Dienstag, 5. November 2013

ePortfolio - Fulfilling its Potential?

Before I get into it more, I’d like to quickly recap my connection to ePortfolio for all who are new to this blog. When I started my teacher training program one of my teachers, who is a big believer in all-Web 2.0 related teachings, started the implementation of an ePortfolio. The plan was to use it mostly for the practical training, but we also started getting more tasks and tried to use more than just one feature. This point wasn’t that easy because the version of our platform was slimmed down so much, that it made working with it in any capacity more stressful than fun. Starting my second year my university signed off on a research project about the use of ePortfolios in teacher education, where I started working as well. We are finishing up this project soon and I will post a nice page summarizing and showing everything we did.
During that time I was part of presentations at conferences, articles and also wrote a specific Mahara Manual for our student teachers. I also held workshops for a different university, for non-teaching students and helped them get to know ePortfolios and so on. The latest big thing was my Bachelor thesis  which I finished in the beginning of the year about, yes you guessed it right, the use of ePortfolios in teacher education.
So what I want to write about was sparked more by the experience with people not in teacher education and their acceptance and/or use of it rather than the topic I’ve been involved in very much the last couple of years.

Thinking back on how we started with the first version of our platform, it is almost unthinkable how different everything is now. Not only are we doing much more with it, we actually CAN do more with it. The main point of use for ePortfolios was for us to share our reflections and other documents with our teachers. We also used the group feature, which enabled us to somewhat work collaboratively. The limitations we encountered had nothing to do with us not getting proper work or enough work, it was simply because the system was not capable of doing more. Having said that, I am still sometimes surprised how it is used by some course leaders.
There are especially two examples that bothered me. For one of the workshops the only thing we had to introduce to the students (extra occupational Masters students) was how to create a folder, upload documents and put them on their page and make it available for their teachers to see. I get it that they have a lot to and that the main reason is that their teachers doesn’t have to deal with them sending them a bunch of Emails. But as much as I endorse the use of ePortfolios, if that is the only reason you want to implemented it, then I’d have to say that Dropbox offers the same thing with easier access and installation. Don’t just use for the sake of using it. 
Especially with these kind of students, it would be a great opportunity for them to really dig into it and use it as a presentation portfolio. In todays world, regardless of occupation, it will only be a positive thing if you show your employers or partners that you are creative, you know your way around the internet and computers, and can make your CV look professional. That is one of the things that I mentioned to them randomly; their version has the integrated Europass, that is pretty cool to use. I think if you sell it the proper way it can be useful for these kind of students, besides their obligatory duties at the university as well. It offers many possibilities but they all go to waste so easily if you don’t recognize them.

My second issue was with an extra occupational Bachelors Course. They had complained about their students forgetting a lot of the usage of the platform in the previous years since their courses were every two weeks, and they didn't get regular tasks to work on. We came in to do almost the same introductory course as for the course I mentioned above, but this course also had to write a blog, feedback their peers and their uploads and make it more personal by filling in the biography and trying to make it look better. Of course there will always be students who engage more in the things they are tasked with, so these are not the students that would worry me. I’m worried about the students who simply don’t care. This fact combined with their previous experiences that they seem to forget a lot should make me, as the course leader and teacher, think about how I can get them to be more active. Now the same things can be employed as with the Masters students, sell it to them as something useful and something they can all use in their personal lives as well. It sounds easy, and I know that even this way, people will not care. But why not make a Blog about their Jobs? Since these students all have a similar background, or at least a similar outlook, since they study the same specific program, they would definitely find common ground in their various jobs and experiences.
Obviously its just a random idea, but just like before, there is the potential to do more and engage them. This engagement in any work can also prevent problems of non-use that arose in previous courses.

I have to say that my background with this kind of work might be totally different. I have experienced everything I’d like to think. Beginning with a very basic version to new versions where we fully integrated our CV, we write Blogs, share material, collaborate and reflect etc.

Regardless I think the key with every tool is to know about its full potential, otherwise you might waste energy, while you and your students could be working more efficiently than before.

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