When I started teaching Middle School, in 1998, I was introduced to the idea of ePortfolios by an expert in education. At that time, there was a great deal of interest, in the State of Vermont (where I was teaching), around the idea of implementing them into the classroom. Well, here it is 14 years later, and the talk of ePortfolios from K-20 is still a topic of discussion, and something we’ve yet to implement well, particularly in K-12, not just in Vermont but nationwide. Why so? There are a few reasons why this is the case.
The first is that Higher Education departments of education primarily implemented systems specifically designed for meeting accreditation standards. They were difficult to use and definitely not something you’d use in a K-12 classroom to get kids excited about learning. Yet, these were the only eportfolios pre-service teachers were familiar with using.
Second is that the cost of proprietary systems are generally out of the reach of most school districts, especially when there is no mandate to have them. Even when there is a mandate, it is usually not followed by money to help with the implementation. Open Source options are often frightening to districts, and there are no salesmen at conferences pitching their products. Schools have been on there own to come up with a solution, and then try to help the teachers learn how to build ePortfolios into teaching & learning in the classroom.
All of which leads to the third reason: teachers were never taught how to use ePortfolios, nor the purpose of them. To me, this is the most troublesome thing of all, because ePortfolios can be extremely powerful tools when used properly.
And finally, ePortfolios aren’t easily ported from one system to the next, but students are. And this is the primary reason that a state-wide portfolio system K – 20 is the ideal way for these to be implemented, most especially if this is taken on by a State University system that could host the application for all schools in the state. AND, if it was an Open Source solution, students of the system could have access for life. The State could host it, and charge a cost recovery fee for schools to use it. Precedence has already been set in New Zealand where the entire country is on the Mahara system. The social networking components of the system allow educators and students to interact with each other on a national basis as well as a regional basis. Students can move from school to school and their work follows them.
The benefits to the State System would be the ability for students to move throughout the system, from Kindergarten through life and take their portfolios with them wherever they went. They would have a complete record of their learning, their skills, even their dreams. Pre-service teachers would be using the same system their students would use. Portfolios could be used to meet entrance requirements for the University system. And the list goes on and on.
In the fall of 2010, while I was at Plymouth State University, we hosted a state-wide K-20 ePortfolio Day. It was extremely well attended. It was clear that educators from Elementary, to Secondary, to Tertiary education needed to collaborate with one another in the effective use of ePortfolios and participants expressed an interest to keep the dialogue going. http://www.plymouth.edu/office/online-education/531/eportfolio-day-2010/
There are a number of states that are currently poised to take this on: Being that I’m now in New York State, my hope is that NY State will see the value in this idea, and it will be the first state in the nation to implement a state-wide comprehensive K-life ePortfolio system that really works. NY’s current system (MyPortfolio) is focused on career and technical abilities, and is set to fail because of this. ePortfolios can be used for teaching & learning, for building projects, for critical thinking skills, etc. Here is a perfect example of what can be done on the K-12 level: http://myportfolio.school.nz/view/view.php?t=TpvU3eGSIOzy64aP7Kbn
Nowadays, it seems almost everyone is in one way or another jumping on the OpenWagon. This new cool prefix “open” seems to come before more institutional and product names everyday. It reminds me when “lite” products came on the market. Ah–the New Lite Butter: 25% less fat than our original brand. So, now the product has 150 calories of fat per serving, instead of 200. Is that lite? I guess it depends on what you compare it to.
I find myself asking the same type of question when an educational institution suddenly adds “Open” in front of its name, or someone claims to be leading an “Open” initiative. Schools consider themselves using Openness when they use OERs–but is that truly being Open, or maybe just good for their proprietary business practices–a “lite” version of their education? Is a university system truly Open, when they do not use any Open Source technologies? Students are paying for the proprietary system, and the school is not making any contributions to the community: Is that Open? Is it Open when students’ ePortfolios are on proprietary systems that they didn’t choose and that they have to pay for (long story how ePortfolio systems work)? And, is something open just because it is “free”? Or is there far more Openwashing going on in educational institutions than we realize?
