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Saturday, 13 November 2010

Reflecting on Reflections

Photo: A myriad stars within our galaxyI have written several times about the value of the ePortfolio as a tool to aid reflection (see tags list for 'reflection'.) However, in a recent post Karen Barnstable writes very clearly on the value of reflection, but more than that, adds some helpful advice on how to think through and document reflection with a 4-point STAR - well worth reading.

As I commented on Karen's post, the compilation of a separate 'diary' of reflections might be a very effective CPD tool for anyone. As Dr Helen Barrett suggests, the ePortfolio lends itself to recording one's 'Life Story'. I just wonder how many myriads of reflections or evaluations I have composed and then forgotten. What would I think about my own life-story if I had retained those reflections for further reflection?
Memory Jogger:
S - Situation
T - Task
A - Action
R - Result
But please read Karen's post to see this in context.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

A few questions...

Well, the full title should be, A few questions before you launch into implementing ePortfolios at your education institution.
Graphic: doll outlines: people asking questions

For some time now, I have been following the adventures of Sarah Stewart and her application of ePortfolios to the work of midwives in New Zealand and Australia. Recently she posted some 10 questions which potential implementers of ePortfolios should ask themselves before taking such a leap of faith. With her permission I have duplicated her questions and provided some answers:

1. What are you wanting to achieve?
Does an ePortfolio system allow you to achieve that aim or would something else be more appropriate? For example, you would like to use an ePortfolio to allow a seamless submission of assignments by you need an ePortfolio to do this, or can you achieve that function via your current learning/student management system?

Any half-legitimate institution for teaching and learning should have its own VLE with a good range of resources including rubrics, rich media, archived materials, and powerful tools much broader than the standard syllabus in order to allow students to develop their own personalised learning environment. So, what we should be doing is looking at those aspects of an ePortfolio that a VLE cannot easily deliver.

2. Is what you are wanting to achieve pedagogically sound?
In other words, do you have a sound educational reason for implementing ePortfolio or are you attracted by the technology with all the latest bells and whistles?

Introducing an ePortfolio system will not suddenly change teaching and learning strategies. Rather, a student-focussed approach should inevitably suggest that an ePortfolio is the best medium to manage a range of learning activities where peer-review, feedback in all its forms, use of alternative media, supplementary information about students etc is possible. Above all the ePortfolio should allow the ability to present selected artefacts to a variety of audiences, under controlled access.

3. What is the evidence about ePortfolio in your context?
Is there solid evidence that ePortfolio makes a difference to students' learning or is ePortfolio another fad you are following for the sake of it?

There is a growing body of evidence from both students, teachers and administrative staff that ePortfolios have a demonstrable impact on both teaching and learning. However, this takes time for new-start institutions. It takes several years for most institutions to settle down to ePortfolio thinking. Until teachers have discovered what works/does not work for them, until exemplar materials related to ePortfolio processes are tried and tested, until an institution has a good body of alumni who understand ePortfolios, until a good cohort of mentors can advise from their own previous experiences, that evidence will be slow to materialise. Administrators, too, have noticed a significant increase in retention rates.

4. What ePortfolio tools best suit your students' needs?
Before you sign off on an expensive proprietary ePortfolio platform, is there an online tool already available that will better suit your students' needs? For instance, if you want your business students to be prepared to find a job, would they be better off developing a LinkedIn account? Would your carpentry students be better off uploading photos of their work to Flickr? Would a blog suit students' needs for a reflective ePortfolio?

This question suggests a restrictive view of teaching and learning. All students should have access to a wide range of tools, such as they prefer to work with, such as Flickr, Prezie, PhotoPeach, Issuu or Audacity to name just a few. But these are NOT ePortfolio tools as such. ePortfolio tools consist of facilities such as making individual artefacts private, shareable or public. Tools such as polls, surveys or Likart scales as well as pre-set forms which can be ‘switched’ on or off all allow different methods of providing feedback. Similarly, blogs or wikis can be contained within the ePortfolio so as to create a private but collaborative community where students can work together with some confidence that their efforts and mistakes will not be seen by ‘outsiders’. - Anyway, who says a proprietary system has to be expensive? - eFolio certainly is not!

