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e-Portfolios Informing and Supporting Teaching, Learning and Evaluation


Lead Contact: Dr P Brett (P.Brett@wlv.ac.uk)

JISC Programme: DeL Regional Pilot Projects

Lead Institution and Partners: University of Wolverhampton (L), Birmingham New Technologies Institute/Birmingham City University (formerly University of Central England), Telford College of Arts and Technology Wolverhampton City College, Rodbaston College, Kidderminster College, Shirelands Language College, Leasowes Community College, Midlands Leadership Centre, Black Country Pathfinder 14-19 Networks for Excellence


Project Dates: April 2005 - July 2007


Case study tags: online learninge-portfolios,university of wolverhamptone-portfolios for applicatione-portfolios for assessmente-portfolios considerations - identity managemente-portfolios considerations - authenticatione-portfolios considerations - customisationemployer perspectives on e-portfoliose-portfolios for evidence and presentatione-portfolios considerations - implementatione-portfolios considerations - interoperabilitye-portfolios considerations - it skillslearner perspectives on e-portfoliose-portfolios considerations - legale-portfolios considerations - storage,e-portfolios considerations - technical supportwidening participation drivers for e-portfolios


Background & Context


What is the background to the e-portfolio initiative?


The ePISTLE project implemented the use of e-portfolios in two schools and three further education colleges in order to explore the integration of e-portfolios into the curriculum, the issues with the use of e-portfolios for transition and progression, the issues of access and storage and the factors which influence the use and non-use of e-portfolios.


Many Higher Education institutions are experimenting with different ways of delivering Personal Development Planning (PDP), a significant feature of the progress file promoted by the QAA. e-Portfolios present one such option with the potential to celebrate all forms of learning: formal and informal; institutional and non-institutional; structured and eclectic. They offer something for all kinds of learner whether at some stage of transition between levels of learning, moving to or seeking employment, or simply recording achievement for the purposes of self-knowledge and self-worth.


The University of Wolverhampton is the lead HEI for the recruitment of students from disadvantaged backgrounds, with more than 50% of its entrants from this group. It has been working to improve the performance indicators relating to its retention and recruitment of these students. Alongside this, it has been working closely with feeder colleges and with the schools who provide the students to the colleges. The e-portfolio is emerging as a key tool which may assist both with the retention and progression of students to higher levels of learning.


What were the aims and objectives of the initiative?


The three main aims of the project were to understand how e-portfolios are used by learners and assessing bodies when submitted as a means of assessment to understand how best e-portfolios can be embedded in the curriculum and what classroom processes, training and materials might best assist this and observe and evaluate if, and how e-portfolios support the process of transition and progression between different educational institutions and/or employers.


These were to be achieved by a number of objectives including to:


  • set up the technical infrastructure to support learners at the partner institutions
  • develop and implement the support mechanisms (training, materials and guidelines) necessary for teachers and learners to best embed e-portfolio use in the curriculum
  • evaluate the factors which motivate learners to commit evidence to their e-portfolio
  • research the skills or abilities suitable for recording at each level of learning and evaluate how these competencies are most appropriately (or most widely) evidenced
  • appraise the processes designed to manage applicational e-portfolios in educational or work contexts
  • organise and describe the kinds of evidence that institutions or employers value in a learner's e-Portfolio
  • evaluate how institutional mechanisms can be modified to accredit diverse forms of learning


How was the initiative implemented?


The overall approach was to integrate the use of e-portfolios into the curriculum of groups of school and college students. This involved working with partners to identify tutors, groups and curriculum areas. The tutors were then trained in the pedagogic aspects of e-portfolio use as well as the software features of e-portfolios used in the study. Tutors and learners received on-going support during the project.


The early months of the project in 2005 involved the selection of the two e-portfolios to be used (ePET and PebblePad), the hardware purchases and installations of the software. It also involved working closely with the Kidderminster team on understanding and starting to install Shibboleth.


Following significant problems with the implementation of Shibboleth, technological and pedagogic training of all key staff across the partner institutions took place. A key element of this was integrating the use of e-portfolios into the curriculum. During the same period, students were introduced to e-portfolios.


Once the use of e-portfolios was underway, research was carried out to gather and analyse data for the project. Research methodologies included interviews, focus groups and questionnaires to provide a range of data sets.

The project was extended to examine the project aims over a longer period and broaden the user base in certain partner institutions. Leasowes Community College, for instance, extended their project by 250 students which included the whole of the year 10 cohort.


Technology Used


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


The early months of the project in 2005 involved the selection of the two e-portfolios to be used in the project (ePET and PebblePad), the hardware purchases and installations of the software. The Birmingham partner used the ePET software.


