The Eifel, London Learning Forum conference at City University was about e-portfolios. But e-portfolios and reflection mean different things to different people, most importantly, we can distinguish between Instrumental Reflection and Ontological Reflection, or reflection about more effective competencies, on the one hand, and emerging professional identity on the other hand.

On the diagram below the distinction between the left hand and right hand halves of the page were named Technologies of Performance and Biographic or Ontological Technologies respectively, which has now been changed to Instrumental Reflection and Ontological Reflection (see the powerpoint link below the diagram).

In our own work, based on affordances, the foundation for what we do is personal story telling. In other words, we start from personal stories, which are mapped out on the right hand side of the diagram below. Once we have stories that are complex, self-organised, and about both learning and identity, we then try to build up facilities for taking that personal learning into an interactive and collaborative environment.

The portfolio industry grew up over the past few years, concentrating largely on competencies and skills (on the left hand side of the screen). In our research we have been working mainly on the 'other (right hand) side of the page' as it were. What we need to make clear is:
1. There is quite a sharp disctinction between what might be called 'Instrumental Reflection' and reflection about professional identity, or 'Ontological Reflection' - its quite simply the difference between what you can do, and who you want to be.
2. Both kinds of reflection are valid in their own contexts. This is not about ranking the one against the other. Moreover, the activities, materials and insights that come out of the one process can and should be transferred, where appropriate, for use in the other.
3. There is specific relationship between competencies and identity - competencies are necessary - but not sufficient - for developing your professional identity.
4. What we saw at the EIFEL conference was, paradoxically, is a shift across the page from left to right in nearly all the keynote speeches, mainly be senior people either in Eifel or closely associated with it on the one hand, and a shift across the page from right to left in nearly all the non-keynote presentations.
This is a bit wierd, but the shift at senior level is encouraging for us as researchers and developers, and also encouraging for us as academics in Higher Education (HE) - because HE must include-and-go-beyond competencies, and specifically HE must provide, and faciliate the use of, academic 'space' as 'liminal space' - i.e. space in which students can step back, or 'cut loose' from the pressures of everyday work and life, and explore new possibilities and new hypotheses.

What you can do is determined by extrinsic factors and institutions, it's what's necessary for you to do particular tasks or jobs, and it is benchmarked against public criteria, though processes which are publicly defined. What you want to be on the other hand is determined by your self, it's about your self, it's determined by intrinsic criteria, and its benchmarked by your own private criteria (which might or might not resonate with public criteria, but that's not the point here, nor can it be taken for granted).

Next, competencies concerns that which is complicated, predertermined (in scope and outcomes), predicatable (as far as possible), and can be subjected to measurement and control. Identity, and personal sense making, on the contrary, concerns what is complex (in the sense of complexity theory), emergent (and sometimes surprising). It yields retrospective sense making (not prospective), and includes scanning and faciliating rather than measurement and control.Alice_2.jpg


A powerpoint presentation, which builds up the diagram, above, step by step, is available here:
And the conference presentation slides for the HEA conference are available here:

Reflection about identity and the learning process is creative and innovative, because both are intangible and tacit - you cant 'put your finger on' either of them. This needs a multimodal and multimedia approach, and is based on theories of mearning and communication as inherently 'synaesthetic' - i.e. it is the norm that many senses are used, together; using only one sense at a time is rare. The process that results is open, and although it can include written text, it must go beyond it to other, more open text. Instumental Reflection on the other hand, based as it is on extrinsic criteria, and it is not surprisingly about compliance and measurement, written text is highly suitable for Instumental Reflection , as it provides the shortest route to closure, rather than openness.

So reflection about identity is about sense making - foremostly personal sense making, and the way people participate in, and create, complex adaptive networks, whereas insturmental reflection is about ensuring the efficiency of tasks: perrformance technologies' as opposed to biographic or ontological technologies.

2007/9 August
Portfolios as CoP
ePortfolios are now reasonably established, even if they are focused on the affordances of instrumental reflection (see below).
Here is a paper that outlines the overall principles of exploiting the affordances of Portfolios as Communities of Practice. It was originally written in 2007/8, but then got lost in my 'to do' list. Its probably best to circulate it here.
external image msword.png Portfolios as CoP.doc

2007 Portfolios can be repositories to store data which complies with bureucratic requirements, but portfolios can also be dynamic, and the sites of interesting new affordances. Some of these issues are explored in a paper on Innovative Approaches to Portfolios as Formative Assessment external image msword.png Innovative approaches to Portfolios.doc