Who was involved.

There were three volunteer primary school teachers at various stages of their careers involved – myself (ICT Coordinator, mid-career), Annabel (young teacher, applying for AST1 status) and Jo (deputy principal approaching retirement.

What did you research?

I spent significant time reading about other educators’ views on the purpose of e-portfolios, construction of e-portfolios, and the viability of the e-portfolio concept. I looked at a number of possible e-portfolio formats in terms of software hosting or Web 2.0 applications that could fulfil the different functions of demonstrating evidence, competency, professional growth and learning. I opened up different points of view via my blog and received feedback on my ideas along the way, shaping them in new directions and considering aspects that I had not previously considered. I looked at established examples of Web 2.0 e-portfolios (even if the authors don’t necessarily use that description!) and started construction of my own web based portfolio. Once I had established the answer to my initial question which was simply one of possibility, my thoughts turned to the idea of sustainability – just because something can be done doesn’t mean that others will necessarily embrace the concept and that maybe there are other more human factors in the possible success of e-portfolios in terms of purpose, time commitment, cost and technical barriers.
‘Some have suggested that the eportfolio concept be replaced with a concept of "lifetime personal web page" (Cohn and Hibbitts, 2004): "The virtual structure could consist of multiple cells with flexible entrance points. It would allow connections between internal cells, as well as seamless connections to external entities (Web-based courses, mentors, peer reviewers, libraries, and so forth)."’

Why is your research educationally significant?

This research is educationally significant because most e-portfolio research for teachers comes from an academic perspective, while most implementation of e-portfolios by teachers is aimed at our students. What I seek to do is look at things from the grassroots level, asking questions about purpose, sustainability, costs (monetary and time) and possibilities that exist in new technologies to enable some of the proposed benefits of maintaining an e-portfolio.

How did you gather your data/evidence?

I read a lot on the web using RSS feeds to pull in blog posts and online articles tagged “e-portfolio”, I spent time exploring Dr.Helen Barrett’s website as she is widely acknowledged by many educators as the leading “expert” on the concept. As previously stated I blogged periodically about my e-portfolio ideas and received feedback and varying viewpoints from other interested educators. I added in comments on other blogs tossing around similar ideas and reflected on them as well back on my blog. I used a Google Notebook to gather key initial snippets of definitions and purposes for e-portfolios.
Here are some key quotes from my blog and its comments that shows some of my thinking being shaped over time.
“As for what an educator’s e-portfolio might look like, I suppose it is something that pulls together the reflectiveness and ongoing learning of a blog, with storage capacity of digital artifacts like I’ve got at RWLO.”
Tuesday, November 22nd, 2005
“So, as a professional, unless you know who your portfolio is for and so far, the job application process here in the South Australian system does not require them, why would you have one?”
Tuesday, December 13th, 2005
“For me, a blog is not an e-portfolio. A blog is not even just reflection which is where I disagree with Dr.Helen Barrett. It is connection with others that is really the big deal in blogging, but a portfolio is a summary of one’s work and directions. Portfolio=learnt. Blog=

Sunday, February 19th, 2006

"G, I think you’re right, but I think ePortfolio is still more than a word. I think you’re right if all we are talking about is a portfolio in the digitally networked world - but as you alluded to in your first comment, it is a word that panders to old schoolers, managers and academia who refuse to acknowledge the digitally networked world in the terms that are current. This provides charlatans with the opportunity to sell false things like ePortfolio software and servers, which in turn leads teachers into yet another false reality, which leads our kids into schizophrenic learning… out there is the way things are really done - in here is the way we do things in school.”
Comment by Leigh Blackall in response to me on his post http://teachandlearnonline.blogspot.com/2006/04/is-anybody-out-there-there-there-ple.html

“There are a billion good ideas flying around out there and in here. The only ones that have global resonance are those that hit the ground running. Realising that the key elements of professional portfolios are imbedded in the individuals ability to demonstrate and action social change, realise social dividends, connect others to knowledge and weather the organisational-flack-attack are in my opinion the portfolio we should be carrying around with us ....so to speak.”
Comment by Alex Hayes in same comment section in response to my comments.

“I back you up on your glued together portfolio. I think one key aspect to portfolios, well digital ones anyway, is that they belone 100% to the student or teacher who is keeping them. I think it sorta plays into the whole identity side of things. I’ll be watching your blog for updates on this project!”
Comment by Aaron Nelson in response to my blog post Friday, September 8th, 2006.

