Monday, 25 January 2010

e-Portfolios and Education for the Professions

This is the title for an event I attended last week in Bristol. And very informative it was too. A full on day choc-a-block of informative presentations. I've attached the programme (with abstracts) at the bottom of the page. All presentation resources will be available from RSC SW at URL:

I'm going to run thro' the day with some snippets &  reflections I took from the sessions.

  • First up was Dr Cheri Logan. Dr Logan ran through their 2008/9 eportfolio research study: . Very interesting stuff in regards to how both staff & students perceived the usefulness of eportfolios. There were tensions abound in terms of being given "space" (blogs and eportfolios), but not sure whether this "space was fit for purpose. The imposition of a semantic ePortfolio structure was the main gripe – and rightly so. . While others jumped at the chance to use them (pebblepad). It seems that the general consensus in art & design that the traditional portfolio is now a hybrid beast. This portfolio now contains traditional (digitised) creative pieces to display to peers (to receive crit's), but is now a place to shoe development of ideas, and receive formal tutor & peer feedback. And just as importantly, a place that can be used to show prospective employers their creative ideas. Some are seeing the eportfolio as a "bridge" between undergraduate studies &  the scary world of work. This aspect of art & design students adopting a professional online status (using tools like blogs & Facebook) is very real in these difficult economic times. Eportfolios and blogs are being viewed as an important showcase medium by net savvy undergraduates. These students are acutely aware of the range of "external audiences" to their work. An ePortfolio/blog just makes it that much easier to do. Apparently is the place to create an arty bloggy thingy :O)

  1. Purpose – closely aligned to concept
  2. Learning activity design – meaningful (= assessed or not bolt on)
  3. Process – e.g. the technical and pedagogic support for all involved.
  4. Ownership – is owned, portable, choice of tools/skins
  5. Disruptive in nature – new pedagogies need to be understood.

  • Following Lisa, was Dr Sue Martin who talked about how they (Bath Uni) were using eportfolios to help develop critically reflective learners (trainee teachers). The small scale optional study gleaned some very positive results. All staff & students involved in the ePortfolio pilot extolled the virtues of sed method and platform. Tutors reported higher levels and quality of engagements in reflective assessments. It seemed that the most important aspect was that busy trainee teachers could add reflective comments up to their blogs very soon after each session. And this enabled a much more reflective & self critical/aware internal & external discourse. Fundamentally this ensured that the 'folios were being created during study/placement and not left to the end – usually handed in & forgotten about. This echoes the work Julie Hughes as done at University of Wolverhampton with her trainee teachers. The tutors also set up a simple template to ensure all recorded work could be easily mapped against the professional standards. A general consensus that an ePortfolio is more dynamic than the (boring/dull/tedious) old paper version.
    Easy really – now why isn't everyone doing it this way?? Paper based portfolios should really be banished from all spheres of education and PDP.

  • Next up Catherine Gormley of RSC NI discussed a large scale teacher eportfolio pilot project that spanned many aspects of education right across Northern Ireland. The project was that big the proof of concept took from 2005 until now!! . Main findings = that a cultural change was need to fully understand and exploit the potential of such tools and processes –across the who province. A positive message was received by many participants, who took part in the proof of concept. And a reflective circular model of (Reflect & identify & develop) – similar to Kolb experiential cycle, has been developed as part of the pilot. A centralised ePortfolio system (in all schools) is being touted as the way forward, plus support & licence costs remain an issue. Much works still remains to be done from current findings.

  • The next two speakers Martin Leveridge (Teeside Uni) &  Dr Alex Furr (Southampton Uni), both talked about projects where a bespoke "ePortfolio system" had been developed. Each was in early evaluation stages, but both were reporting very positive findings. Again the Teesside Uni project used trainees teachers to use the new PDP system to record &  reflect. Piloteers were given new shiny netbooks to help them out. The Southampton Uni project took a similar bespoke route by mapping PDP / ePortfolio requirements into existing Uni systems. The resultant gap analysis revealed that there was a niche for a bespoke system that communicated directly with existing VLE + registry + other electronic learner data systems. This is really very clever work by Dr Furr, and proves that if you look closely enough at your existing systems, you'll find that in most colleges &  certainly all Unis' existing systems can be utilised by building middleware app's to stitch them (read exchanging data) together.

    Well it all sounds simple!! But it took them a while (last summer) to prove the concept; introduce a couple of Open Source tools , and then build a few more bespoke apps. Resulting in a "platform/ePortfolio" that uses existing Uni IT architecture + learner data, then mashes it with customised is OS apps ( wordpress + Tikiwiki), finallly chuck in a few little home grown apps. All developed using user centred design principles. Everyone is happy – well apart from the students who did not really understand the purpose of reflective writing!!! The early research data is looking positive, but they've got a long way to go. As it seems that old chestnut – expecting staff & students to RTFM did not work, coupled with little understanding or scaffolding reflective writing.

    Effective, targeted support is needed – for both system (interface), and pedagogy. But it looks good, as very elegant and pragmatic solution to a problem others would have just chucked money at and purchased and off the shelf model. Perhaps Dr Furr & his team need to have a look at those 5 threshold concepts above? Anyhoo, they're definitely heading in the right direction. Dr Furr & his team are ones to watch - praps they should set up a company on the side offering these types of solutions to other learning providers, like ULCC have done with their Moodle services?

  • Following lunch Tricia Ellis from the NHS (Swindon) discussed the adoption of an existing NHS developed ePortfolio tool for junior doctors to help reflect upon, collate and maintain evidence during their two years of intensive training. Again very positive results have been recorded ,with comments cited upon the ability to continually record, reflect, its portability, and its application to a life time of CPD, and how it cannot be lost!

  • Next up, Dr David Croot from Plymouth Uni discussed the initial findings of a series of eportfolio projects covering work based learning development in local authorities (firemen, police, etc). The HE5P project: . This is a huge project covering many areas of the UK. Initial findings were again very positive from the Plymouth. End users found PebblePad to be very intuitive and easy to learn, and found to be effective for mediating learning across the sectors. Colleges are seeing the value of a PLE NOT a VLE for these types of busy professional learners. Plymouth partner colleges are now seeing the value of the projects and are purchasing ePortfolio licences. One issue seems to revolve around advocacy of the personal ePortfolio, in regards that everyone values the importance of these foundation degrees, but senior managers need hand holding to engage with the value of continual reflection. Sounds a similar issue to the Northern Ireland wide scale project above.

  • Alan Howe (Glos' Uni) delivered an interesting presentation on how the use of eportfolios in social sciences has been developing. Again a series of smaller pilot projects that worked on replacing the traditional paper based folios. Alan and his team have reported a tremendous amount of positive feedback from students and assessors over the old paper based system. Similar findings to the trainee teachers were uncovered, in respect of the eportfolio allowing for continual reflection, ownership, improving self critical awareness, and improved learner autonomy.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks Kev-Glad you enjoyed the day! The presenations will shortly be available to download from the RSC SW website as well.