MyWORLD e-Portfolios: Activity and Identity

Introduction: background

This paper uses three theoretical positions to explore issues that are emerging through a research and development project in the field of e-portfolios known as MyWorld, where WORLD is an acronym for Wider Opportunities for Reflection, Learning and Development. Briefly, the issues to be explored are those to do with the politics of personal identity and the management of personal identity technologies. The three positions, which will be elaborated later, are

  • Actor network theory (ANT)
  • Mediated or critical discourse analysis (Fairclough, 2001; Scollon, 2001, 2003)
  • The new critical style (Popper, 1996).

Latour argues, ‘How long can you follow a policy before having to deal with the detailed content of a science?’ (Latour, 1999, p. 87) with reference to the underlying software, the code and standards by and through which national and institutional policy is enacted. This paper is an exploration of how policy is enacted through certain subsets of discourse technologies: personal identity technologies and learning technologies in general and e-portfolio systems in particular.

If our identities are in part artefacts of the use of digital technologies, then for me it is important that we have some choice, maybe largely limited and illusory, over the tools we use to make our identities. But the exercise of choice has always been to some extent political. The exercise of choice and the allocation of choice are issues at the heart of UK government policies. The rhetoric of choice permeates education and health: parental choice of school, student choice, patient choice; consumer choice is supposed to underlie all regulatory regimes. Choice is political; the choice of personal identity technologies is political. The question of who has control over the field of personal identity and the technologies that are available with which to represent, negotiate, reflect and make that identity is a political question. So I want, at the very least, to explore the illusion of control over representations of identity that lies at the heart of MyWorld. Perhaps this exploration can help us to get some bearing on where we are, how we got here and how we might assume some control over the direction of our lives.

With the advent of the Lifelong Learning Record in the UK, e-portfolios (the term, like e-learning, covers a wide range of practices and digital technologies) are rapidly growing in importance in education and training. Some bold claims are made. As Dave Tosh once said, ‘Many view the e-portfolio as the future of learning, a powerful aid for personal development. The e-portfolio can serve as a tool for learning, assessment, career management and knowledge supervision’ (Tosh, accessed 16 January 2006). As a result,

The implications of developing and maintaining lifelong learning records is being explored through a programme of JISC-funded projects under the MLEs for Lifelong Learning Programme. The projects are being supported by the Centre for Recording Achievement (CRA) and the CETIS Learner Information Profile Special Interest Group (LIP SIG) to develop scenarios around how learners will maintain and use information gathered by institutions and themselves as learners. [my emphasis] (Bailey, McClure et al., 2004)

MyWorld is a JISC-funded, wide-scale regional pilot of the ‘Petal’ e-portfolio software. MyWorld seeks to identify the issues that need to be addressed in order to offer effective regional, cross-institutional e-learning systems and services.

Portfolios

Portfolios are collections of realia that have been assembled by a person and are retained and curated by them because the objects contained in the collection evidence or attest to claims that a person might make to themselves or to others about his or her life; in education contexts, the claims will be about learning, competence and skills:

In library classification systems, realia are objects such as coins, tools, games, toys, or other physical objects that do not easily fit into the neat categories of books, periodicals, sound recordings, or the like. In education, ‘realia’ are objects from real life used in classroom instruction (Wikipedia, accessed 20 February 2006).

When discussing portfolios, the term is used broadly to comprise artefacts produced by the learner as well as those discovered and used for learning, also including but not limited to papers, sound recordings, graphics, photographs, etc. Libraries, for example, would make a distinction between ‘ephemera’ and ‘realia’ which portfolio writers do not appear to. In formal specifications for e-portfolio systems, realia are comprised within the term ‘portfolio item’ (Grant, 2005).

A portfolio item, in the field of educational, personal and professional development, may be defined as

  1. a unit of information relevant to the focal person structured so that it can be integrated with other portfolio items;
  2. a unit of information that enables a related object to be integrated with other portfolio items;
  3. a related object that may contribute to evidence of the focal person’s skills, attitudes, competence, knowledge, or any other personal abilities, attributes, characteristics, qualities, etc., related to education or development.

With some realia, e.g., a banquet produced by a chef, we may actually only have documentary (menus), photographic or testimonial evidence of its existence.

