Friday, April 03, 2009

e.Portfolio Attribution

We're now looking into e.Portfolios for the GDLT course as a way of documenting our learning journey and a step toward an ICT Pedagogical License. Scot has recommended Mahara, an ePortfolio system coming out of the New Zealand higher education system, or possibly WetPaint in a roundabout way.

The problem I see with both of these systems (and also the Moodle and Sakai implementations) is that they are light on the attribution from others. It's all well and good to just write up a resume' about all the wonderful things you did, but with an ePortfolio you have the ability to interact with the institutions and organizations providing accreditation in a direct sense. Here's a vision of what I'd like to see in an ePortfolio:

The Vision
I want to be able to write a document about a certain topic and link it to my ePortfolio (either by directly hosting it in the ePortfolio system or linking to its original point on the net). I then want to make this artifact available for others in a group, or individually, or publically. Then I want others to be able to comment on the document, respond to the document with a document of their own, or rate the document (like a kudos in Slashdot). Rating relies on the authority granted to the person doing the rating. Anyone can rate anything, but the more influential the voter the higher its significance. If the document is for contribution to a group, the group moderator (or a consensus of the group) can give a group rating instead of an individual rating. This means that the group itself has attributed this article worth rather than an individual voice. This can be extrapolated to more and more official 'groups', such as submitting a document as an assignment for a University course with the course moderator (eg: lecturer / marker) attributing a rating on behalf of the course itself, or combining multiple grades from different courses to give a certificate by the University.

Ownership of Attribution
As with kudos or comments, the ownership of the attribution stays with the originator. So if someone makes a comment on your document they still retain ownership of those comments, but grant the recipient the right to display that comment alongside the article as an attached artifact. Even giving a rating is still attribution and retains the ownership to the rating giver, but transfers the right to display the attribution alongside the document.

Validating Attribution
Collected ratings could also be used to develop another view demonstrating achievement in a certain discipline. Instead of writing up a Curriculum Vitae as a static web page or a collection of personally typed text, each achievement is automatically able to be validated by following the attribution back to the giver. Even if the attribution is a summary of multiple achievements, it should be possible to provide a view to those achievements built by the summary maker, giving a chain extending right back to the material that demonstrates each facet of the overall achievement.

A Framework of Achievement
With an expedient method of attribution and an easy method to validate the attribution givers, you could construct a framework of course units where each unit requires a set of demonstrated skills for acceptance, and provides a set of demonstrated skills once completed through attribution. Once an established framework of units are tied simply to the existence of demonstrated skills, it allows multiple units to operate in parallel to deliver those skills, but potentially change the method of delivery.

Imagine a unit for trigonometry where it is designed with graphs and diagrams aimed at visual learners running alongside another unit with a more verbal, story centred approach. Both could deliver the same demonstrated skills (achievement in trigonometry) but give the learner the flexibility of choosing their preferred path of learning. If, through the course of one unit the student is creating artifacts that demonstrate another discipline, those artifacts can be presented through another view as prior learning evidence once they take on the new discipline.

Breaking down the Barriers of Authority
Although it may seem that the authority required for official attribution would be prohibitive, the ability for anyone to grant attribution means that more can be done with peer relationships and semi-authorative sources. Peers in the same unit would be encouraged to comment and rate other people's documents as part of a reflective process. These peer ratings can help guide an authorative source, or even provide enough weight on their own for unit completion. People who have already completed the unit confer more credibility with their rating, which gives rise to a mentor / tutor position of attribution. This not only helps the pupil, but may establish an easy channel for people to become authorative sources in their own right. Through correct ratings and comments, a mentor can demonstrate a higher level of critical thinking that can in turn gain attribution of excellence in the subject.

Attribution by anyone also opens up the possibility of groups with no known authority developing their own layers of authority through meritocracy. An example of this would be Flickr where, through attribution, people's photos are ranked in many different ways. If someone gains a following through good photos, they can carry more authority when attributing a positive comment on another's photo as many more people will also then look at that photo. At a layer up, groups have spontaneously formed where their authority is purely on the strength of the service they provide to their members in finding pictures that fit the group's criteria.

Back to Reality
Somehow this ePortfolio system mashed its way into my vision of virtual reality. I guess that's a good thing as I've been wondering what the first steps could be to implement such a system. As a starting point though, I feel it's definitely worth the time collating all the documents, blog posts, web sites & videos that I have been given official attribution for already (read: Uni assignments). I doubt I'll be able to get the original attributers to give a digital attribution, but I could make placeholder artifacts until that day arrives.