E-portfolios for research: Mahara or Social Media?


I recently blogged about how the University of Sussex is trialling Mahara as a form of e-portfolio. Here, as a follow-up I wanted to give my personal perspective.

What about ‘free’ commercial, social media alternatives to E-portfolio platforms?

Currently, I am learning to code in order to be able to have control over where and how I blog or showcase my own practice-based work. This is time-consuming and eats into the time I have to do my research, but I do not want to rely on having my work somewhere on the cloud, out of my control. A case in point is Instagram. I recently uploaded some photos on a field trip to Hong Kong and Australia: https://www.instagram.com/tomhomemademan.  

A colleague pointed out that technically Instagram own the content that users post, and that I should refrain form using it. This is a compelling argument.Indeed are we not sleep walking en-masse into a Brave New Digital World, where we relinquish our intellectual property for the ease of apparently free software?

It is a difficult balance since social media spaces or ‘portfolios’, which Instagram and Soundcloud might be considered to be, can provide useful feedback and a ready-made community of practice. On the flip side, you are likely to be followed by ‘bots’ and other less salubrious entities based on the hashtag you have added to your work.

(Images of Hong Kong: Tom Ottway from Instagram ‘e-Porfolio’)


So will universities embrace e-portfolios in the future, or should students use social media?

 It is my own opinion that universities are waking up to the importance of supporting lifelong learning, and that it is a win-win situation when they provide students and staff with a dedicated learning eco-system that showcases their skills and work, thereby boosting their claims to and evidencing employability, the current buzzword on everyone’s lips. This is a good thing. It is highly likely that HE institutions will give extended access to university facilities after graduation, so that the relationship becomes an ongoing one, emphasising learning for life.

Even if another of the drivers for change is actually the move towards online submission and feedback (see link below), it could be that the result is an increasing use of e-portfolios, such as Mahara, for this very purpose. If this also means that files can be uploaded securely (without the need for them to be ‘hidden’ online, such as having to use ‘unlisted’ on YouTube), with the added plus that we also reconsider who we are giving our precious data to in return for free software use, so much the better.

Keywords: e-portfolios, social media, blog, Instagram, portfolio, employability, community of practice, creative practice


University of Sussex information on the move to online submission and feedback: http://www.sussex.ac.uk/tel/submission

Some useful links to Mahara examples and resources: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1908hBG4riiksjAJX9BbP6jZ0A4wsM4SRuk7k9LsTqF0/edit

JISC also have a really useful section on E-porfolios: https://www.jisc.ac.uk/guides/e-portfolios


Tom Ottway is Research Hive Scholar and lecturer, and is doing his PhD in Creative Practice in the School of Media, Film & Music.



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