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Higher Education Learning Portfolio for Placements (HELPP)

Lead Contact: Naomi Hoyland (nhoyland@hull-college.ac.uk)

JISC Programme: JISC e-Learning Capital Programme

Lead Institution and Partners: Hull College

 

Project Dates: March 2007 - March 2009

 

Case study tags: online learninge-portfolios,hull collegee-portfolios for assessment,employability drivers for e-portfoliose-portfolios for reflectione-portfolios for supporting learning processes

 

Background & Context

 

What is the background to the e-portfolio initiative?

 

Hull College had undertaken numerous trials to develop a VLE until successfully developing Moodle in order to fit with its requirements. At the time, however, Moodle did not offer some of the communication facilities that were becoming available on the internet.

 

Whilst many individuals had good context specific knowledge in using digital technologies there was little sharing of information and experience between Schools with overlapping curricula.

 

Social networking tools were recognised as being able to support a variety of collaborative teaching and learning methods. Pressure was developing within the College for an e-Portfolio and an e-ILP (electronic Individual Learning Plans) with very little grass roots understanding of the nature or the potential of these tools. A number of different products were proposed and whilst each had its own champions there was no consensus on what functionality was actually required.

 

The decision making process involved in securing an e-portfolio for colleges in FE is not particularly straightforward. There can be a range of influences impacting on the decision, for instance awarding bodies, Local Education Authorities and partner institutions in further and higher education may all have different e-portfolio developments in place.

 

From the outset Hull College believed that a 'one size fits all' product would be most useful from both an administrative and training point of view.

 

The Project developed as a result of previous work on e-portfolio development by the e-Learning team and a one year Higher Education Academy mini project completed with the course team for the Foundation Degree in Software Design to utilise Elgg as a means of maintaining communication with students, employers and tutors and encouraging reflection during Foundation Degree work placements.

 

Elgg had been tested in a minor way some years earlier within the College and had been judged to be stable. Elgg has a number of well developed features including; a profile area, a personal reflection space and a portfolio area.

 

What were the aims and objectives of the initiative?

 

Aims

 

The primary aim of the project was to make more effective use, institutionally, of social networking to encourage both reflective writing and sustained writing whilst raising awareness at both the institutional and individual levels of the opportunities for dynamic and positive engagement with students beyond the classroom.

 

The project also explored the benefits of the e-portfolio facility where images, sound and video could be used to record experience and reflections while critical evaluation could take place both peer-to-peer and tutor-to-student within the same working space.

 

As the main context of the project was work placements, it was necessary to encourage and raise awareness of social networking to provide three-way communications between student, tutor and work place mentor/employer.

 

Objectives

 

Learners, their respective employers and tutors will be aware of the technological advantage of the use of blogs in Elgg to encourage and enhance reflective practice by incorporating tutor and employer comment throughout the work placement.

 

To assess the extent to which the e-portfolio space has been used by students/employers to share and upload work to be assessed. Will learners, by using the e-portfolio space, be able to enhance the recording of work placement experience via sound, images and video of the work placement?

 

To develop a download facility to address the interoperability issues between e-portfolio systems, for all the files stored in Elgg and all the blog transcripts; so at a single button press, learners' e-portfolio work can be transferred onto portable media.

 

To deliver training to learners, employers and tutors in both a face-to-face and online mode and to pilot the system with learners, employers and tutors involved in work placements.

 

How was the initiative implemented?

 

The implementation strategy was to have two main phases with a midpoint view and final evaluation. The evaluation plan included the development of a set of questionnaires to answer research questions about the development of IT skills by students. These were created and implemented but ultimately no statistical analysis was carried out. Data was collected by the project team using discussion groups from which exemplars of practice have been produced along with feedback from learners to give the student perspective.

 

Phase 1 included

 

  • Elgg Server configuration and platform development
  • Initial development of preparation of the Elgg interface to deal with work based learning requirements
  • Internal promotion, preliminary demonstrations and pilot user recruitment
  • Workshop arranged
  • External promotion and development of informal external support network (including seeking advice from existing Elgg users)
  • Survey design
  • Mapping of processes
  • Survey of students to assess IT skills
  • Implementation
  • Stakeholder feedback
  • Review

 

End of first year review resulted in a decision to shift emphasis from tripartite communication to how to better integrate this type of facility into individual course design regardless of work placement availability.

 

Phase 2 included

 

  • Dissemination of lessons learned and recruitment to phase 2
  • Training events - to increase training opportunities for people involved in phase 2 pilot
  • Survey of students to assess IT skills
  • Implementation at course level
  • Stakeholder feedback
  • Case studies/video
  • Final evaluation

 

Technology Used

 

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

 

The e-tools used were Elgg and Moodle.

 

There is a still a view, strongly held by many, that e-learning is about 'distance' learning or that it is second best to face-to-face. The challenge is to demonstrate that technology can support and enhance learning and teaching in the classroom, in the workplace or in the home, wherever that may be.

