Learning Technology

e-Portfolio Pioneers – Community of Practice Report: #1 Context

January 17th, 2013 at 08:01

This is the first in a series of guest posts from Kirstie Coolin:

The first e-Portfolio Pioneers – Community of Practice Seminar was held on 7th December 2012 bringing together those trialling or implementing e-Portfolio activities and processes to share learning activities and methods of students/staff engagement with the aim to initiate a community spanning Schools and central services.  In this series of blog posts I will be reporting back on the projects and discussing what we have learned so far.

Context

Students have growing expectations of their HE experience and new fee structures are prompting HE institutions to re-evaluate teaching and learning practice to improve student experience in areas such as employability post-study, feedback, assessment, work experience and contact with academic mentors.

Concomitantly, there is a growing body of interesting and varied teaching and learning practice underpinned by e-Portfolio pedagogies occurring throughout the University of Nottingham. This is being fostered principally by a drive from the University’s Teaching and Learning Coordinating Group to implement Mahara in response to the above challenges, although we also have excellent examples of practice using PebblePad in two of our academic Schools.

Defining the E-Portfolio?
We are reluctant at the University to pigeonhole the e-Portfolio and thus limit its uptake, benefit and creativity. For now, we are describing the piloting phase as “extending the Nottingham eLearning toolkit: flexible community and personalised learning provision for Nottingham students and staff” to focus on the variety of what it can deliver and support.

Use preceding definition was illustrated fittingly by Dr Gordon Joyes who opened the Seminar introducing a parable “The Blind Men and the Elephant”, a tale originating from India about perspectives and relativism.  In the story, a group of blind men touch different parts of an elephant to find out what it is. However, they each describe the bit they are touching (tusk, leg, trunk etc.) in wildly different terms and disagree about what the elephant actually is. Only when they are able to listen and collaborate, they ‘see’ the elephant as a whole, rather than a reductive collection of seemingly unrelated parts.

Analogously, e-Portfolios are ultimately very flexible tools supporting a wide range of activities, learning processes and purposes. This raises a problem. When e-Portfolios are used for one particular purpose in a particular setting this then becomes the e-Portfolio and its purpose. Yet, where people undertaking different activities for different purposes are able to ‘see’ what others are doing the wider view of an e-Portfolio (elephant) becomes clearer. The Jain wise man from the tale concluded:

“All of you are right. The reason every one of you is telling it differently is because each one of you touched the different part of the elephant. So, actually the elephant has all the features you mentioned.”  Ref

eportfolio elephant fableKirstie Coolin

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