Jisc case studies wiki Case studies / Enhancing Learner Progression (ELP)
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Enhancing Learner Progression (ELP)

Lead Contact: Carol Higgison (C.Higgison@bradford.ac.uk)

JISC Programme: Distributed e-Learning programme

Lead Institution and Partners: University of Bradford (L), University of Leeds, Leeds Metropolitan


Project Dates: March 2005 - December 2006


Case study tags: online learninge-portfolios,university of bradforde-portfolios for applicatione-portfolios for assessmente-portfolios for collaboratione-portfolios for evidence and presentatione-portfolios for researching informationwidening participation drivers for e-portfoliose-portfolios for supporting learning processes


Background & Context


What is the background to the e-portfolio initiative?


The use of e-portfolios in support of learning and teaching is rapidly increasing in the post-14 education sectors in the UK. National policies continue to drive this expansion particularly in support of delivering Progress Files. The ELP (Enhancing Learner Progression) project grew out of the project partners' commitment to widening participation in Higher Education and lifelong learning. The partners wanted to exploit the potential offered by e-portfolios to engage increasing numbers of learners in more flexible and accessible ways through their lifelong learning journey, delivering support effectively and efficiently.


What was the purpose and intended outcomes of the initiative?


HEFCE's Student Lifecycle Model provided the focus of the project - using e-portfolios to support students at key transition points. The ELP project chose to evaluate the potential of e-portfolios in supporting students at three of these transition points (or contexts):

  1. Access to Higher Education from school and Further Education
  2. Transfer to workplace settings from university for employment, placement or vocational/professional training
  3. Transfer between institutions by moving between courses


The overall objectives were to:

  • Facilitate wider participation in HE by raising aspirations and attainment through the use of an integrated e-support environment that helps students piece together and manage their learning in a range of institutional, work-based and informal settings
  • Facilitate student progression into work by enhancing the student experience in work-based placements through the use of e-portfolios
  • Support and develop staff in the use of e-portfolio systems and help them guide and mentor students who will be using the e-portfolio systems
  • Promote greater interaction amongst learners
  • Establish and share good practice in e-support including developed resources
  • Test portability and transferability of e-portfolio content through different e-portfolio systems.


The aim of the continuation period (July-Dec 2006) was to embed the e-portfolio use into the partners' institutional policies and practices, particularly in support of access to Higher Education.


How was the initiative implemented?


The project chose a case study approach as the most appropriate method to capture the complex and rich stories of learner experiences. Six case studies were identified across the three contexts using two different technical e-portfolio platforms - PebblePad and Bodington LogBook. Different audiences across different subject disciplines were represented in each context, including medicine and healthcare, nursing and life sciences.


Context 1: Access to HE from School or FE College

This focused on the use of PebblePAD e-portfolio system and e-portfolio content in Bodington with sixth form/FE students on the various Compact/Access schemes. Through questionnaires and interviews with staff and students in schools/colleges and relevant quantitative measures, the project looked at whether students are better prepared for transition into Higher Education, what effect e-portfolios are having on aspirations and entry into HE, what aspects of e-portfolios aid pre-entry support and technical issues relate to transferability of e-portfolio information.

Case studies:

  1. Using an e-portfolio to support learner progression into Higher Education (users: Year 12 students)
  2. Adapting an existing paper portfolio supporting progression into Higher Education (users: Students in 1st year of level 3 (A-level equivalent) studies.)
  3. Preparation for UCAS Application to Medicine and Other Healthcare Courses (users: Year 12/13 students)


Context 2: HE to work-based setting

This context focused on the use of e-portfolio tools within Bodington for students studying professional healthcare qualifications. e-Portfolio tools were piloted with students during their work-based placements and those doing postgraduate professional qualifications.

Case studies:

  1. Work-place Assessments (users: Pre-registration House Officers)
  2. e-Portfolios as Progress File for Undergraduate and Postgraduate Nursing Students (Users: Undergraduate and postgraduate nursing students)


Context 3: Transfer between HEIs

The aim was to assess the needs of students who may be transferring between institutions and the issues of moving their e-portfolio between institutions. This involved consultation with the department staff within each University, students who have previously transferred and students who may soon be transferring.

Case studies:

  1. Transferring e-portfolios between Institutions (Users: Foundation year healthcare students)

Overall evaluation focused on determining the impact of e-portfolios on the learner and those responsible for supporting the learner (tutors, supervisors, mentors).


