide planning and interdisciplinary efforts.

Also, better infomration would help promote the university to the public. Additionally, sharing resources with the public increases knowledge transfer as well as increases collaboration with other institutions. Besides, isn’t education paid by the public? Shouldn’t knowledge be a common good?

Overall, better designed websites at universities can provide increased benefits to students, staff and the public.

Institutional websites a marketing tool

In her article, The ‘Virtual Face’ of Institutions: Why Legislators and Other Outside View Higher Education as Aloof, Meyer (2008 ) found that outsiders (legislators and parents) have difficulties finding and accessing essential information, and thus presume higher education institutes are aloof and reserved with their information, sustaining their Ivory Tower image.

Upon studying the web-based information of 40 institutions, Meyer found the following took many mouse clicks to find information versus that about the president of the university: student and program assessment, faculty and faculty experience, and crime statistics. In short, it was revealed ” basic information remains either difficult to find or cannot be located at all”

Universities should take a page from the book of business marketing. Not implying that the universities should market themselves (though I think they should to increase funds and students), marketing strategies can help in learning how to promote, inform, and present the institution, program, polices and services. Informing better would alleviate much unneeded phone calls and frustrated inquirers, create better informed students, and improve relationships with the public.