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How did you come to the realisation that the day you stopped teaching you started learning?

How did you come to the realisation that the day you stopped teaching you started learning?

I stopped teaching in December 2006. I had taught French for 17 years in England and New Zealand, but had not been back home to live since I was a teenager. So off we (Peter and I!) went to France! During this time, amongst other things, I took time to experiment with ICT: Do you remember picture slideshows? What about sending via 3G from Spain on a French carrier’s account (not set to roaming) to a massive list of 6 friends? Those were the days!

On our return to NZ I embraced the opportunity to live school-bell free. In early 2008 I started to develop a website for French teachers in NZ. An existing one was lying dormant, born of an early vision for sharing and collaborating held by Stephanie Barnett, the French National Advisor at the time. Creating and populating the website from a bare CMS provided much head scratching and trial and error. I discovered the use of forums, learnt to narrow my searches, and tamed Google to sieve the irrelevant stuff. Inviting people to share resources to publish, communicating their publication, acknowledging the source, developing and maintaining a community of users - were all new territories!

From the initial start with the CMS, and the NZAFT community, with its somewhat dated but effective listserve, I took my first steps with Facebook (July 08) to keep in touch with (initially “real”) friends. I explored the web goodies...the tools (oh the joys of Voki and Glogster for language learners!), my growing awareness of social networking (classroom2.0 was my intro to ning! :-), opening a Twitter account (thanks @froggieflo!), buying my first smartphone and investigating what e-learning could bring for language students - I had effectively started to experience how ICTs could support learning, and was coming to the realisation ICTs supported my own learning!

I had contributed to projects and had responsibility for initiatives within the schools I worked in, and often responded to a need or development identified by the school management. I had also been the teacher who taught and followed a methodology not so different from the one I had been taught with....Now I was investigating, asking questions, making sense of information, following my nose, stumbling and seeking help and reciprocating.  I was no longer a teacher, I was a learner.

Is it life long learning?

That I became aware I was learning was a slow process! Is this because I was not in a school or uni? Or was it because I was not taught by anyone qualified?  My new knowledge and skills weren’t developed to gain a qualification or to make myself more employable. My eyes weren’t set on a finish line. It actually did not feel like learning as I knew it.  No one was asking anything of me, nor did I expect anyone to walk me through anything.  I simply felt deeply interested in stuff I was curious about. I was experiencing with ICTs and starting to understand that the flow of info would only get bigger, faster.

I had a context, the French teachers’ community,  and a loosely defined self-commitment to investigate practical ways to support language learning in NZ schools.  If a question arose I could look it up. If someone got in contact, I could reply. If I had an idea, I could investigate how to go about it. If I did not know someone else did and it was a search or a comment away ... and all my shiny high-spec toys allowed me to learn “anywhere anytime”. Some of my behaviours started to change: I was gaining confidence in participating in discussions on and off-line with a range of people, as well as following more radical bloggers, enjoying shaping opinions, sharing ideas and so on... my learning had become a really social affair! I was developing new organisation skills and alongside it I was developing an e-identity.

Is it life long learning? If life long learning is not only about taking opportunities to learn all life long but also about developing and nurturing a skillset and a way of being about learning then it may well be. I have been tempted to test my renewed understanding of learning by enrolling in a formal course. But for the last 18 months the ePortfolio approach development in New Zealand schools has given me an opportunity to be a teacher who learns!

How did you develop an interest in ePortfolios?

Several factors came into play simultaneously.  
First I became aware of ePortfolios at the time of this clip
a time when other terms such as personalised learning, process and products, reflective learning, PLN and digital competence appeared in my “netscape”.

Then the phrase “Portfolio of Evidence” appeared for the first time in the Languages NCEA 
internally assessed standards as they were being realigned to reflect the vision for, amongst other, life long learning in the New Zealand Curriculum(2007).  A “Portfolio of Evidence” was the new way to assess students and that was being introduced in high stakes assessments in Language Learning! This was going to drive some changes (and meet some resistance) in the teaching and learning approach that had been prevalent and it was somehow going to precipitate a deeper willingness to engage with the intent of the NZC.

And with eLearning promising the use of tools, the development of skills and a growing ownership of the learning process as well as driving some big shifts both in schools’ infrastructure
and teaching practice , ePortfolios presented me with a learning opportunity.  Could I combine a growing interest in ICTs, a burgeoning experience with tools and networking, a fresh look at learning with an actual need arising in the Languages classroom? Contributing to driving a change of this magnitude on the strength of the requirements of high stakes assessments was not going to be easy but it was too good a lever to ignore!

