Thursday, March 08, 2007

E-Portfolios and E-Learning

Podcast / downloadable mp3 file here

E-portfolios could be an excellent way to engage the MySpace and LiveJournal generations who are often demotivated when they encounter the sometimes clunky and text-intensive e-learning space of the first, second, and third generation course management systems.

E-portfolios harmonize with newly-dubbed Generation @ (see BusinessWeek Online's article for the week of March 6, 2007) that does everything online, but not in a closed-in, locked-down computer lab-like environment. For the average MySpace Generation individual, Blackboard is a virtual detention hall, or "Saturday school." MySpace generation types want to be able to connect with each other. They want to be able to instant message, post notes, download and post images, tunes, and movies.

It's not just the MySpace generation that values social networking. How many Gen X and Baby Boomers purchase through amazon.com? How many read the comments and ratings posted by other buyers? Further, how many of those generations purchase online and sell through eBay? We often forget that these populations are eager to continue their education online and they, too, are not impressed with the clunky, behind-the-locked-portal labyrinth environment that characterizes many online learning environments.

Baby Boomers, GenXers, seniors, and Generation @ types have something in common: They like the ability of the Internet to send images, text, audio, and video to communicate and to gather information (look before you buy). They also want to be able to maneuver within a social network.

E-Portfolios may be the answer. While online portfolios have been around as long as there have been educational programs on the web, they have tended to be hard to use. Further, the old e-portfolios never integrated easily within a course, or course design. As a result, the typical e-portfolio has stayed squarely in the center of a tightly sealed box.

It's time to take e-portfolios out of the box, and Digication (http://www.digication.com) has done just that.

Digication has linked their e-portfolios with a highly functional and useable learning management system that has been designed to require little or no training in order to use it.

With design flexibility and ease of use that reminds one of the social network sites (Xanga, MySpace, LiveJournal, even YouTube), Digication e-Portfolios are very inviting. In fact, they have already been piloted by more than 450 schools, which have used them to achieve learning goals in a very visible, measurable, and shareable way.

Here are some of Digication e-Portfolio features and benefits:

--Educationally based social networking
--Safe and secure
--Collaborative e-Portfolio editing
--Tagging, commenting, and RSS
--Ample Storage

The e-Portfolios tie into Digication's learning tools:

--Courses and communities
--Threaded discussions
--Grading made simple
--Calendar and tasks
--Export content to e-Portfolio

The way that the Digication has burst onto the scene is pretty remarkable. Their earlier offerings were fairly basic, but it seems that Digication is evolving very quickly and their goal of adding features to their original offerings of courseware while maintaining extremely low cost is admirable. Personally, I think that the future of e-learning will lie in social networking and mobile computing, and that Digication is many steps ahead of software companies that are clinging to a database-driven solution.

I also think that there exists a capacity for students to become conscious of the reification process that accompanies portfolio construction, and how the image and the reader/viewer(s) collectively create meaning. Without going too far into Roland Barthes' Writing Degree Zero, or the thoughts of Baudrillard and DeLeuze, we can start to envision the creation of intersecting worlds and intercalating and overlapping semiotic systems. This is not to say that we are commodifying the gaze; if anything, it is an anti-commodification process. We are taking the commodity, dismantling it, and placing it within a gallery or a hall of education. The overarching idea is to make connections and to see how and when unrelated objects may or may not converge into coherent knowledge systems. The process of understanding how to create structure (schemata) in one's mind, and to communicate with others using the same language and "grammar" is one overarching goal of education. The e-Portfolio concept does this divinely well.

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