Association for Learning Technology Online Newsletter
Issue 10 October 2007   Friday, October 19, 2007

ISSN 1748-3603

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ALT-C 2007: the best so far...?
Binoculars and sandpits
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Education: a revolutionary process @ Djanogly City Academy
Introducing e-portfolios across a paper dominated university
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E-learning: making it work
Becta's Harnessing Technology Research Forum
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Introducing e-portfolios across a paper dominated university
by Federica Oradini and Gunter Saunders

Background
Both the Tomlinson (2004) and Schwartz (2004) group reports stress the importance of information technology to learning in the 21st century and the need for learners to be able to tailor the evidence they submit for assessment. An e-portfolio allows learners to collect, select, reflect and celebrate their learning and progression, while giving them the freedom to use multiple forms of evidence, both formal and informal.
 
An e-portfolio is a digitised collection of resources and artefacts and can include text-based materials, graphics and multimedia. In addition, an e-portfolio allows for an exchange of ideas between the owner and those who view and comment on it. This, coupled with the opportunity for personal reflection, can create powerful opportunities for learning (Greenberg, 2004). Compared to paper portfolios, e-portfolios offer a range of benefits including the capability to collect and present a wider range of resources, easier management of resources and enhanced flexibility with respect to access and feedback (Oduyemi and Ogston, 2006).
 
Partly as a consequence of the reports referred to above, e-portfolios are increasingly becoming part of the educational landscape. In addition, portfolios are essentially constructivist tools, well aligned with modern educational theory, particular the work of authors such as Vyogotsky (1978).
 
E-portfolio use at Westminster 
During the academic year 2006/7 Blackboard's e-portfolio tool was introduced on 13 study skills-based modules at the University of Westminster. The modules spanned all undergraduate levels and a range of subject areas (see Table 1). 25 academic staff and over 2000 students were involved, with most experiencing the use of e-portfolios for the first time. All portfolios were assessed, and contributed to between 15 and 100% of the overall module mark.
 

Module name

Year

Percentage of Module Mark

Submission Method

Work Placement in a Legal Setting

2

100%

Assignment function

Developing Your Professional Future

2

100%

CD/DVD

Employability And Work Placement

2

100%

CD/DVD + Paper

Cross-Cultural Work Placement

3

100%

CD/DVD + Paper

Personal Development

3

100%

CD/DVD

Studying In Higher Education

1

50%

Assignment function

Introduction to the Built Environment

1

50%

CD/DVD

Perspectives Of Computer Science

1

40%

Sharing

The ICT Practitioner

1

40%

Assignment function

Research Methods

2

30%

CD/DVD

Interpersonal Skills For Business

1

15%

Sharing

Interpersonal Skills For Business

1

15%

Sharing


Table 1: Modules using the e-portfolio tool

 
Although each module had unique learning outcomes, all e-portfolios integrated elements of Personal Development Planning (PDP) (Table 2). The majority of modules involved students undertaking a period of self assessment, followed by action points, presentation of evidence and finally reflection. The cyclical nature of PDP was well supported by the e-portfolio tool as it was easy for students to revise portfolio content. Weekly tasks helped students in the PDP cycle and focused mainly on career and study skills. Students reflected on their learning styles, educational and career goals and learned to promote their achievements and to evidence their skills development.
 

Welcome:

Should contain a brief welcoming statement to people viewing your e-portfolio. Write a short paragraph detailing what you hope your visitor will learn from your e-portfolio and add an introduction to you and your educational career.

About Me:

Should contain a personal statement that explains to your audience who you are, where you come from, and where you're headed in your life.

Self assess

Undertake the learning styles assessment and complete your skills matrix, including SWOT and SWAIN analysis.

CMS

Career Management Skills is a resource developed by the university careers service to help students develop self-awareness in the context of career decision making.

Educational Goals:

A reflection on your educational goals. This is your first opportunity to reflect on your educational goals following your career plans.

Action plan

Based on the previous self assessment and subsequent reflection, decide on your action points and schedule.

Evidence

Should contain selected coursework and reflections, display samples of your academic work to demonstrate your abilities and creativity.

C.V:

Produce an electronic version of your resume which can be interactive with hyperlinks.

