EIfEL becomes a MultiplePortfolio (MeP) organisation

Until now, the issue of ePortfolio interoperability was mainly considered within the framework of documents export/import, hence the focus on data structures and the lack of appetite, except for EIfEL and very few others, to fully embrace identity and access management (IAM) as the central locus for ePortfolio interoperability.

In order to contribute actively to the design of state of the art interoperability solutions, EIfEL has decided to become a MultiplePortfolio (MeP) organisation, i.e. an organisation where each of our member will be able to choose their own ePortfolio platform while still being able to fully interact with the organisation and their peers to support their continuing professional development and recognition as professional members of the learning community. In doing so, EIfEL aims at being a life testbed, a benchmark for interoperability.

As an organisation wishing to represent all the actors of the ePortfolio community, unlike other organisations, it was not possible for EIfEL, even if we have our personal likes and dislikes, to select a particular platform to support the continuing professional development of our members. Moreover, many of our members already have their own ePortfolio system that they use within their organisation or institution and several already have to deal with multiple ePortfolio systems — e.g. a member of the Institute for Learning (IfL) who uses REFLECT, based on PebblePad, for his/her CPD might work at a college using eXact Portfolio to support teaching and Multi-Port to support the delivery of NVQs (just to name the 3 Gold sponsors of the 2009 Learning Forum London conference!).

Committed to become a fully functional MultiplePortfolio organisation, EIfEL will work with all the ePortfolio and learning technology publishers and providers to demonstrate the feasibility and benefits of an interoperability framework where individuals are free to choose the components of their own ePortfolio system while being capable of interacting with a number of different institutions across time (diachronic interoperability) and space (synchronic interoperability). A MultiplePortfolio approach is a necessity to territorial approaches, i.e. to the implementation of systems working across multiple institutions within a city, a district, a region or a state.

EIfEL’s MultiplePortfolio environment will be dedicated to supporting the continuing professional development (CPD) of our members validated through peer review of their CPD ePortfolio. Reviewing other members CPD portfolio is part of members’ own professional development to demonstrate assessment skills and gain an opportunity to explore a range of different professional practices.

EIfEL will provide its members with an environment to publish their ePortfolio(s), select the reviewers for their CPD portfolio and publish the outcomes of the review process —a choice of ePortfolio platforms will be offered to those needing one. EIfEL staff will mainly support the quality improvement of the review process, and interoperability.

As MultiplePortfolio organisation EIfEL will go through the following stages:

  1. At the initial stage, each ePortfolio platform will be independent from each other, so the reviewers of peers’ ePortfolios will have to register on different systems. The focus on interoperability will be on the ability to publish ePortfolios using RSS/Atom/RDF feeds, based on multiple formats (LEAP2A, HR-XML, Europass, microformats, FOAF, etc.) and packaging ePortfolios (ZIP, IMeP, etc.) for archive and verification —quality assurance. We will also be working on the systematic exploitation of unique resource identifiers (URI) to competency definitions hosted in shared repositories of occupational standards, so definitions will be independent from ePortfolio platforms and could be used for many other purposes, e.g. to post a job, set a 360° assessment, etc.
  2. The second stage will be the implementation of single sign on mechanisms (SSO), so a member already identified by EIfEL platform will be able to use the same identifier to review a colleague’s CPD ePortfolio. This will require ePortfolio providers to support IAM standard frameworks.
  3. The third stage will be the implementation of circle of trusts and attribute sharing. At stage 2, the granularity of access is the whole ePortfolio, while at stage 3, elements of ePortfolios can be shared with other members of the EIfEL community —and others. This is very convenient when members work together on a project and want to share evidence from their respective ePortfolios. Sharing evidence is one of the means to increase the trustworthiness of individual ePortfolios.
  4. The fourth stage of interoperability will be the provision of ePortfolio readers independent from the idiosyncrasies of the different platforms, so a reviewer will be able to browse multiple ePortfolios created on multiple systems, while having the same navigational and informational interface. This will be particularly relevant in specific processes such as the accreditation of prior learning (APL) when an assessor needs to review evidence against a number of occupational standards of competence.
  5. The fifth stage of interoperability will be the ability to create a seamless space between the different components of one’s digital identity in an Internet where individuals exist as autonomous and empowered entities, lifelong and lifewide.