Portfolios have been used for a long time in certain creative professions (advertising, architecture, photography, modelling) and came into wide use as an assessment method for many disciplines in schools in the UK with the introduction of the GCSE in 1985. Portfolios are also widely used in the assessment of competency-based national vocational qualifications (NVQs).

It will become evident that the term ‘e-portfolio’ is contested; however, a commonsense starting point has it that an e-portfolio is simply an electronic version of a physical portfolio incorporating digital objects instead of physical objects. Most e-portfolio tools (like most e-learning) continue to model physical portfolio compilation. Copies (duplicates or certified ‘originals’) of objects are taken and placed in a storage space to which the portfolio owner has reasonably secure, unique access. E-portfolios themselves are often reified and discussed as if they were an entity with a commonly accepted definition. In terms of e-learning standards they are usually described in reference to Learner Information Profiles (IMS, 2001), where portfolios are conceived as collections of information about a learner entity. This is a limited view of e-portfolio processes. Both the compilation of an e-portfolio collection and the deployment of components of the e-portfolio collection are manifestations of reflection. For example, e-portfolio.org defines an e-portfolio as a ‘method’:

. . .a web-based method for you to save work and information about your educational career that you can use for class assignments, resumes, help from career and advising offices, and to create Guest Views to show your skills and accomplishments to family, friends, faculty, staff, employers, and others (ePortfolio.org, p. 3).

Furthermore, ‘Portfolios allow you to describe the work you have chosen, tell why you selected this particular work, and reflect on what you learned from doing the work.’

Or, as Penn State says, e-portfolios:

are personalized, web-based collections that include:

  • selected evidence from coursework,
  • artefacts from extra-curricular activities, and
  • reflective annotations and commentary related to these experiences.

(http://portfolio.psu.edu/about/index.shtml, accessed 20 February 2006)

While most e-portfolio projects see the compilation of an e-portfolio as an essentially individual activity in which an individual learner gathers objects into a repository, the Nova Scotia Department of Education, Adult Education Section recognises that the compilation of a portfolio is an essentially dialogic activity:

For our purposes, a portfolio is a systematic, organized collection of student work, collaboratively developed by student and teacher to assess student growth toward goals clearly defined by student and teacher and outcomes prescribed. . . (http://www.nald.ca/cbln/projects/dsuccess/dsuccess.pdf, accessed 20 February 2006).

ePortfolio.org’s presumption is that the source of the electronic realia will be the user’s own computer or possibly the user’s own file store on an educational institution’s server. The process of compiling an e-portfolio collection involves uploading copies of digital objects from the user’s personal file store to the ePortfolio.org file store. However, with the proliferation of web services and the evolution of personal computing the compilation of an e-portfolio collection now often requires access to objects held in multiple distributed databases with differing authentication and access regimes.

Identity and activity: the issues

The MyWorld project aims to link networked learning institutions through the personal learning histories and plans of communities of learners. The use of e-portfolios is one means of negotiating aspects of our identity online. But, how do we negotiate our identity? For identity is negotiated and performed. We dance ourselves through life doing what we know, being who we are and bouncing off or interpenetrating an impossibly large number of other identities. Doing what we know? Being who we are? Of course in one sense that is all we can do or be. But doing, knowing and being, or to anchor these terms more firmly: activity, consciousness and personality (Leont’ev, 1978) depend on that bouncing off of and interpenetration with other activities, our own or those of other people, other consciousnesses and other personalities.

I have been struggling with MyWorld. On the one hand I want to inform and entertain with insight. But on the other hand I must reveal a messy world where theories have not yet emerged, tightly coded. Where conflicts of interest abound and where there is always more that could be done. Through the MyWorld project I am combining two, and maybe three or four roles. I am managing a JISC-funded, wide-scale regional pilot of e-portfolio software. I am beginning to use the project as a source of data for a research project. Within the project I am also working directly as a centre volunteer at a community learning IT hub on a large council estate in South East England. All this I wrap up in the term ‘Learning Technologist’; I am using the e-portfolio software as a learner, myself, preparing an application for CMALT: Certified Member of the Association for Learning Technology.