I started toying with gusto with googlesites while starting to make sense of
Helen Barrett’s work. ePortfolios had been emerging in tertiary. But here in New Zealand the Ministry of Education was working on publishing non techie guidelines on their possible strategic place in learning  as well as supporting a hosted version of Mahara called MyPortfolio , a shared online space for New Zealand schools, teachers and students.  

Pioneering stuff! Paul Seiler summed it up in this presentation at  EportfolioAustralia
My interest drove more investigation into not only what the tool could do but also into what ePortfolio, no matter what tool, could bring about for the learner. Jamin Lietze explained it to parents and many a teacher benefited from this too! I looked at some essentiallearning functionsand tried to see how they could be supported with the particular ePortfolio system I was working with.  As Trent Batson argued, I started to discover the potential ofePortfolios (as) a way to see the new world of learning.

Why ePortfolios? What’s special about them compared with, for example, paper portfolios?

ePortfolios belong to the learner. They allow the owner to film their learning with the ability to “rewind it and rewrite it”. They rest on three equally strong actions that support the learning process:

  • To Curate: to collect, select, order, organise information that is gathered or created. The gathering and organising of artefacts form a body of evidence of learning (text, web page, images, video, sound file, presentation, feed...)
  • To Narrate : to give a written or spoken account or a commentary to accompany selected pieces of evidence of learning, to recount the selection and organisation process, to explain the process and thus grow awareness of one’s learning progress (journal, webcam journal, podcast, images, blog...)
  • To Communicate: to share the narration, to invite comments from a peer/friend or several, to belong to groups, to contribute thoughts and questions to a community, to collaborate to group projects,  to publish publicly to obtain feedback and feedforward which will inform the next step of learning (social media tools, sharing functions, deprivatisation of learning)

Building an eportfolio does not necessarily require an ePortfolio system. An aggregation of tools (Wiki, blog, online bookmarking, cloud based drive etc) can do the trick. MyPortfolio-Mahara as an ePortfolio system is sometimes described as a complex tool as it has built in functionalities to support all of the above. What matters most is that the ePortfolio is the learner’s.  Eportfolios allow extensive gathering over time, creativity and variety. Paper portfolios are only written or paper based and very cumbersome if too full!  Eportfolios give the potential to reach a wider audience if desired. The remixing of artefacts for a range of purpose (assessment, cv, group production, grant) is also made possible and it is easily shared. ePortfolios in 2012, according to Don (Presant) (slide 14) are “with the learner, lifelong, lifewide and are supporting new learning”.

Do you feel that ePortfolios help students develop the skills to help them reflect critically, ready for the later steps in life?

Reflection is the big cog in the middle of any learning, learning to reflect and critically so is a process which in itself needs modelling, trialling, maturing, and incorporating so that it becomes a way of being. Can ePortfolios help learners (students, teachers etc) hone reflection skills ? Enabling access to and use of tools which allow curating, journaling and sharing of evidence of learning contribute to make the learning process more evident and invite more carefully considered thoughts upon revisiting this evidence. But learning to reflect needs scaffolding, supporting and modelling from an early age, developing in an environment conducive to learning and it must be built into that environment. I believe in the potential of ePortfolios to do that, alongisde their potential to contribute to the development of sound digital citizenship skills and of key competencies so that learners know how they are learning and continue to learn. As a way of being, all life long.

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Comment by Pascale Hyboud-Peron on October 30, 2012 at 8:36

Thank you Merryn to make time to comment. It fills me with hope knowing that, in NZ schools, many students are exposed to learning to learn from an early age and skillfully grow their capability to recognize learning moments and to self assess. It is a long journey for all to take on but the "ah ah" moments are motivating milestones!

Comment by Merryn Dunmill on October 29, 2012 at 11:37

I particularly like the last sentence - as a way of being, all life long. Being a learner empowers us to also get a sense of 'becoming', of realizing potential....the journey is indeed lifelong! Wonderfully expressed post! Thanks Pascale for sharing your personal journey. I feel inspired.

Comment by Pascale Hyboud-Peron on October 28, 2012 at 9:20

I feel Leigh it is only some of the potential eportfolios can offer. What else can you (and others) see in this?

Comment by Leigh Hynes on October 27, 2012 at 11:46


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