Me-Portfolios: Putting the 'me' in Me-Learning

Vance Stevens

Prepared for presentation August 21, 2011

at the MMVC11 free Online MoodleMoot Conference, 

A version of this presentation was given at the University of Oregon, August 10, 2011

This latest draft is from Aug 21, 11:09 GMT

For more details see 

For the recording of the presentation given Sunday, Aug 21 please visit 


Abstract: Vance Stevens has been teaching a course on multiliteracies and revising it for a number of iterations over the past several years now ( One recent innovation was to set evaluation of the course by means of e-portfolios.  I have started referring to them as "Me-Porfolios" to draw attention to their constructivist / connectivist nature. This presentation describes the multiliteracies course and how it has recently evolved a MOOC approach with berry-bush supermarket-style presentation rather than prescribed guidance through course components.  MOOC stands for "massivie open online course" but I have suggested scaling the concept where "massive" becomes "miniscule".


User choice in material to be covered makes it logical to encourage participants to adopt Me-Porfolios in (1) specifying their own course objectives and outcomes as they orient in the course; (2) presenting their individually tailored plan of achieving those objectives, and; (3) documenting their accomplishments through an online portfolio linking to deliverables prepared in showcasing those outcomes. The presenter has found it wise to model e-portfolios to the participants as well as identify for them successful examples of e-portfolios. This presentation covers the literature on e-portfolios as presented in the course and shows the portal linking the Me-Portfolios prepared by the participants in the most recent rendition of the course.



From October 27 to November 23, 2003 I was asked to develop and teach a TESOL Online Academy course entitled “Enhancing Online Communities with Voice and Webcams”. The course is still listed on the TESOL website here: and I created a portal for it here:

This my first foray into formal elearning went well enough that I was asked the following year to prepare and teach a course on multiliteracies in the TESOL PPOT (Principles and Practices of Online Teaching) program There were almost no guidelines given for this course except that it was to address the subject matter in whatever way I saw fit and it was to be based in the Learning Management System (LMS) Desire to Learn (D2L), which TESOL uses for all its PPOT courses. I have made no secret of the fact that I did not know when I was asked to teach the course what ‘multiliteracies’ was exactly. However, I knew it was what my closest colleagues online were helping each other develop in each other, and I felt confident enough in the power of networked learning to know that I would gain sufficient knowledge beforehand, and also from participants in the course, to be an accomplished guide and facilitator on the topic, on which I have since become an expert.

When I first taught the course in 2004 I used Desire to Learn as a prime base for the courses.  The forums were especially well suited for me to set topics and elicit discussion from the participants.  But I knew instinctively that I did not want to commit content to D2L.  In the first place I had to get started on developing the course before my space was set up online for me by the D2L administrators.  Typically, as in this case, there is often a dysfunction between when the LMS admins get around to setting up a course for you and the time you need to actually get the course functioning online.  So for this one I had already set up my own Web 1.0 web portal and I consequently used this to actually conduct the course, and then linked from the D2L course portal to here:

My fears of losing content to Desire to Learn were justified when I was asked to teach the course again the following year.  Again I was given insufficient lead time to set things up properly in D2L but I didn’t need to expend energy trying to recover my course from the previous year from files I would be able to use only on D2L. I simply revamped my previous year’s web portal with revisions made on files which I owned and over which I had control, and set up the course on D2L in such a way that the only content I kept there were links to the richer content in the spaces I was able to manage myself.  And this time I didn’t use the D2L forums (all that content had disappeared from the year before). By now I had established the course in a Moodle in addition to my Web 2.0 portal.

There was almost no interaction between me and other PPOT course developers and moderators.  I couldn’t see their courses (I wasn’t enrolled in theirs; they weren't enrolled in mine) and the only feedback I got on how my course compared to other courses in the program was from participants in my course who were taking other PPOT courses and would sometimes mention what other moderators did. I also got positive feedback from the TESOL organizers when I was invited back to do the course in 2005, 2006, and 2007.  But my course was an elective and in 2008 there were not enough people enrolled in it to allow it to run that year.

