Blogs, e-portfolios and learning narratives

OK this could be a convoluted one! I am planning to apply for an EdD and this started me off thinking about what area I would like to research. At the same time, I was directed to a post on bPortfolios (blog-based portfolios!?) by David Hopkins which references some work on “bPortfolios: Blogging for Reflective Practice” (Wicks et.al. 2011). So what is the connection?

As part of the PGCert for new lecturers at my previous institution Salford, we used both PebblePad and WordPress as portfolio tools for assessment. During the evaluation of these tools I became convinced that an open blog-based portfolio like WordPress was more useful to the learners as a learning tool than an institutional e-portfolio tool. Why?

Wicks et.al. (2011) noted that bPortfolios enhance critical reflection through:

  • Social interaction – Students share their learning reflections in an open format. [Yes I witnessed this to a certain extent in our learners. This is something that needs to be pushed more I think.]
  • Developmental – The reverse chronological order of posts shows learning growth.  [Yes and this is the big one for me which I will come back to later.]
  • Organization – Categories and tags allow students to classify their reflections. [Not sure about this. I think it helps some learners but many still struggle with organising their electronic records and seem to prefer (or at least are most comfortable with) the file system that Microsoft uses]
  • Autonomy – Students have ownership of their personal content management system.  [I think this becomes more important in the future. As I start to use more of my own systems and work outside institutional systems, I appreciate more the flexibility afforded from choosing and keeping my own tools and not being forced into using institutional tools.]
  • Reflective – Students consider which standards are being addressed and what key words best describe the post.  [Yes. I think being able to see some of the high quality work some of our students produces gives others an idea of what to aim for as well]
  • Digital citizenship – Students practice using social media to enhance digital reputations(Chaplin, 2011). [I think again in the future this will become more important]

David raises the questions of what is the difference between an e-portfolio and a bPortfolio? Have bPortfolios killed off e-portfolios? Or does the idea of a bPortfolio just confuse the whole e-portfolio thing? For me, I am interested in answering these questions from a slightly tangential angle (This is where the EdD could come in).

I’m interested in learning narratives and reflection. Portfolios (of any kind) seem to be an ideal way to capture learning and reflection. Some early research I was part of for the 4th cohort of the International Coalition for E-portfolio research (http://ncepr.org/) suggested that different learners see their learning journey differently. I looked at leaners’ sense of narrative diachroncity (as Bruner 2001:6 puts it ” …a mental model whose defining property is its unique pattern of events over time”) in their portfolios and presented this paper at a Centre for Recording Achievement event in 2010. What I was looking at was how students recorded their sense of learning and their identity and self over time in their portfolio. It seemed to me that those who benefitted the most from the portfolio developed this sense of change in themselves over time. The regular recording of learning over time allowed a meta-reflection to occur. As the students thoughts changed and their sense of identity as learners and future professionals changed over time they were able to see their earlier selves and reflect on their journey.

So how does this related to e & bPortfolios. My hypothesis would be that the bPortfolio might be better at helping to develop this learning narrative over time. All too often, I get the sense that many (although certainly not all) e-portfolios (especially those for assessment of learning) tend towards post hoc rationalisation of the learning journey. They are often not written at the time the learning occurred but sometime afterwards and can often fall prey to the last minute rush to get the assignment done. Bits of evidence are hastily added at the last minute to justify the learning that has supposedly taken place. Yes it represents an authentic learning narrative but it is probably a different narrative to the blog based approach. I would guess that the blog based approach would better encourage the messy, ongoing reflection that better captures the learning in progress and better provides the comparison of where we were to where we are now. It would be a more ‘accurate’ record of the journey. As long as a process of meta-reflection and sense making formed part of this process then this would seem to be ideal. Of course what is obvious here is that the tool is irrelevant in most aspects; rather it is the process which is important. What I would conclude though is that a blog tool like WordPress seems to better fit the kind of process I would like for my learning and for my learners. And on top of that you get the extra benefits as outlined by Wicks et.al. (2011)!

As always your thoughts are welcome, even if you think I’ve lost the plot with this post!

Bruner, J. (1991) “The Narrative Construction of Reality”, Critical Enquiry 18:1 pp.1-21

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