ePlugfest 2005 closing thoughts – uncut

The ePortfolio 2005 conference starts in earnest tomorrow – today we were all talking about how different e-portfolio systems can interoperate, and in theory demonstrating working implementations. The instructions we were sent months in advance dictated no PowerPoint presentations; I knew exactly how the day would pan out after the first three speakers whipped out their slides and started chatting away.

Not that it wasn’t interesting – I discovered a lot, and as ever at these events the networking between sessions was arguably the most useful. Although the event itself was timely and infinitely useful in terms of getting people to think outside their institutional box, there wasn’t a whole lot of working interoperability and, in all honesty, at least from my perspective, I feel like a lot of people are missing the point. It’s all geared to the institution as the end user. The institution is not the end user; the learner is.

During the discussion at the close of the day, Helen Barrett pointed out that there was an issue of purpose. What are people building e-portfolios and e-learning systems for? This struck a chord with me, because during the duration of Elgg development it’s always been a question of building something that can be assessed vs something that users will use to learn. We’ve always been fighting a battle with Elgg: as soon as you show them the system, and explain the learning landscape model of learning through connections, communities and reflection, they all come back to one question. How can we mark it?

Towards the end of the session consensus was building that yes, in fact a lot of learning is to do with reflections and the comments that arise when connected people comment on each others’ thoughts. The question then became, how can we incorporate this into IMS LIP in order to make it a standard? Of course, there are already standards for representing connections between people and objects – FOAF/RDF – and their reflections – RSS – which software used by millions of people already supports. It’s seriously time that the educational community broke out of their introverted shell and started looking at the wider web for inspiration. People have been reflecting and representing their body of work on the web since 1989; perhaps we should be taking that experience into account.

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