The Quantum Chimera

My ePortfolioOnce again, we have been blessed (in my humble opinion) of some fantastic reading material on this course. I have particularly enjoyed most of the e-portfolio readings. We have just literally, this year, brought in the Blackboard e-portfolio tool to support a number of Institutional initiatives such as personal development planning (pdp), continued professional development (cpd) and assessment.

I certainly know from my own research into e-portfolios how difficult it is for people to agree on an overarching definition. You only have to read the raging debate that is going on with the JISC CETIS Portfolio SIG on their wiki and JISCmail sites to know what I am talking about.

The use of meaningful metaphors to make sense of one’s own e-portfolio is both powerful and compelling. Barrett (2004) reels off a list that includes mirror; story; journey and campfire. On Jen Ross’ blog, she is developing a mask” metaphor, which I am sure Goffman (1959) would appreciate and even Acker (2005) alludes to it as a “digital representation of self on characteristics of interest to a community“. This, somewhat, reminds me of an early incarnation of my website that used “hat” imagery to denote the “wearing of hats” that I have had to put on in both my personal and professional lives. Curiously enough, Sir John Mills, the actor, spoke of not being able to be in character until he wore the “right kind of shoes“. Identity is a funny old game as Jimmy Greaves would have said if he were a philosopher and not a footballer.

My personal e-portfolio at work (see embedded picture) uses the “acorn” to denote growth and development. The “branches” indicating all the work, experiences and achievements that you can see; the “roots” indicate all the stuff that you can’t see and may need to dig deeper to find out more. When talking to staff about e-portfolios, I have used the image of a “rucksack“. The rucksuck is synonymous with journeys and travelling as well as being a means to store stuff. Inside the TARDIS-like zippers and pockets of the rucksack are things you want to keep and present. Each different zipper or pocket of the rucksack provides a different representation to different audiences / viewers.

I was particularly enamoured with Barrett and Carney’s (2005) tale of the John Godfrey Saxe poem: “The Blind Men and the Elephant“, which in itself is based upon an Indian fable. I was so enamoured with it, in fact, that I e-mailed by colleagues around the office about it today. I liked the notion that the e-portfolio becomes a very different beast when different people look upon it; a bit like Schrodinger’s Cat, whereby the poor, old hapless moggy would be isolated from any external interferences; to know whether the cat was alive, dead, or simply not there meant that the observer would have to “look inside the box” to find out, thus interfering with the experiment and, in turn, becoming entangled with the experiment itself.

So for me, at least, the e-portfolio is transformed into a fabulous beast: a quantum chimera. How it reveals itself to you largely depends on how you wish to view it and from which angle you are viewing it from.


Acker, S., (2005). Overcoming Obstacles to Authentic ePortfolio Assessment. Campus Technology [online]. Available at: [Accessed 08 October 2007]

Barrett, H., (2004). Metaphors for Portfolios. [online]. Available at: [Accessed 08 October 2007].

Barrett, H. & Carney, J., (2005). Conflicting Paradigms and Competing Purposes in Electronic Portfolio Development. Educational Assessment.

Goffman, E., (1959). The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. London: Penguin Books.

McAlpine, M., (2005). e-Portfolio and Digital Identity: Some Issues for Discussion. e-Learning. 2(4).

Stefani, L., Mason, R. & Pegler, C., (2007). The Educational Potential of e-Portfolios. London: Routledge.