ePortfolios: Preparing for the Profession

Embedding Course-based ePortfolios in Teacher Education

Innovation Showcase

Jennifer MundayCharles Sturt University; Karin OerlemansUniversity of TasmaniaCarole HunterCharles Sturt University 

Abstract:

There is great potential for the development of professional ePortfolios for pre-service teachers by embedding the process(es) into degree programs.  Stefani, Mason and Pegler (2007) have identified four types of ePortfolios: Assessment portfolios, that focus on learners collecting evidence to illustrate competence in subject areas; Showcase portfolios, that allow the learner to display their work in the form of an electronic curriculum vitae; Development portfolios, that support the tracking and planning of student learning; and, Reflective portfolios, that focus on self-assessment.  The advent of flexible and stable ePortfolio environments means that students can be shown a practical way to approach the collection of artefacts and supporting documentation in order to provide evidence of their learning and development, and encourage them to life-long learning beyond their degree study.

A progressive collection, reflection, arrangement and creation of ePortfolios enables students to engage in what Dym et al (2005) terms a ‘triple loop’ of learning: the demonstration of their learning and achievement to peers, academic assessors, and the profession. Students at Charles Sturt University (CSU) and University of Tasmania (UTAS) have been engaged in the first stages of ePortfolio creation where they’ve initiated Development and Showcase ePortfolios. There is an intention, where the ePortfolio process(es) can be embedded into various stages of a pre-service degree, for the ePortfolio to be adapted to each of the types identified by Stefani et al in answer to the need, or task set, to progressively build an ePortfolio that responds to a student teacher’s future professional practice.

Although the process(es) of ePortfolio have been used at CSU and UTAS for several years using a variety of applications or tools to produce them, the management of both universities have recently provided Pebble Pad, a very flexible and reflective ePortfolio environment, for the use of students and staff to create any type of ePortfolio.

The showcase will include examples of student ePortfolios at different stages of their pre-service study, demonstrating various types of ePortfolio.  The steps of planning will be discussed, which resulted in the showcase examples. These examples demonstrate the need to have a clear purpose in mind for each stage of the degree and the type of ePortfolio required for that phase, within the overall design. 

This presentation also marks the beginning of a collaborative project between CSU, UTAS and Latrobe University, which will examine the usage and embedding of ePortfolios at the degree/course level across undergraduate and postgraduate programs.  The new project will address the issues of: determining a clear purpose of an ePortfolio; determining the scope of implementation; relating the Portfolio to the curriculum; potential contents for an ePortfolio; preparing users to use the ePortfolio and the institutional readiness for using ePortfolios.

The UTas Experience

Background

Our course is a two year graduate entry program. Whilst a portfolio has been used  in the course previously, this was hard copy, a composite sample of which I will include here. This took the form of what Costantino and De Lorenzo call an exit portfolio (2009), presenting a “final selection of materials that provide evidence of … mastery related to performance standards” in our case the Tasmanian Teacher’s Registration Boards’ Graduate Standards.

Prior portfolio and ePortfolio use

Our Faculty has used a portfolio previously as a hard copy document, a collection of work throughout the two year course from which students select evidence demonstrating their understanding and ability to meet the relevant standards. Students are introduced to the portfolio requirements in first semester of the first year and are given an introductory task, asking them to engage with four of the TRB elements, through explanation and reflection. This is the beginning of what Costantino and De Lorenzo call a working portfolio, and throughout the course, students collect further evidence, linked to the TRB standards, to “document their growth and development” (2009, p. 3). Evidence collected includes their teaching philosophy, practicum reports, lesson and unit plans, behaviour management plans,  and their professional learning plan. However, a working portfolio, the collection of physical artefacts is not without its problems. One of the problems frequently cited by the students is the loss or misplacing of important artefacts. Another is the immense size, sometimes two or three ring binders of work is collected over the course of the 2 years, and further, students have difficulty identifying what they wish to include in their final exit portfolio.

In the final semester students are required to turn their working portfolio into an exit portfolio, using the Costantino and De Lorenzo (2009) model. At this time students are asked to select the best evidence, and link it to specific TRB standards. Students have to introduce each artefact, explain the evidence, relating to what they have learned in the course, and reflect on their learning,  including taking the opportunity for self and peer reflection.  In 2008 students were given the option of submitting their portfolio as hardcopy or submitting it electronically, which is in reality an electronic version of their physical portfolio, but one containing digital artefacts (Stefani et al, 2007). All students submitted their work in hard copy, although many students included digital artefacts such as CD’s with video, slide shows and teaching performances.

Pebble Pad as a flexible environment for ePortfolio

This year PebblePad has been introduced to students as a flexible alternative. The first group to gain access are our Department of Education scholarship students. These students are engaged in an extended practice program, where they spent two weeks at the beginning of the school year in school, and during the course of semester a further one day a week. They also complete a 4 week block practicum in the same school. As part of their program students have to complete a reflective portfolio, as part of their ongoing working portfolio. E‑Portfolios have the advantage of offering greater flexibility for pre-service teachers, ease of access at any time, not having to carry around large physical files of evidence. Kilbane and Milman (2003, cited in Costantino & De Lorenzo) found that they also increased creativity, gave proof of teacher technology skills, enhanced student self confidence and were easier to disseminate to the broader community. For our group who furthermore had ready access on their DoE supplied laptops, it was decided to use the opportunity offered by PebblePad. Pen State University (cited in Stefani et al, 2007) define an ePortfolio as “personalized, web-based collections that include … reflective annotations and commentary related to these experiences” (p. 9).

