Yes, you read that title correctly. The New Zealand Ministry of Education saw so many benefits in having a nationally sponsored system that, in collaboration with Catalyst, they developed an ePortfolio system and offered it to every school in New Zealand. They even host it for the schools. Aside from the benefits that ePortfolios bring to teaching and learning, a nation-wide system makes it easy for students to transfer their work from one school to another, insuring smoother transitions and more continuity in assessment. The system also provides collaborative spaces where teachers and students from around the country can discuss topics of interest and share ideas. In fact, through their collaborations they make recommendations on features and functionality to the Ministry and Catalyst–recommendations which find their way into the various upgrades.
I recently visited Tawa Intermediate School in Wellington, and was very impressed with the work students create in their portfolio. One student showed me the system she uses for writing reflections on her work. The system is a series of colored hats (based on Edward de Bono’s “Six Thinking Hats”) that represent various ways of reflecting on a particular work/artifact. For example: the red hat asks how you feel about the artifact, the yellow hat asks what is good about the artifact–perhaps what you like, etc. The student enjoyed discussing the hats with me and how it helped her to reflect on her work. She said that she sometimes applies that type analysis to other things in her life, not just her schoolwork. Another student showed me a research project he was doing on nuclear energy. I was impressed! Honestly, the level of writing and critical thinking exhibited in his work was exceptional. This work will stay in their portfolio, and may later become part of a presentation portfolio. Regardless, if these students transfer to another school, their work will go with them and they can continue on their lifelong ePortfolio. And, the new school can see evidence of the students’ true level of performance in a way that report cards and standardized tests simply can’t convey.
So often we here about mandates that are not backed with funding. What a truly inspiring thing it is when a Department of Education’s mandates are totally and completely supported by the Department making the mandates.
The ePortfolio system that came from the work of Catalyst and the Ministry of Education is called Mahara, and it is available to everyone because it was released as an Open Source system.