Meanwhile, I had also been involved in the less formal (and non-fee paying) TESOL sponsored EVO (Electronic Village Online) courses since the second year of that program when in 2002 I gave my successful workshop on “Webheads in Action: Community formation online and its role in language learning.”  This workshop sparked a movement that grew from the few dozen who enrolled at that time into almost 1000 participants still enrolled today, almost ten years later, in the original Yahoo! Group, which has exchanged over 28,000 messages since then

After conducting this course I was invited to become a member of the EVO co-ordinating team and in the following years I moderated or co-moderated EVO courses almost every year.  I did one on Communities of Practice in 2003, one on Web Presence for two years in a row, and helped moderate one on Blogging after some colleagues and I mounted the Writingmatrix project, an experiment in catalyzing international writing exchanges through blogging and tagging (Stevens, Quintana, Zeinstejer, Sirk, Molero, and Arena, 2008; Stevens, 2009).

Here is a list of my recent EVO sessions and their URLs:

Departures of the Multiliteracies course from other PPOT sessions

So in September 2008 when I found that my multiliteracies course would not be run as usual for PPOT I decided to keep it current by proposing it as an EVO session.

The course was already being run much differently from other PPOT courses.  First it was not actually based in the Desire to Learn LMS.  Therefore it was not constrained by the course delivery template implied by LMSs.  On the contrary, it was run in multiple open online spaces.  Some of these spaces include:

By 2007 it was being run mainly in its own separate portal which linked to the more interactive Moodle, as well as some of the spaces listed above.  In the Web 1.0 portal pointing to these spaces for that year,, this note can be found:

New for 2007 - This course changes over time as techniques emerge for working more effectively in educational contexts on the Internet. The innovation to be applied in the year 2007 rendition of the course is hands on work with tagging of blog posts and aggregating content through Technorati, news aggregators, and

There were two other features that set this course apart from many other PPOT and EVO courses.  From its early days participants were encouraged to start blogs (and in those early days, participants had to be cajoled into doing that as not many had tried it before).  By 2007 participants were more accustomed to blogging, and we had learned a lot more about RSS and tagging and we were aggregating a range of artifacts created for the course as well as linking directly to participant blogs on what I was by now calling a portfolio page:

Another distinguishing feature of this course was that, unlike those run in Desire to Learn where only paid participants in the PPOT course with assigned D2L user names and passwords could access course content, I had control over the spaces we used and could place my course materials on open access.  Thus, as with the original EVO Webheads session I had modeled in 2002, these spaces were able to develop a community around them with participants sometimes returning in subsequent years.  

Therefore, whereas other courses were run with completely new and different participants from year to year, my courses were run in spaces where the participants didn’t have to leave, and where their content was preserved as well. I felt that this was a strength of my course, that it was not restricted only to the dozen or so who might sign up and maintain their participation for several weeks, but there were other voices there as well, voices of experience, voices of participants who had chosen to return to re-engage with the material, or who were just interested in the topic, all of whom had come together to form a community of learners.  

Rather than causing any outcry from paid participants who might have complained that some were accessing for free the course they were paying for, it was acknowledged that by inviting others to join us in the courses value was added in potential for interaction among participants. By then a precedent had been set in the MIT model, where in 2001 one prestigious university had put all its course materials online with the understanding that students paid not for content, but for certification that they had not only accessed the material but had been assessed on it to an acceptable standard. At the time EVO coordinators were in dialog with TESOL over maintaining a similar distinction between paid and free training.  Accordingly, EVO was asked not to award certificates; this was understood to be the sole purview of the paid PPOT program.

When I converted my PPOT multiliteracies course into an EVO session in January 2009 there followed more significant outcomes.  I now had the opportunity to enlist co-moderators to help me structure the course collaboratively.  We created a wiki for this at which became the new portal of reference. Now I archive all the old versions of the course there and as new ones are run, the old ones are made accessible through links in the sidebar.  This approach has also allowed me to curate content in a space that is open and viewable by anyone, and can be adapted to either EVO or PPOT sessions.  In Sept-Oct of 2010 the wiki served as a portal when the course was again run as a part of PPOT; as is about to happen again in Sept 2011 (anyone reading this is welcome to join in).  The same portal has allowed us to run the courses as an EVO session each January-February since 2009, as is planned again for 2012.