“My action research question was, “Are teacher e-portfolios sustainable?” But now as I reflect on that day and the choices made by my two colleagues and the questions they asked along the way, I’m inclined to think that maybe there’s a more fundamental question to be asking…..
Portfolios are driven by purpose. No purpose equals why bother? An e-portfolio has another complicating factor - technology savviness for both the creator and for the audience…..
Let’s take it as a given that e-portfolios are useful as a way of documenting professional growth, collecting evidence of expertise and lifelong learning. But unless teachers have a specific purpose beyond their immediate role in the classroom - leadership aspirations, consultancy opportunities, AST1 or working internationally - I don’t think that we will see a mass take-up of the e-portfolio concept….
Rather than worrying about whether teachers will get into e-portfolios or not, the question should be more along the lines of “How do we get teachers developing an online presence?” To me, that seems to be the genuine starting point for some many classroom teachers who need to make the mental shift from using the internet as a read-only resource to the benefits of the Read/Write web….”
Wednesday, December 27th, 2006__

“Still the wrong question, and for the same reason. Why is it important to get teachers to develop an online presence? What do we gain from that? What do teachers gain from that?”
Comment by Stephen Downes in response to the above post.

I then called for some volunteers from within my staff to be part of an e-portfolio research group. My role was to assist them to set up their choice of e-portfolio platform and then monitor their progress. I ended up with two volunteers at different stages of their careers and presumably with different motivations for wanting to explore this concept. We used a release day initially to set up the e-portfolios and I kept in touch and helped to monitor their progress. The volunteers also had access to extra release opportunities to help get them off to a good start. Interestingly, and possibly because of my prior experience, both choose to create a WordPress based e-portfolio, using the free service offered by edublogs.
Both teachers brought a pre-determined purpose to their e-portfolio, one was focussing on preparation for AST1 assessment and the other was looking to create an online presence that focussed on the mentoring of student-teachers and leveraged her years of teaching experience. For both of them, the simple interface of the WordPress platform with its ability to create a mix of static and updateable pages and embed files and media was attractive compared to other options like wikis or more complex environments like eduspaces (formerly known as elgg). The release day was useful in order to bring two keen but not technologically cutting-edge teachers together to grapple with the ideas behind e-portfolios and make choices about how to start putting their ideas into the new environment.
I left the two teachers to continue to develop their e-portfolios with my help only a phone call or e-mail message away. I then created a survey to review their thoughts and the longer term viability of their e-portfolio. With only two respondents, the results are worthwhile in their reflective content but don’t really stand out as a statistical measure.
Using a five point rating system ranging from No to Definitely, I posed some questions to the two teachers:
Is your e-portfolio sustainable with help?
One answer was possibly with the other most probably.
Is your e-portfolio sustainable without help?
One answer was unlikely with the other possibly.
Will it meet your original purpose?
Both answered possibly.
Does the format require changing?
One answered no and the other possibly.
In your opinion, is this viable for other less-enthused educatorss?
One answered no and the other unlikely.
Is there a future for teacher e-portfolios in our education system?
Both answered possibly.
Should all teachers at least have an online presence?
One said possibly and the other definitely.
I then asked some personal response questions.
What prompted you to volunteer for the project?
1. I was very keen to participate in the project to help record my work towards my AST 1 teaching status. I also felt that assistance is setting this up would help me gain an understanding of e portfolios.
2. - possibilities for extended educational communication beyond official working life - someone on site or readily available to support me.
What did you know about e-portfolios before participating?
1. I had very little knowledge about e portfolios. I knew that educators were using these in a variety of different forms to share there educational knowledge.
2. very little.
What was the purpose driving your e-portfolio?
1. The purpose driving my e-portfolio is to assist in recording information for my AST 1 assessment.
2. possibilities of putting my name and skills 'out there' for anyone who wanted to tap into them to contact me
What are some of the barriers to your e-portfolio's success?
1. some of the barriers included time- not using time well not following up quickly enough after the first session not having regular time set aside to meet with other people working on e portolios not having a true understanding of the AST 1 process and how this can be assisted by an e-portfolio
2. lack of inclination on my part to really keep the momentum going. Once out of the educational environment, it becomes an 'add-on' rather than an integral part of my daily life.//

How did you interpret your data/evidence?

My blog posts over the space of nearly 18 months have been invaluable in opening up a dialogue with educators from a variety of education sectors including those invested in the e-portfolio concept to those openly critical of the idea. I have defined my own personal purpose and looked at many examples of online portfolios and Personal Learning Environments to consider options to suggest to my volunteers. The blog posts and related comments track a journey of thinking from my perspective where I was unsure of the common definition of an e-portfolio and its role in the world of teaching, to defining its possible construction using Web 2.0 tools and its purpose driven role for educators in our system. It’s difficult to define this process but writing on topic forces thinking and the final comment cited in my key quotes has helped me to reconsider my final thoughts on this hard-to-pin-down topic.
It was really useful to run through the process of e-portfolio creation with two teachers who felt they had a genuine purpose to pursue. The survey then gathered their impressions. The two respondents identified purpose, time and technical expertise to be vital components – all being factors I identified as issues back when I proposed this research topic. It seems to be fair that without support in these areas, the e-portfolios started will struggle for traction and run the risk of being poorly implemented or being a “good idea” that never got off the ground. So, it stands to reason if educators were required to create and maintain e-portfolios then the employer of these teachers would need to assist with those vital components. Of course, this research project is over a relatively short time frame which makes it very hard to judge the long term viability of the volunteer e-portfolios. Having only a small sample makes it hard to determine if the survey reflections are typical for teachers or otherwise.

