Thinking about e-portfolios and Posterous

We’re in the process of reviewing our current student portfolio and looking to move from a paper-based portfolio to an e-portfolio.  Once the requirements have been defined and agreed we’ll start to review e-portfolio platforms and decide which one we’ll adopt.  I’ve yet to start looking at possible e-portfolio solutions in detail, but some of my medical colleagues have already made comments about the clunkiness of some of the possible contenders.  I’m at a loss to understand why usability seems to be overlooked in the development of so many educational IT systems.  Why can’t they be as intuitive to use as many of the Web 2.0 type technologies that I use to support my own lifelong learning?

Reading James Clay’s latest blog post about how Posterous had the potential to be used to capture the learner’s voice got me thinking  about how some of the features in Posterous would be good to have in an e-portfolio.  One of the features of Posterous, that’s appealing to many, is that you can post by email.  It’s easy to attach images or web clipings to a post.  You can also attach video and audio files and these will be embedded too.  For those who want to post online they can and posting via your smartphone is easy.  Shouldn’t this sort of functionality be standard in any student e-portfolio?

Thinking about the tutors who need to review student portfolios, again for me usability is a key issue.  Working in medical education where many clinical tutors have so many demands on their time ease of use and access are particularly important.  Looking again at Posterous, it supports commenting by email.  Should e-portfolios automatically send the latest post by a student to their tutor and allow the tutor to post their feedback by replying to the email.  With increasing interest in audio and video feedback could such a system make it easier for tutors to give feedback in these ways.  With most doctors used to using dictaphones being able to record their feedback to students and email it to their e-portfolios might help improve the level of feedback that students receive.

Another feature of Posterous is autoposting to other sites.  Where students are producing their own learning content like video they could autopost to YouTube or Vimeo and share these with the wider medical education and student community and start to accrue some scholarly recognition for the resources they’ve developed.

The other element needed in a medical student portfolio is the abilty to link or map the student’s work to the learning outcomes set out on the GMC’s Tomorrow’s Doctors 2009.  Tagging of entries could help with this, but something a bit more sophisticated might be helpful with templates for different types of entry.

Is there an e-portfolio system out there already with all this sort of functionality and ease of usability?



  1. I use and like Posterous, and would recommend it to anyone who wants to use it.

    My only ‘concern’ about using it with students is that I think we ought to be recommending systems for them to use that are internal and part of the Institutions infrastructure. Saying this I also recognise that the internal tools are often woefully inadequate which causes us t look further afield.

    Thanks for the post.

    All the best, David

    1. Hi David, I agree about having an internal institutional e-portfolio, once we decide which system we go with our students will be required to use it. My frustration is why aren’t there institutional systems that have the ease of use and the functionality that for example Posterous does. As you say institutional tools are often woefully inadequate, it would be great if we could get to a position where they weren’t.

  2. (I want to ‘like’ James Clay’s comment ‘students will “own” their e-portfolio’!)

    The only potential disadvantage is if you end up in a situation where there’s a requirement for your e-portfolio to be on a standard platform – in a specific job or degree course, for example. Without the LEAP2A export functionality then you’re scuppered…

  3. Posterous does have an API that allows you to “retrieve anything from a Posterous Site ranging from posts, media and comments to metadata” I would have thought that “someone” could create a process using the API to export Posterous data in a LEAP2A compatible format?

    Or is it more difficult than that?

  4. I have no idea! I think you can convert wordpress blog to LEAP2A so presumably they would export the same xml files it’s just a case of making sense of them…it would be great if someone would 🙂

  5. @James and @Lee Thanks both for picking up on the portability issue, I think this is an essential feature. You can autopost from Posterous to WordPress and Blogger etc, so it would be nice if institutional e-portfolios did something similar and students could have both an institutional copy of their portfolio and another copy in their one online space. This could be either public or private, if public it gives the potential to get input and feedback from others.
    For those who don’t want to run 2 sites being able to easily export your portfolio when you’ve finished your course would be a big plus 🙂

  6. great post Natalie and a great idea. Posterous is massively flexible, allowing you to post from all sorts of devices and systems and then out to all sorts of other systems. Photos can be autposted to flickr, by email, and tagging can be done in the subject line of email. Students could use the posterous iPhone app, or straight email, which is just as easy.

