Sunday, December 13, 2009

ePortfolios: Recognition of Prior Learning and Communities of Practice

At the recent ePortfolio Symposium hosted in Melbourne and organised by Allison Miller of the Flexible Learning Framework, there was a great range of practical tips, and thought provoking presentations.

The blurb from the site advises: "More than 140 teachers, trainers, managers and ICT professionals attended the inaugural VET E-portfolios Showcase 09 (VES09) in Melbourne on Friday 16 October, either at the actual event or by participating in free online sessions, to learn from some of the most highly regarded e-portfolio researchers and leaders. Click here to view the full program."

I went to several presentations, and the notes were taken at two that I attended.

Annelieske Noteboom & Christine Cooper, (Challenger TAFE) - The ePortfolio Landscape.

A presentation about Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL), it was interesting that the presenters commented that more creative, flexible approaches to ePortfolios would be like having a cardboard box full of paperwork – as an RPL assessor you would never be able to sort through all the paperwork. She said that it was “all very nice to allow students to be creative, but it is not good to have students with an electronic ‘wheelbarrow’ full of stuff”, it needs to be organised". I certainly agree that every ePortfolio should have an element of organisation, and learners should be able to create different views from the collected and developed artefacts, planning, reflections etc. - one of which could be in line with RPL requirements, and easy for an RPL assessor to assess. The creativity is encouraged in the underlying learning and development, rather than, necessarily, in final ‘views’.

The presenters made another point around file consistency – but if the files are hosted online (and shared with only the assessor if privacy is an issue), then the files will stream, and this reduces problems with being able to view/listen to files.

Some initial reticence of participants to actually wear the camera glasses and talk their way through the processes they are undertaking. The camera glasses empower the learners though, as there is no-one there videoing them, but rather they take the video themselves, and if they are not happy with the result they can make another version…until they are happy with the result. Also have the ability to edit the video if they wish to…although I wonder if there are issues with verifiability if students are able to edit RPL videos? Does it matter? Would it not instead make it easier for learners to make sure, according to detailed rubrics that they are meeting requirements?

Gillian Hallan (Queensland University of Technology) - ePortfolio communities of practice: Local, national, global

This presentation (which can be listened to in full by clicking HERE) included highlights of the work that is required around sustainable practice and ePortfolios. Gillian also wanted to examine what was making existing CoPs work, and what stakeholders required to continue to make it successful.

The project started in December 2008 started with a literature review, and two AeP2 symposia and showcases. As part of this, ALTC was set up to as a group site, which includes an ePortfolio section. From March to July 2009 several research activities were undertaken along with a report around the research. Gillian made reference to Wenger’s definition of CoPs, before moving on to describing the CoP lifecycle, which goes through stages of inquire, design, prototype, launch grow and sustain, but many CoPs die just as they are emerging. The research Gillian was undertaking was around why some CoPs are successful, whereas others are not.

Some initial research findings suggested tat there was a 74% interest in a regional CoP, whereas there was a stronger (86%) interest in a national CoP, and reasonable interest in an international CoP (76%). Gillian mentioned that there are a number of communities formed around various aspects of ePortfolios, for example, there are some that are formed around supported learners through PDP (Personal Development Plans), and others that are formed around specific ePortfolio platforms.

The contexts for ePortfolio CoPs were: 1) pedagogy – 75%; 2) discipline based – 60%; 3) technology – 50%. Gillian went on to discuss the scope of collaboration for CoPs, in particular opportunities to collaborate, participate in special interest groups, disseminate information, and the develop further resources. Questions were posed around around whether an ePortfolio CoP should be organic or whether it should be managed. Almost 3/4 of respondents said that they felt there should be a funded CoP manager.

Some of the key factors for success that Gillian’s research identified were: “…our experience is that it needs a lot of mediation”; “Need a leader – need a community manager, without the work I do there is not a community “…a facilitator is critical – particularly around raising awareness”. The audience were surprised by the fact that a ‘manager’ was critical and cited social networking CoPs as an example of CoPs that are often not facilitated. Gillian then mentioned that respondents from the VET sector were much more in that social networking space, whereas many of the HE respondents were not in that same space – it did not form part of their day-to-day life. The large majority of the respondents in this research were from HE as this is the sector the research project was funded to support.

Success factors also included the fact that there needs to be a range of activities, and some face-to-face meetings can be refreshing. On the other hand, too much activity can be overwhelming and exhausting, and this is perhaps were a good facilitator comes in. Some of the main challenges identified included using the technology facilitator workload and community engagement. “Keeping engagement has been the largest challenge – feedback at events s generally positive but how” to measure the amount of activity?”. In a nutshell, there needs to be a balance. To achieve sustainability there are a range of internal and external drivers, including encouraging a broader interest in ePortfolios (e.g. employers), professional accreditation, cross-sectoral engagement, building, and extending national and international relationships.

Gillian concluded by saying that the final report will be a lot more detailed and will include a number of case studies that will present a richer picture of ePortfolio communities. In the meantime, it is important to continue to stimulate interactions and attract new participants, as well as a need to maximise the opportunities to build CoPs at the local, national and international levels.

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