Sunday, March 21, 2010

Proof of the pudding

For several years I have been talking about how an ePortfolio is such a good tool for professional development especially for midwives. This is specially in light of the requirements that New Zealand midwives have a professional portfolio to present evidence of their fitness to practice.

Last week I was able to test that premise in a 'real' professional setting - I presented my ePortfolio at my Midwifery Standards Review and I have to say that I came away with mixed feelings about what happened.

Open minds
On the one hand the reviewers were open to the concept of using different formats other than text. They were supportive of midwives who were not great writers, so in principle were happy with the idea of using other media to record reflections etc. The reviewers asked to see my ePortfolio but only gave me a couple of minutes to show them a page or two. Then they reverted to my paper portfolio which I had taken with me to be on the 'safe' side.

Lack of understanding
I thought they'd be concerned about issues of privacy but they didn't mention at all as a barrier to using an ePortfolio. They were interested in what I had to say, but didn't really appreciate the nuances of blogging - they didn't realize that I use my blog for ongoing reflection. To my mind that is far more beneficial than madly writing at the last minute just before a Review, which is what so many midwives do. The reviewers didn't really understand why I had included the comments to my various blog posts ...that the comments were also from non-midwives. But they could see how open discussion on my blog supports me and challenges my thinking further.

Things to think about
I was disappointed that the reviewers had not looked at my ePortfolio even though I had sent them the link several weeks before hand. To be fair to the reviewers, I think their lack of engagement was more because of their inexperience of online communication rather than a desire to block this particular media.

To my mind, an ePortfolio is about sharing and feedback, as well as providing the freedom to present material in media other than text. For ePortfolios to become an accepted practice in midwifery, in New Zealand, there needs to be a significant shift in knowledge and attitudes about online communication.

The future?
I do believe ePortfolios will be introduced to New Zealand midwives in the next few years. I think education will lead this as the five schools of midwifery go more and more in blended and online learning. However, until midwives engage more with each other online (developing their own personal learning environments), I cannot see the ePortfolio being much more than repository for certificates.

I'd be very interested to hear what you think.

Further reading
Graham Attwell. 14th March 2010. Rethinking ePortfolios.

Image: 'Christmas Pudding' jonno259


theother66 (formally MadMiller) said...

Hi Sarah

I've been watching your e-portfolio journey with interest.

This latest episode, although dis-heartening, was not surprising. There are still a lot of people in 'power' who just don't get the potential of the digital environment.

We often see visionaries like yourself having to walk through sticky treacle to lead the way, which is really tough at times.

You have however helped clear a little pathway in the thick forest of the online unknown for your colleagues.

Sharing your e-portfolio journey has helped other midwifes manage their re-accreditation process as well as connect to a wider professional learning network.

And your e-portfolio has been a great way for you to reflect on your continuing professional development, and how this applies to your work.

Don't let the inexperience of others stand in the way of your pioneering leadership :)

In a few years time you look back on this situation and laugh.

Keep on being the great leader and role model that you are.


Sarah Stewart said...

Thank you, Allison, these words of encouragement mean a lot to me especially as you have such a wide overview of this topic.

What I would to think about and develop one day is a research question that looks at ePortfolios for professional accreditation, especially for midwives in New Zealand...and maybe compare with paper portfolios. What will be interesting to know is how much paper portfolios are used for reflection and learning compared to ePortfolios (with the accompanying personal learning/environment network).

At the heart of this issue is the need to increase digital literacy of midwives (and health professionals in general).

Helen said...

Hi Sarah
Congratulations on making it through the review. I agree with Allison that you are leading the way, through sticky treacle (I love that analogy)to clear a path for the rest of us. And I want to join you.

I agree that we need to improve the digital literacy of health professionals, and I see so much potential in the e-portfolio for professional development and maintaining accreditation.

I am still searching for a tool that I can use to keep track of my Social Work learning activities, and I intend to start talking with the Australian Association of Social Workers about using e-portfolios to demonstrate learning and reflection. And I am expecting a similar experience to yours!

My problem at the moment is that other than a blog, or wiki, I can't seem to find a way to organise an e-portfolio. Mahara looks great, but needs to have a host somewhere, it's not really a stand-alone product. If you have any ideas about this - I'd love to hear them.


Sarah Stewart said...

Thanks, Helen, for your encouragement. But I am left with the question: why eportfolios? If midwives (and others) are quite happy with the paper version, and do not engage with digital learning in any shape or form, what advantage is an ePortfolio to them? What do you think?

willie campbell said...