I am performing at least four activities: managing a project (or in its reified form, project managing), undertaking research, facilitating learning at a community centre and using an e-portfolio system. My purposes in writing this paper correspond to these four activities. As a reflective adult education practitioner I am, as ever, trying to understand myself and the world in order to know how to act and at the same time to allow the needs of the learners to shape their own returning-to-learn curriculum. As a researcher I am trying to develop questions in order to interrogate situations so as to get useful information that might inform practice, policy or epistemology. I am looking for external validity and generalisability. I wish to understand the use of e-portfolio tools and related learning technologies in adult community education and professional institute contexts and perhaps more widely e-portfolios in post-compulsory education. I hope my findings might in some way inform the debate about lifelong learning records. As a project manager, I am balancing the interests of many stakeholders interpreting policy, practice and the particulars of the world with respect to e-portfolios. I am negotiating budgets, schedules and outcomes, managing teams and trying to minimise risk in these areas.

But there is more to it than that. It is as a project manager that I derive an income. It is as a researcher that I am self-consciously laying claim to a newly constructed component of my identity, and it is as a volunteer at an adult community centre that I realise some urge to civic duty: a desire to serve. Through this paper, however, there is a dominant activity. While I may mine the paper for passages to include in a project report and while the act of writing the paper is in part a reflection on my practice, I am presenting myself as a peripheral participant in a community of practice hoping that I might through the paper move a little closer to the centre of the community. Through this paper, through its form, the activity of research is dominant.

I cannot stop there, however. The act of undertaking research cannot be disengaged from the subject of research, or from the beliefs of the researcher. Can the researcher’s position be articulated with respect to the investigation to further illuminate the contested nature of educational discourses as they are enacted through the field of learning technologies? The paper is connected thematically with a wider exploration of the question: to what extent are beliefs, or ideologies about learning, tacitly communicated by the mediational means through which and with which learning is done? Latour argues that in spite of assertions by some that one should not confound epistemological questions (our representation of the world) with ontological questions (what the world really is), that is ‘. . .precisely what scientists spend much of their time doing.’ (Latour, 1999, p. 93). This echoes Popper that all observations are theory laden or as according to Leont’ev, all activity has a motive. Seemingly unmotivated activity ‘. . .is not activity without a motive but activity with a subjectively and objectively hidden motive’ (Leont’ev, 1978).

Our public myths of technology conform to the ‘mind-in-a-vat’ model (Latour, 1999, p. 4). From inside the myth we confer upon technologists the attribute of greater objectivity than that which we, mere subjects or users of technology, are capable of. The artefacts produced by our mythologised technologists have, as a consequence, greater validity as supposedly objective representations of the ‘world out there’ than our own representations. Even when representations of the artefacts of Big Science are publicly shown to be permeated by theory, ideology, subjectivity and discourse, as recently in news reported widely (e.g., BBC, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/4278949.stm, accessed 19 February 2005) images from the Hubble Space Telescope were described as ‘carefully processed’ to induce a ‘sense of majesty and wonder about nature’ in the tradition of romantic painting, we persist in inhabiting the myth as inferior minds in poorly connected vats.

Personal identity technologies

As our identities become increasingly represented, negotiated, reflected and in part made by digital tools, our identity becomes to some extent the artefact of what I have come to call personal identity technologies. As a learner I am using personal identity technologies. As a practitioner I am teaching people to use personal identity technologies. As a project manager I am propagating personal identity technologies. As a researcher I am studying the impact of personal identity technologies.

Context

These digital technologies, which we have barely learned to harness, represent a totally new type of nervous system around which there can evolve new, higher forms of social organisms (Englebart, 1992).

These are the technologies that I have called ‘learning technologies’. Whether we buy Englebart’s techno-optimism, I have argued elsewhere that we must at least consider the possibility that learning technologies are technologies that learn (Roberts, 2002). And, as they learn about us, we must learn about them.

In the third quarter of 2004, 52 per cent of households in the UK (12.9 million) could access the Internet from home, compared with just 9 per cent (2.3 million) in the same quarter of 1998 (National Statistics, http://www.statistics.gov.uk/cci/nugget.asp?id=8, accessed 16 January 2006).

