Encountering e-portfolios: A Mature Aged Student's Perspective

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Sandra Stewart

Sandra Stewart

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  • 1. Encountering e-portfolios, a mature aged student’s perspective.<br />Sandra J Stewart                                Student Charles Sturt University, Tafe New England. Animal Care. Tamworth Campus.<br />E-portfolios. If you had told me twelve months ago that I would be at an e-portfolio conference, let alone presenting a case study I would have disintegrated into a helpless ball of laughter. <br />I hated the word, let alone the idea, the concept or anything else to do with an e-portfolio. I was hoping never to have to deal with one again.<br />Why you ask?<br />Let’s back track to August 2008.<br />I had walked away from teaching in the NSW system after 27 years. I was devastated. My professional life, self esteem and confidence shattered. Getting up each morning took courage. For about two years I had wanted to start the Graduate Diploma in ICT Education through CSU but had never quite got there. In a moment of clarity I decided to apply and was accepted into the course. I did quite well in the first semester of 2009.<br />August saw me commencing my second semester of study at tertiary level after a 24 year break. I was excited at the thought of a new subject. Excitement at the thought of study is something that I feel as a mature aged learner but had never experienced as an undergraduate younger student. <br /> My fiftieth birthday was approaching like an express train and I vowed never to look in a mirror again.<br />Let me explain a little bit about my personality. If I was an Australian native marsupial I would be an Eastern Grey Kangaroo. (In my parallel life I am a wildlife rehabilitator, so the odd wildlife photo just might slip into this). Eastern Grey’s go into a mad panic at anything that they consider to be out of their norm by fleeing rapidly often in erratic, repetitive directions. This raises the heart rate causing more stress and more frantic responses. Some can calm down early enough, to realize that the threat was perhaps more perceived than actual. For others this reaction causes myopathy and death. I tend to react like an Eastern Grey, panic and become so overwhelmed that I cannot even see the task, a way to approach it or how I may get there. If I slow down I find out later that it is manageable.<br />This is what happened when I read the subject outline for Educational Applications of Educational Technology and came across the assessment tasks: <br />Assessment 1: Learning Contract or Action Plan. <br />Assessment 2: e-Portfolio. <br />When I had last studied I cannot remember creating plans for how to approach assessments and I had no idea what an e-portfolio was. I knew that it was online but I perceived it as more of a collection of visual works or investment details. I knew at a primary school level that school students often had them to accompany or instead of reports. These were a collection of tests and activities put into plastic sleeved books with the teacher orchestrating the whole procedure and little or no student ownership.<br />A quick internet search revealed that there appeared to be a multitude of e-portfolio types and uses eg<br />
    • personal learning
    • 2. to document achievements
    • 3. for telling the story of your learning
    and assessment, amongst others.<br />The bigger picture continued to elude me and had no clear idea of what I was trying to create or how. <br />We were told that PebblePad was the e-portfolio tool that was available from the university. I felt that as this was the case I should try to use it to make the e-portfolio even though, it was also new to me.<br />With so many unanswered questions, tears, uncertainties and the risk of failure I was considering pulling out of university and forgetting further study. It was all too confusing and unsettling. Like an Eastern Grey I was about to lie down and metaphorically die.<br />PebblePad was still in its early trial stages at CSU so many of the resources that are now in place were not yet available. I thought that it was the whole e-portfolio without realising that a webfolio was just one asset that you could create from a number of tools within it. <br />Thankfully I was not the only person that felt like they were drowning for the third time and a few of us over 45s joined to support each other through what we viewed at the time as a traumatic experience.<br />Why did I find this task so difficult? <br />As stated before I am like an Eastern Grey kangaroo. I have become aware that I am a ‘slow’ learner I really do take some time before the light switches on, possibly because I feel so overwhelmed when given a whole lot of information at once. <br />Since using PebblePad for my personal learning I recognise that I have never been taught or learned how to break down or ‘chunk’ a task, to make a plan. At times, I have a vision of the end product without knowing how to get there.<br />What pieces of the puzzle had been missing?<br />What an e-portfolio was<br />How to construct it<br />How to choose what to place in an e-portfolio<br />How to reflect on learning<br />Specific guidance for the tool I was using <br />I was given an online lesson by two members of staff with them linked into my computer, the light switched on and I was on my way.<br />I got through the semester and by the end had a fairly good handle on how to use several PebblePad tools. <br />Why anybody would want to bother with E-portfolios was still a bit of a mystery though.<br />I closed PebblePad and vowed never to work with it or e-portfolios again.<br />Never say never.<br />I walked into the vet clinic where I had been doing my certificate IV in Veterinary Nursing on and off for many years to pick up a wildlife rescue and realised how much I had missed the atmosphere, the animals and the work. My enrolment was still open, so with a couple of phone calls and some paperwork I was ready to recommence in 2010.<br />But...<br />What theory and prac work skills had I completed? What had I commenced but never handed in? As I had had no time limit for assessments there were many started, but still unfinished pieces of work. At the time I had been teaching up to five days a week and approaching each assignment like it was a university thesis, my theoretical tasks had taken a lot of time and were bigger than Ben-Hur.<br />Finding my work was an adventure in itself, as well as finished and unfinished paper copies I had assessment tasks on nearly every hard drive I owned and in many cases multiple copies on multiple hard drives. This was not forgetting, the important documents that were so carefully filed away that I couldn’t remember where they were. I am sure that some of the recording of my practical work is still somewhere...