I'm with all of your commentors- just see yourself as a leader in this field. I believe in e-portfolios. I am currently working with mahara, as I wish to work as an advisor with people who want to reflect privately. i understand that the need for a host is an issue here. I think that it all depends on how public you want your relfections and development to be. and while it might be very desirable to be quite public (as you have chozen to be) that takes quite a deal of confidence and not all have that. SO:
for those with confidence, go the blog way. for those that feel the need for a more securely protected space, try to find a host for mahara, because it does work very well.
Go well.

Sarah Stewart said...

Thank you, Willie - I continue to be very interested in how you use ePortfolios in your work - what do you feel are the advantages over paper portfolios?

I totally agree with you about open vs closed eportfolio...I am sure if/when the time comes, Midwifery Council would choose a closed system...and I appreciate why that would be.I'll be honest, I cannot be completely open in my reflections on my blog because I must protect the confidentiality of my clients and students, as well as my professional position. However, I would only encourage a system that facilitates some sort of feedback, peer review and interaction because I think that is such an important part of the ePortfolio process...and one of its great strengths compared to a paper portfolio.

Helen said...

Mm. Great point Sarah. I’ve taken some time before replying to have a think about this, and I have also started a post on my blog. I think Social Workers (and midwives, and other health professionals) are happy to use the paper versions of a portfolio or record of training and development activities because they think they don’t have any other real choice. And I wonder if they are really happy with the paper version, or do they sometimes wonder if there must be a better way to do this?

We are all looking for something simple, easy to learn how to use, easy to maintain and easy to send off to our professional association when the time comes for review and I see the enormous potential of the e-portfolio for professionals who need to keep a record of learning and development activities for their registration or accreditation review. In particular, I would like to see the Australian Association of Social Workers host e-portfolios - and I am preparing a paper to make this suggestion more formally.

E-portfolios are not something new that has been designed to make our life more difficult. It’s not something that is going to fade away overnight. E-portfolios are a way to keep track of our activities and reflections – our learning and development and e-portfolios have enormous potential to do even more for us, things we haven’t thought of yet. So I say let’s get involved now, and influence the design so it works for us. And when the new students come along, we can dazzle them with our insight and fresh ideas!

Sarah Stewart said...

Hi Helen, I suspect you are right about health professionals (and in that I include social workers) only keep a portfolio because they are compulsory. I wonder how many of them use them 'properly' a life-long learning tool? I must keep an eye out to see if there are any reports from Midwifery Council about how NZ midwives are doing with their portfolios.

Sarah Stewart said...

Here's a really good post that answers my question: why ePortfolio:

Sarah Stewart said...

Another great link:

Paul said...

At least the nursing profession has started the portfolio process, Sarah. Like you, I believe the this will mature in to use of eportfolios and hopefully this may increase the level of 'online connectedness' and sharing.

In the education space I notice some suject associations have vibrant communities, even if few in numeber. Maybe, as nurses become aware of the value in 'connecting' to others, they will do more of this.

Sarah Stewart said...

Thanks, Paul, for your comments. On the whole I believe health professionals are resistant to change. There tends to be an attitude that they are too busy saving lives so be worried about filling in a lot of needless paperwork...I've heard that time and time again about portfolios (paper or otherwise). My answer is encouraging adaption is always the same:

Make it fun
Role model
Make it relevant

cheers Sarah

Thinkbirth said...

I'm interested in the idea of e-portfolios and as an 'artful blogger', I'm wondering how confidentiality issues go with that, especially with the exploration of clinical conundrums of which there are many! Did you know Oz has MidPlus now and can keep their info on line with the Australian College of Midwives? What do you think of that resource Sarah? Yes, I think you are a leading light too, so don't worry about the panel, they'll get there. warmly, Carolyn

Sarah Stewart said...

Hi Carolyn, I just found out about MidPlus although I haven't been able to get in and have a look because I am not a member of the College of Midwives.

As I have said before, I know that when midwives take on ePortfolios they will want to do it in a closed environment - but I hope that whatever is eventually decided on allows for some sort of interaction - I stick to my contention that one of the advantages of ePortfolios is it allows greater feedback and networking....much more than paper portfolios.

@rdjfraser said...

Glad to hear you got to test drive it. I have to start keeping learning objectives for my continuing competence for nursing practice, so Im going to take a closer look at the idea. However, I hope I don't get to test drive the idea anytime soon ;)

Sarah Stewart said...

I have set up my ePortfolio framed around the traditional CV format. What you might think about doing is using each standard or competency as an individual section for your eportfolio. I was talking to a teacher about this the other day but I am blowed if I can find the link anywhere...when I do, I'll get back to you.