OPEN Courseware

After teaching in classrooms ranging from community colleges to for-profit institutions, I can identify a common thread that reaches all sectors of higher education: There are many learning needs and challenges. As we face a world that is becoming smaller through globalization, emerging socioeconomic needs come to the gates of the Ivory Tower. Challenges with disruptive students and students perusing Facebook in class on the U’s FREE wireless internet are no longer the ‘superstar’ topics of conversation among faculty. Rather, the face of higher education is changing, and rapidly.

With the boom of for-profit college institutions over the past 10 years, the world of higher education faced new challenges and questioned the sectors quality of education, instructors, and curriculum. While I believe there are problems needing to be addressed in the for-profit and land grant or private university sectors, significant changes have been made internally and politically that brought sweeping change to the face of for-profit education. Gainful Employment requires for-profit career education based programs to prove they are preparing their students for ‘gainful employment’ in a recognized and employable career occupation. Schools who fail to meet these regulations risk losing access to federal student aid.

In addition to the Gainful Employment legislation that the Obama Administration supports, a portion of students are suing the institutions for falsely misleading them about the validity of the program, accreditation validity, and deceptive admissions processes. While for-profit institutions are under the lens among students and legislators, a different area of university based learning has taken over the university coffee shop roundtable: Open Courseware.

The basis of an ‘open courseware’ platform is to offer an individual or general community access to curricular university classes where faculty and instructors publish entire or parts of their curriculum. One could say the moral purpose of open courseware is to give free educational access of materials to any individual who seeks or has a desire to learn.  Essentially, an individual not enrolled in a post-secondary institution gains access to knowledge and resources which essentially could give individuals, or even entire communities, the ability to seek education and higher learning enfranchasied from socioeconomic restrictions. Ivy League schools, such as MIT’s OpenCourseWare, Yale’s Open Yale Courses, Harvard’s Extension School Open Learning Initiative historically have spurred the open courseware moral purpose initiative among higher education. Of course, we cannot leave out the hallmark of consortium open courseware technology, Apple’s iTunes U.

As an educator, I can acknowledge arguments that the open courseware philosophy contributes to the idea that institutionally, higher education no longer is the sole distribution of knowledge and thereby, becoming an alternative to seeking such knowledge. In layman’s terms, one could humorously say, the Ivory Tower is becoming increasingly less important in society and therefore so are our jobs. 🙂 Well, hindsight is always 20/20. However, we as the ‘Ivory Tower’ are also addressing a very important civic need, giving access to education for those who have none. Common knowledge will historically show countries with solid educational roots generally have citizens who are considered more tolerant, participate in civic engagement, and maintain higher living standards in comparison to countries with a weak or nominal education level. In the United States, we have people who, depending on their socioeconomic status may never have the opportunity to attend a university or pursue higher education. If we do not open a door or even attempt to reculture the ‘gatekeeper’ perspective within higher education, I feel the long-term effects on our culture would be detrimental.


LinkedIn is the world-wide leading professional network with an impressive and growing membership of 120 MILLION LinkedIn members. Members of LinkedIn are connected to professionals to network, exchange ideas, learn about job opportunities, and connect with other professionals with a broader network. This short video shares more about the purpose and role of LinkedIn as a professional social network.

Students Establishing Themselves as Upcoming Professionals

One great benefit of college students utilizing LinkedIn prior to graduation is establishing themselves as an expert and upcoming professional in their career field. Have you ever Googled yourself lately? If you have a LinkedIn profile, chances are your profile will come to the top of the page. In today’s competitive job market, students now more than ever need to start connecting with fellow peers, established business professionals, and join groups and organizations to expand their knowledge and learning experience. When considering using an ePortfolio as part of your course curriculum, consider the goal of such an assignment. Do you want students to be able to showcase their work in school as part of advertising themselves to gain the appeal of a potential employer? Are you giving students the opportunity to use an online portfolio system to prepare them for technology they will use in their schooling or career? Do you hope that students will one day share their ePortfolio with a potential employer? If you answered yes to any one of these questions, LinkedIn may be able to meet your short and long-term needs. Students also have a greater ability to control their privacy settings in most cases more so than a traditional ePortfolio. In most ePortfolio systems, students either have to make the entire portfolio public or private, regardless of the contents inside. Using a LinkedIn profile, students have a better ability to control who in their personal network and broader network can see their profile and the contents within it.