If we can measure a company’s Openness using a set of standards, to determine whether what they offer is Open or Openwashing, couldn’t the same sort of standards apply to other Open claims? And if so, to what degree do we take that? I wonder how many schools are now using images with CC Share-alike licenses on them, behind closed systems. I wonder how many Open institutions keep their decision-making processes behind secret doors. So many questions. Perhaps we need a scale–like those “lite” products: 20% more open than before… courses are 20% cheaper than before because we are using open textbooks, etc.
Honestly the movement towards Openness in education is a very good thing especially when the commitment to becoming more Open is with the student, and education in general, in mind. The sad thing is that so many myths and irrational thinking around openness, open content, open source, etc still abound. And there are just so many Open mirages out there.
My mother always reminds me: “you need a little fat everyday you know”. My response always has some sort of reference to the kind of fat in the product, and about my commitment to maintaining a healthy diet. So, everything can’t always be open (well, maybe). I mean there are somethings that need to be private, and some ways we need to make money–besides those ugly banners on web sites everywhere. But when is something “lite” and when is it “low-fat” or “fat-free”? When is something openwashing and when is something truly open? My view is that true Openness comes from an ideal and an understanding of what Openness is really all about–community.
Here’s a few interesting commentaries on OpenWashing to get you thinking a bit more:
HB418, passed by the NH Legislature requires all state agencies to use “open source software when acquiring software and promotes the use of open data formats by state agencies. ” The Bill goes on to define the term “open source” and boldly states “The Department states proprietary solutions will require agency justification to the Department and approval of the proprietary solution by the Department’s Chief Information Officer.” http://www.nhliberty.org/bills/view/2012/HB418
Six months ago I was employed at one of the state universities in NH, and now am at a state college in NY. Both are on an open source LMS. The SUNY system, however, when given the option to choose an LMS, chose to go with the proprietary system Blackboard and most of the Colleges and Universities in the system will be moving over to Blackboard in the coming months. Not all of them will however. There are several schools going with Moodle, or staying with Moodle.
Last week, on the Directors of Distance Learning listserv, there was quite a debate about the choices, and the old myths about open source arose. It all seemed like the spouse who says the lowest thing they can think of, even if it isn’t true, to defend their position, even if it’s wrong.
SUNY is a large system. It prides itself on the “Power of SUNY” and is now talking about the “Openness of SUNY”, but when given the option, they chose proprietary. In my opinion: what they failed to understand was the opportunity they were given to truly make a difference in the future of the learning platform. Having access to the code of the LMS they chose, would’ve allowed them to use the “Power of SUNY” to make the platform one that would meet specific needs of SUNY, leverage SUNY innovation, and contribute to the community of LMS development. It was a great opportunity and they missed it. One can only hope that they will come to their senses at some point, and see the value of belonging to an open source community.
Open source LMS platforms are in use throughout the world; used by institutions with thousands of online courses and students as well as by small private institutions. Having been the LMS Administrator of Moodle at more than one institution, I can say that Moodle does not require a team of programmers–that is an absolute myth about open source that is continually perpetuated! Several System Admins of Moodle have told me that managing Moodle takes up less than 5% of their job. One of the IT folk I worked with at another institution once told me “I get better and quicker help from the Moodle community, than I ever got from Blackboard”.
Open Source is about community. That’s the philosophy that makes open source successful and that draws us to it. It’s about a community of users helping to make the software better, to increase usability, and to insure that the functionality we most need is implemented. In the Moodle community, and other open source communities as well, individuals can suggest improvements (if not build them). The community tests the system, comments on it, and supports it. Yes, there are open source products that have not developed a large community of supporters–products that are still in their infancy, or that do not have a large base of individuals using the application, but that is not the case with the LMS.
I applaud NH and the wisdom of it’s legislators. There are, already, numerous schools in NH that use Moodle, Mahara, or Sakai. I expect there will be many more adopting OS in the future. In truth, it makes a great deal of sense that the state institutions, who are supported by the community of tax payers, choose publicly developed system applications (open source) over those that are proprietary whenever possible.