Further information on each of the contexts and related case studies is available on the project website and Final Report (See Further Resources).


Technology Used


What technologies and/or e-tools were available to you or did you seek to develop?


The tools used were PebblePad at Bradford and Leeds Metropolitan Universities and Bodington Logbook at Leeds University.

The project required software that was easily adapted, had stringent security protection, enabled interaction between learners and could be hosted and supported quickly and at minimum cost. The technical work covered a number of areas:

  • System integration and user authentication
  • Configuration of the tools to host the portfolios (original paper or newly developed)
  • Interoperability - transfer of students' portfolios from one system to another.


Issues arising from this use of technology include access and authentication, external firewalls and security, lack of technological expertise in participating external organisations, providing technical support to external institutions, usability, organisational issues regarding allowing access to partners' institutional systems and to learners under the age of 18 and the legal and cost implications of non-standard users accessing university systems.


Success Factors


What are the key outcomes of the initiative?


The project has produced six rich case studies that contain evaluation instruments, data and analysis of findings and have contributed to a list of key questions, top tips, benefits of e-portfolios and weblinks which will be of value to anyone in the education sector thinking about using e-portfolios to support widening participation.


The evaluation has also produced various models for analysing and implementing e-portfolios effectively to engage students in learning and to develop their reflective skills.


The project developed an initial model of user engagement with e-portfolios which has four steps: initial engagement; sustained engagement; learning engagement and continued engagement. This was further developed to incorporate five types of user engagement: non-user; reader; tentative; selective and continuous.


Overall, the project successfully provided e-support for access to HE in all three partner institutions. A key achievement has been to embed the project findings into institutional practices. At Bradford, the new five credit, level zero module 'IT skills and PDP' (designed to complement existing Compact Scheme modules) has been adopted by the University and all schools participating in ELP wish to continue. Leeds Met is using the experiences and evaluation to inform their review of the Progression module and its future delivery. Similarly Leeds Medical School is using the ELP experiences to inform its ongoing access activities using social software and Web 2.0 technologies.


All partners engaged more learners in their widening participation activities than originally targeted with success achieved by those learners who completed the widening participation activities (i.e. achieving the learning outcomes and passing the access module) or achieved an offer of a University place in a competitive and oversubscribed area i.e. medicine or health-related subjects.


What follow-up activity will be/has been carried out as a result of the project?


As well as learning materials and case studies created from the evaluation results, the project has also contributed to the wider research on e-portfolios through conference presentations and papers.


ELP2, Enhancing Learner Progression through the Use of Personalised Learning Environments, will build on the work of the ELP to address the issue of regional communities of practice.


Lessons Learned


What are the lessons learned from the project?


There are a number of ways to achieve interoperability. The method available to the project was to transfer data from one e-portfolio into another but the JISC e-learning framework reference model project offers a potential alternative in that the data can reside in the original e-portfolio but can be drawn out by whatever system is currently in use.


IT skills of both students and staff may present a significant barrier. For example, one student had hardly used a computer before and felt that using an e-portfolio was too big an additional barrier to overcome to participate as a volunteer.


Electronic assessment of large pieces of written work such as portfolios presents a real barrier for staff who are used to flicking through and annotating paper versions. At its most basic level, electronic assessment limits the locations where staff can assess.


Resistance to change is always a barrier particularly where existing practice is successful and no big driver exists to adopt new practices. The additional benefits of technology need to be clearly stated and demonstrated.

Findings suggest that making e-portfolio optional, especially as part of assessed courses, will not help its take up.


Students are acutely aware of the importance of assessment and do not like to feel that they may be at a perceived disadvantage (real or otherwise) because the way they are preparing their work differs from what other students are doing.


Further Resources

ELP Project Website - www.elp.ac.uk

Stories from the regional pilots - http://www.jisc.ac.uk/whatwedo/programmes/programme_edistributed/regionalstories/elp.aspx

ELP Case Study Final Report

ELP Case Study 1 Access to HE

ELP Case Study 2 Access to LMU

ELP Case Study 3 UCAS

ELP Case Study 4 Workplace Assessments

ELP Case Study 5 e-Portfolio as Progress File

ELP Case Study 6 Transfer between HE institutions