5. Who is in control of the ePortfolio?
If you dictate the ePortfolio to the students they are far less likely to engage with it than if they have total control over it. The ePortfolio must belong totally to the students so it can be developed to meet their needs, as opposed to your needs as lecturer and that of the institution.

In many cases it might be better for the institution to provide the ePortfolio with some level of scaffolding to help students get off to a good start rather than having to build from a blank canvas. A range of good support features will enable the student to identify what things can be changed immediately and what things can be modified at a later date. It is up to the teacher to decide how much ePortfolio support each student may need, but, as when encouraging a baby to walk, there comes a time when hand-holding is not necessary. Control is a matter of gradual release.

6. Will the ePortfolio be integrated into the curriculum?
If the ePortfolio is an extra add-on to the students' work, they are unlikely to engage with it. Thus, you need to consider how you will integrate it into the curriculum and assessment. This may require a lot of work for faculty staff, so you have to decide if this effort is "worth it".

This might create a bit of strain for those educators who have not made the transition to collaborative teaching and learning. However, having access 24/7 to a student’s ePortfolio means that monitoring progress is easier, particularly if you have a few students who need ‘prodding’ to get going. Similarly early intervention if a student is beginning to veer off course actually saves the teacher considerable work when students begin to get towards the date of submission. As mentioned previously, this can help retention rates.

7. How portable will the ePortfolio be?
What will happen to the ePortfolio when the students leave the institution? Portability is one argument for using the cloud such as Google Apps, as opposed to a platform that is restricted to student use only.

Portability is a fundamental question and although questions about teaching and learning MUST come first, the issue of portability will actually influence teaching and learning strategies. I have heard too many HE students say “Why should I bother, I can’t take it with me!” If the ePortfolio is to be both Lifelong and Lifewide it MUST be capable of full portability without the destructive influences of extant interoperability systems. However, the rush to use cloud solutions is not without its drawbacks. A secure externally hosted system provides the best of both worlds. eFolio, for instance, is hosted externally in the UK and Europe. One of the significant drawbacks of a cloud-based solution is that of the lack of educational support whereas eFolio is provided primarily as a tool for learners.

8. Can the ePortfolio be integrated into the students' life as a professional tool once they have left university/college?
This is an especially important question for nurses and midwives who are required to have an ePortfolio as part of their statuary requirements for practice. There's little point in developing an ePortfolio platform that is different from one they will use once they are qualified. On the other hand, is this an opportunity to collaborate with hospitals and professional bodies to ensure there is a seamless integration of ePortfolio from life as a student into professional practice?

Yes, it is ESSENTIAL that the principle of the ePortfolio as being Lifelong should enable the newly qualified professional, for instance, to use the ePortfolio for the continuation of one’s career and other interests and to share with new colleagues etc. In a new situation, the cosmetic display and layout of pages, the selection of relevant artefacts should be capable of matching one’s new image.

9. How will you evaluate the ePortfolio?
You must have a process for measuring the impact of the ePortfolio as opposed to implementing it without further follow up.

Perhaps the most significant feature of evaluation is not that of the presentation of the ePortfolio nor of the artefacts contained within it and the temptation to think summatively, but rather to look at the reflections, the benefits of collaboration and the learning processes the student experienced that demonstrate an increased maturity of understanding rather than just a completed project.

10. Do you walk the talk?
Do you have an ePortfolio that models the process to both colleagues and students? How can you know the value of a pedagogical process if you do not engage with it yourself?

Yes, every teacher is a learner, a collaborator, and, where necessary a bit of an exhibitionist. The ePortfolio should be seen as a tool for learners, teachers, departments and institutions. The same tool can be used for many different purposes and all sections of society.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Escaping the Stone Age - II

Screenshot of Sarah Stewart's SlideShareClick above to see the SlideShare

I have been following the progress of Sarah Stewart's work, exploring how the ePortfolio can serve the midwifery service in Australia. Her presentation, as indicated above, is a valuable consideration of the problems involved in introducing ePortfolio thinking into any community.

