Wednesday, November 7, 2007

E-portfolios, communities of practice and education

I attended a very interesting session this morning. Russell Butson who works for the University of Otago, is currently involved in a project working with the Dental School. He has developed an e-portfolio for students and dental practitioners as well as a social networking platform that students use for collaborative work.

There appears to be two elements to Russel's project. The first element is the e-portfolio itself. This is the digital repository where people put the artifacts about their professional practice. This is being driven by the statutory and professional requirements that most health professionals including OTs, nurses and midwives have to fulfill in New Zealand. So I identify that I have a need to update my skills with perineal suturing - I attend a workshop-workout a program for developing my skills which may include asking someone to supervise me-I reflect on how I have done and plan how I will maintain my skills. I write this up and upload into my portfolio. I may have to scan documents like my 'certificate of attendance' into my portfolio as a means of verifying my activities as well as a reference from my supervisor to acknowledge my competency. Of course, there are a number of issues to address, not least the computer skills and confidence of practitioners, but in the long run this is a lot easier to manage for both the practitioner and auditors/professional bodies to manage than hundreds of different pieces of paper.

Working backwards from the professional portfolio for registered practitioners is the development stage that is carried out in the undergraduate program. This is the reflection, problem solving, development and collaboration that is done before the final product is produced, which then goes into the portfolio. To do this, Russell has built a social networking platform not dissimilar from Facebook and Bebo which forms communities of practice amongst the students. Interestingly, teachers have very little input into this - it is completely led by the students.

I don't think I have described this very well and probably have to go back to my notes so I can clarify things. Suffice to say, the messages that came home to me are that the software and ideas are already out there, so don't spend heaps of money re-inventing the wheel, especially if the software is open source.

The second discussion is not to focus on tools but think about your principles and goals and use the tools to fit those and not the other way round. If we have a set curriculum that works only one way, introducing a social networking collaborative model/platform/community of practice may not work if the curriculum does not support those ways of teaching/learning.

Use the professional frameworks that are out there for registered practitioners and bring them into undergraduate education. In other words, if midwives have to have a portfolio, get students to start thinking about developing goals, reflecting on their learning, gathering evidence and so on before they even leave the program. This is what I am getting the third year students to do next year although it will still be in paper form. But I would suggest that this needs to be ongoing right from the beginning of the degree program.

I would be very interested in hearing from anyone who uses e-portfolios either as a means of teaching/learning or in a professional capacity.


Carolyn McIntosh said...

So sorry I missed this. I think in our school we have been working on developing reflective skills with students for some time. These reflective processes are scattered throughout the various papers or parts of the course starting in the first year. I really like the idea of introducing students to portfolios form the very beginning of the degree program and eportfolios seem to be a good way to go. I am interested in the social networking tool. I wonder if Russell had any compulsory contribution requirement for the students. I can see that the type of reflection and sharing that students do together will be different to that which occurs in the presence of a lecturer or facilitator, however how do they know if the information they are sharing is accurate? Is there a danger that misinformation will be spread?

Carolyn McIntosh said...

Great flickr photos, thanks Sarah. And thanks for the social event this afternoon. Loved it.