Research findings - what did I find out?

I found out that very few classroom teachers even know what an e-portfolio is and only very few can see a real use for the development and construction of their own. I did find a number of educators worldwide who have constructed their own e-portfolio (or online presence) using the Web 2.0 tools I originally expressed an interest in. I read and tagged a significant number of posts and articles describing the purpose and components of an e-portfolio. I located many useful Web 2.0 resources that could form part of a “small parts, loosely joined” e-portfolio in my search for possible options for my teacher volunteers. There is a lot of focus on e-portfolios for students throughout the world but finding open, viewable examples from teachers on the web and other research exploring their development was hard to find. I found that many educators are involved in developing online presence via the use of blogs, social networking, wikis, podcasting, photo-sharing and content aggregators but much of this is not necessarily defined by the e-portfolio concept – in many cases the term PLE (Personal Learning Environment) was preferred.
My conclusions are based on dialogue with other practitioners over a lengthy period rather than my e-portfolio volunteers’ experiences (although their opinions and observations are valuable.) The timeline for the research grant was much too brief for the long term viability of my volunteers to be effectively measured. It takes more time than was available to set up, trouble shoot, to gather and write up all of the content and collate all of the artefacts. The volunteers were keen and could see a purpose behind their endeavours but as their survey pointed out would require ongoing technical and collegial support to maintain the e-portfolio as a living, growing document of learning and expertise. There are many educators with much less technical prowess and online experience than my two volunteers who would really struggle to get an e-portfolio off the ground and would question its relevance to their professional life. Unless the career structure of teachers within our state system changes to include e-portfolio maintenance and review as part of the promotion angle (i.e. AST1 & 2, Coordinators) then it will be an add-on that only the super keen and techno-savvy will embrace.
One of the underlying reasons for an e-portfolio is the teacher will develop their ICT skills and online tool usage. There is perhaps some merit in pursuing the less structured goal of teachers developing their own online presence using the easy to use publishing and storage Web 2.0 tools that are readily available. I explored this idea at length in my blog -http://gwegner.edublogs.org/2007/01/04/questions-spawning-questions/
“I think it is important that today’s students have credible role models in their teachers for the use of web based technology. Students are developing their own online presences - who is better placed to guide them in their development of online ethics, savviness and learning opportunities, the teacher with an online presence or the one who avoids familiarisation with the web? As more schools go “digital” with their communication to students, parents, staff, the skills gained from maintaining one’s own online presence means that this change is an opportunity, not a threat. The teacher with their own online presence is a position to connect to others worldwide, and to share resources to improve their practice and opportunities for their students. The gains we (I’m assuming that we is the education community in general) then have are teachers talking to each other more widely than ever before, we have the chance to peek into many different minds and experience multiple points of view, sharing of resources is more widely distributed and at a grassroots level (why would we ever need another federal Learning Object repository if teachers could search for and utilise peer created material and resources?) and teachers able to take charge of the direction of their own personal development instead of being reliant on “the system” offering opportunities. And if we = the teachers, not the education system, have developed our own base in cyberspace (and it doesn’t have to be a blog, or an e-portfolio or a website, I’m talking as simple as a well maintained social bookmarking account or online file storage system) then others can learn from us.”

How has this research changed your theory and practice?

I believe that my own online presence has grown over the course of the research. Using the topic of teacher e-portfolios as a launching pad has engendered many valuable online conversations on related topics of Personal Learning Environments, online identity, resource sharing and tagging, knowledge creation and the skillset required for educators to be relevant in the 21st Century. The actual concept of e-portfolio is highly personal and I think that any move towards standardised documentation of teaching competencies is dangerous and will remove most of the value and learning. There is great value to be found in teachers grappling with and being a part of online communities, constructing mutual educational resources and looking beyond their own classroom walls in order to be compatible with the increasingly connected world of their students.

What new questions emerged for you as a result of this research?

Will DECS be supportive of the e-portfolio concept as a professional tool for learning and achievement and allocate resources for that to occur?
Why would most classroom teachers need an e-portfolio?
Should the focus be on documenting teachers’ work and careeer progress or developing their reflective learning?
Should we just be getting teachers to develop an online presence?
How do we get teachers developing an online presence?