Considering ePortfolios


As I have just been working on my 2014 professional planning for my new position, and reviewing my performance in 2013, I have been thinking a lot about the best way to document my activities and experiences, so when December comes around this year, I will have evidence of my engagement and examples of the new knowledge and skills I have acquired.  I think using an ePortfolio is a great way to document this, as well as provide a record of my skills I can use when applying to jobs in the future.

In August of last year I attended a workshop for PhD students about reflective learning.  One of the sessions was related to the use of Victoria University’s ePortfolio tool.  At the time I was unfamiliar with the concept.  I know have a bit better understanding of them – but having only just begun to create my own, i’m still an ePortfolio newbie!

Essentially, an ePortfolio is a web-based portfolio that allows you to document your personal, educational and professional experiences and achievements, reflect on them, and then share them with other people, such as managers, colleagues, potential employers, teachers, etc.

Your ePortfolio is more than just your online CV – you can use it to capture and reflect on your wider experiences and skills.  For example, I recently participated in the IFLA/ALA webinar “New Librarians Global Connection: best practices, models and recommendations.”  Just after the webinar concluded, I logged onto my ePortfolio, added it as one of my “Personal/Professional Development” experiences, summarised the salient points I had gained from the webinar, and wrote a brief reflection of what was relevant to my role and the points I took away from it.   It was a great way for me to capture evidence of my professional development – and relate the knowledge to my role.   Rather than just scribbling some notes in my notebook (which I usually do), I can know go back to my ePortfolio and have a record of the webinar, my thoughts on it, and what I took away from it.   Personally I think this is a great tool for students, academics and professionals who want to create a dynamic recording of their body of knowledge.

Not only can you document and record your concrete skills and experiences, but you can also document the “transferable skills” you have acquired through other activities.  For example, as a PhD student, I learned a lot about Information Behaviour in Laos.  I also learned how to form and defend independent conclusions, design plan, and implement a study, collaborate on projects, navigate complex bureaucratic environments, and communicate ideas effectively.  These types of skills are called “transferrable skills” because they can be transferred and applied in a wide variety of settings.  You can say things like “I have excellent interpersonal communication skills” etc. in a cover letter, but providing specific,measurableattainablerelevant and time-bound (SMART) evidence of your transferable skills in an ePortfolio may be a better way of demonstrating that skill.  That being said.. I’m not an employer and I have never hired anyone so I have no idea!

This image created by Victoria University’s Career Hub provides a good visual overview of an ePortfolio.


Regardless, I’m finding the ePortofilio a useful tool simply for my own personal sense of achievement.

There are different tools or providers that can be used to create an ePortfolio.  Mahara is an Open Source web application that was designed (in New Zealand!) specifically for creating ePortfolios.   Other tools such as PathBrite and WordPress can also be used.

I don’t have a specific recommendation – I have been using the Victoria University ePortfolio tool which I believe the Career Hub team developed in-house.  It’s not very visually appealing, and lacks import/export  capabilities and can’t store documents, only link to work examples or documents stored elsewhere on the web, however it’s very beginner-friendly and has helped me get started.  The New Zealand Ministry of Education has created this document that provides an comprehensive introduction to and overview of ePortfolios.   In it they provide this excellent table summarising some of the benefits of creating an ePortfolio vs. a traditional paper based portfolio.