It also involved working closely with the Kidderminster team on understanding and starting to install Shibboleth. There was a variety of problems with the implementation of Shibboleth, some to do with technical aspects of Shibboleth installation, some due to control of local networks. These problems caused considerable delay in being able to train local staff and also with the running of hands-on sessions with e-portfolios for students. During this time the project team made many unfruitful visits to the partner institutions, ready to train only to come across access problems. The resulting loss of confidence took considerable and gargantuan effort by the team to restore.

The Shibboleth problems were resolved in all partner institutions apart from Shirelands School as it was found their network could not handle 40+ users. The main problem was the changing of student profiles affecting PC performance and access, which was later resolved by the University in consultation with the network provider, RM. These students were subsequently invited to the University to use the e-portfolio in late February 2006.


Success Factors


What are the key outcomes of the initiative?


The project produced an in-depth set of guidelines and policies for the use of e-portfolios, by learners and institutions (see Further Resources).


The project achieved the set-up of an e-portfolio system for colleges and a school to allow local access, although this proceeded at differing rates according to local circumstances. Via an e-mentoring system, training enabled e-portfolios to be embedded into the curriculum in almost all participating sites. Exploitation was most effective when there was synergy between the processes promoted by use of an e-portfolio and the processes inherent in the course, such as the Medionics course at Leasowes Community College and at Telford College with the PCE.

Generally e-portfolios were widely used to record and review personal reflections on learning, but that sharing of this material on a group level was less frequent. One-to-one sharing with tutors was more prevalent and very highly valued. There was caution expressed by some users in the sharing of material online. The project achieved an understanding of user intentions and attitudes towards the purposes of an e-portfolio, notably its use for employment applications.


The project achieved an understanding of the value of e-portfolios in, for example, the recording of reflection as part of teacher education. However, concerns were raised and requirements emerged that would be central to specifying how best to deploy e-portfolios as evidence for progression or accreditation. Those tutors who were both admissions tutors for their courses and project users of e-portfolios were in a particularly valuable position to advise on best practice for use of e-portfolios for admission.


Employer concerns did not feature largely as the concept is still new for employers and employers were not active partners in the project.


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


An e-portfolio user conference was held at the University of Wolverhampton on 13 July 2006. The event, called Telling Stories attracted over 80 delegates/participants. Students and teachers from three of the ePISTLE project partners spoke at the conference.


Lessons Learned


What are the lessons learned from the project?


The overall conclusion would be that while e-portfolios are of benefit to learners and their organisations, more work is needed to investigate the feasibility of the passport model which links stages of learning through practical application. Users need to have a clear demonstration of the longer term benefits of using an e-portfolio. The wide scale adoption by employers could pull through demand along the whole chain. Mentoring as a support process is also key to embedding the concept at a number of levels.


Acknowledgement of different entry points for teachers depending on belief in the value of reflection in learning, the nature of the curriculum, their student cohort, and the opportunities, constraints, intentions, and learning outcomes sought, are all fundamental elements of successfully enabling use of e-portfolios in the curriculum.

The key issues identified for the use of e-portfolios as evidence for transition include: admissions tutors' time; establishing equitable criteria for evaluating e-portfolio submissions; authenticity; levels of entry; diversity in subjects, disciplines and professions; incorporation of authenticated transcripts.


For learners, the key factors which have been observed are perceived relevance; motives, incentives; available time of teachers' and students'; group factors; social networks; lifestyle/peer influences. A key expectation of project participants was "what happens next?"


The methodology used to upskill teachers, to embed the e-portfolio use into the curriculum, and to introduce and support learner use worked well.


The implications for the IT infrastructure and processes in institutions of secure preservation, storage and access is key. The main issues identified are: access and authentication; interoperability, storage; confidentiality; data security; trouble-free operation of underlying authentication protocol to underpin user connection. The earliest possible consultation with the relevant IT support departments is essential, even before principal signatories commit to participation. Resolution of all relevant technical mechanisms well before users engage would be ideal.


The significance of ePISTLE for the future is that despite variations in user experience across the project, there was general acceptance that the principle of an e-portfolio was a useful one, particularly when underpinned by concepts of PDP, CPD and so on. e-Portfolio owners expressed an interest in ownership of their work independently of institutional obligations of continuation, and school students particularly appreciated that they could showcase their work and progress effectively. If the central principle of individual ownership can be combined with institutional benefit in incorporating this into evaluation and admission processes, then this would be a good foundation for future development.


Further Resources


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

ePISTLE Final Report

ePISTLE Guidelines 2 Entry to HE

ePISTLE Guidelines 3 Transition

ePISTLE Guidelines 4 Storage and Access

ePISTLE Guidelines 5 Use and Non-use

ePISTLE Learning Plans