The increase has been steady, increasing by about 4 per cent per year since 2001 (39%, 43%, 48%, 52%). Significantly, households with young people in them are far more connected:

In autumn 2002, 98 per cent of young people aged 5 to 18 used computers at home, at school or elsewhere – with 22 per cent saying they used computers at school but not at home. . . .Among parents of 3 to 4 year olds, 64 per cent had a computer at home, and 84 per cent of these parents said that their child used a computer (National Statistics, http://www.statistics.gov.uk/StatBase/ssdataset.asp?vlnk=7206, accessed 16 January 2006).

This goes some way to answering Ian Kearns’s question, raised in 2002, wondering how deeply embedded the Internet (and its descendants) will become in society (Kearns, 2002, p. 1). The final answer will be, almost without doubt, that the Internet will become almost as deeply embedded in society as clothing. This is not a simplistic statement of technophilia made in response to equally simplistic luddism. According to the UK Office of Communications (Ofcom), as of April 2004:

Less than six years since its launch, more than half of UK homes have digital TV. In areas where there is a choice between free-to-view and pay digital TV, take-up is around 60 per cent. â?| digital switchover could start as early as 2006 and be completed by 2010. (OfCom 2004, accessed 16 January 2006)

Ofcom has been, among other missions, charged by the government to ‘promote media literacy’. Ofcom has defined media literacy as ‘the ability to access, understand and create communications in a variety of contexts’. According to Ofcom:

With the growing importance of media, information and communications in society, media literacy can be said to serve three key purposes, contributing to (i) democracy, participation and active citizenship; (ii) the knowledge economy, competitiveness and choice; and (iii) lifelong learning, cultural expression and personal fulfillment (Livingstone, Couvering et al., 2004, p. 6).

Ofcom’s mission is clearly educational in a big part. It recognises that media, communication and information studies are linked. Most interestingly, Livingston et al., observe that although Ofcom is currently paying less attention to ‘the convergence among television, film and the press with the internet’, ‘electronic media’ is defined by Ofcom to include that distributed by ‘means of an electronic communications network to members of the public or of a section of the public’. (Livingstone, Couvering et al., 2004) Whether it be through Directgov (http://www.direct.gov.uk/Homepage/fs/en, accessed 20 February 2006) or any of thousands of services that the ‘citizen/consumer’ might engage with it, the Internet is not just here to stay, it is becoming the principal mediator of our engagement with the world.

Theoretical positions

Actor Network Theory

Learning technology is an actor network. It has reshaped the field of possibilities that is education today. Conole and others propose that learning technology and learning technologists may be a community of practice (Conole, Ingraham et al., 2003) (but see (Oliver, 2003) for a counter position). Useful as this concept is, change on the scale here discussed is not easily understood through communities of practice as an organising theory. More useful, perhaps, is to think of people in education and learning technology, as a network of actors and actants (cf. Fox 2002, p. 114) (and see ANT). Actors are individual human agents. Actants are non-human entities that exert agentive influence within and between networks: ‘technological actors’, i.e., artefacts of technology, ‘social actors’ such as organisations, companies, institutions, etc., and ‘natural actors’, e.g., animals and plants (Latour cited in Kendal and Michael, 1998). As Latour says of researchers:

. . .those they address in their research are not exactly humans but strange hybrids with long tails, trails, tentacles, filaments tying words to things which are, so to speak, behind them, accessible only through highly indirect and immensely complex mediations of different series of instruments. (Latour, 1999, p. 97, author’s emphasis in the original).

To understand scientifically as a researcher, is to understand the complex web of connections through which actors mobilize and are mobilized, technically, instrumentally, collegially, collaboratively and representationally and to understand this complex web ‘without imagining in advance that there exists a given state of society and a given state of science’ (Latour, 1999, p. 90 and ff.). Actor network theory allows discursive force to institutions both at the concrete level (specific firms, schools, universities, hospitals, etc.) and at the abstract level (bureaucracy, technology, religion, marriage, the economy, language) without falling wholly to linguistic, economic or technological determinism. It acknowledges the common-sense expression of the feeling that we are in part being driven or swept along by, for example, technological change and in thrall to the artefacts of technology but allows us as people to come to know critically that such determinism is the product of relations of power and struggles for power (cf. Fairclough, 2001, p. 1) and through that knowledge to engage with that struggle.