Staying In-Touch, Reaching Out, and Learning Beyond the Classroom

A traditional ePortfolio, regardless of the provider, gives students limited, if any, ability to connect and STAY connected with peers, professors, and professionals. According to the United States Department of Labor (2010), the average person won’t have the same job 4.1 years from the start date of employment. If the current trend for students is to complete a Bachelor of Arts Degree in 4-5 years, how will students be able to stay connected with professionals they may have shown their ePortfolio’s during their time in college? The benefit of a LinkedIn account is the address book that updates whenever a change is made to a user’s profile. This means the great reference your student made in a course taken their first year of college can be easily found, regardless of where or what job the contact has, by staying connected on LinkedIn. In addition, students can use communication and collaboration tools through LinkedIn to stay in touch with connections in their network and reach out to potential professional contacts in a broader network.

Another advantage for students is utilizing the LinkedIn network to reach out to communities, groups, and professionals to ask questions and share ideas to problem-solve or even brainstorm solutions. Using tools, such as Answers and Groups in addition to the detailed search engine, students now have the ability to ask questions and learn beyond the classroom by reaching out to their current network or even make new connections in a broader network of professionals. Indeed, we want students to maintain a professional demeanor while they are students and in some cases, this is a trait that has to be learned through mentoring or even trial and error. As an instructor, however, one has the ability to guide students in this new territory and provide an opportunity to showcase their work while in the classroom.

Linking an ePortfolio to LinkedIn

Still standing firm on using an ePortfolio site? You can AND still utilize LinkedIn. If your school uses a standardized ePortfolio site across all courses, one can still utilize that site and link in a LinkedIn profile. Each LinkedIn user has the ability to customize three links on their profile page. Often, users will link a website, blog, or personal website. As long as you have a world wide web address, a student could link their ePortfolio to their Profile page as a Website. LinkedIn has a customized “Portfolio” title as a display label for linking any ePortfolio site or students can customize a display label with a title that is personal to them, such as My Website or ePortfolio. Regardless, this feature may be a win-win solution for instructors who are looking to use a standard or traditional ePortfolio site but searching for opportunities for students to fully utilize networking opportunities to showcase their portfolio work with professionals in a broader network.

The best part of LinkedIn is that it is free and students have full control of what happens to their profile after graduation. I recommend utilizing LinkedIn at some level if you plan on using ePortfolios because students have endless opportunities to network with professionals, in addition to showcasing their work, while they are still in school.


United States Department of Labor. (2010, September 14). Employee Tenure in 2010. Retrieved from http://www.bls.gov/news.release/tenure.nr0.htm


ePortfolio Practicum

Portfolios in higher education, based in theory or context, are historically part of course practicum across university degree programs. Instructors in countless higher education institutions have used a paper-based format of portfolios as an assessment tool to evaluate student performance. The new territory in the 21st century classrooms demands or expects migration from a paper-based portfolio to an electronic or ePortfolio across an increasing number of university programs. Similar to their paper-based counterpart, ePortfolios provide students and instructors a digital tool to demonstrate or assess skills, generalized outcomes, and student learning as it relates to the curricular outcomes of a particular course or department. In addition, ePortfolios also serve as a networking outlet for both students and instructors allowing engagement or demonstration of life-long skills, professional development, representing skills or achievements within a particular field.

ePortfolios are digital dynamic development spaces representing a consortium of your academic skills, professional experience, and expertise in a particular field on the web. Most commonly, we see classroom ePortfolios include a solid representation of one’s skills and achievements while in school, as well as a blog element. By highlighting key aspects of professional development, such as education, publications, service, awards, or even recommendations, one can not only establish a solid representation of school achievements but ascertain themselves as an active or aspiring professional in a particular field.  Creating a unique ePortfolio by juxtaposing school and professional achievements gives a well-rounded professional presence and can be catered by design to reflect the personality of the user.

ePortfolio Platforms

Companies providing ePortfolios are perpetually sprouting up in the United States and internationally. One can be overwhelmed with ePortfolios if a university does not offer a standard ePortfolio platform for integration in curricular practicum. Internationally, PebblePad is widely used in the United Kingdom and Australia and commonly referred to as a Personal Learning Network. While PebblePad hasn’t gained much ground on American universities, Mahara, an open-source ePortfolio is becoming increasingly popular with its integration with Moodle. FolioSpaces is a free ePorfolio powered by Mahara but is not considered “open-source.” Avenet eFolio offers content management system solutions to the public, profit, nonprofit, and government sectors, notably known for their student “eFolio” systems.

Companies that offer ePortfolios such as Chalk and Wire, TaskStream, Digication, FolioTek, Epsilen, LiveTex, RCampus, Symplicity, iWebFolio, eLumen, and Adobe offer ePortfolio authoring products that can be purchased. While the majority of these companies offer products and services for instructors and institutions of higher education, some also extend those services to individuals and businesses seeking ePorfolio networking and social media solutions. Each company that offers ePortfolio systems has its own unique advantages and should be researched by the prospective consumer to ensure that student learning needs are met and can be easily integrated into your course management system.