    1. Thanks Jo! Thinking out loud here … wouldn’t it be nice if someone like JISC could talk to Posterous and see whether there was potential to adapt it for institutions to use as an e-portfolio tool! Not sure that would ever happen though!

  7. Hello,

    in our course run at the Peer-to-Peer University (P2PU), we are – as a course group – using Posterous as e-portfolio:

    I agree with what Natalie said about the functionality: it is easy to use, the learning curve is minimal, it supports use of multimedia.

    Interesting also to read Natalie’s frustration with the inadequacy of institutional tools compared to an application like Posterous. P2PU is an organization providing nonformal education, thus working outside the higher education walls.

    As course organizers we had the choice to select a tool we thought could suit our goals. We were not constrained by institutional requirements obliging us to use a certain VLE or other technologies. We enjoyed freedom to choose.

    1. Hello Marisa – Thanks for leaving a comment!
      Interesting to hear that you are using Posterous on your course, how do staff and students find it?

  8. Hi Natalie
    I’ve been mulling over the e-portfolio question for a while now and have recently concluded that Posterous offers the best solution (for now) to the range of requirements that exist for trainees on our teacher training course. I was glad to then find your blog post, and to see that similar thought processes had taken place for someone else too (though you were way ahead of me time-wise).

    Without question usability is of paramount importance; experience has shown that if the user experience is anything less than silky-smooth then students vote with their feet and it is seriously under-used. It seems to me that user interfaces in most of the tools currently used for e-portfolios and the like (VLEs, moodle, pebblepad, wikis) are primarily designed around getting the user to fit their way of working in with the needs of the computer system, and for many students this immediately erects a barrier they not sufficiently motivated to overcome, and in their position I would probably be the same. If I’m a trainee teacher on placement I’ve got enough on my plate without the palaver of repositories, HTML, embedded links and so on. What is refreshing about Posterous (now Posterous spaces) is that its main design aim is to make posting of text, images and video as seamless as possible, in which it succeeds in admirably. Add to that a quick and effective tagging system, a simple password-protected privacy system with easy sharing and the possibility of embedding links to DropBox .docs and .pdfs and you’ve got a tool that does pretty much everything better than any institutional tool I’ve yet seen.

    Having said all this, the real clincher is, as you say, the way it integrates with smart phones and tablets; the possibility of grabbing portfolio content wherever, whenever and however you want using your iPhone, android or tablet is exciting. For trainee teachers, evidence of attainment against TDA standards comes in many forms and in many times and places; a photo of a classroom display, a video of an assembly or a snapshot of a sculpture from an art lesson are all valid pieces of evidence, so making it easy and quick to do so is fabulous. The question as to how schools might view placement students using smartphones in their schools has yet to be answered, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

    So what about the institutional line? If the offering of the institution isn’t fit for purpose and there is a free, secure and flexible system that can be used, for the sake of our students I think we’ve got to stick your necks out a bit and at least trial it. If the end result is a success then that creates a case that can be presented to said institutions who will have to take note.

    So, my intention is that on our course we’ll be trialling Posterous e-portfolio with a few ‘guinea pigs’ over their upcoming 2-week placement, seeing how they get on, and taking it from there.

    If you’ve got any further since your original post, Natalie, please let me know. ;>)

    1. Hi Nick – Many thanks for your detailed comment. I’d be interested to hear how you get on with your pilot.
      I’ve not tried Posterous with any of our students, this post was really me thinking out loud. We are looking at possible eportfolio solutions for our students. One of the options is the NHS Education Scotland eportfolio which is used by doctors in training but isn’t well liked because it’s quite clunky. We’re also looking at WordPress, which I guess is more akin to what I wrote about in my post about Posterous. There are some institutions already using WordPress as an eportfolio tool. The other thing we’re looking at is My Showcase which allows students to pull in content and evidence from a variety of sources and map these to learning outcomes or competency frameworks. My Showcase looks intuitive to use and there’s a new version coming out this autumn. We’ll be starting some pilots in the New Year and hopefully I’ll get round to blogging about how we get on.
      You might also be interested in this recent post by Martin Hawksey where he considers the potential of Evernote as a personal eportfolio system for students. I think this has its attractions too, like Posterous good usability, and works across platforms and devices, might be another for you to consider a pilot of 🙂
      Are you on Twitter? Would be good to keep in touch with your work.

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