As the course evolves it has been an incubator for many of my ideas on education, teaching, and learning.  Experimentation can take place in relatively uncontaminated surroundings, because the course runs without constraint on content or assessment, except that the course must have appropriate face validity, and PPOT participants are evaluated as having passed or failed.

Meanwhile I have become involved as participant in several online courses myself, most recently in a series of massive open online courses or MOOCs.  These experiences have altered in transformative ways my thoughts on how courses can ideally be configured as spaces where the participants are responsible for not only their own learning, but their own evaluation as well.


Participants in EduMOOC, which ran from June to August 15, 2011, have been collaborating on an online knowledge-base on MOOCs in the form of a Wikipedia page on Massive Open Online Courses,, where you’ can find a bibliography on MOOC literature and some information on the short history of MOOCs. MOOCs typically attract thousands of participants.  The first one, on Connectivism in 2008, surprised even its organizers George Siemens and Stephen Downes, by both its overwhelming popularity and the scale of the challenge they had taken on.  Not to be undone, the course facilitators made it up as they went along.

This was at a time when Skype had recently become a latest tool for putting educators in touch regularly and webinars and webcasting were becoming popular as a mode of conversation among teaching practitioners and educational technology enthusiasts.  Siemens and Downes were prime proponents of theories of connectivist learning and knowledge distribution through networks.  Their podcasts and online conference presentations were regularly reaching a wide audience of educators who were able to watch, read about, and listen to the MOOC creation process unfold and then participate in a course with 2500 other learners whose pioneer facilitators were modeling how it was possible to manage a massive number of participants quite competently.

Since then there have been a dozen other MOOCs.  Here are some taking place around the time of the summer of 2011:

Collectively participants in these courses  have evolved a set of guidelines on how such courses might be conducted.  Perhaps the most accessible set of materials explaining MOOCs are Dave Courmier’s articles and videos; for example McAuley, Stewart, Siemens, and Cormier (2010).  Rita Kop (2011) prepared an insightful review of MOOC dynamics based on her research stemming from PLENK 2010.

Cormier’s three videos are simply explained, with fanciful animated overlays in the style of Commoncraft. They can be easily found on Google and are conveniently linked from Leigh Blackall’s page:

Here is a synopsis of their content:

Video 1: What is a MOOC?

Participants find such courses when they are announced online. Participants self-select to take them. They choose what they do, how they participate, and THEY decide if they’ve been successful

Video 2: Success in a MOOC

People choose to take MOOCs for various reasons; therefore they cannot cater to a particular model of student. Although user needs and motivations for participation are widely divergent, participants can benefit from MOOCs by following these steps and strategies:

Video 3: Knowledge in a MOOC

MOOCs and Connectivism

Connectivism is a theory put forward by George Siemens (2004-5). For this article, I have transcribed what George says in two online videos where he comments on how his experiences with MOOCs have impacted his thinking on learning. Because this is likely to be one of the only places where such transciptions occur, I have left the full text of those portions that I transcribed intact in this version of this paper as a unique contribution to the literature on the topic.  I put in bold those excerpts I thought most relevant to my slide presentation deriving from this paper.

For Siemens a MOOC is a practical manifestation of connectivism.  Many of the ideas he writes and speaks about regarding the way that knowledge flows through networks find their corroboration in the way MOOCs work.  

Siemens’s conclusions can be startling. In this YouTube video, Siemens says at min 1:13

 "Have you ever thought about how completely irrelevant structured learning is?"  

He goes on to explain why "the formal learning process is irrelevant for meaningful learning." Education should focus on connections, not networks ("Connections are expressions of networks.") Courses need to be more granular than they are now, open.  This brings George to the question of “What is social?” (it's like the concept of ‘ether’ popular before Einstein, it cannot be assumed to necessarily pre-exist. Social “forms and reforms with each individual action, continually created and recreated if we wish to understand the process of sense-making our field needs a dramatic and fundamental reorientation to understanding connections."

