Thursday, September 20, 2007

ePortfolios and life being too short

Sooooo... I've just had a look at the OU's ePortfolio system 'MyStuff' (so tempted to write 'MySpace' there, but hit the backspace key in time...)

Pause whilst I am suitably underwhelmed

Another pause

Further pause for effect...

... and deep sigh.  Is that it?  Really?  On first look although it's an OU-provided facility it seems to float on its own in cyberspace.  Where are the automatic links to the courses already taken which could be filled in?  I've done a dozen or so OU courses over the years, am I really expected to fill in 19 or so boxes per course to make it useful??  "Thinking or cognitive skills", "Practical or professional skills" - these are supposedly taken direct from the standard set of learning outcomes issued with every course.  Why can't these appear automatically?  Does someone somewhere really think that people are going to use up their precious spare time filling in 100s of boxes to populate this with worthwhile information?

The other thing that's niggling me about it all is the over-friendliness of it.  Isn't that a daft thing to be irritated by?  Even so, references to 'buddies', 'MyStuff bites' and everything being 'stuff' just seems to annoy.  This is a system which is aimed at everyone from the OU's youngest students to ones who are well past retirement.  Why not go for an even informal tone throughout rather than some 'al-wight mate geezer-speak' which might serve to put people's backs up?  Even the name is reminscent of one of the web's biggest teen hang-outs - MySpace.  MyStuff seems to suffer from identity confusion and it's not well enough integrated into courses / the OU's systems to be a genuine learning and evolving tool.

Don't get me wrong, I like the idea of eportfolios.  I battled with them throughout H808 and finally, grudgingly, got to grips with it and found a benefit to it overall.  They have the potential to be a great tool for reflection, personal development, online resources storage etc... but MyStuff seems to aim for the fluffy end of things and it wouldn't surprise me if it ended up gathering dust.  I've filled in a couple of pages and filled up with apathy.  Hmmm...


  1. Thanks for the feedback Sarah.

    My name is Guy and I did some of the visual design work for the current system. I've also done some work on the upcoming revision which includes more intuitive navigation and easier methods of managing 'stuff'.

    I'm sure your comments will be taken into account when the next version is bashed into shape.

    There are two clear points you make:

    1. Filling in forms is a pain. And yes, not especially interesting a task. And there may be a way to auto-populate the forms using existing data to ease the burden. There's a revised design coming soon which wont make filling the forms anymore interesting I'm afraid. But further down the line it would be useful to do some focussed thinking in this area. Some serious user evaluation will ensure that the app evolves in the right way. I imagine that the project manager would probably like to contact people like you who have spent some time with the existing system I order to gather more feedback.

    2. The app is trying to be way too 'cool' and down with the youth in the voice it uses to speak to the end user. This 'voice' used in the current system is a little inconsistent I agree. There should be some user evaluation to determine the concensus of opinion and then to adjust accordingly. In the initial designs we had a 'how should we talk to you' toggle in the profile. But as you'll see, in this initial release there want time or resource to implement it. I'm entirely sure if it's even in the project scope anymore. Perhaps something to revist?

    Of course, MyStuff will be for some and not for others. The main problem will come if/when people are told they must use it. But I'm not sure if that's very likely. I think its a tool that can be used if suitable. Maybe you'll prefer the next version? Maybe not as it doesn't really address the two major issues you have.

  2. Incidentally, "Kinda Learning Stuff" is an interesting title. It pretty much sums up "MyStuff" - as it exactly that. Maybe we should have consulted you before fixing on the brand name!

    I maintain a design blog here:

    Would be interested to capture some of you thoughts on the various threads.

    Thanks again for your feedback.

  3. I have to admit that I'm as impressed as you Sal - or slightly less so. In some ways I think it's trying to bring "in house" facilities which are already being used by those who are interested and being passionately ignored by the rest of the world. Simply adding the blue toilet seat isn't going to switch users' opinions. I also think it's not very web 2.0 - "This is mystuff gerroff!!" versus Flickr and And if this is to form the basis of my ePortfolio, if it documents my learning journey, how portable is it? I don't want something that I have to leave when I finish with the OU. I think it might face some of the same issues that the OU VLE is struggling with - its time has come and gone.

  4. Hi Sarah,
    I was really interested to read your response to the OU e-portfolio MyStuff. I wondered what you would consider an appropriately coined name for it?


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