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H807 – Use of e-portfolios and blogging in Teacher Education

February 18, 2011

Julie Hughes the author of this case study really expresses my innermost thoughts. She reports how she introduced the use of e-portfolios and blogging in teacher education starting in the academic year 2005/06, the implementation problems she experienced, but also the tangible benefits that could be achieved using e-portfolios and blogging.

But let’s start with the context in which the e-learning approach was used.

E-portfolios systems, namely pebblePAD has been used with six cohorts of PGCE (post-compulsory education sector – 3 cohorts), Foundation Degree students (2 cohorts) and a group of PGCE mentors undertaken a PGCert in Mentoring at the Univerversity of Wolverhampton. The PGCE students are full-time students who are two days in a teaching placement and two days at university, contrary to part-time students (Foundation Degree) which attend university 2 evenings per weeks, but work full-time. A considerable number of students submitted e-portfolios for summative assessment. Hughes wanted to find out  if she could translate her successful face-to-face strategies for encouraging peer journal sharing and critical reflection into an online learning environment and how e-portfolios could support the dialectic approach. 2006-7 all PGCE students were introduced to the system and provided with workshops were provided for students and colleagues.

Implementation problems

However, Hughes experienced a couple of implementation problems based mainly on her colleagues attitudes towards the new technology and on the lack of a shared vision within her own team and school. The University did not have a clear strategic direction for the use of the platform and e-portfolios was not taken as seriously as other platforms, and not perceived as suitable for serious subject use. However, Hughes views VLE’s contrary to many of her colleagues as inadequate mean to support a dialogic approach. She claims that the ‘VLE (Virtual Learning environment) is still predominately used as a content management and delivery system which positions the learner as a passive recipient of chunks of information’ (Hughes, 2007).

Lacking attitudes from her colleagues is another problem that Hughes had to deal with. Colleagues did not took the new system seriously enough, were unable to separate the product from the learning processes it enables and were unwilling to negotiate power and allow learners greater learner ownership. ‘E-portfolio was seen as an informal student-driven activity rather than a powerful learning and teaching landscape’ (Hughes, 2007). Hughes report that she was made responsible for all minor problems, and as an early adopter as she considers herself, she reports how isolating and demotivating it can be to introduce and defend a technology that non of her colleagues really want to adopt. Hughes said only her strong passion and the positive feedback from her students carried her through the process. Below a brief list of the main problems:

  • lacking attitudes of colleagues
  • unwillingness to adopt new learning approaches and to negotiate power and allow greater learner ownership
  • Lack of shared vision within the institution,
  • e-portfolios are viewed as an additional rather than integral part to learning, reflection and progression, not taken seriously

Tangible benefits

Hughes reports from tangible benefits using e-portfolio and blogging in teacher education, when considered as a joined-up teaching and learning approach. Here is a list of the major benefits.

  • e-portfolios prompt and encourage a deeper learning approach, even meta learning
  • dialogic approach support the development of critical thinking
  • increased levels of satisfaction and significant development in student enthusiasm for e-learning activities and their later adoption into their own teaching
  • degree grades have shown a clear improvement in their ability to engage in reflection, their quality of reflective writing improved
  • approach adds value to the student experience by supporting widening participation, engagement with self as learner and employability

Karim Akhtar et al. 2006 reports from the student perspective:

  • online journal became a big part of our growth as reflective writer
  • blog tools and e-portfolios allowed to share thoughts, feelings, fears, anxieties and excitement, the shared space enabled to see the value in the perception of thought and beliefs of others in the group
  • space were we could feel safe from ridicule and criticism
  • flexibility of the e-portfolio meant luxury of time for our reflections, everyone had the opportunity to comment, something that can rarely happen in a classroom setting.

Karim concludes commenting and discussing their mutual journey as teachers helped them becoming reflective writers and practitioners without even knowing it.

Lessons learned

Reflecting back on the case study Hughes states that she intend to learn how to use digital media more effectively embedded in the fabric of the face-to-face classroom. That she needs to continue focusing on the learner, rather than the technology and that she intends to keep learning from her students, but also that she needs to develop a thicker skin to continue as an early adopter.

Innovation

I found this case study really innovative, probably because my view what counts as innovation changed and because that in my own professional context we are miles away from achieving that. I learned that an innovation is not necessarily comparable with a cutting-edge development.

This case study shows typical features we identified in our tutor-group.

  • it added value to the student experience
  • it brought a change, at least students were willing to engage with the new approach
  • it resulted in improved performance – in particular reflective writing was facilitated, community building and communication
  • it help to blur the boundaries between formal and informal learning – students were willing to continue beyond the real classroom

Well, regarding all the ‘evidence’ I would say that the case study was/is an innovative approach. Was, because in some institutions the use of eportfolios and blogs is common practice and taken for granted,  and is, because for some institutions this would be a real innovation.

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