However, many of her 'frustrations' follow on from my previous post, that of overcoming 'Stone Age thinking'.

Perhaps one of the first issues to overcome is that of the technology. If it looks complicated then it IS complicated. For adults who are not as IT savvy as they could be, and have plenty of other things on their minds, it is essential that whatever ePortfolio system they choose, it should be 'childsplay'. It should be easy to use and immediately attractive.

Secondly, Sarah's presentation illustrates the generation gap in ePortfolio thinking. It was not only the midwives who found difficulty in adopting ePortfolios, it was the assessors and administrators who were at least reticent if not downright reluctant. It is time that governments recognised this situation and sponsored urgent adult training in ICT for all generations - and particularly for services, such as midwifery, that require portfolios.

Yes, the lack of equipment, of resources and of broadband availability needs to be recognised - and it may be some time before much of Australia gets the service it deserves!

However, speaking as an experienced teacher, it would appear that Education Authorities must reflect upon their own consciences and ensure that the upcoming generation is properly and speedily trained as the 'net generation. One thing that we have learnt here in the UK is that by ensuring that our children have good 'Home Access' that their parents, carers and even grandparents are having to learn ePortfolio thinking.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Escaping the Stone Age

I was recently in conversation with a respected colleague, and we were bewailing the 'Stone Age' mentality of some of our teachers and how they were holding back our children's learning. Inevitably, I wanted to shout out that the ePortfolio, and eFolio in particular, was the answer to the whole problem. However, in a more reflective moment I came up with four suggestions:

1. The ePortfolio can act as an information service found by all permitted parents/ carers/ mentors/ grandparents etc. This facility should act as a structured information service, an educational 'agony aunt' and also a confidential hot-line where questions about educational practice can be properly and securely discussed.

2. It is essential therefore that schools start understanding that Personal Learning Environments are the way forward and that tools are urgently required that can enable students to move forward at their own speeds and enable the following of their interests. Eventually, I suspect, this will be a Web3.0 environment but certainly an ePortfolio will be involved.

3. I do hope that when schools do manage to catch up with the technology, teachers will be able to check HWKs (and for that matter classworks) on-line, provide feedback to the kids, and modify their lesson plans if necessary, BEFORE the next lesson.

4. It is an absolute MUST that schools should publish their schemes of work in Easy English over their VLEs but preferably within the ePortfolio scaffolding, so that any parent, carer or mentor can help the child to understand 'where they are, where they want to go to and by what processes they will get there'. These should be specifically and constructively written for every subject area. Schools must recognise the benefits of 'the Home-School Nexus'.

However, rather than just describing the ePortfolio as a tool to support 'good practice', another approach would be to try and identify the prefered educational outcomes - and then decide what tools could best achieve the required results. Below are two fundamental questions and my suggested responses:

Q) What do parents, governors and politicians think ought to happen more or better to create better learning?

A: Pupils should be more engaged with their learning and as a consequence would be more productive and would be more proud of the ownership of their learning. They should have access to their work 24/7 so that they can work as and when suits them.

Q) Imagine yourself saying "The use of ICT has got the pupils ?????????.......... so much more/so much better". What, as a teacher would you hope to see?

A: Children are now more able to explore safely for themselves. They know how to phrase the right questions when searching for information. They can learn things not immediately obvious from the school curriculum or exam syllabii. They communicate better with both their peers and teachers. They are more able to learn from and to provide feedback. They will not take one person's opinion as 'gospel' but will clarify/verify what they have been told. They are more aware of things happening around the world. They understand more about different cultures or mindsets. They understand that learning is not a 9-4 occupation but that learning happens all the time. They are more questioning - they will not take 'impossible' as an answer but will explore alternative solutions.

I can visualise so many scenarios where the use of a collaborative ePortfolio is the right place for all of these learning experiences - and possibly with no teacher in sight! And not only 'learning' but also reflection, internal adoption and, inevitably the pride of ownership of ones learning as seen through the showcasing of appropriate artefacts and reflections.