when all you have is a hammer…

I was reminded of that saying – “when all you have is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail” today. Obviously I notice because of the work I’m doing, but doesn’t it seem like e-portfolios are being sold as the best thing since sliced bread for just about everything? Disaffected youth, postgraduate researchers, trainee teachers… professional development, cv building, reflection…

Okay, so maybe the concept of an e-portfolio is sufficiently broad and flexible to accomodate all of these people and processes. But I keep coming back to Helen Barrett’s article about conflicting paradigms and wonder if this is dangerous for learning technologists and e-portfolio ‘champions’ as well as for learners/users of the technology.

E-portfolio excitement

I’ve been in my post for a few months now and it’s continuing to amaze me: a) how much understanding there is of the point of portfolios within my School. Education courses have been using them for years, of course, for trainee teachers out on placement, but there are just so many reflective writing, evidence-gathering and professional development activities going on here. You just scratch the surface and it all comes flooding out, under many different names, but essentially exactly what I want my project to support and enhance. b) how quick people here are to appreciate the potential of doing portfolios electronically. Few have heard the word ‘e-portfolio’ before, and so I’m asked all the time what one is, but as soon as I start to talk about reflecting on learning, selecting evidence, making connections… they’re there. It’s making some aspects of my job really easy. I haven’t had to sell the idea of e-portfolios at all, or do much in the way of explaining the thinking behind them. Colleagues are jumping right into questions about support, implementation, portability… the hard questions, in some respects, since the e-portfolio infrastructure within the University is new and still evolving. Maybe this isn’t surprising to others doing work in this area. But it’s freeing me up to make connections with other resources in the University – careers, transferable skills, continuing professional development. There’s a lot of good work already being done for postgraduate students and researchers in these areas here, and I’m trying to think more broadly about how it might all hang together. Exciting stuff for a Monday!

spontaneous gathering of orange

Just Letters – a whole bunch of people trying to play with one set of fridge magnets. All at once. It looked completely random at first, but after a minute all of the orange letters started moving to one side of the screen. So I moved an orange one as well, and it was really, stupidly elating. Then back to randomness (well, non-collective purposefulness, I guess). And despite the fact that you’ve got a whole screen full of letters, there’s no way to communicate in words because in the time it takes to find letters to spell something, someone else will move one of your letters. And yet, this spontaneous gathering of orange did feel like a conversation. Which is related (oh yes, it is) in my head to two things:

1. I’m reading Sherry Turkle’s book “Life on the Screen” and she’s talking about emergence and artificial life and how a bunch of creatures or cells or whatever following simple rules can together create complex and unpredictable behaviours, and that this might be where science meets ‘god’ in some way.

2. “The Wisdom of Crowds” (Jen’s handy hint – get someone else to read things and tell you the interesting bits, if you trust them to know what interesting is, and then you can know twice as much stuff. Which is to say, I haven’t read this, but I trust my ‘someone else’): the premise that, weirdly enough, large groups are better than even ‘expert’ individuals at predicting things and making good decisions. I went back to “Just Letters” just now and in the middle of the screen it said JOY JOY J Y.

So I found another O.