In the traditional sense "A course is ... pre-existing combination of connections, so you are highlighting certain elements and deselecting others"  But when there is an “astonishing” level of abundance this doesn't work anymore, it's rather an abundance of opportunities to interact (find this at 11 min. into the video). Why is open social learning important, why is open important? (13 min) - In such courses students can adapt, adjust, and inject their own perspectives which will then change the system in which they learn.

Elsewhere, George is interviewed by Howard Reingold, who assumes the role of sceptic when he challenges Siemens’s explanation of a MOOC as being “chaotic”  Siemens explains that in a MOOC “content is the catalyst to converse, or form connections  the content is the conduit for connections. One important upshot of this is that those connections with the course are not cut once the course ends.”

Reingold asks about the use of LMS.  Siemens says they originally used Moodle, but “Moodle is too centralized for us”. By this he means that Moodle was too suggestive of how students should access and process the content (a common criticism of learning management systems). Now they use Grasshopper, an RSS aggregator developed by Stephen Downes that produces a daily newsletter that serves to develop a knowledge-base by archiving aggregated artifacts associated with the course.

I transcribed this from minute 8:01

“What we’re experimenting with is the dissolution of the boundaries that an institution controls that permit or inhibit learner interaction and to have that exclusively under the control of the learner and  to form a narrative of coherence through your social network as a sense-making guide so that you find your way through these complex settings.  But you still can achieve clear outcomes” (the language of higher educations/university) .. “so meeting those outcomes then can be done through a distributed way, through a distributed means. But you still have targets. I’m not aware of any research actually that says linear structure produces better outcomes than more chaotic meandering structure. Our intent, based on our theories of learning is to argue that the experience of learning, making sense of that chaos, is actually the heart of the learning experience, but if an instructor makes sense of that chaos for you and gives you all the readings and sets the full path in place for you then to a degree you are eviscerating the learner’s experience because now you’ve made sense of them and all you’ve told them is walk the path that I’ve formed. When it comes to complexity I’m a great fan of letting learner’s hack their way through that path and getting the value of that learning experience and that sense-making process.”

Siemens  then talks about targets for the two groups of students in the MOOCs he conducts as part of his course-load at the University of Manitoba.  He makes clear that the students who take the course as part of their degree program adhere to university standards, but anyone can take the course as an open MOOC. “Targets are for the university purposes, one’s we’ve defined, in order to make sure that they achieved the learning that the university needs to give them a credit for it but the ones that participate openly, targets are their own, it’s what they want to get out of the course.”

For those who pay to take the course feedback also comes in response to the artifacts they’ve created for the course (artifacts that could come in the form of blog posts, videos posted online, podcast recordings, etc.).  For the others, such peer feedback is their only reward. Siemens notes that we still recognize faculty expertise but as in the case of Wendy Drexler, one of his formally enrolled students who had 100,000 hits on her connected student video,,“In the long run it’s this broader social network that we participate in that validates us and validates our learning.”

Regarding the future of MOOCs: “Internet challenges existing notions of a classroom or mindsets (and at min18:50) ..should we encourage students to really broaden their networks  learning to think as a global participant, recognizing that the knowledge that you need  to learn a complex subject matter is not going to be contained in one individual and it’s not going to be contained in one institution likely.  It’s going to be distributed and as a result of that distribution we need to design a distributed learning model.”

When is a MOOC not a MOOC? 

This brings me to the multiliteracies course I’ve been teaching, and why I have adopted a berry-bush supermarket presentation of content rather than a conduit, or prescribed guidance through the course components (as per Scollon and Scollon, 1982).  MOOC stands for "massive open online course" but to adapt to my context I have suggested scaling the concept where "massive" becomes "miniscule".

The question of size in order for a course to be called a MOOC is important. I address this in my blog post here, under the topic, When is a MOOC not a MOOC?