 

Success Factors

 

What are the key outcomes of the initiative?

 

Tutors reported that they were able to control the student project more effectively, getting a richer picture of the project's progress over time instead of relying only on physical visits.

 

All course tutors felt that reflective practice had been enhanced and that time had been saved in dealing with work placements.

 

Student feedback and support has improved via the blog comments and online contract.

The online environment provided ongoing support that was not time and place dependent.

 

The Project succeeded in establishing a secure social networking system. There are two versions running which are stable and reasonably flexible in meeting needs the College's needs.

 

The Project aimed to make more effective use of social networking to encourage both reflective writing and sustained writing and are good examples of the development of these characteristics. Active participants seem to encourage others to write more and students with Dyslexia have been among the best contributors.

 

The blog modules have had far greater success than the e-portfolio module.

 

The College anticipated that students on A&D and Media courses would make extensive use of the e-Portfolio, yet, disappointingly, their use was modest.

 

Sufficient use was made to test the technology and Engineering students found that the ability to upload and share technical drawings extremely useful. In both Media and Photography, students preferred their already established Flickr areas. For the less AV biased the Project Team recognised that embedding of AV needed to be addressed in much the same way as they had addressed the Elgg implementation. To the surprise of the Project Team, Engineering really liked the e-Portfolio as it aided the methodological and structured approach to their work. They had 'missed' the 'presentation' module as navigation on Elgg is not intuitive, but intend to use it now they have found it.

 

Exemplars of working portfolios to use in staff development and staff induction have been produced. There is better understanding of what the various requirements are of an e-portfolio for a number of different curriculum areas.

 

The Project successfully established a successful methodology for introducing social networking into teaching practice at tertiary level. Elgg is not particularly intuitive and required some investment in time to get the navigational flow easy enough to use. There has been a move from a reliance on 'enthusiasts' or early adopters to having a number of communities of users who find the technology sufficiently usable for them to adopt and incorporate it into their course. Once the problem areas in navigation had been established it became possible for a wider range of users to understand its potential and try it.

 

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

 

Participant-centred reports for the individual School were made available and the needs of individual Schools collected to focus further development.

 

A feedback from staff and students identified training needs and a 'buffet' of mini courses open to all to support the use of technology in learning is now available. Dissemination is continuing. Internally discussion has become more focused on actual requirements.

 

Discussion is taking place with IT Services on the ways technical support can be provided to students in their own homes.

 

The opportunity for students to revise and update their portfolio through mobile technology has only been tested at the 'entry' level at the College and it is hoped to explore further the use of mobile devices to support portfolio development in work-based learning at higher education along with the use of wiki as further routes to engage work-based mentoring.

 

Lessons Learned

 

What are the lessons learned from the project?

 

It was very difficult to get work-based mentor buy-in. If workplace mentor participation was absent it didn't prevent valuable communication and oversight by tutors from taking place. It become clear that there was potential to hamper the development of Elgg as an important 'reflective and analytical tool if its use was over emphasised or restricted by requiring involvement of a third party, external, work-based mentor.

 

In training, emphasis had been placed on the use of the blog for specific modules of courses. It was an unintended consequence that in some cases when the module was complete, activity in Elgg stopped.

 

The initial project members came from a culture that was comfortable with the use of technology. The project failed to fully understand however that the project involved real cultural change for other groups.

 

Initially the Project relied too much on goodwill and enthusiasts; this is great but it is important to widen the base of expertise and motivate others as soon as possible.

 

One course dropped out of the project as a result of a tutor, who had been particularly supportive of the project, leaving and no other tutor on the course feeling able to pick up the use of Elgg. This highlights the need for team rather than individual involvement. Training must be given to whole course teams rather than just the enthusiastic individual volunteer.

 

Several staff changes in another course impacted upon the progress of the project. Reflecting on this at the end of the project the Project Team appreciated that some of the seeds for subsequent problems were sown by allowing the pilot to draw from too narrow a base.

 

Initial training should go beyond simply showing how to use the technology.

 

The Project regretted having to use the term 'social networking' but it is rather easier than 'computer mediated communication' and so the team looks forward to the development of better terminology.

 

It is important to survey both staff and student skills and provide the necessary support.

 

For most students the problems were not with the technology but with reflection itself.

 

Some interesting lessons were learned about user acceptance - tutor attitude is key to students' acceptance.

 

The project team believes that it overstressed the advantages of the blog when communicating with academic staff and this may have underlined the assumed relationship with social networking sites.

 

Students need practice on how to comment on others work - but this may not be necessary for all courses.

Feedback from lecturer to student is vital.

 

It is important to manage expectations - many students were disappointed to discover that Elgg was not like other social networking sites!

 

Guidelines are needed about student behaviour on and course expectations of the forum.

 

Further Resources

 

HELPP Website - http://helpp.hull-college.ac.uk