Mediated Discourse Analysis

Scollon’s Mediated Discourse Analysis provides a structure for considering the environments within which knowledge is propagated and is another useful dimension to the argument. Learning, the propagation of knowledge, is social action. It engages social actors in social systems, which are formally complex (Scollon, 2001). Laurillard says, ‘remember how complex the learning context is, and how little control we have over any part of it’ (Laurillard, 1994). Social action and therefore learning is constituted in discourse and discourse is mediated. We cannot ‘purge our minds of all theories’ (Popper, 1996, p. 86), indeed, ‘all observations are theory impregnated. There is no pure, disinterested, theory-free observation’ (Popper, 1996, p. 8).

Scollon shows that humans do not engage in practice simply for the sake of producing the practice over time. There is always a focus on the production of identities: the self-construction of the social actor (Scollon, 2001, p. 18). Social action requires the deployment of practices and mediational means at a site of engagement. A practice is a historical accumulation of mediated actions which are recognisable to other social actors as ‘the same’ social action. Mediational means are

. . .not just abstract or cognitive systems of representation such as languages or systems of visual representation, but also any and all material objects [i.e., actants] in the world which are appropriated for the purposes of taking a social action. This would include, for example, the layout and design of the room as well as the grammatical structure of any utterances made by the social actors (Scollon, MDA).

Similarly a site of engagement is a location in and among many discourses.

Social actors themselves and the objects, material and abstract, of their culture are all means by which discourse is both mediated and replicated. Mediation and replication occurs at a site of engagement, which is the coming together in discourse of social actors and mediational means. Sites of engagement constitute the ‘niche’ or ‘environment’ within which discourse evolves, and sites of engagement co-evolve with discourse. The evolution of discourse is evidence of learning.

In the light of critical discourse analysis, actants can be seen as ‘mediational means’. Their role, as components of symbolic systems, in embedding and reproducing beliefs can be exposed.

Discourse technology

Abstractions have equal weight in discourse as concrete things (Holquist, 1997). More importantly, abstractions are artefacts of technology. The technology for handling symbolic systems is as important as that for handling concrete artefacts. With the development of narrative technique and the aides memoires of oral poetics language became technologised.

This technologisation of language has proceeded rapidly, producing many tools for the ordering of symbolic systems, from call and response singing to income tax forms. For Fairclough, discourse technologies are the means by which bureaucracies shape and order discourse for the perpetuation or extension of control. Discourse technologies consist primarily of forms to be filled in but also consist of, for example, checklists by which safety legislation is operationalised, or protocols of arrest by which apprehended suspects are taken into custody (Fairclough, 2001, p. 174 ff). Information and communication technology has greatly extended the reach of discourse technologies. We order our lives with databases of ‘MyFriends’ and ‘MyMusic’. We build ‘relationships’ with supermarkets through complex forms that are updated every time we make a purchase with a loyalty card. Through these systems certain social practices are normalised. We structure our time with personal organisers that default to a Monday to Friday nine-to-five working week. A night shift couldn’t happen in Oracle Corporate Time®. ‘Normally’ Saturday and Sunday are not working days; priests, cooks and cleaners must declare themselves exceptions.

Discourse technologies are among the principal means by which we reproduce the artefacts of our culture. Culture is built of contexts (Frake, 1997, p. 44) and, in turn, that culture provides the ‘scripts’ by which contexts are generated. Novel discourse technologies enabled by ICT such as content management systems (CMS), customer relationship management systems (CRMS) and knowledge management systems (KMS) are increasingly important components of the contexts of our culture and make the production of such ‘scripts’ more explicit. In the field of education, specialised versions of such management systems are realised as virtual learning environments (VLE), course and student management systems, managed learning environments (MLE) and learning object content repositories. Electronic personal development planning (ePDP) tools and personal development records (PDR) are requirements for all students leaving university from September 2005. This is the context in which we must consider e-portfolios.

An ordered taxonomy of discourse technologies is problematic. There is much recapitulation at different scales. There are those very widely cast through which we do who we are and with which we reflect on what we do and who we are: writing, the arts, conversation, blogs. There are those with which we (or others) maintain records about what we have done and what has been done to us: health and education records, employment history. There are those with which we assert entitlement such as driving licences, username and password, chip and PIN cards and such things as mother’s maiden name, first school attended. And, there are those even more sharply focussed with which we link a physical body to those asserted entitlements such as biometrics: retinal scans, facial recognition. Animals are routinely chipped providing Passports for Pets and traceable pedigrees for BSE-free beef. Cyborg experiments on a small scale emphasise entertainment or health care, but how long will it be before biometric identification is embedded in the human body? Only ten years ago the concept of bar-coding babies at birth was a joke. Won’t it be easier when proximity scanners can simply read us as we pass through the many turnstiles of our life? No need to remember your Oyster Card. Just stand here and speak quietly into the microphone so we can update your entitlements.

Lang shows that ‘persons, groups and cultures constitute each other’ (Lang, 1997, p. 188). Pea and others (cf. Salomon, 1993, passim) show ‘Parts of the whole component process may be distributed as social constructions or as a result of human-tool symbiosis’ (Pea, 1993, p. 67). The shape of the artefact is in a large part determined by the affordances of the tool. If the identity of the portfolio maker at a site of engagement is the artefact of the e-portfolio tool, the making of that tool is significant to our culture.

The New Critical Style

What is learning technology? On the one hand there may be an emergent ‘field’ or specialism that is, or is becoming, learning technology. Learning Technology is a science as yet without a framework and still a science that challenges frameworks and treats all frameworks critically. To paraphrase Bourdieu, with respect to social and technical actors, when a new group with its tools and products makes its presence felt in a field the whole problem is transformed, ‘. . .since its coming into being, i.e., into difference, modifies and displaces the universe of possible options; the previously dominant productions may, for example, be pushed into the status either of outmoded [déclassé] or of classic works’ (Bourdieu, 1993, p. 32). Popper encourages a ‘new critical style’ of scientific writing to counter the, ‘present situation in science in which high specialization is about to create an even higher Tower of Babel’ (Popper, 1996, pp. 106-07). He goes on, ‘. . .the replacement of the inductive style by something like this new critical style is one of the few ways in which mutual interest and mutual contacts between the various fields of research can be preserved.’ In discussing the problems, aims and responsibilities of science he encourages us, ‘to shun the danger of narrow specialization: a scientist who does not take a burning interest in other fields of science excludes himself [sic.] from participation in that self-liberation through knowledge which is the cultural task of science’ (Popper, 1996, p. 109). From a new critical perspective, the end of the age of faith was coincidental with the inversion of the relationship between the productive and reproductive economic functions. Today this is most clearly seen in the relationship between education and industry, where the culturally reproductive function, education, is called upon to serve the needs of industry. The education system can be understood, ‘as a field of competition for the legitimate exercise of symbolic violence,’ that is a locus of conflict between rival principles of legitimacy and competition for the power to grant cultural consecration (Bourdieu, 1993, p. 121). It is also a system for reproducing actors who are both producers of certain cultural goods as well consumers of those goods. As with all social practice, e-learning participates in the ongoing discourses of emancipation and subordination. Through learning technologies, the frontiers of education are made extremely permeable, and the most disputed frontier is the one that separates education from the field of power; ‘the boundary of the field is a stake of struggles’ (Bourdieu, 1993, p. 42).

Why are e-portfolios significant?

The compilation of a portfolio is essentially dialogic (see e.g., MacDonald, 2002). We talk through them and elaborate our context, and contexts evolve. Contexts are interpreted, signifying, meaningful systems through which discourse is carried (Scollon, 1998, 2001). All contexts are the product of previous contexts and contain within them echoes, traces and memories of earlier contexts. Contexts are ‘interactionally constituted environments’ that are in continuous flux (Erickson and Schultz, 1997, p. 22). Portfolios instantiate these memories of former contexts.