Here I give several reasons why I like the MOOC concept for small-scale courses. Affordances include:

When I facilitate my multiliteracies course I have to articulate a rationale similar to the one that George Siemens does.  Students generally prefer their paths laid out for them; they resist initially the idea that in order to learn they are going to have to synthesize their own order from chaos, They find the suggested readings overwhelming, little understanding that the materials there are meant to be filtered, that those materials that appeal most can be used as catalysts and conduits to encourage participants to construct sense-making with other participants. They don’t see at the outset that the facilitator is deliberately avoiding too much of a lead to encourage the participants to construct meaning on their own, and allow them space to do that.  (Kristin Gorski has a relevent presentation where she gives limitations of MOOCs based on her experience and findings and suggests applications for middle and high school students:

I find that most courses students are likely to encounter in the programs in which I teach are ones that are more traditionally run, in a way that George Siemens would argue invites students to walk a path already walked by the course creators. Granted, there are good pedagogical reasons for simplifying things for students in order to present them with an easily understood subset of the material you are trying to teach them, but  this also risks what David Weinberger calls “the narrows: narrowing the richness of shared experience to a manageable trickle” A trickle is easier to deal with than a firehose rush of what is really out there, but I feel that it’s good for students to experience at some point in a program of study a course that lets them challenge themselves in more realistic conditions, especially as other courses don’t always do this.

This approach is appropriate for my multiliteracies course for two reasons.  (1) The course is about multiliteracies, a topic that seeks to expose participants to tools that help them filter and manage information that bombards them on the Internet, and (2) the learners are mature teaching professionals, whose calling and life experiences have prepared them for deepening their understanding of lifelong learning.  At the other extreme, it would surely not work to try MOOC conditions on young learners who were just starting out learning a language.  They would find this overwhelming and would likely become discouraged. They would not be in a position to construct a knowledge-base through networking with one another.  But once students have gained the literacy skills where they can understand and articulate the rationale for such an approach, and enough of a grounding in the subject matter to be able to themselves build on their existing knowledge, and communicate with others in restructuring their knowledge, then incorporating elements of a MOOC into one’s teaching not only makes sense, but becomes imperative.

George Siemens often talks about the varying reasons students take his courses, and concludes that "The formal learning process is irrelevant for meaningful learning."  He acknowledges that schools must have standards that control how they credit students for taking their courses, but he argues that “sense-making” and “meaningful learning” emerge from intrinsic processes more than from external ones.  


In my multiliteracies courses I am not constrained by having to adhere to external standards of assessment so I am able to apply a technique that corresponds with the benefits expected from MOOC-like learning, that allows the learners to articulate their own reasons for taking the course and then act on them.

I have my students start, maintain, and submit e-portfolios. These allow them to:

  1. state in academic terms what they hope to gain from taking a course
  2. propose a course of inquiry whereby they might utilize the suggested course materials and structure to achieve their goals
  3. assemble artifacts online in any hyperlinked Internet space to document what they did and how they have progressed during the course
  4. provide some coherent explanation of how these documents brought them nearer to achieving their short and / or long-term learning goals.

I have started referring to these sets of linked artifacts as "Me-Porfolios" to draw attention to their constructivist / connectivist nature. User choice in material to be covered makes it logical to encourage participants to adopt Me-Porfolios in (1) specifying their own course objectives and outcomes as they orient in the course; (2) presenting their individually tailored plan of achieving those objectives, and; (3) documenting their accomplishments through an online portfolio linking to deliverables prepared in showcasing those outcomes.

The multiliteracies course presents a rationale for e-portolios here:

The references at the moment are ...

1. Re-examine and adopt the move from teaching to learning

2. Re-visit the accountability measures on your campus

3. Make a corollary change in assessment

4. Insist on teaching only in technology-enabled classrooms

5. Make sure your students have technology management tools of their own

6. Insist on faculty having management tools for their own professional development

7. Do not discard the lecture or class discussion approach when appropriate, but use it primarily for the purpose of helping students address the essential problems of the course: Use lectures and discussions to help students to make progress in their projects and therefore to build their course portfolios.

8. Make sure your students have a digital repository of some sort--a portfolio system, a wiki, a blog, a Web page builder, a place to store and manage the evidence of their active learning.

9. Require your students to interpret their collected online evidence at regular intervals and, finally, in capstone Web presentations.

10. Make the collection of evidence the primary work of the course. In other words, students should be graded largely or entirely on their final portfolio for the course. In a learning-centered course, the portfolio is the sine qua non.


