Sunday, June 12, 2011

Dithering about ePortfolio

In my role as midwifery lecturer at Griffith University, I have been given the job of sorting out ePortfolio for the undergraduate midwifery students. And I have to admit I've been going round and round in circles thinking about this.

Midwifery students
The undergraduate midwifery students are required to do a number of things throughout the three year course:
  • Maintain reflections about their clinical work
  • Record their placement hours
  • Record details about the work they do with their midwifery clients, including recording client information
  • Lodge skills sheets when they are signed off
  • Lodge clinical assessment sheets when they are completed
These elements are required throughout the course because they are evidence that the students have met statutory requirements to become registered midwives. At the moment, the students have several places in the institution's learning management system, BlackBoard, where they lodge these elements - the system is confusing and disjointed and quite honestly, I don't know how the students manage with it because it totally bewilders me.

Institutional requirements
I have been asked to sort this out and recommend an online platform or process that will manage this. We are calling the system we require "ePortfolio" but to be honest I think we are really looking for a repository rather than a tool for learning. Nevertheless, here are a few things that the platform or tool must be able to do from an institutional viewpoint:
  • Provide a secure place to store confidential information
  • Able to upload documents
  • Have the ability to be private and to make aspects public
  • Easy for lecturers to access
  • Easy for students to develop and maintain
  • Not too expensive - I am not sure if the institution would want to maintain the platform itself or outsource it
My wish list
Here is what I would like the platform to do as a midwifery educator, who is not only concerned with the here and now but also looking into the future when the students become registered midwives:
  • Use multi-media to support all learning styles
  • Accessible using mobile devices
  • Support networking and conversation ie the ePortfolio is not an isolated artifact but rather a member of an ePortfolio community or network
  • Support networking beyond the ePortfolio community into the wider online world so students can network with midwives beyond the institution
  • Student has complete control over the technology
  • The ePortfolio is portable, and the student can continue to use it as a registered midwife and no longer a student at Griffith University
  • The ePortfolio can plug into professional and occupational systems such as employing hospitals, Australian College of Midwives and Australian Nursing Midwifery Council.
Institutional ePortfolio platform or cloud-based blog?
For years I have been advocating the use of blogs and wiki for ePortfolio. I use a blog and wiki and really enjoy it - I would not move to anything else now. But...I am a "mature" midwife with many years of professional experience under my belt. I understand the pitfalls and nuances of online communication as well as professional and legal confidentiality.

But the concerns about how students manage confidential client information and how they behave online have moved the blog as an ePortfolio into the "too-hard" basket. And so I have been on the verge of recommending a ePorfolio system like Mahara or Pebble Pad.

Going full circle
In the last few days I have come full circle and started to look at blogs again. There are a few reasons for this. The first reason is a very pragmatic one - Griffith is taking too long to decide what platform it wants to move to. I need to get up and running with a system by next February and the new academic year. But more important, Martin Wellor has just reminded me of all the reasons I dislike ePortfolio software, in his blog post: Eportfolios - J'accuse.

At the same time, the people who have left comments on this post have raised some valid points. In particular I agree with Clare Davies who doubts her students will blog "voluntarily". I doubt my midwifery students will do any more than they have to because their course is extremely busy, and I cannot say I blame them. At the same time, they will have to become used to maintaining a portfolio and reflecting on practice when they are midwives because of statutory and professional requirements when they become registered.

So what next?
I've come to the conclusion that the next thing for me to do is have a play with Blogger and see if I can get it to work in a way that meets my wish list as well as the critical expectations of the institution. And I might also set up an account in Mahara, and then do a comparison.

The truth of the matter is this whole area needs a decent research project. I don't know how much longer I can go on banging the drum about midwifery ePortfolio without taking a really critical look at the issue, and not just relying on my own personal experiences. Maybe I have just found my topic for my EdD?!

I'd love to hear from anyone who uses cloud platforms like Blogger, Google Sites and/or wiki for ePortfolio to meet professional requirements - what are the pros and cons as far as you are concerned?

If you want to know more about ePortfolio, a very good overview is provided by JISC infoNet: ePortfolios. If you're interested in how you can use cloud tools for ePortfolio, have a look at the way Helen Barrett uses Google Sites and Blogger for her Professional Portfolio.