Why are portfolios significant? Portfolios make explicit and facilitate the representation of identity with reference to multiple ontologies at sites of engagement. As Guarino and Welty assert, ‘Identity is one of the most fundamental notions in ontology, yet the related issues are very subtle, and isolating the most relevant ones is not an easy task’ (Guarino, 2000). Identity is dynamic and complex. It emerges from, ‘multi-loop non-linear feedback systems’ (Forrester, 1995). An ontology is an ordered classification of knowledge that assigns meaning (semantics) to instances and classes of items according to a structure or schema. For example, the Joint Academic Coding System is an ontology. NVQ competency frameworks are ontologies. Sites of engagement are occasions at which a rhetorical display of evidence about a person might be deployed, such as job applications or assessment events. With the advent of the Lifelong Learning Record and related practices in the UK, e-portfolios are growing in importance and are part of the national identity card strategy. E-portfolio systems are an overtly politicised issue.

MyWorld

All through the day

I me mine, I me mine, I me mine

All through the night

I me mine, I me mine, I me mine
Now they’re frightened of leaving it
Ev’ryone’s weaving it

Coming on strong all the time

All through the day

I me mine

(George Harrison, 1970, ‘I me mine’, Let it be)

Welcome to my world. Is this the world of MyWebCT, MySAP, My Computer, My Music and My Documents? I hope that I have shown from the above that I am a product of my world and indeed we are all products of our many individual worlds. Not only are we products of our world, but in so becoming we are the products of all the actors that we come into play with. But this is not a simple statement. It is not easy to exercise choice in respect of many actors in our worlds. Discourse technologies are used in attempts to shape us to many different wills. Personal identity technologies are a broad subset of discourse technologies and learning technologies are a further subset of these. E-portfolios are one category of learning technologies. There is no doubt that through e-portfolios there is a struggle going on for part of our identity. As once people might have feared the camera could capture a part of their soul, we can at least acknowledge that a technology, a personal identity technology, might exert some influence over who we are.

By learners I mean people who appropriate resources as means of mediating their practice of learning. I do not, in fact, acknowledge a clear distinction between the category of ‘teacher’ or ‘designer of resources for learning’ and ‘learner’, although it is practical to do so for reasons of employment and for other discursive relations. Whether striking a recipient-design pose or a referee-design pose, the designer borrows an identity and to a certain extent is assumed by that identity.

In a world of personal learning designers, institutions are linked through their learners, rather than learners being linked through their institutions. Each person is the central node of their personal learning network comprising both other people and institutions. The more usual model has people being linked into networks through a dominant institution at the centre. MyWorld links institutions through people. The problems of a hierarchical, centralising model are exacerbated by there being a host of institutions (governmental, educational, corporate, etc.) competing, in effect, to be the dominant central node in the life of the networked subject. MyWorld is fundamentally learner centred.

These are only assertions and aspirations. If there is a covert curriculum to the deployment of MyWorld it is aligned with Ofcom’s mission to promote media literacy not only as a critically aware consumer but also as a producer.

Biography

George Roberts is Development Director for Off-campus e-Learning and has been at Oxford Brookes University since 2000. He advises on policy and practice in this area and undertakes research into the pedagogical, social and technical dimensions of e-learning nationally and internationally, ensuring that learning technology practice at Brookes both reflects and contributes to wider policy developments. His current interest and practice is predominantly in the field of e-portfolios for reflective learning.

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George Roberts

George Roberts is Principal Lecturer Student Experience in Educational Development.  He has been at Oxford Brookes since 2000 and joined OCSLD in June 2006 as an Educational Developer (e-Learning). In his previous role he advised the Head of e-Learning and the Senior Management Team of the University on policy for off-campus e-learning and e-learning partnerships. He leads the MA Education (Higher Education) and teaches on the Postgraduate Certificate in Teaching in Higher Education (PCTHE) as well as conducting other educational development activities: workshops and consultancies. He completed a doctorate (July 2011) at the University of Southampton on biographical narratives of adult users of a community IT centre on a large estate. He also undertakes research into the pedagogical, social and technical dimensions of e-learning nationally and internationally and is interested in the interactions between personal identity and the values and beliefs that are embedded in the artefacts of Learning Technology. George is editor of the Higher Education Journal of Learning and Teaching (HEJLT). Previously, George taught on the Open University MA course, “Language and Literacy in a Changing World”. He was on the Executive Committee of the Association for Learning Technology (ALT) and head of the organising committee of the ALT-C conference from 2005-2007. For 10 years before joining Brookes he was an instructional designer in the international energy industry. If you want to know more about his professional activities online:

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