Assembling the heterogeneous elements for (digital) learning

A sign of limitations of institution hosted e-portfolios? And cost as the ultimate driver

E-portfolios have increasingly been seen as a good thing. A welcome innovation in assessment practices that show evidence of institutions improving their learning and teaching. At the same time, there’s been an increasing question about whether a student’s e-portfolio should be hosted on an institutionally owned system. Various questions arise, including

  • What happens when the student, as many often do, start studying at another institution?
  • What happens when the institution decides not to support the e-portfolio system any longer?

Around this same time has been the growing question of just how much technology should be provided by the institution given the increasing wide-spread availability of technology? Back in the mid-1990s Australian Universities were providing students with dial-up Internet access. They don’t do this any more. Email addresses? Mostly hosted by Google or other service providers?

How long can/will institutions provide e-portfolio systems?

A sign of the limitations of institutional provision of these systems is when you get an email from the folk supporting the institutional e-portfolio asking for details of assignments you’ve set that use the e-portfolio. This is so they can be aware of the peaks and be prepared for them.

I’m pretty sure don’t email their users asking for help in identifying peaks. Instead the have the infrastructure and people in place to deal with the peaks. Can an institutional e-portfolio system ever hope to have the same capability? Or will the expense of doing so be what convinces the institution to allow students to use their own technology?

Cost as the ultimate driver

Central IT and support organisational units are loathe to give up their systems and subsequent control. Even when there are better systems available externally. However, it appears that there is definitely a trend where cost becomes the ultimate driver/change agent. The reason they give up ownership is when its demonstrably cheaper to out source than provide an equivalent level of functionality.

That’s what has happened with the provision of Internet access, student email accounts and increasingly in the school sector it is the driver beyond the adoption of bring your own devices/technology (BYOD/BYOT).

What does it say about organisations – especially educational organisations – when the technology choices are driven more by ownership, control and cost than what is best for the organisations, its members and stakeholders (can’t bring myself to use client/customer).


Engaging with #etmooc – how and what perspective


Taking a look at the "Decoding Learning" report


  1. Hi David,
    I’m in broad agreement with what you say. However, we host an e-portfolio in house not necessarily because we want control and ownership (though these were considerations) but because it makes the training of staff and students so much easier if we are all on the same system. One could argue that the likes of Google and WordPress and Facebook don’t offer any training as such and yet millions get to grips with those tools but we have found there is a need for internal support. Perhaps those who can’t figure out Facebook just don’t use it, the problem for us is that we’re forcing all staff and students to use something and they can;t just opt out. Ideally we’d let them use whatever they want that did the job but this can get very confusing for the less web-savvy student/academic. We could strongly suggest they all use one particular system (e.g. Google Drive) but do we want to push one particular system on everyone? I don’t know the answer but like you I am uncomfortable hosting our own systems. It would be far better to set students up with systmes they can use after graduating and which they can use at multiple insitutions at the same time.

    • G’day Bob,

      Thanks for the comment and for bringing up the training question. It is a valid concern. However, I have a couple of questions/responses to that. To some extent I’m going to be putting these to the test in the next few months with a course I teach with 200+ 3rd pre-service teachers. Should be a reasonable test of the following.

      Will the need for training go away One of my tasks in the mid-1990s or so was helping people how to learn how to use the web, email, and the Uni provided dial up Internet access. Explaining URLs, email addresses etc. I don’t do that anymore. As the technology became easier to use and more widespread in its application the need for that training being provided by a university went away. There was still folk who needed help, but they could be pointed to online supports. There remains an argument to be made about how well people learned from these skills without the university intervention, but that some argument could be made about the university teaching of those skills.

      The “training” on the web is really good In the past I’ve actually relied on the quality of the support resources provided by WordPress to help my students get started (and will again soon). Those resources were better than any that I could have prepared within the constraints that I had. Plus they were always going to be kept up to date. Beyond that the huge population of WordPress users (similar for other popular services) means that there are alternative support resources as well.

      This is not to suggest that there won’t be difficulties, but I think the trend is that the “training” problem will eventually be reduced. Perhaps that’s a question I can explore futher.


  2. Reblogged this on Things I grab, motley collection and commented:
    Good question: “… Can an institutional e-portfolio system ever hope to have the same capability? Or will the expense of doing so be what convinces the institution to allow students to use their own technology?…”
    This brings BYOD/BYOT into play

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