Contact:

Remember to add your email information so that people can get in touch with you

Table 2: Typical PDP based content
 
 
The use of e-portfolios was new to the vast majority of students and staff. As a result, extensive tutor and student support (provided by a learning technologist) was necessary. The learning technologist assisted tutors in the design and delivery of the modules, and provided students with support via a blend of face-to-face workshops and online support (summarised in Figure 1).
 
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Figure 1:
Typical module support provided by Learning Technologist 
 
Student and staff feedback 
The launch of the Blackboard e-portfolio tool in 2006 was seen as a significant change for both students and staff. It was therefore considered essential to determine whether the system being used provided the capability to serve a wide range of subject areas. In addition, the use of e-portfolios fundamentally alters the way in which this type of coursework can be developed by students and managed by staff. This presented new opportunities for the provision of feedback whilst at the same time presenting challenges to staff more familiar with marking paper materials.
 
General student feedback
Over 250 students completed a questionnaire designed to determine how they had created their e-portfolios and to assess how valuable they had found the process. The majority of students (75%) indicated that they considered themselves sufficiently computer literate to use the e-portfolio tool with a minimum of training. Most were generally positive about developing their e-portfolio, collectively identifying the value of the process in allowing them the opportunity to: 

  1. Reflect
  2. Recognise/understand their achievements
  3. Plan their future career
  4. Determine their strengths and weaknesses

There were variations across the undergraduate level however. For example, first year undergraduates were less likely than final year students to cite links to employment as a reason for valuing the e-portfolio (30% of first year students versus 60% of third year students). Figure 2 indicates that students attached increasing value to the PDP process and to the use of e-portfolios as they progressed through the university. Contributing factors are likely to include the increasing importance that final year students attach to course content that could help them to find employment on graduation and the exam orientated nature of our students as they enter the University. 
 
blank 

Figure 2
: Relationship between year of study and perceived usefulness of e-portfolios

 
Use of multimedia
One potential advantage of e-portfolios over paper based coursework is the opportunity that e-portfolios offer to include audio-visual artifacts/evidence. A high proportion (66%) of students used images in their portfolios, although only 5% included audio or video files. Amongst the reasons cited for not including audio/video were:  

  • Lack of confidence in the value of using multimedia for assessment 
  • Lack of IT skills
  • Prior learning experiences which had not encouraged the use of multimedia


Table 3 summarises students' preferred reflection medium. Most prefer text, with only a small minority indicating that they would find it easier to express themselves through visual or audio media. Clearly it is not safe to assume students will automatically use multimedia when given the choice.

How do you prefer expressing/

recording ideas or thoughts

% preferred

Text

72

Drawings/graphs/tables

20

Audio

1

Video

7


Table 3: Students' preferred medium of reflection
 
Table 4 summarises students' motivations for including audio/video/images in their e-portfolios. 
 

Audio


 

Images


 

Videos

  • To help explain and set the scene about the aspect I was talking about
  • Audio was used to make the page a bit more lively with some music
  • I added sound to give my portfolio an atmosphere, so that when you read it, you feel relaxed
  • I explained how PDP was useful
  • Audio was a music track I liked
     
  • To make it look better, more colourful and interesting
  • To decorate the welcome page
  • To be more creative
  • So I could demonstrate that skill
  • There’s a think in retail called “impact items”, that’s what the photos are for
  • To show a relative image to the text I typed
  • I felt the images made the portfolio more welcoming to the user
  • To show who I am, I think it’s important for people
  • To illustrate what is written
     
  • As a welcome note
  • To make the portfolio more creative looking
  • To show related topic about my dissertation
  • I think it’s more catchy than plain text
  • I thought I get extra marks
  • So the reader can get a better understanding of me
  • Another way of showing info
     

Table 4: Students' motivations for including audio/video/images

 
Interesting, but perhaps not surprising, was the fact that that there was a significant difference in the preferred reflective medium for students from different courses: there was a marked increase in the value attached to multimedia by computing students compared to students from the social science faculty. Such variation may be affected by learning styles and familiarity with technology, but is also likely to be related to the nature of the tasks required. When asked whether e-portfolios should be used more widely, 70% of computing students answered positively as opposed to 26% of those from social science. Clearly the use of e-portfolios needs to be carefully matched to the skills and students being assessed and the methods being used for assessment.
 
