Learning Technology

e-Portfolio Pioneers – Community of Practice Report: #3 Eportfolio Implementation

January 21st, 2013 at 09:01

This is the third  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.  In this series of blog posts I will be reporting back on the projects and discussing what we have learned so far.

While much of the e-Portfolio pilot activity using Mahara is relatively young, the School of Biosciences have been using Mahara for 3 years to support students undertaking industrial placements. Dr Judith Wayte, Placements Manager for the School has been key in driving e-Portfolio use and is involved at each stage with every stakeholder; student, staff, employer and examiner.

Although Judith’s work pre-dates the e-Portfolio implementation model described in the previous post, she presented her ‘journey’ to the group aligned to the 5 key principles which drew out wider discussion from the group as summarised below and in the next post.

1. Purpose needs to be aligned to context to maximise benefits

As stated earlier, the purpose of an e-Portfolio can be varied. However, for it to be introduced usefully, the purpose for a particular group of students within a particular context needs to be clear.

Ask yourself the questions; what do you want to use e-Portfolio for? What is it solving?

For Biosciences, the pilots began with the clear purpose of students sharing a weekly placement update with tutors for feedback. They knew what they had to do, when and why. Over time, the purpose has developed into other areas such as pre-placement planning and showcasing. For the School of Pharmacy, the initial purpose is to share Continuing Professional Development (CPD) and Personal Development Planning (PDP) with tutors for feedback; for the BBSRC Doctoral Training Programme the purpose is to create action plans for skills development and create supervision groups for central sharing of materials.

Focusing initially on one part of the elephant is therefore a good way to start, but maintaining an awareness of the whole elephant/bigger picture is also important to avoid the purpose becoming pigeonholed.

2.         Learning activity needs to be designed to suit the purpose

“Familiarity with the e-portfolio tool is needed in order to understand what learning activities it can support.”

Purpose is fine, but the actual learning activity needs designing in to the e-Portfolio. What will the students actually be doing in the e-Portfolio and how will this benefit their learning?

One activity most commonly associated with e-Portfolio is reflection, which isn’t to say e-portfolios are the only place to reflect, however they provide a safe and private space whereby reflection can be captured in a structured way and/or produced as evidence of learning.  Keeping reflection activities small (little and often) and focussing on each lesson/learning episode helps students to understand what they are expected to do and why. Below is a set of reflective prompts from Alison Clark, School of Nursing (extract from the University of Nottingham’s CIL Case Studies)

Other examples of learning activities from the Nottingham pilots include: placement updates; placement project pages; central store for references; sharing coursework with external examiners; gaining feedback on shared documents such as placement application artefacts; sharing and assessment of CPD/PDP with tutor; blogging and peer-assessing other’s blogs; identifying skills; developing résumés; keeping lab records; sharing pages with employers.

Converting an existing paper-based activity into an e-portfolio activity and incorporating one or two features from the e-portfolio can be an effective way to get started. Biosciences and Pharmacy both began with transferring existing Word documents, sharing these for feedback using the student-controlled permissions within Mahara. Medicine will be converting their paper-based portfolio used for appraisal tutorials in the first instance to form the basis of their pilot. This gives Schools in the opportunity to trial certain features in specific contexts and identify how learning activities can be changed whilst becoming more familiar with the tool.

The students need to be clear from the outset as to what they are using their e-portfolio for and the specific tasks they are expected to do.

Understanding what the tool can do will help to build understanding about what pedagogy it can support. Piloting the e-Portfolio, getting hands-on, attending events, looking at existing examples and referencing external case studies are all good ways to achieve this. Our Community of Practice and planned events run by teams in Libraries and Research & Learning Resources and the Teaching and Learning Directorate are attempts to build knowledge internally. Further case studies are being developed and added to the e-Portfolio Implementation (EPI) resource.

Previous posts in this series:

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

e-Portfolio Pioneers – Community of Practice Report: #2 Multiple purposes

Kirstie Coolin

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