Digital Portfolios Guidelines for beginners

Distinguishing features & advantages

Digital portfolio

Paper portfolio

Enduring Can deteriorate over time, susceptible to environmental degradation –moisture, sunlight, etc
Provides continuity and can be lifelong Often time-bound and discontinuous
Totally mobile Not easily mobile, transport can be difficult
Freely and easily reproducible A reproduction can be very time consuming and inevitably will not look as good
Fully searchable – instantly and always available to be searched Table of contents and possibly an index, requires physical presence. Can be slow to cross reference instances of a given ‘term’
Enables collaborative work Not easily and certainly not simultaneously
Can be a ‘live’ resource for others Could be a limited and time-bound resource
Easily reviewable by anyone, anywhere, anytime Needs to be physically present
Can be read, peer reviewed, or marked by multiple viewers simultaneously. I.e. it has a feedback loop Needs to be copied and then distributed to enable multiple viewers or markers
Allows different organisational ‘views’ of the one set of core resource material Fixed layout and format
The views represent different functions for the ePortfolio: progression, process, showcase, competencies, etc Different layouts are difficult to produce and are always (paper) media bound or may also contain discrete additional media samples
It may be linear, or hierarchical in structure, or neither, or both Structure is fixed
Allows learner/teacher interaction Not unless done within the classroom
Provides student voice – feelings and emotions Impersonal – generally does not reflect feelings and emotions
Improves the learner’s ICT literacy skills Improves finger dexterity in turning pages
Easily and always available for editing Not easily editable
Easily communicated to any size, type and location of audience Expensive to do so – needs copied and transported
Intended/designed to encourage reflective practice Can be, but more difficult to include reflections
Infinitely extends the classroom Must be physically transported and present
Anywhere, any time access Must be physically transported
A personal approach to learning that grows with the learner’s maturity Content and organisation mainly driven by teacher
Development focused Often tends to be assessment focused
The owner has total control of the sharing and commenting capability Once out of the owner’s hands she/he has no control over access or comments
Does not have to be in possession of the owner to be accessible and usable Owner could possibly provide remote instructions to direct a third party to access a document/book
Secure – difficult/impossible to lose or misplace Can be lost or easily damaged
Multi-media – text, charts, graphic images, sound, video and all combinations Paper-based media only – text, images, diagrams, charts. May have discrete additional media samples
Can include embedded files What you see is what you get
Can link directly and immediately to other references Manual references can be provided – often difficult and slow to follow-up

Note: A number of the above points in the digital portfolio column have the underlying assumption that sound ICT practices are being followed particularly in terms of security, privacy and backup. (New Zealand Ministry of Education, 2011).

I  think the opportunity to develop an ePortfolio ties in with another concern I have as an emerging academic – having a current and complete “research profile” available to potential collaborators, publishers or employers.  While most organisations will host a research profile for their staff on the organisational website, it often has to be updated through an administrator or some other bureaucratic process, and once you leave that organisation, the page is no longer available.  Hence I am in favour of academics creating personal research profiles in which you can list your research interests and publications.  Some tools such as Mendeley or LinkedIn offer this service integrated into other tools – however I think the ePortfolio is an excellent way to integrate your research, publications, experiences and skills independently of any organisation where you are employed.   Some ePortfolio tools also offer social media networking – as well as other features.

I’m considering moving away from the Vic Uni tool (even though they offer guaranteed free access to alumni for life) to another more flashy ePortfolio tool.  I may try out a few along the way… and report on them here.

Almost Dr. Nicole


Sorry for the long silence.  I had more of less given up on this blog thinking that no one was reading it, but apparently some people still do.

So, I submitted my thesis on the 5th of August, and immediately started working at the Open Polytechnic of New Zealand (after a short holiday in Tonga).

My oral defence took place on 20 November and I passed with minor revisions.

I’m working on the revisions at the moment and hope to have them done by the end of the year!

Once they are approved and the thesis has been printed, bound, and submitted to the Victoria University of Wellington institutional repository, I will then have fulfilled all the requirements for my PhD and you may call me “Dr. Nicole”.

It’s kind of amazing looking back and thinking that I actually did it.

Here’s a picture of me handing in my thesis before examination.

thesis hand in


YAY! I did it!

Enrolment extended


Bad news: I had to extend my enrolment one month so I won’t be done until the end of July.

Good news: I now have a complete first draft!  That means there is something in every section that needs to exist.  However, I still have to basically rewrite my discussion chapter after a meeting yesterday with my supervisors and do some extensive revisions of my literature review.  Then, final editing, proofreading, polishing etc.

In exciting news I have a job interview with the National Library on Friday for the position of 21st Century Literacies development specialist.. designing information literacy materials for secondary school NZ-wide.  Would be really fun, but the position is based in Auckland I don’t want to move.

There’s another job coming up lecturing at the Open Polytechnic in Library & Information Studies which would mean staying in Wellington.  Lets hope it works out for the best!


The final countdown


Don’t expect to hear from me for a while… my submission deadline is the 28th of June and I am panicking.  So much work left to do!

But, with luck (or hard work), I will be done with this thesis by the end of June.

