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How can e-Portfolios support 21st century learning?

December 11, 2009

Another belated report on a staff development activity…

Back in November, along with Jim Adams from FHHS and Alan Rolfe from FOTA, I attended a JISC / Netskills workshop in London: How can e-Portfolios support 21st century learning?

TVU has never had an officially supported e-Portfolio or PDP system, although Faculty staff  have adopted a variety of approaches for use by their students. Nursing is one area where Portfolios are an essential component of many courses. Jim has been involved in the past in the development of appropriate forms e.g. for recording students’ reflections on work placement, made available as Word templates downloadable from Blackboard. Jim was also involved in a small-scale pilot using PebblePad during 2008-9, with generally positive outcomes; although the Faculty’s licences have now lapsed. Alan teaches on Media and Journalism courses where, again, work placement is an important part of the curriculum. He has been looking into the e-Portfolio options available, including PebblePad and Mahara; both Alan and Jim have also looked at the potential of using Blackboard Portfolios.

The JISC event provided a useful overview of what e-Portfolios are, what they can used for, and what tools are available, with case studies from a variety of FE and HE institutions.
See this slideshare from Lisa Gray of JISC for an overview of the day and the topic – Introduction to e-Portfolios

The two key messages which I took away were

  1. decide what you want to use Portfolios for before considering which software to use
  2. Portfolios should belong to the individual – they are a personal space, in contrast to the VLE which is an institutional space.

The first case study was presented by Neil Currant of Bradford University, where all staff and students have a PebblePad account.
See http://www.brad.ac.uk/lss/tqeg/pebblepad/index.php for more information on the ways in which PebblePad is used at Bradford.

Merv Stapleton from City of Sunderland College presented findings from The Comport Project which looked at uses of e-Portfolios in Work Based Learning: courses in 3 Colleges used a variety of approaches, including Blackboard Portfolios, Learning Objects private journals set up in Blackboard, and the use of PDAs.

Geoff Rebbeck showed examples of how PebblePad is used at Thanet College (FE), by learners and as a staff CPD tool.

He also showed a spectrum of possible uses for Portfolios, placing e-Portfolio products in the appropriate place on this spectrum (see slide 6 of the slideshare).

Geoff made the point very strongly that Portfolios are (or should be) personal, not institutional. Some of his other comments: “the Subject is the Author”, “a Portfolio is intimate software”, an e-Portfolio is “a VLE for one”.

At Thanet, PebblePad was rolled out to staff before it was made available to students. This was to make staff familiar with the specific software and, more importantly, with the underlying concept of e-Portfolios, before being asked to promote them as part of teaching and learning in the College. This seems an entirely sound approach. I certainly feel a little uneasy when I find myself providing Blackboard support to staff who say that they are being pressurised into using the VLE, and have no underlying engagement with or understanding of the uses of blended learning. Telling your students to use a tool, when you don’t know how it works, and possibly don’t see the point of it, is unlikely to produce a successful learning experience.

At Thanet the use of PebblePad is reinforced with staff in a number of ways – for example the OLT evaluation process is carried out through the e-Portfolio; Staff Development evaluation forms are only available from the e-Portfolio, and when completed these must be shared with the Staff Development office.

see more on e-Portfolios at Thanet College on the LSIS Excellence Gateway

Another example of the use of e-Portfolios with staff was the Flourish eCPD programme at the University of Cumbria. They have a couple of rather nice animations promoting the benefits of using e-Portfolios with staff.

In the afternoon we had a brief chance to use three e-Portfolio products: PebblePad, Mahara and ePet (an open source product developed at Newcastle University).

Jim, who has experience of using PebblePad, didn’t like the look and feel of Mahara. Alan and I, on the other hand, both felt at home with the Mahara interface, and didn’t like PebblePad, at least in part because the interface looks like it’s been designed to appeal to schoolchildren. These were first impressions however, and possibly unfair – PebblePad was developed at a University (Wolverhampton), is widely used in Universities (including Imperial, Kings, Hertfordshire, Brunel, City, Middlesex and Oxford Brookes), and is probably further on in its development than Mahara.

These two products appear to be the most likely candidates to be adopted at TVU, and to judge effectively between them we need time to run comparisons, with a number of staff – and students – given the chance to try them out.

Edit 06/01/10

Presentations from the day are now available on the Netskills website

Introduction to e-Portfolios from JISC’s Lisa Gray

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