Category Archives: Commentary

About e-portfolios again

As mentioned for several times, e-portfolio is one of my research interests. I have taught implementing e-portfolio for supporting professional development for in-service teachers and tried to implement e-portfolio in the context of pre-service school practice. The latter one has been more difficult as it presumes more organizational support from the lecturers, practice units, schools where the practice takes place and so on. Now our center started with the new project (eP in human resources), funded by the Era-Net and the project is mainly my responsibility with my colleagues Mart and Kai and that is why I started to think about eP more thoroughly again.

Based on those experiments and trials, I have faced several issues:
1. My main concern is related with the fact that development of eP seems to remain as one time event and eP comes like a container. We teach how to develop own eP, but so few teachers continue updating it and their developed eP becomes like their static web-page. eP should be dynamic and change over time in accordance with the personal/professional development.
2. I don’t believe that eP is merely the collection of digital artefacts. On one hand it should reflect the learning journey of the owner of the eP. On the other hand this journey should be related with those digital artefacts. And thirdly, the eP should contain the reflection which is important part of the artefacts and gained experiences and practice
3. Reflection. How to support the owner of the eP to reflect? It is not even important if they reflect in their learning management systems, personal learning environment, e-portfolios or other type of systems, they don’t tend to do it anyway. But it should be part of the learning process. In eP it is important, because the reflection provides meaningfulness to the content and supports keeping the eP dynamically updated. In the sense of the community, which is also considered as important aspect of ePs, personally I believe that reflection is the key element, which is interesting for the community members. Reflections are more personal and I have learnt from the reflections more compared with the digital artefacts or public profile
4. The relation between the personal learning environment and eP. Few times I ago I wrote about it and after that I have faced the same issue in our unit for several times. Namely, our PLE experts do not feel that eP is the same as PLE. Few times ago together with my colleague we wrote the book chapter how the eP can be considered as PLE and I was not sure if it was a correctly said or not. After our last review, I updated it as “E-portfolio in Personal Learning Environment”, because I don’t believe myself either that eP and PLE are the same in their nature. As mentioned before, I liked the parallel that Attwell (2007) have drawned, he sees the e-portfolio as the DNA of the PLE which may indicate that if PLE is a just an a concept or selection of different open tools and systems, then the eP is a technological solution that carries the data of the PLE.

Recently I bought the book “Handbook of Research on ePortfolios”, editors Jafari & Kaufman. In general I am aware that the book was launched in 2006 and especially technology has developed a lot since then. Probably that is the reason why the technologies in this books were quite institutionalized and the open solutions were mentioned less seldom. But I assumed that lessons learnt and pedagogical approaches are still relevant and browsed it through quite thoroughly. I picked some of the ideas:

– Technology should not be over-emphasized. When educators try to implement e-portfolio in K12, higher education or any other type of formal education, they tend to focus too much on technology. Participants’ training focuses mainly on technological aspects and different functionalities that can be used. Several studies in this book indicated that users of the eP miss the point why is the eP useful for them, why do they develop it and to whom is the eP adressed? It leads us to another question that was asked – why is the eP used, does the using of eP really solves some problems? Also what are the users learning about themselves professionally and personally by using eP, is it clear for all the involved participants? Therefore it is suggested to use goal-settings (also expected results) formulation in the eP, that may help users to become more aware why are they developing their eP-s and what should be achieved as a result;
– Community. Although ePs are considered as professional development/learning tools, it is believed that ePs become more meaningful in the context of the community. Students should be encouraged more into peer assessment and collaboration instead of submitting their eP just to an instructor or employer.
– Reflection has been considered important element in eP
– Institutionalized e-portfolios. The book was almost of full examples how students in higher education or K12 use some eP solution provided by their educational institution. It can be understood that different users (pre-service studies, K12, medical students) have different needs and therefore each institution develops the tool that seems most relevant for them. But in general I believe that students should have the possibility to select their own tools based their preferences.

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Different types of communities

During my PhD studies, I have become a bit of confused about handling different types of communities in the right context. Different types of communities, that have confused me, are for instance community of practice (CoP), professional community, learning community, professional learning community, knowledge-building communityvirtual/online community. Also I read about the concepts like knowledge community and learning organization, which were relevant for my own research. Sometimes it seemed that many of the concepts are overlapping and sometimes some of the concepts were used too loosely (e.g. any kind of community is CoP, although it has its specific features).

First of all the concept of Community of the Practice. Wenger and Lave has defined it as group of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly. It is important that people share the interest, members are engaged in joint activities and the members are practitioners who develop a shared repertoire of resources. How does it different from the professional learning community, handled in my thesis? Wenger has explained that in the context of professional learning community, for instance teachers come together for doing professional development in peer-to-peer learning context. Community of Practice (CoP), according to Wenger, is more broad concept. Some of the CoPs are not professionally oriented (for example people who work together for sustaining high school in country yard). CoP is a way of looking at a group, as a learning system and it could be applied to a family, hobby (they might even consider themselves as the CoP) and sometimes the professionalism is not key at all. In the context of professional learning community, we can talk about experts and learners, which is not relevant in the CoPs. And how does it different from the knowledge-building communities, proposed by Scardamalia & Bereiter, which are also relevant in my thesis? The key differences can be as follows, as proposed Hoadley (2012):

  • knowledge-building community is intentional, that is the goal of the community is explicitly on learning and knowledge building;
  • Source and the nature of the authenticity. It is presumed in both cases that a learner who is successful will be increasingly identified with the community’s practice as something they do and that defines their own lives. A knowledge-building community  may be investigating questions that derive from an individual’s curiosity or from initial teacher’s initial agenda-setting. A CoP that occurs naturally will not typically have a learning goal; these will emerge depending on the evolution of the community’s function and role within society. Hoadley and Kilner (2005) claim that once the knowledge-building community is up and running, it does not constitute a CoP, one in which the core practice is an inquiry one;