Of course, EIfEL will be working on these different stages in parallel, in cooperation with ePortfolio publishers, clients and users, exploiting the outcomes of existing and future projects (like TAS3). We will be looking at establishing a quality mark for the ePortfolio and ePortfolio-related solutions that have demonstrated their interoperability within EIfEL’s MultiplePortfolio environment.

The MultiplePortfolio initiative will be launched during Learning Forum London, the international ePortfolio conference, 22-24 June 2009. Demonstrations will be made during ePortfolio plugfest and participants will be invited to contribute their reflections to this ambitious and challenging project.

Tagging with URI

Cross-referencing is one of the key activities when building a portfolio used for accreditation of prior learning or to gain a competency-based qualification. How does it work:

  • On the one hand, candidates have a list of competencies and performance criteria
  • On the other hand, candidates collect a number of evidence demonstrating their competencies
  •  for every piece of evidence the candidate indicates which competencies / units / elements / performance criteria it covers
  • for each unit / element / performance criteria the candidate indicates which pieces of evidence support the claim
With a computer, there is a very simple way of doing this: using competency definitions as tags. Once all the pieces of evidences are tagged with the various competency definitions it is easy to retrieve all those linked to a particular competency and the all the competencies linked to a single piece of evidence. The simple process of tagging creates all the cross references needed to have the portfolio reviewed by an assessor who can then (in)validate the links.
There are two ways of creating this kind of tag with existing systems:
  1. strings: the title of the competency/performance criteria —pros: relatively user friendly (probably not if the user has to key in long definitions); cons: ambiguity as the same string of characters can refer to different definitions; and risks of typos (that can be reduced by providing drop-down boxes)
  2. URL/URI: the address of the competency definition —pro: uniqueness; cons: not user friendly
There is a third way, that would require very little effort from ePortfolio publishers: using URL/URIs as tags while making it user-friendly: users would select a definition from a competency repository, drag it in the ‘tag’ section of the piece of evidence. The tag would appear as a string to the user, but the URI would point to the competency definition. The level of granularity of a URI could be down to a single performance criterion.
Ta make it backward compatible and allow users to create tags without URIs, the URI field could be set to null. This could also encourage groups of people and communities to create and share their own meaningful URIs/definitions.
Of course, this method of URI tagging is not restricted to ePortfolios and could be generalised to any kind of tagging, like linking a blog entry to Learning Forum London or ePortfolio 2009 could use the same URI http://www.epforum.eu —today it is ep2009, hoping that nobody else with use it or won’t use ePortfolio2009 or ePortfolio 09…
And of course, to make this work seamlessly, instead of having each ePortfolio system create its own internal representation of competency frameworks, these frameworks could be made public through a series of distributed repositories providing the desired URIs that could be shared within a community of professionals an organisation or a sector.
The solution to unique resource identifiers for competency definition has already been discussed by Simon Grant (Representing frameworks of skill and competence for interoperability and more recently in Representing defining and using ability competency and similar concepts). It is clear that we have all the technology required and the solutions are not exactly rocket science. What is missing is the political impetus and committment.
One could imagine that each URI is translated into a URL where the competency map could be represented by a hierarchy of directories:
  • language / sector / domain / area / unit / element / performance criteria
  • language / sector / domain / area / unit ? data = “knowledge”, “evidence examples”, etc.
This is one possible representation, and there are alternative equivalents.
One of the goals of EIfEL for the Learning Forum London conference is to create a consensus within the ePortfolio community, and possibly beyond, on:
  • “URI tagging” as a general mechanism for tagging
  • Establish a number of initial competency repositories providing URIs using existing occupational competency standards and a simple mechanism for growing internally and externally those repositories
  • Draw a roadmap for future developments