PebblePad defines their ePortfolio as more than a display of artefacts, they see the portfolio as learning tool, a “system which allows users, in any of their learning identities, to selectively record any abilities, events, plans or thoughts that are personally significant; it allows these records to be linked, augmented or evidenced by other data sources and allows the user to integrate institutional data with their personal data”. We gave our pre-service teachers the opportunity to use the full PebblePad functionality, options were given to utilise any of the  PebblePad assets, but students had to include a reflection on the evidence, provide an explanation, and link it both to the TRB and to other learning covered in the course.

First stages of embedding ePortfolio into a Course structure

Placing an ePortfolio into a course does not necessarily mean an automatic improvement in learning or outcomes. At UTas, no doubt it would have been easier to start at the beginning of the 2 year course and embed the ePortfolio as we went. However, as with any change, this means not just training students, but also staff in the use of the software, as Stefani et al (2007) highlight, there is an issue of e-learning maturity of an organisation to be considered when implementing ePortfolios. Not only that, but it requires some consideration for infrastructure and teaching schedules, our largest teaching computer lab in Hobart contains 20 computers. A small group with which to trial the software, its acceptability to the students, and its usefulness, even though in their final year, was considered a better option. The ePortfolio will be extended to the rest of the final year cohort in second semester, as they develop their exit portfolios, and on completion of our evaluation of the process, this may then be extended to the following year’s first year cohort. The current group had great flexibility in utilising the software, but at UTas intend to create a PebblePad TRB Standards Profile for future use; this will make it easier for marking and assessment of the final portfolio submission.

Examples and outcomes

The students enjoyed using the software, and found it easy to use. They had no hesitation in personalising their ‘homepage’, enjoyed sharing their work, and explored readily the various asset options, thoughtsplansabilities and achievements. They attached various digital artefacts, photos, lesson plans, and work samples. Work was submitted in stages, and students were given feedback  on their work using the comments option. But despite time spend in class on the system, and successful submission by all students in the group of work through both asset sharing and the gateway, when it came to the final submission of the portfolio, not all students chose to submit using the ePortfolio system.

Obstacles

Of the 20 students 6 chose to hand in their work in hardcopy and one on a DVD. The student who submitted on the DVD chose to do so as he had created a website outside of PebblePad, because he wished to embed video, and could not upload this through the ePortfolio system as it was too large. This is not a problem with PebblePad, but rather with UTas, which has a 10MB upload limit, his final portfolio came in at more than twice this size. This was not the only student who experienced this problem and will be something that needs to be considered, especially for those wishing to use video or add files larger than 10MB.

There were some issues with PebblePad as students had difficulties in opening the system outside of the university, one student reported that it frequently closed on her, or simply did not respond. There was also a problem with students not receiving feedback when successfully sharing or uploading their work through the gateway “I don’t know what information you receive or see regarding Pebble Pad. I hope you have received things and I apologise if you have more than 1 copy … I stopped re-sharing them after about 2-3 times”. And another student who submitted  both through the gateway and via email attachment wrote: “I did publish my assignment to the gateway, but I’m paranoid and want to make sure you get it.  Plus I’m not sure if I published it in a manner that you’re able to comment on it, or whether it does that automatically”.  And students were concerned with the word count, not sure how to measure this in PebblePad, which does not have this function.

And finally two of the six students who handed their work in as hardcopy portfolios did so because they found “the task more difficult” through PebblePad (student one). And “I found pebble pad too fragmented and confusing. I need to be able to look at the big picture to get my head around it” (student two).

Finally, there was one student who had difficulty getting on the web at all outside of University, Tasmania has a number of large ‘internet black spots’ where there is  no access to internet connections. When designing courses using ePortfolios we must take into consideration that not everyone has equal access to the internet and so consider carefully other options and alternatives. It is essential that we perhaps do not limit the students to one package, such as PebblePad, but explore alternatives for those who do not have ready access.

References

Costantino, P., M., & De Lorenzo, M., N. (2009). Developing a professional teaching portfolio: A guide for success (3 ed.). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education.

Dym, C. L., Agogino, A. M., Eris, O., Frey, D. D., & Leifer, L. J. (2005). Engineering design thinking, teaching, and learning, Journal of Engineering Education, 94(1), p. 103-120

Stefani, L., Mason, R., & Pegler, C. (2007). The Educational Potential of E‑Portfolios: Supporting Personal Development and Reflective Learning. Oxon, OX: Routledge.

Further Reading:

Poot, A., Oerlemans, K., Kertesz, J., Hawkins, C., & Eversole, R. (2009). Supporting learning partnerships through the use of ePortfolios. Proceedings 8th Teaching Matters Conference: Partnerships for learning: On campus and beyond, UTAS, Sandy Bay, TAS

©2009