In the context of my thesis, technology plays an important role and the knowledge of the community should be stored and accumulated with the purpose of more effective sharing and learning. Technology is the mediator that supports collaboration and sharing. Kirschner & Lai (2007) discussed the nature of the CoP in the online settings. They marked that Web 2.0 approach supports more online CoP, because Web 2.0 tools sustain the needs for communication, socialization, networking and collaboration which is important for the CoPs. But in general they found that online CoP is a complex issue, because members don’t respect the advice from the members they don’t know (in the online settings it is possible) and they do not share their practice online (personal insecurities). Such implications are in common for different types of online communities, I think. Trust and motivation for sharing the knowledge have been under the investigation by the researchers for long a time. Hoadley (2012) proposed four techniques how people support CoPs with the technologies:

  • Linking people with others who have similar practices;
  • Providing some short of shared repository of information resources. While a simplistic view of knowledge might think that this repository is the knowledge of the community, the CoP sees such repositories as simply information that is used by the community in its practices (where the knowledge truly resides);
  • Providing tool for discussing with others. This is perhaps the most common use for technology in CoP: supporting conversation. Examples may range from a bulletin board used globally by members of a support group for a rare disease, to comment blog-posts in a password-protected blog for members of a professional association, online videoconferencing tool, …;
  • Providing awareness in a community of the information context of various resources. For example, an online bookstore might provide automated recommendations that would help a member of community uncover what sorts of books are typically read by the same people.

I was wondering if the technique “discussion” may include the reflection what I emphasize in my research. I kind of separate the reflection which personal and internal learning process and which includes learning from peers and their resources, but still it is internalized and discussion, which is rather collaborative and social process.

I liked the division of the online communities, proposed by Rice & Polin (2004). They describe 3 different (sometimes overlapping) types of learning communities to provide a common language for understanding the different forms of social organizations:
task based online communities – aims to produce a product or outcome and their members know each other. These are generally temporary groups whose members try to accomplish well-specified tasks. A small group’s interaction occurs among members of the group.
practice based online communities – voluntary participation. There is a shared activity among members of the community to produce knowledge. Tacit knowledge is shared among members.
knowledge based online communities – aim of this type of learning communities is to compose knowledge based on a specific area. Members of it may or may not know each other personally. There is a long-term commitment to construct knowledge base.

In my thesis, in the teacher training context, I use the concept – extended professional learning community (of educators). Professional learning community, defined by Stoll & Louis (2007) is an inclusive group of people, motivated by a shared learning vision, who support and work with each other, finding ways, inside and outside their immediate community, to enquire on their practice and together learn new and better approaches that will enhance all pupils’ learning. It is extended community, which means that the community members are from different organization (schools, universities, ministry). As it is (partially) online community, then based on Rice & Polin (2004) division, the concept of extended professional community is the combination of knowledge based learning community and practice based learning community that composes knowledge based on a specific area, includes shared activity among members of the community to produce knowledge, members of it may or may not know each other personally and belonging to the community is based on voluntary participation. It is important that learning is embedded in the community.

As I said, I am confused about the using different types of communities in the right context. Even more I am confused and also interested in, is the sustainability of the (learning) community. I’ve experienced how the communities are initiated, but I have also experienced that communities become passive. How the processes in the communities should be organized for keeping the community sustained? How to keep the participants motivated in the community?

IFIP-OST’12 conference

TLU hosts a conference this week: IFIP-OST’12: Open and Social Technologies for Networked Learning. I had a chance to participate there for one day and I had quite good impression about it, the atmosphere was like a little warm discussion meeting of old acquaintances and new fellows.

Mainly I was interested in the presentation of the keynote – Stefanie Lindstaedt. In the final phases of my PhD research project I read about the EU funded Mirror project that focuses on reflective learning in the workplace. As my own thesis is about reflective practice in teachers’ professional development, then the contributions of the project were really helpful for me. Stefanie’s presentation did not disappoint me and in several times I wanted to applause to her. Thank god am I shy enough as such emotions are not in common in the conferences. Unfortunately I was also too shy to thank her for the inspiring presentation. Anyway, when she talked about the Mirror project (also about the projects APOSDLE and Mature), I was wondering why such project is there and I am here, the Mirror is something I would like to do.

Two other sessions, one about social learning networks, analytics and recommendations and other about workplace learning seemed also relevant to me. Riina Vuorikari talked about how they analyzed the large-scale network of teachers with the social network analysis, which was interesting, because I also have focused on teachers’ network and SNA have been so far too difficult to me. Workplace learning is relevant as well, because the settings of my research area is teachers’ workplace learning.

During the final presentation I started to thinking that the today’s presentation are in a way similar. Also our paper with the professor Peeter Normak (will be presented in the Thursday) and even my PhD research project are similar in the same way. What I mean is that in all those studies some pedagogical innovation with the support of social media (also intelligent systems and so on) have been developed and implemented. The implementation process have been mainly analyzed with the content analysis method (interviews, written documents,…) and based on those results the faced challenges have been identified. In general most of the studies that are conducted in the different settings (formal higher education, workplace learning, teachers’ development and so on) face the same kind of challenges that can be categorized as personal attitudes, motivation, skills, commitment, technological systems and their problems. I just started to wondering that the context changed with the new presenter (or forthcoming presenter or our own studies so far), but the aim, process and results are kind of similar. Sometimes the used technologies are even the same (weblogs, wikis, forums, etc). And also the scaffolding elements tend to be same like (more collaboration, more authentic assignments, more reflection). Despite of that idea that occurred during the conference it is still interesting to see what others are doing and how they are doing it, especially when the conference is coming to us and I don’t have to travel myself.