These suggestions require that educators become aware of the paradigm shifts required of them and of knowledge workers in general as we all adapt to the 21st century in which we find ourselves (I count ten such shifts in Stevens, 2010). Accordingly, I made e-portfolios a part of my course for the first time as a stated assessment tool the last time I taught the PPOT course in September 2010, but I intend to make MOOC methodology and Me-Portfolio assessment more overt when I teach the course again in September 2011.

When I tried this on students initially, they were hesitant and confused over what was expected of them when I asked them to create e-portfolios.  It was anything but straightforward to convey to them that these portfolios are not for me, they are for them.  It’s a break from tradition for a teacher to say, ‘I’m not really evaluating you on this, you are evaluating yourself, I’m only insisting that you go through this process.’  Accordingly I was constantly fending questions that were variations on ‘what does the teacher want this to look like?’

Eventually in this last course I decided to model what an e-portfolios might look like by creating a portal that would link to participant work on their e-portfolios. This portfolio of portfolios modeled one possibility for them and helped us to identify successful examples of e-portfolios as theirs became all linked in one place here:

Readers of this article who feel they’d like to get in there and experience a MOOC while exploring the relationship of e-portfolios to MOOCs, can avail themselves now of an opportunity of prime relevance to this topic, EpCoP, an e-Portfolio and Communities of Practice MOOC, is running through August and September this year 2011.  This MOOC is a ‘lite’ version, with only a few hundred participants enrolled so far. But it’s been gaining traction, and I’ve been curating links on it here:


As Audrey Watters says, writing in the Mindshift  blog, “MOOCs challenge many of the notions we have about formal learning: where and how and from whom learning happens, how we gauge success. Of course, participating in something of this scale can be overwhelming and requires a strong commitment in order to learn. But it also means that participants get to define what counts as success,”

This presentation gives a model for e-Learning based on the example of MOOCs which are in turn based in the theories of connectivism and knowledge creation in distributed networks as articulated by George Siemens, Stephen Downes, Dave Cormier and others.  The presenter traces a personal history of teaching online courses around ideas that verged on MOOC as he adapted them to his concept of Miniscule Open Online Course.  It is suggested that e-Porfolios, here called Me-Portfolios, are a logical assessment / self-assessment of work done in MOOCs. 


Kop, R. (2011). The Challenges to connectivist learning on open online networks: Learning experiences during a Massive Open Online Course. International review of open and distance learning Vol 12, No 3 (March, 2011). Available, 

McAuley, A., Stewart, B., Siemens, G., and Cormier.D. (2010). The MOOC model for digital practice. Created through funding received by the University of Prince Edward Island, Social Sciences and Humantities Research Council's "Knowledge synthesis grants on the Digital Economy." Available,

Scollon, S. and Scollon, R. 1982. RUN TRILOGY: Can Tommy Read? Paper presented at the symposium Children's response to a literate environment: literacy before schooling, University of Victoria, October 9, 1982.

Siemens, G. (2004-5). Connectivism: A Learning theory for the digital age. Elearnspace. Retrieved August 17, 2011 from

Stevens, Vance, Nelba Quintana, Rita Zeinstejer, Saša Sirk, Doris Molero & Carla Arena. (2008). Writingmatrix: Connecting Students with Blogs, Tags, and Social Networking. In Stevens, Vance & Elizabeth Hanson-Smith, Co-editors. (2008). Special Feature: Proceedings of the Webheads in Action Online Convergence, 2007. TESL-EJ, Volume 11, Number 4:

Stevens, Vance. (2009 July 15). Engaging Collaborative Writing through Social Networking. In Koyama, Toshiko; Noguchi, Judy; Yoshinari,Yuichiro; and Iwasaki, Akio (Eds.). Proceedings of the WorldCALL 2008 Conference. The Japan Association for Language Education and Technology (LET). ISBN: 978-4-9904807-0-7, pp.68-71.

Stevens, Vance. (2010). Shifting sands, shifting paradigms: Challenges to developing 21st century learning skills in the United Arab Emirates. Chapter 20 in Egbert, J. (2010). CALL in Limited Technology Contexts, CALICO Monograph Series, Volume 9. pp.227-239. My last draft version of this article can be found online here:

This article has a tiny URL

There is an accompanying slide presentation here 

An archive of its presentation will appear here 

and the recording should appear here: