e-Portfolios and learner autonomy

I have just come across this discussion on Donald Clark’s blog – ‘7 reasons’ why I don’t want my life in a shoebox’. Like Sarah Stewart, I have some sympathy with this post. I have felt ambivalent about e-portfolios ever since becoming aware of them for the first time a number of years ago when the institution I was working in was thinking about introducing PebblePad.  At the time I was concerned about what would happen to all the work the students put into an e-portfolio that was owned by the institution, when they qualified and left. With respect to Pebblepad, the students need to buy the portfolio when they leave and continue to pay an annual subscription when they leave if they want to keep it up.  I suppose this is not a lot different to paying for a provider to host a website.

I have seen really interesting and stimulating work on e-portfolios, notably by Emma Purnell who shared her practice and enthusiasm for PebblePad in an ELESIG webinar and wrote this in the supporting discussion forum:

I would describe myself as an eportfolio learner, teacher and researcher. I am especially interested in eportfolios for reflection and Personal Development Planning and how the use of multimedia might be used effectively to support and evidence these areas. There is a wonderful opportunity for storytelling (through text and multimedia) in eportfolio and this is where my passion currently lies. I was introduced to eportfolio whist on a Post Graduate teaching course at the University of Wolverhampton in 2005/6. Eportfolio was used to support a reflective practitioner module I took.

Emma Purnell, 2008

Despite Emma’s enthusiasm, I remain hesitant. I wonder who the e-portfolio is really for. Do the students really have control over them or are they jumping through yet more institutional hoops? It would be interesting to know how many students do buy the portfolio and continue to maintain it after they have qualified.