This paper presents a study during four academic years (from 2010/11 to 2013/14) on the potential for offering students elements to construct their own personal learning environments, by integrating an institutional virtual learning environment and an e-portfolios system. The study was conducted in the University of the Balearic Islands (Spain) and a total of 232 students enrolled to a graduate compulsory course of the fourth year of the studies of Pedagogy took part in the study. The course was performed using the project-based method, and the study was carried out by phases. The collection of data was done through observation and monitoring the e-portfolio activity, a student questionnaire and the observation of student output. These data showed that this kind of environment is used almost exclusively for academic purposes. Some conclusions are that e-portfolio is a good tool for the organization of academic information and that it is useful for collaborating and working in groups.
PLEs are becoming an important reference, since they are achieving widespread recognition for their educational value, for the framework they offer and for their components, as can be seen in Buchem, Attwell & Torres-Kompen (2011). They have already sparked off quite a lot of reflection, debate and research as well (Buchem et al., 2011; Fiedler & Väaljataga, 2010; 2013)
From among all the different perspectives from which PLEs can be viewed (Fiedler & Väljataga, 2010), this paper is centred on an institutional one (iPLE) and on the integration of different environments within an institutional context (Casquero, Portillo, Benito, Ovelar & Romo, 2010a).
Leaving aside some dichotomous proposals - which are all too common in this field - that confront schools with the Internet, formal contexts with informal ones, accreditation with social recognition, teacher control with student control… interesting issues on the subject of virtual learning environments have been revived in educational circles.
The rigidity of VLEs. The model currently used in higher education VLEs continues to be mainly transmission-based, and not customized or collaborative.
Relations among formal, non-formal and informal education. This topic ranges from a refusal to lend any value to formal education - and, by extension, to university or school - to proposals for integration (Liber, 2005; Attwell, 2007). Our stance is that the three are inseparable: just as informal or social learning largely depends on what one’s formal education was like, so formal learning can be also improved by integrating informal and social learning, integrating social networks and virtual learning communities in order to construct Personal Knowledge Networks (PKN) (Couros, 2010).
The increasing potential for group work and exchanges offered by new developments in web technologies. The importance of social networks in informal learning as tools that put people and knowledge into contact is highlighted.
The need for new teaching/learning models that take into account individual students’ specific characteristics and involve them in their own learning process. The aim is to incorporate aspects of social networks and personal environments, able to offer increased learning opportunities, into a new emerging learning model integrated into conventional VLEs (Salinas, 2011).