Blogs as ePortfolios

With the increase in Blogging among students and “bloggers” alike, some instructors are turning to blogs and customizing its features to build a unique ePortfolio. Most blogs, such as WordPress, Blogger, and TypePad offer free and premium services that offer users a customizable blog that can be used for education, personal, or business purposes. Next week, I will offer an overview of what makes a great ePortfolio blog but in general, students enjoy using this format because of the customization abilities, easy use, quick time updating capabilities, and familiarity of a “blog feeling.” To view a sample of a student ePorfolio using a blog, click here.

Social Meda as ePortfolios

If Facebook is the big gun of personal social networking, then LinkedIn would be the king of business social networking. As business professionals are increasingly utilizing LinkedIn to network on a social media platform, more students are using this outlet to interact and promote themselves versus a traditional “ePortfolio.” As the need for this particular social media increases among business professionals, more schools are personalizing ePortfolios using LinkedIn versus an ePortfolio system, such as “eFolio.” One of the clear advantages of using LinkedIn is it offers free and premium services. In addition, the networking advantages give endless opportunities for students to promote their school and future professional field achievements while they are still a student in school. This month, I will outline the benefits of using LinkedIn as a substitute for “ePortfolios” for students and professionals alike.


I am frequently asked by educators, “What is the REAL value of e-portfolios?” While this may seemingly be a straightforward question, most often the real question is, “Do e-portfolios have any value?” My answer is yes, when used correctly and maintained.

Students have always used some type of “portfolio” system in higher education, even before the dawn of the World Wide Web. Writers and journalists had a consortium of published articles bound to black cardstock to display the professional piece; photographers commonly carried a large portfolio case of their top photographs with commentary below each mounted picture; architects carried a portfolio that showcases their creative designs and production that resembled a transportable museum, so to speak. While some of these pre-www. portfolio practices are still used today, many students and universities have embraced e-portfolios to facilitate reflection, application, and showcasing a portfolio of work to potential employers.

Even with the establishment of e-portfolios being a venue for students to learn, reflect, and show their work, there is still uncertainty of the value of this method. Common arguments against e-portfolios are:

  • Outdated technology
  • Students losing password and login information post-graduation
  • Upkeep is too much work
  • Lack of technology skill level by student and/or instructor to use and maintain an e-portfolio

So, why have an electronic portfolio, or e-portfolio, as part of your course curriculum if there are valid and logical arguments against the technology? If the world around us has changed into an e-communication streaming medium with e-mail, VoIP, ipads, and even TelePresence videoconferencing, why should we not expect students to learn, reflect, network, and share using this mode?

E-portfolios are a valuable developmental tool for instructors to use in the classroom to facilitate ongoing reflection, learning, and application. Most e-portfolios typically showcase skills and achievements in what resemble a blog format. Depending on the e-portfolio host or site a university uses, a student may have more limitations on what they can showcase and the format in doing so.

I found a great resource on why we need to have e-portfolios in the classroom from Penn State. This tutorial gives excellent reasons and resources for educators on using e-portfolios in the classroom. Please click here to watch the short video provided by Penn State.

Next week, I will cover basic e-portfolio platforms that are used by colleges and universities nationwide. You can also get creative with e-portfolios (education or professional based) by creating a dynamic and interactive blog! I will not only show you how to get started with each resource but final products so you can make the final decision on what fits your learning needs.

Ten years ago, the meaning of the word blog would be unknown in many households. Today, it’s one of the popular buzz words among writers, internet search engines, and popular figures. A blog is a form of a website that allows the user to combine simple text, pictures, links, and media in a single or an ongoing post.  As of July 2011, BlogPulse (www.blogpulse.com) has identified more than 165 million blogs in existence.

Anyone can write a blog and publish its content for personal or professional endeavors. This form of self-publication has many benefits, including academic advantages for students; but, not entirely embraced by higher education. However, there are many benefits to incorporating blogging in the classroom that positively impact student learning.

1)      Blogging encourages creative expression. When I blog, I often search for creative and engaging means of expressing my thoughts, opinions, or stories to a following audience. By allowing a student to personalize their blog, they have a sense of pride and ownership; thereby, naturally taking a better initiative to give more thought and express meaningfully the content contributed towards their assignment.

2)      Blogging encourages kinesthetic reflective learning. Professor Marian Diamond’s, University of California, Berkeley, research includes the effects of “external environments, again, and immune responses on the cerebral neocortex” (Department of Integrative Biology, n.d.). Her research and understanding of the human brain in external learning environments demonstrates a direct correlation with reflective, kinesthetic learning to overall retention and application of new knowledge (UCBerkeley, 2007). Blogging naturally allows students to reflect on new material and apply through a written application process. This repetition through a process of kinesthetic learning engages students and also allows an ongoing record of their learning to be encapsulated.

3)      Blogging can give students a following audience. This audience can not only give valuable feedback but also encourage professional writing to a wider audience. Giving students a wider audience, than the instructor solely, ‘raises the bar’ for students and gives them a venue to develop important communication skills. In order for a student to ascertain their beliefs and thereby defending them, which can often times be tricky but a valuable skill to have as an upcoming professional.

4)      Blogging prepares students for their career field. As technology advances, it is not unanticipated to expect employers to desire potential or current employees to have the tech savvy skills to function in a 21st Century technology driven world.

5)      Blogging is fun! Students, by my experience, would prefer blogging over writing traditional papers for reasons mentioned in this blog post, in accompany of their own personal preferences. What we need to understand is Millennials grew up with technology and the digital divide between older and younger generations becomes greater. As instructors, we must find unique and creative ways to engage students. This doesn’t mean we abandon solid pedagogy, but what is does require is that we continue to understand how students learn so we give them an opportunity to be successful.

I have given five solid reasons why blogging should be incorporated into post-secondary curriculum. Next week, I will compare popular blogging platforms that are free and easy to use. As the instructor, you will be able to make a better decision on the one that suits you and your instructional needs best.


Department of Integrative Biology, n.d. Dr. Marian C. Diamond [Website]. Retrieved from  http://ib.berkeley.edu/people/faculty/profiles/more/mdiamond.php

UCBerkeley (2007, August 20). Integrative Biology 131 – Lecture 01: Organization of Body [Video file].
Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S9WtBRNydso&feature=player_embedded

Accountants, designers, bankers, real estate agents, attorneys, among others keep detailed records that can expand years past. The reason? You never know when you need the information. The accountant wants to make sure that they can answer to a banker or the IRS if the time comes. A designer needs to showcase a creative portfolio of past work to prospective clients. A real estate agent will keep detailed records of economic and housing market trends and sales to build their business. An attorney lives by evidence and record keeping to defend their clients.

As a business owner or professional looking to expand their target audience or personal learning network, one would think safekeeping records, especially your network contacts and communication feeds would be of vital importance. We often think that backing up our computer system is enough. But, we live in a world of social media and not taking the time to backup your social media networks could be compared to not database management system.

While the event of losing your social media network data completely is rare, it is not unheard of losing access your social media networks through hacking or despoiled by a third party. I encourage you to look into two resources that are reasonable cheap:

1) Social Safe (http://www.socialsafe.net/)

Social Safe is an easy to use application not only stores your online social networks but provides the option of exporting your data. SocialSafe supports Facebook and Twitter and will soon include services for LinkedIn, Flickr, YouTube, WordPress, Blogger, and Foursquare. This service allows you to store your friends list, wall posts and status updates, photos (album and tagged), comments and likes from Facebook, tweets, direct messages, in addition to followers and following on your Twitter profile. While an upgrade from a free account to a professional account may be needed to use all of these service, your social media networks are presented in an easy to use and find diary format.

2) Tweettake (http://www.tweettake.com)

If you are a Twitter lover or just a super cool instructor who has a massive following, this FREE service may be for you. This online application keeps record of your tweets, followers and following, favorites, and direct messages. In no time, Tweetake creates a CSV file holding nearly all the information that Twitter can store. The downside is there is a limit to the amount of information it can hold. So, if you run a business and want to hold onto important social media network information, I would suggest going for the pro services available through Social Safe.

It’s no surprise that teachers are O V E R W H E L M E D with the amount of social media resources and “techie” tools for the classroom. Today’s teacher can subscribe to countless blogs, vlogs, podcasts, e-newsletters, tweets, facebook pages, RSS feeds, and the like. My last blog talked about a paradigm shift that we are experiencing. The student sitting in a classroom today is not like a student sitting in a classroom 10 years ago. Rather than going to the library to find paper copies of resources needed for a class, students are turning to smartphones, ipads, laptops, itunes, blogs, and other collaborative social media related sites. The teacher has not been asked, but required to morph into a techie-like guru to satisfy this demand among students. The problem is…..where is all the BEST information? Quantity is NOT the problem. Just Google”teacher resources” and in 0.09 seconds, you will have 53,400,000 results, roughly.

Throughout the next few weeks, I will cover QUALITY social media and technology tools teachers can use in their course. Best of all, all of these resources are free.

First, check out the ALA Best Websites for Teaching and Learning by clicking this link: http://bit.ly/5rZcKI

Second, follow me on Twitter @LisaHoule. I give daily updates on the best social media and technology tools instructors can use.

Third, remember to start small. You do not have to incorporate everything….trust me, your students don’t want you to do that! What students want are consistency, assistance from the instructor, application, and interaction. Meaning, keep it simple, offer me help, make it apply to my world, and make it F U N!

Check back next week where I highlight a creative way to use blogging in your class that your students will LOVE!