Portfolio based assessments are a staple in my classes: I design courses so that students build material over the whole course for collection and submission at the end. I should probably use a ePortfolio tool to support that, but not even Mahara, easily the best of them, is good enough. Why? it lacks three key features – group export, export to pdf and capturing bibliographic metadata.
Capturing bibliographic metadata is vitally important. Proper handling of references is essential in university, and important in some secondary level subjects. When learners are gathering materials for their portfolio, proper references must be harvested with it. This is not simply to avoid plagiarism, more importantly it is to expose the process of selection and the way in which they build arguments by choosing and manipulating materials. It is important to be able to see what evidence they have gathered. In creative work where the ePortfolio represents the preparatory work for a piece of creative work, it is important to be able to backtrack and verify that material being remixed is available under a license which allows reuse. Scraping metadata from a webpage when it is being copied is not rocket science
Group export is now vital – learning at every level has always involved collaboration, and group work is evidence of that which often has to be presented and graded. It is possible to work round the lack of a group export facility in Mahara, but it should not be necessary to work around this important aspect of learning
Pdf export sounds silly to some people; but for archiving copies of the final assessed work, it is a useful export format. If you are going to grade an ePortfolio, you need to be able to retain for a reasonable review period a copy of the material on which you awarded the grade. Equally, if graded material is wholly or partly externally reviewed for consistency, you need to be able to provide copies of the work in a convenient format. Pdf is not the most perfect data format in the world – it has many annoyances, but it is common, convenient and hard to edit accidentally unlike html files or word documents
Pdf and group export are easily fixed, but handling metadata is harder and requires adding significant code, but if Zotero can do it, there is no reason while all elearning tools can’t – and give the casual ease with which students grabs any old rubbish off the web; the ability to backtrack to verify and evaluate references is essential.