Monday, October 31, 2005

ELearn 2005 - Final thoughts - ePortfolios and Presence

The last two highlight sessions for me at ELearn were about ePortfolios (the Keynote was certainly worth it – the first two frankly paled next to Tom Lewis who told of his (mis)adventures deploying portfolios to his U of Washington campus. The big take home message that I got is that people will try to make the portfolio what they need it to be – file storage, assignment manager, etc – Some of these uses (even misaligned) will fly, others will fall, but on the whole, the exercise is worth the effort. He pointed out that in BC, the province has mandated that all students exiting Grade 12 must have portfolios and there are a number of states that are starting to toy with the idea of maintaining life long portfolios (Minnesota among others). To get these things to really fly as portfolios though, there needs to be a culture that understands the tool – this includes a culture of reflection and one that understands that the final, finished work is not the only thing that is worthy of being shown. The other thing that is needed is an understanding of what students and staff already do to get their ideas online, because the portfolio will reflect that work. If they are already doing web design, then the portfolio will likely look better than if all they are doing is chatting online. If they are already blogging – it will be more reflective (or possibly reactive) than if all they are doing is using WebCT to post assignments. If the desired portfolio is supposed to be more visually pleasing, then those skills need to be taught and modeled to the users as few users will develop those skills independently, the same would be true of any other desired result. Of course, culture of reflection or elegant design doesn’t configure hardware, so the infrastructure must be there to support the system in the way it is used by the various groups. This means that support has to be diverse and flexible. The second interesting session I went to was on understanding interactivity and the role of social presence. It was interesting to see that much of the work that I had done as part of my MEd was being covered again – Moore et al. The session mentioned that the things that really helped students feel part of the classroom were the vicarious actions (like in the VC session I went to from U of H when they panned the classroom), the impression of different media and the ability to become engrossed (via flow theory). The comments on interaction included not only the obvious interactions between human actors but the interactions between content as well – tutorials that link out to other resources. The better all these become integrated, the better it is for all the elements that create presence. Social presence theory talks about the way that different media can alter the perception of presence an how some media are considered “warm” and other cold”. The extremes of these media are defined by the technology – so a video can only be so cold or so warm, as can say text. But the perception of the user is what defines specifically how warm or cold something is. The comments on Flow theory and Cognitive Absorption theory look at how one can “get lost inside” content, this however is mitigated by the incoming perception of the user. Putting all these ideas together it seems that creating the presence online is really not that much different than creating it in real life. You have to have good resources, interesting stuff around your content (decorated virtual walls) and you have to make it appealing going in, or at least approachable for most people. If you can get all these elements working, you’ve got things going pretty good for social presence. Technorati Tags: , ,