The ePortfolio is dead? Long life to Digital Identity! (1)

It is now nearly 5 years since EIfEL, at the time of the first International ePortfolio Conference, launched the idea that “In 2010, every citizen will have an ePortfolio.” The intuition we had at the time was that the ePortfolio was much more than a mere paperless portfolio, and that its digital dimension was going to create a special object which would travel with us throughout our life, our education, our professional activities and citizenship . Then, very quickly, we noticed that discussions in the field of healthcare arond personal health records (or medical records – the less positive and more bureaucratic version) had many of the same echoes: individuals are the owners of their personal data; they are in charge of keeping their own health records; in parallel, professional practices are being transformed as is the healthcare value chain, etc. Furthermore, in the domain of citizenship , the proposal of Michel Sapin, the French Budget Minister in 2005, for a digital safe for every citizen reinforced the feeling that fields as different as education, healthcare and citizenship were exploring similar issues.

If ,then, everyone should have an ePortfolio (EIfEL), a digital safe (Michel Sapin), a universal CV (Europass) or a personal health record (Medcommons, and now Google and Microsoft), wouldn’t it make sense to try to place all these objects in one unifying concept? What would this object common to education, health and the professional or citizen life be?

Initially, there was a strong temptation to extend the ePortfolio concept: a health record may indeed be seen as the record of a learner, taking into her own hands the management of her health — before even being sick — health being yet another ‘subject’ along with mathematics or civic education. But what about the salary slip placed in my digital safe and used as document to obtain credit for a sofa — on which I will be able to write this blog in comfort? It is clear that extending the breadth of a concept risks reducing its meaning — if everything becomes an ePortfolio, then nothing is really one any more, although a portfolio remains still a well defined object.

The search for a unifying concept brings me to digital identity. And I believe now that it was the kind of thing we had in mind in 2003 when we launched the “ePortfolio for all” idea: to help every citizen to develop and exploit their digital identity. If modern education consists in developing one’s identity, then digital education must become one of the priorities of education, along with physical or moral education.

The experience gained in ePortfolio practice will certainly be useful to achieve this task, and it is probable that the portfolio will always keep a role. But the challenge to tackle from now on us is not the simple use of ePortfolio any more, but digital identity education. We now all have a digital identity, even if we are not aware of it.

This is the first in a series of reflections on the ePortfolio and digital identity to launch the Montréal pre-conference debate.

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