Assembling the heterogeneous elements for (digital) learning

A story about the failure of institutional eportfolios

In which I relate a personal story about how the one eportfolio I was required as a student to make on an institutional eportfolio system has now disappeared for good (to me) with no communication from the institution.

I’m a long-term skeptic when it comes to institutionally chosen eportfolio systems like Mahara, PebblePad etc. Back in January 2009 I expressed my first disquiet with eportfolios in terms of how institutions approach innovation around e-learning. i.e. Ohh, everyone is installing eportfolios, let’s leap on that bandwagon and expends lots of resources encouraging/requiring everyone to use this fad while we ignore all the contextual opportunities and issues within the institution. This is a cycle you can see repeated with new values for eportfolio: open source LMS, learning analytics, OERs, MOOCs….

I’ve also wondered just how long institutions were going to continue supporting the eportfolios created by their students. I know have an answer for one institution, about 3 years.

2011 – Reluctant eportfolio author

Given my skepticism about eportfolios it was somewhat ironic that I was required as a student to create an eportfolio when studying to become a high school teacher. My fellow students and I were all required to use Mahara to create an eportfolio showing off evidence that we had met each of the relevant teacher standards. This was a requirement as part of the course and came with the expectation that we’d use it in interviews.

2012 – Ongoing use

As it happened, I didn’t become a school teacher and didn’t use my eportfolio in interviews.

Instead I got a job at another university teaching a course on ICT and Pedagogy. The course design I had to use in the first year of teaching that course required the students to create their assignments in the new institution’s instance of Mahara. Mahara’s not the easiest of tools to learn, so I used my existing eportfolio as an example in the course.

It appears that I wasn’t the only one. My alma mater also appeared to be using the eportfolio I created as an example. This is based on the following request from one of their students

Since you’re the guru of the e.portfolio I was hoping that you wouldn’t mind telling me how to create the little tabs at the top of each page as you have in yours.

2013 – Declining use

Given the hassles in using Mahara for student assignments, I changed the course to remove the use of Mahara. Instead students were creating their own blog on their choice of service. Didn’t point my students to my eportfolio but still got the odd evidence of on-going use at the other institution.

2014 – It’s gone!

This year the program I teach into is trying to encourage students to continually think about gathering evidence against the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers (APST) and preparing their eportfolio. We’re also encouraged to link our course activities to the APST.

Being the good corporate citizen that I am, I was modifying my course site to add these reminders in. It seemed a good opportunity to point to my eportfolio as an example of what is required. Where was that link? Ahh, there it is? Oops!!

Missing eportfolio by David T Jones, on Flickr

It’s gone! The entire Mahara site no longer exists. How could that be?

It appears that what was once an externally hosted site is now hosted internal to the organisation.

What’s more the eportfolios on that site cannot be accessed unless you go through the institution’s version of Moodle. My student account – which was working for the old system – will no longer give me access via this new method.

Would’ve been nice to be told

I understand the need to re-evaluate how services are provided, but it would’ve been nice to be told that the system was moving so that I could have made use of the eportfolio communities much vaunted standards for sharing content. A dump of the site and move to a new one would make sense.

Perhaps this is something I should have done ages ago. However, I also think there’s an argument to be made that the institution could of informed ex-students of the move. After all, the institution’s Alumni association still communicates regularly with me.

If institution’s provide an institutional eportfolio system, doesn’t this imply a larger burden of support? Moving beyond the forget about the student once they graduate approach to maintaining a life-long relationship?
I’m sure I read something like that in some marketing spiel.

If that additional burden isn’t going to be picked up, then isn’t there at least the expectation that you will clearly communicate what the service level will be? After all, SLAs are the beloved of all central IT departments.

If this burden isn’t being picked up, then what does this mean for institutions that are requiring students to create eportfolios for use in interviews and other post-enrolment requirements?


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  1. David, it sounds like you’ve been completely let down there. Your eP should have expired (if anything) and not just deleted along with the whole site, and yes you should have been warned. At least that would allow you or an admin to export your content so that you can host it elsewhere if you want to. Perhaps they sent a warning to an institutional email account you no longer use? I’ve known that to happen. I understand why institutions provide such platforms, as it makes it easier to train staff and scaffold for students in a particular technology (whether they like it or not), and it allows for very fine-grained control of who can see what. At my institution we have recently made it clear that graduates will need to export their Mahara content, like any email they wish to keep. We’ve barely got the resources to support current students, never mind Alumni!
    Steve P.

    • Steve, thanks for the comment. Like you I can see the rationale for having these systems and mandating their use. I’m not sure I agree with it anymore. While not exactly the same and entirely anecdotal, I feel I’ve had less need to support student in recent years create artefacts on their choice of online service (Weebly, WordPress etc) than I ever did with Mahara.

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