It is likely that student use of multimedia will change as staff come to terms with the possibilities afforded by e-portfolios. However, whether or not a student uses multimedia will be dependant on the tasks given and whether learning outcomes are best delivered through such media. If the use of multimedia is to increase then tutors will have to make it clear why multimedia solutions provide value added within the assessment regime being used.  
  

 
 
  
 
Figure 3: Examples of students’ e-portfolios

Staff feedback
All of the staff surveyed (15) and interviewed (5) agreed that e-portfolios had been useful to the teaching of their course, collectively highlighting the following as reasons for the success of e-portfolio use:  

  • Made it easier to identify struggling students
  • Easier for students to submit their work
  • Easier for the tutor to view work quickly
  • Developed student IT skills
  • Helped in the monitoring of student progress
  • Provided templates to enable scaffolding of student progress
  • No large paper e-portfolios to carry
  • Facilitated provision of both formative and summative feedback
  • Allowed students to be more creative
  • Saved time when collecting work
  • Accessible anywhere
  • Students found e-portfolio interesting and motivating 

Three different submission routes were used:

1. CD (30%)
2. Blackboard’s assignment function (60%)
3. Blackboard’s e-portfolio sharing mechanism (10%) 

One significant difference between paper-based assignments and e-portfolios was the possibility for marking the work electronically (91% of all e-portfolios were marked electronically).

Key Challenges 
Many staff identified the sharing function as potentially useful for providing formative feedback during the construction of a student's e-portfolio. In practice however, very few students shared the portfolio with their tutors early enough for this to be beneficial. There may also be a need to introduce some mid point assessment to further scaffold the process as some students did not build their portfolios gradually instead waiting until the last minute to compile their portfolio.
 
Difficulties were expressed with regard to on-screen marking. Aside from the obvious problem of getting used to working on-screen, several staff experienced difficulty opening the portfolios (which were zipped files) from CD and those using sharing as a mechanism for submission were wary of the fact that shared portfolios could not be 'frozen' at the date of submission (students can still make changes subsequent to the submission date). Several staff also stated that they would have liked to mark on-screen by leaving text annotations at appropriate points next to the content in the portfolio rather than compiling cumulative feedback at the end of the portfolio.
 
Overall, staff and students felt that the use of e-portfolios had been advantageous to them. However a majority of staff clearly felt that they had spent insufficient time re-designing the previously paper-based activities undertaken by students, to take into account the technological changes. 

Conclusion

It is possible for some staff and students to rapidly adapt to e-portfolios and to accrue advantages from doing so. However to be successful it is clear that some students and staff require extensive support at key points in the process and that students may not exploit the full potential and flexibility of e-portfolios unless encouraged to do so. It is also significant that undergraduates in the final year are more likely to immediately see the benefit of making an e-portfolio given the direct and indirect links to future employment. Naturally there are differences between subject disciplines in for example the use of multimedia and the degree to which students would like to see e-portfolios used more widely through the curriculum.
 
References
Greenberg, G. (2004) The digital convergence: extending the portfolio model. Educause Review, 9, 4: 28–36  [Online]. Available from http://www.sba.muohio.edu/CICIT/oln/docs/EducauseGreenbergArticle2004.pdf [Accessed 15/11/06]
 
Odeyemi, K. and Ogston, R. (2006) The Challenge of implementing e-PDP at the University of Abertay Dundee and partner institutions, EIFEL ePortfolio 2006 Conference Papers, eStrategies for empowering learners, Oxford, UK. [Online]. Available from http://www.eife-l.org/publications/eportfolio/proceedings/ep06/ep2006_papers/ogston [Accessed 15/11/06]
 
Schwartz, S. (2004) Fair admissions to Higher Education: recommendations for good practice, Admission to Higher Education Review Group. [Online]. Available from http://www.admissions-review.org.uk/consultation.html [Accessed 15/11/06]
 
Tomlinson, M. (2004) 14-19 Curriculum and Qualifications Reform, Final Report of the Working Group on 14-19 Reform, Department for Education and Skills. [Online]. Available from  http://www.dfes.gov.uk/14-19/documents/Final%20Report.pdf [Accessed 15/11/06]
 
Vygotsky, L. (1978) Mind in Society. Cambridge, Mass : Harvard University Press.

Federica Oradini
oradinf@wmin.ac.uk
Gunter Saunders
saundeg@wmin.ac.uk

Online Learning Development
University of Westminster



 
 
 
 
 
 


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