It also means I will be spending every spare moment I have working on it.  Right now my mom’s suggestion of just having a baby and going on the benefit seems really appealing… though I think I can make out a light at the end of the tunnel.

Until July…

Fly United Airlines… and understand true misery


I recently flew from Wellington to Cancun to attend a wedding in Playa del Carmen.  I bought the ticket a bit last minute, but found a good deal from United that was about $500 cheaper than the next option.

Maybe I have been spoiled by living in New Zealand where they don’t take your shoes away and forbid you bringing water on a flight, or force you to pose nude in submission to “federal regulations”, but I had forgotten how hellish an experience flying can be in North America.

The 30 hours each-way trip certainly reminded me.

I understand that the TSA are just doing their job.  There are literally thousands of people passing like sheep through sensors and detectors, and those people probably get really fucking annoying after a few hours of shuttling the masses around, but do the TSA need to be so goddamn tetchy and dyspeptic?  You can just see the misery brewing beneath their eyes.

Flying United was truly awful.  The last few trans-Pacific flights I have done were on Air New Zealand.  Air New Zealand tries to make the 13 hours Auckland-LA flight as painless as possible, the flight attends smile and they give you free decent beer, nice NZ wine, and edible meals.

When I first boarded the United flight from Sydney to LA they started out by showing us a video about how United has “top industry expert chefs”.

After I got my meal I couldn’t help but think the video must be some kind of cruel joke.  Are they delusional or just pathological liars?  The “food” they served us was more vile than the cold pet food available in refrigerated sections of New Zealand supermarkets.  Breakfast consisted of a roll that was rock hard and tasted of plastic, leathery potatoes and watery eggs.

With the new addition of the DirectTv service, United now forces you to watch hours of Lincoln commercials on domestic flights, unless you pay $7.99 (for flights over 2 hours) to access the range of “quality programming” available from DirectTV. You cannot access any flight information or other programming from the screen located approximately 8 inches from your face.  Nor can you turn it off, until after the plane has reached its cruising altitude and then, you may only do so by pressing the brightness “down” button several times until eventually the screen goes dark.  Not exactly intuitive.  United is essentially forcing people to be bombarded by advertising on a flight they have already spent hundreds ($2,200 in my case) on.  I found that irritating beyond end.

Have you ever seen a United flight attendant smile?  I don’t think so.  All they can do is growl in your direction and throw soft drinks at you.

If only O’Hare wasn’t the airport closest to my mum’s house, I could swear off United forever.

I really hope they realise how awful their service is make some changes.  It makes me feel inhuman to fly United.

However I did get to see Chichen Itza, and go to a beautiful wedding.



I just crossed the 70,000 word threshold on my thesis!!


As you may or may not be aware the maximum length for any thesis at Victoria University of Wellington is 100,000 words.  That’s a limit, not a target.  I don’t want to jinx myself by being too confident, but i feel really good about the progress I have been making lately.

The end is nigh!

My submission deadline is 30 June 2013.

Then I guess I have to find a job or something.

Actually my plan is to stick around NZ a while, I have to wait for somewhere between 8 and 12 weeks for my oral defence, and then I will probably have to do some revisions (hopefully not too extensive) before finally resubmitting and then another few weeks/months before I get my final results.  It’s a very drawn-out, anti-climatic process, and I intend to celebrate at every step along the way!  That’s an opportunity for at least 4 separate parties as I see it-

  1. Submission
  2. Successful defence
  3. Final results
  4. University graduation ceremony (probably next May, unless I can get in it under the wire for this December)

Apparently I am not officially a PhD until my thesis is bound and the university library has a copy.  Realistically that probably won’t be before December of this year.  In the mean time, once I submit, I can find some full time work (maybe doing research, teaching, or library stuff?), try to get a few papers published, and apply for academic jobs starting the following August.  Unfortunately, I won’t be done in time to be seriously considered for academic postings starting this August/September, but in a way I don’t think I’ll be ready to pick up and leave Wellington in 6 months.  I still have a massive stash of fabric that I have not had any time to make anything with in ages!

Also I just got my bike rebuilt.  I have 5 more gears now, and I’m looking forward to breaking them on the hills around Wellington!