Saturday, July 15, 2006

 

WebCT Conference

I just left the WebCT Users Conference, where I provided the closing keynote address. The feedback was good. I was told by one of the executives (who shared a ride with me to the airport) that it was the best electronic portfolio presentation he had seen, because I dealt with a lot of content. At other conferences I have received feedback that perhaps I put too much content into my presentation, but this was a higher education audience and I heard a lot of appreciation for the books I referenced. In the airport, I bought Friedman's latest version of The World is Flat, and skimmed it for the updates that he made since the book was originally published a year earlier. I also added a couple of new slides to my presentation, about his impression of skills needed for a "flat" world.

I attended most of the conference, sitting in on all of the presentations about their newly-released electronic portfolio product, that is integrated with their course management system. While they have not provided me with a demo account yet, to be able to add that system to my "Online Portfolio Adventure," from the literature and the demonstrations, it appears to be student-centered and allows individuality and creativity. They are keeping the assessment management separate from the portfolio, developing another product called Caliper which is designed as a comprehensive assessment system. Caliper is not available this year, and it was not clear when it would be released, but the portfolio is available now for the more current installations of WebCT.

The man who presented the Caliper tool talked about the "positivist" (Caliper) and "constructivist" (Portfolio) versions of their tools (institution-centered vs. student-centered)! I was asked by one of the leaders from one of the pilot sites whether I worked with them on their portfolio development, since it seemed to represent my philosophy. I told him that I did not, but that my philosophy is published on my website for anyone to read! And I base my philosophy on some of the early portfolio literature, where the positivist/constructivist tension is introducted by Paulson & Paulson in 1994.

Since WebCT has been acquired by Blackboard, I am wondering what will happen with the original Blackboard portfolio. It was obvious at this conference that every WebCT product was being re-branded with the Blackboard name. Next year's users conference will be a combined WebCT/Blackboard conference in Boston.

The new WebCT portfolio only allows students to have a single portfolio, although they can create different views for different audiences by turning sections on and off. The tool has a blog and appears to seamlessly save any work created in a course into the portfolio, where it will be preserved after the course is over. If discussions are saved, the entries (other than the portfolio owner) are made anonymous. One feature that is not fully developed appears to be the export function. I understand that the tool will allow students to export their work, but not the structure of the portfolio, something that I think is essential.

I also got a peek at the new version of the TaskStream WebFolio builder that will be released next Tuesday, July 18. I am impressed! I will provide more details after I have a chance to update my portfolio with the new version.

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