Erik Driessen Erik Driessen

Every European citizen an electronic portfolio?

Written by  Femke Kools Friday, 10 September 2004 00:00

UM scientists participate in European project with education portfolios

Being able to prove your capacities without formal education. Easily explaining your educational past to an educational institution. That is all possible with an education portfolio. Universiteit Maastricht (UM) works together with several partners in a European electronic portfolio project, called the European Portfolio initiatives Co-ordination Committee (EPICC). The aim of the project is to coordinate the various electronic portfolio initiatives and to make these portfolios interchangeable. The EPICC project works in two ways. Besides the educational component that is guarded by the UM team under the coordination of Erik Driessen, the committee also works on the technological element of electronic portfolios.

An electronic portfolio is, in the most literal sense of the word, the electronic version of the paper portfolio: a collection of your own work that gives an overview of what you have achieved and learned. An electronic portfolio has an added value in relation to its paper equivalent because it is more compact, offers more possibilities and is easier to duplicate. "There is a clear need for such an instrument", says Driessen, "In higher education there is a shift from thinking in terms of 'I know' to thinking in terms of 'I can'. With an electronic portfolio it is possible to show the longer learning route it takes a student in order to acquire the desired skills and competences." The fact that these portfolios will become interchangeable between different educational programmes could provide big advantages. In the future you could, for example, think of a situation where universities can easily determine the level and background of an exchange student on the basis of an electronic portfolio.

One of the tasks of UM in the EPICC project is the set up and realization of pilot studies, the first of which has already been completed with reasonable success. This first study shows that an electronic portfolio already offers a range of possibilities on the basis of the word processing programme Word. At the moment the protection of these portfolios is still insufficient. A test in the digital learning environment Blackboard showed that it was possible to gain access to the portfolios in this Word format. That is quite bad, since also delicate personal information should receive a place in the portfolio, for example patient data in the portfolio of a medical student.

Universiteit Maastricht has a lot of experience in the area of portfolios. For years already, they are being used in a number of UM programmes. Therefore, it is particularly the role of UM to study the educational possibilities as well as the limitations of an electronic portfolio. For the time being, the available software often decides the content, which is at odds with the educational starting point of the portfolio. There is still not much known about the use of electronic portfolios as educational instrument. The market already offers a reasonable amount of portfolio software programmes. However, the software that was developed for that purpose is not always ready to use. "The programmes often have a structure that, for example in the US programmes, focuses on showing only your best work. The European variety, on the other hand, mainly focuses on showing the learning process that someone has completed," explains Driessen.

'Each European citizen an electronic portfolio' is the slogan of the project, and that is, according to Driessen, what UM tries to prevent. In spite of all the advantages an electronic portfolio is not soul-saving, warns Driessen: "Technology develops fast and it is important to know what the target is. People switch to electronic portfolios without knowing what you can or have to do wit hit. For a private person it is little useful to buy a software programme for bookkeeping just to pay his bills. The purchase of an electronic portfolio should be considered from the same perspective. Keeping up a portfolio is labour intensive, for the student as well as the teacher."

The following partner organisations cooperate in the EPICC project: Foundation IMS Global Learning Consortium-Europe; CETIS (Centre for Technical Interoperability Standards); European Schoolnet (EUN); Giunti Interactive Labs (GIUNTI ILABS); Helsinki University of Technology; Universiteit Maastricht; EIfEL (Institute for Lifelong Learning).
Drs. Erik Driessen is educationalist and has worked since 1994 as a university lecturer in the department of Educational development and research of the Faculty of Medicine, where he also coordinates the portfolio project. Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Website EPICC: http://www.qwiki.info/projects/Europortfolio

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