<br />I started thinking, albeit reluctantly, about the possibilities of using PebblePad to showcase my effort, without realising that it would perhaps help me to organise not only my completed tasks but myself. <br />I made an introductory page to start to tell my story and placing ten years worth of veterinary nursing theory and practical experiences into one area. When I viewed the webpage with its links to completed assessments and teacher marks and comments my learning story was both unfolding and being presented in one place. <br />Initially, this ‘working portfolio’ had an intended audience of one – me. Yet as I continued collecting, I could see how much work I had done and that it was perhaps an achievable goal to complete my certificate this year. <br />I later chose to submit my webfolio via PebblePad to my coordinator for the course to show her what I had done. Although some of the files were quite large it allowed her to look at my assignments, thus presenting her with a better understanding of my knowledge by examples rather than just marks. Presenting the e-portfolio contributed to my prior learning being recognised. <br />By compiling the work in one place I was able to develop a sense of pride in the standard of my work and the overall look and feel of the e-portfolio. I included a blog for myself to record my thoughts as my learning continued and copies of certificates and other related short courses. <br />What was the difference between these two experiences? Why was one positive and the other not?<br />I was now familiar with the tool that I was using to create an e-portfolio I was not struggling to learn how to use PebblePad and what an e-portfolio was and how to put it together at the same time. <br />My work was not going to be assessed but more importantly it was for me. I was the driving force behind it.<br />It was something that I could be proud of, a record of my achievements, an ongoing tool that could be contained in one place as the journey towards completion continued. <br />Its use was real and truly meaningful for my learning.<br />I started to become a fan of e-portfolios and saw possibilities for me to use them to record other experiences.<br />In 2010 I have used e-portfolios to complete assessments in two subjects, both in the last semester. Two were completed in Adobe and one in PebblePad. <br />The Adobe e-portfolios felt more ‘natural’ due to the contents being a collection work that had been completed in Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign. These fitted more my original idea of a collection of artwork. <br />My previous work in PebblePad had shown me the importance of creating a plan for one’s work so at times I either use its action plan tool or good old pencil and paper (which can then be scanned for the e-portfolio) for a more visual effect.<br />Once again, though, the whole idea felt a little strange and unnerving until the lecturer shared with us work from previous students, with their permission, during an online class. That visual impression of the possibilities helped many of us to get a better grasp of where we were heading for our own e-portfolios. As work was shared for appraisal and comments from other students in this subject we collaborated and supported each other.<br />PebblePad with its built-in reflection component had taught me to reflect on both my study journey and final pieces of work I included this in my first assessment and I noticed that in the second assessment other students too, were including reflections and telling their story more. <br />For me final assessment my lecturer made the following commented that if he could have give me bonus marks for my portfolios presentation and completeness he would have. <br />For my subject Online Communities and Social Networking we were asked to create a blog of weekly exercises in PebblePad. The lecturer was flexible and we were also able to create an e-portfolio if we chose to. <br />The gateway was opened and students were able to view, share and comment on each other’s work. Even though I knew that the comments would not affect marks for others I still found it hard to make comments on another person’s work from my own viewpoint on ownership. The opportunity was lost for me perhaps initiating the possibility for collaborative learning and feedback with peers during the subject.<br />Reflection was once again featured.<br />I also kept a blog in PebblePad for my journey in a subject during semester 1. <br />My favourite use for e-portfolios is to have a working e-portfolio, my space, for my thoughts and work. I set this up for subjects at the beginning of each semester they are a place where I keep comments on my readings, action plans for assignments and at times even a blog which would never be shared publicly. This builds up a story of my learning for the particular subject and comments from markers or forum conversations may also be included. As this is usually private it has both my working and final documents and provides a place that I can return to for help with continuing subjects.<br />Do I now work in an orderly manner? No. My weekly updates – so much for setting an appointment, just doesn’t happen. I still ‘butterfly’ with my work and although more organised than I was before I am still not systematic. <br />I regular complete action plans in PebblePad and used the activity tool to support my planning for this talk. <br />Where do I feel that I still fall short?<br />Academic and experiential critical reflection is still a tricky area and I don’t believe that I do it as well as I can or would like to. I have been working through the University of South Australian Critical Reflective Practice Module. (University of South Australia)<br />Choosing work to include in a showcase e-portfolio is challenge that I have not fully sorted out the criteria for. I have such a sense of ownership of my work that I tend to want to include everything.<br />I still put too many links and clicks in my e-portfolios<br />I have only just become brave enough to include multi-media such as videos.<br />To have had a better first engagement with e-portfolios, the following would have helped:<br />Some simple, brief and clear background information, general reading or overview on the concept and ideas behind e-portfolios.<br />Guidance on how to reflect and its importance. <br />Seeing examples of completed or ongoing e-portfolios would have supported the visual learner in me,<br />An online (in my case), or face-to-face demonstration of the tool early in the semester.<br />Perhaps a template for constructing the e-portfolio.<br />Student mentoring inside or outside the course<br />The use of ongoing feedback, not just marks for each assessment, I feel that this is one of the strength of e-portfolios, the capacity for ongoing consultation and communication with teachers which, in my experience so far, has been under-utilised.<br />Unfortunately for students e-portfolios are often introduced in the first instance as assessment tools. I see no way to avoid this but perhaps introduction could take place in such a way as to encourage students to become and remain engaged in the process. Eg A small portfolio of guided weekly thoughts on learning that gives you 5 marks for completion and up to 10 marks for quality<br />I am hooked on the idea and practical use of e-portfolios and will commence a Masters in Education next year. I hope to complete a research project on e-portfolios and possibly student engagement after they have been used for assessment.<br />My e-portfolios will journey with me in my future learning.<br />References.<br /> BIBLIOGRAPHY l 3081 University of South Australia. (n.d.). Critical Reflective Practice. Retrieved from University of South Australia: http://resource.unisa.edu.au/course/view.php?id=225<br />