Tuesday, 20 April 2010

An introduction to my Online Portfolio Social Network research project.


I presented about my current research into Online Portfolio Social Networks (OPSN) to a private high school's* grade 10 Visual Arts' learners, today. I introduced my talk with the exciting example of Berlin-based Michael Kutsche: who had published an online portfolio using the Computer Graphics Society's CGPortfolio and eventually wound up working for Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland as a result!

I then explained that an OPSN is an online community that's primarily focused on online publication of visual art, design, photography or videography. Each OPSN offers different options in accordance with its online objectives.
Basically, they provide different interfaces and services tailored to the needs of the user groups they aim to attract:

For example: Carbonmade promises a "hassle-free, online portfolio" and allows one to easily publish a portfolio of around  30 of one's best works for free. behance.net delivers on its promises "creative portfolios, projects and collaborations" by offering the online collaboration and commenting and tagging of portfolio pieces. Similarly, Flickr.com offer these options to photographers and deviantart.com to a wide range of creatives and their fans.

Today's learners are very fortunate to have access to free OPSN services, due to three key trends: cheap Information Communication Technology (ICT), "freemium" storage and faster bandwidth. These trends result in learners at well-resourced High Schools now being able to easily: publish their work, share and co-create knowledge, rate and share reviews, label content with personal meanings (or tags) and define content they want delivered to them. Most importantly, they also allow learners to create an online creative Curriculum Vitae (CV), publish portfolios and experiment with building an online reputation.
 

They also offer many new learning opportunities that educators can take advantage of, ranging from the least exciting (from a humanities' perspective!); software evaluation and aspects of digital literacy to very important opportunities for improving emotional intelligence and exploring out-of-school opportunities.

As an action research project, I explained that my study aims to help educators understand the factors influencing the adoption of OPSN and related social media in school. In particular, I am adapting the research questions posed by Cronje and Barras-Baker (based on Collis and Verwijs' research) for the high school context, to answer, "Will Online Portfolio Social Networking software be accepted by the school?". To answer this, I must examine:

Does the software have the support of relevant staff?

Does the software support significant events at school? 
Does the software benefit the school? 
Which individuals adopt it and what are their roles?


Are the costs of adopting the software acceptable to the school?        
What does the software cost to establish?        
How much does it cost to train new users?        
Is the equipment to support the software’s use readily available?        
Are appropriate support materials in place?        
What does the software cost to maintain and update?        
What are the costs (personell, hardware, etc.) in supporting the software’s use in the curriculum?


Will the software be accepted by the users?        
Is the software useful?        
Does it fit in with the personal work needs of educators? 
Does the software add value to the learning content?
 
Is the software usable? 
Is the user interface easy to use? 
Is the software easy to learn? 
Does the software handle errors well?


Does the software make education easier and better?
Does it fit in with the classroom environment?        
Does it fit in with educational procedures? 
Do educators and students have the time needed to use the software and does it support a better educational experience?


By answering these questions at a well-resourced private and public high school over a two-year period, I hoped to cover the only two schooling environments that OPSN education could be relevant in. I concluded my talk wishing that that two well-explained, successful examples of OPSN adoption would assist other educators, with my PhD thesis being good for more than just a doorstop :) !

Learner feedback to the online portfolio curriculum was mostly positive, which may result from a generally favorable attitude to social media: it was notable that all learners said they had Facebook accounts, with some even having uploaded videos to YouTube. Here's hoping that this interest in non-school use also translates into positive online portfolio creation.... watch this space.

* Excuse the secrecy, but this is confidential in accordance with UCT's Research Ethics Guide.

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