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.

Thursday 15 April 2010

Learners should use Web2.0 portfolios to showcase their best-works.

I'm not singing Kodachrome, but; "When I think back to all the data I lost at high school, it's a shame I lost completely all". Back in the 80's and 90's, every time my computer was upgraded, I lost all my files. These simply went to the scrap heap with my old computer's hard-disk :(. Although I could have backed them up, the cost was prohibitive and I simply did not think that my work had value outside the marks I got for it. Stupid me.

While there's not a significant amount I'd like to have kept, wouldn't it be nice to at least have a portfolio of one's best school essays and artworks readily accessible? Seeing how far one's progressed, identifying recurring themes or just a new memory aid, would be some of the personal benefits to this.

Educationally, there are also benefits to schools encouraging students to showcase their best work online. These include: 
- Highlighting practical achievement... and by implication, teacher achievement, too,
- Showcasing the potential value of an educational investment,
- Supporting collaboration with partner schools on outcomes of mutual interest,
- Assisting benchmarking by your students, moderators and other schools.

Before the advent of web2.0, the cost of providing students with the ability to digitise their works, upload them and make them publicly accessible would be prohibitive for almost every school. However, the prospect of an abundant digital media in South Africa by 2013 (we hope!) should make this affordable to most.

Individual students should be encouraged to take a long term view on the personal value their best works may hold and to store them with cloud computing. While it will be interesting to see how the Department of Education, school principals, educators and others facilitate this, the adoption of web2.0 technologies by schools will inevitably be slow. Given this, I would suggest to any learner that the responsibility of creating a best works portfolio starts with you. If you want to benefit from an online showcase of your talents; take the opportunity afforded by today's technologies to create best works online portfolios in your favourite subject(s). You might even find that your example motivates your peers and even your teachers!

Wednesday 14 April 2010

Let the field research begin!

Way back when I studied at Michaelis, some wag named the Theory of Art course the Dreary of Art. This witticism encapsulated how the boredom of attending art theory lectures contrasts to the excitement of making art. Like a student who prefers his studio to the lecture theatre, I am pleased to shortly begin my PhD research fieldwork. Hopefully, this fieldwork increases our currently very limited understanding of the adoption of online portfolio social networks by visual art and design educators in high schools :). I am working with grade 10 learners at a well-resourced, private school, from Monday. They will be learning how to digitise their art, write creative CVs and create online portfolios using Carbonmade. All in 7 lessons! 

If this new curriculum is a success, new modules will be launched for the learners when they reach grades 11 and 12: Next year, they will be encouraged to choose appropriate online portfolio social networks (OPSN) that suit their creative interests. For example, a learner interested in photography might choose Flickr, while another focussed on illustration, behance.  With sound justification, multiple portfolios could be chosen, too!

In grade 12, learners will prepare an online portfolio that's focussed on out-of-school-opportunities; ranging from admission to architectural and fine art at the University of Cape Town to informatics and design at CPUT through to entering online competitions, like Springleap's t-shirt designs. Like the grade 11 module, learners will be encouraged to motivate their choices and experiment with what works best for their creative strengths.

I hope that this year's grade 10 project is a success: selfishly, because I do not wish to spend the next two years writing a dreary thesis on the module's failure! Unselfishly, because a successful example of an online portfolios' use at high school has the potential to assist visual arts and design educators with addressing the participatory and relevance gaps in South Africa's educational system. Now, that's a topic well deserving it's own blog post... 

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