Wednesday, November 16, 2005


Motivation, Social Networking and ePortfolios

While at the NERCOMP ePortfolio Users Group meeting earlier this month in Poughkeepsie, one of the participants brought up the issue of student motivation and the popularity of Facebook on his campus. He wondered how to make ePortfolios as popular as Facebook. The value of this site, as well as its competitors, MySpace and Friendster is that they are social networking spaces. They are also voluntary, and Facebook accounts are available through many universities. They are just starting to move into high schools, but the privacy issues are very different because of the age of the participants. The Facebook concept is somewhat unique. According to Facebook's founder, audiences "want to build community around what they're consuming." According to an article in MarketSense:
"What drives the site is an offline dynamic and culture around it." What he means is that the Facebook communities revolve around a particular school. He can walk out into the school grounds and see everyone he knows in the Facebook. It's a closed community in some sense.
I also wonder how we can make ePortfolios more intrinsically motivating... more of a "want to" rather than a "have to" experience. The interface has to be engaging, and easy to use. Perhaps the environment needs to contribute to building community. There has to be a reason to return on a regular basis. Facebook claims that 70% of its users log in daily! The founder of Facebook is a Psychology drop-out from Harvard, not an IT major. Maybe that's what we need in the ePortfolio community: more developers who understand human nature than those who understand technology. My recent experience tells me that the technology can get in the way.

One of the principles I found in my dissertation research over 15 years ago is a simple equation: the benefits of any change must exceed the cost of that change. With the Internet, the benefits have become obvious and motivated a lot of the population to learn a whole new set of skills... and spawned a whole new way of life and conducting business. We are glimpsing the benefits for learning and schooling (I purposefully separated those two terms), using ICT to facilitate the teaching and learning process (another purposeful distinction). But learners need to see the benefits for developing an ePortfolio. We need to look at human nature to find that motivation. That's why I think these social networking tools, including blogs, have motivated young people to get engaged with them, but the goal isn't the use of technology... it is the connection to other people. That is the challenge for the ePortfolio movement today...


Good post, Helen!! I think the social networking component is essential. Take care! Hope to see you soon.
Helen, I'm just starting in my own year of sabbatical research on ePortfolios and Blogs. Both impressed/overwhelmed by the wealth of work/research/knowledge you have online!! Also relieved that you have, in a sense, come to similar conclusions after all your research odysseys: that we need to pay attention to the writing students WANT to do, what works for them already. And that MySpace-type formats may indeed -- due to their enormous popularity -- hold a key, of sorts, to the future of ePortfolios everywhere. Look forward to reading your blog daily from now on. I'm already addicted. --Scott Lankford, Foothill Community College, Los Altos Hills, CA (Bay Area)
Hello Helen. I started my present post at Leeds University, UK in July and I am responsible for the implementation, developement and evaluation of 3 e-portfolio's at major transition points. I do not have an IT background but come form a Careers Education and Guidance field. It's been great to hear somebody talk about the human aspect of e-portfolio's. Initial findings from the project indicate students are not engaging with the eportfolio unless they can see some worth or 'added value' from using it! This is dependent on it's ease of use and on the quality of the training session used to introduce the tool. Your site has been a great help to me as I find my way around this new and sometimes bewidering world of e-portfolios. Thank you.
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