This year I have been thinking, at a personal and institutional level, about how we support practice around ePortfolios (in this case, specifically Pebblepad). My personal practice with this is in relation to a first year, undergraduate business communications module where we are creating ePortfolios which collate students’ development in creating a professional social media presence and evidence of their skills with specific tools and technologies. I also use ePortfolio for our institutional PgC in Teaching and Supporting Learning. I am pausing here, ahead of our institutional Pebblepad User Group, to consider the steps I have taken so far to support ePortfolio use in the undergraduate course in-case this is useful to others and in-case others can offer further ideas on what else I might do.
Here are then, my notes to self/lessons learnt so far:
- Make sure the assessment is designed to work with the portfolio. This is not a case of the ‘tail wagging the dog’ (or tech driving learning!). It is more a case of using the ePortfolio system to drive possibility and open options for assessment design. For example, the ability to share pages on the open web, from within a portfolio has allowed me to ask students to create pages which act as a digital showcase that can be used to show digital competencies to (placement) employers. There is zero point putting students to the trouble to use an ePortfolio if it doesn’t add anything different to what they might do in a traditional format; we must make use of the features of ePortfolios if they are to add value and be seen to add value.
- Work with an assessment for learning philosophy. From our first class we have been talking about assessment and how the teaching fits with the assessment, and where Pebblepad fits. The ePortfolio has given us a focal point which fuses learning with assessment. We explore some ‘things’ in class and then start work to articulate them through the ePortfolio activities. I find it inconceivable that an ePortfolio would be an ‘add on’ or something to be done at the end of a module when there is so much opportunity for this platform to link the two cornerstones of a higher education (assessment and learning).
- Set the pace – so everyone knows where they should be at. I’m relying on my trusty old ‘to do lists’ to set the module pace; I break down the module workload in to things that must be done, and things that might be done and share this with students. This optional/essential breakdown, I hope, helps students to manage their time, keep up with the pace of the module and stay of track in working towards the assessment.
Create teacher led exemplars. Because this is a new assessment, I am once again working on a mocked-up example of the portfolio. This teacher led exemplar portfolio can simply show how all the work fits together. I am clear that the content in my portfolio isn’t great, I am simply working up a portfolio at each step of the module so students can see how the portfolio might look. I caveat my sharing of this with ‘yours will be better, no doubt’. But it these exemplars take some stress out of the process for both students and for me, since I can be confident in what they are doing is working, because I can do it, and they are able to visualise how that works might look before they go away and do it. To go with my approach of building up the work week-by-week, I am duplicating the portfolio each week and then adding to it, so that each new step added to the portfolio can be seen (which I imagine might be useful for anyone who falls behind and wants to work back through the materials and catch up). Here is my portfolio mock up after two weeks and after five weeks.
- Use different types of media from the beginning. In the first week I asked students to make and upload a video about what skills they wanted to develop during the module. This was an uncomfortable experience for some, but after explaining that we should try different technologies, everyone seemed to press on. The videos are not marked, but they are a necessary part of the final portfolio (I do like this work around to motivate formative work). The videos gave a me a really good idea of how students are currently using technology and what they wanted to learn in the module. This has helped fine tune the content of the sessions we will have (I was surprised to learn how many wanted to improve their use of graphic software, but hopefully this can be given more emphasis now that we know). I am also terrible at learning names, it’s something I never really mastered, so as a bonus I have noticed that looking at the initial videos in the first few weeks has just helped me in this regard.
- Set up the portfolios to auto submit to assist in providing feedback. I did not set up our ePortfolios to auto-submit in their entirety which means I have had to rely on students opting in to share their work with me. The value of having an auto-submitted portfolio is that I can give feedback at critical points and monitor progress for all students. That will be one to include in the set up for future iterations.
- Be responsive. While making my exemplar, I realised that one of things I that I had asked of students might be better done differently. I had asked students to make a single page which represents a digital showcase. But as I tried to do this I realised that the page would be very long and they might be better doing multiple pages. I therefore corrected the brief and told them verbally. A really small change, but an important one.
- Work on the ePortfolio in class. Getting students to engage on a weekly basis in class is proving quite helpful. This addresses any misconceptions or technical issues in minutes so that they can go away and carry on in full and do their research and expand the work that has been started (there’s something good about carrying on with a task rather than starting from scratch!).
- Screencast ‘how to’ help. To anticipate questions (especially from students who
couldn’t attend or who may be a tad confused) a screencast is a quick and easy way of showing what is needed. With minimal prep time, these audio-visual resources can provide useful catch-up or help materials. By pairing this with the teacher exemplars, they become even more relevant and quick to produce.
- Coordination with other modules. By talking with others who teach the same student groups the support can be coordinated to avoid duplication, to foster routines and to consider cross-over e.g. can the digital skills showcase in the ePortfolio be linked up to a showcase of other skills. These are the questions we are currently exploring. This is not a finished work!
I’m not going to over claim that I have ‘cracked’ the support for ePortfolios. One of my PgC colleagues is undertaking an action research study in to this very issue, so I will look forward to hearing her findings, but in the meantime it’s useful to pause and consider how support is being given, to consider how it’s working and what else might be done. The next question is how to maintain momentum.