Image: 'Green ./. Blue'


Barbara Nicolls said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Barbara Nicolls said...

Hello Sarah
It is interesting to read about your thoughts on e-Portfolios. I feel I am in the same boat here in the UK. I have tried to use the Porfolio element in Bb - the institution's VLE as a student as well as a tutor of EAP for nursing.I myself find it rather cumbersome though some UKHEIs have done a pretty good job setting up the system for their students. I have used PebblePad for my annual CPD reflections - I say annual because I don't go in regularly due to my busyness at work. You have realised that as well with your students. However, I use Google Sites for recording and reflecting on my gardenining experiences, my studies etc and because it is my own creation, I visit them regularly and update the contents. It is the ownership factor which motivates me.

Recently, a new course was validated - the Operating Department Practioner Programme (Pre-qualifying)where the course team embedded a Google Sites e-Portfolio for the purpose of learning through reflection and assessment for learning. We tried Foliospaces as wll but we agreed GS was much simpler. Since I had had experience with Google Sites,we worked together on developing a sample site for the validation committee. It went down very well.

The team had set up templates for the students to use, copy or adapt - About Me, Reflections with a reflective model as a scaffold. The tutor would then have to be invited to view or comment on the work done- my experience using GS with the PGCLTHE is that the students feel empowered by this - they can invite who they want to and when they want to which could be a disadvantage for the tutor if formative assessment is to be encouraged. This needs to be made clear at the outset.

The advantage with using GS is that students can see the potential of other Web 2.0 tools for recording their reflections. They will already have acquired the transferrable skills when they graduate and have to use the RCN (FOR EXAMPLE) e-Portfolio system. While the institution is dithering, we as practioners need to be developing our students' reflective and critical thinking skills so why not use what we have got and enhance our students' learning?

Do we want the students' system to be linked to the institution's for the purpose of assessment? for monitoring progress? Then it could be deviating from our main purpose - student learning through reflection.

Anyway, I will be following how you get on, Sarah. I am glad we, here in the UK are not alone in the search for an e-Portfolio system that is fit for any purpose!

Best wishes

Mike Johnson said...

I was really interested to read your and Barbara's comments. I can see my way to recommending almost ANYthing for pure PDP-type activities (even blackboard).
My main sticking points at the moment for electronic portfolios are:
1. The confusion of purpose (showcase, assessment and/or reflection - see paragraph 85 of ) - not helped, may I say, by the over-ambitious requirements of our betters... e.g.
2. Related to 1., the enduring need for mentors to literally 'sign-off' for clinical competence recording. A large number of our mentors do not have an email address, still less routine access to a computer. Email would be clumsy as evidence, but good enough (would afford an audit trail etc.).
Barbara says: '...when they graduate and have to use the RCN...', in fact, students do have to use something, but they do not _have_ to use the RCN's e-portfolio (I would love to see some usage stats on their e-portfolio). I may be a cynic or realist, you decide, but if the qualified nurse/midwife is unlucky enough to get picked for portfolio scrutiny, it is then that their portfolio recieves a flurry of attention.

Mike Johnson said...

of course, what could change everything is if we could pare out the stuff that needs to be literally signed off (with a pen!) and that which is more on the reflective side (but we would probably still insist on assessing it!) could then go online somehow. Just asked this lady to call by and tell us how they're getting on...

starpath said...

Hi Sarah, my husband had to provide an evaluation on a visiting UK surgical registrar, using their official academic training online eportfolio. The idea is fantastic, but in practice there were difficulties logging on and getting the password..all time-consuming. Once into the system though, everything sweet. Obviously I have a bias towards digital, especially via the web but the time factor for those doing the evaluation is a consideration. The technology worked well, it was just getting the password and logging on that was the hiccup.

starpath said...

Mike says: "A large number of our mentors do not have an email address, still less routine access to a computer." Why not? Very few people now do not have access to a computer and the Internet.

Sarah Stewart said...

@Mike Do you know what the RCN eportfolio looks like. Is it just a framework for using writing everything up in a word document (like the Australian College of Midwives), or is it more sophisticated and integrated?

@starpath I understand the UK GPs have voted to do away with their system because they dislike it so much.

Sarah Stewart said...

@Barbara Thanks for getting in touch - it was really interesting reading about your experiences. I am having a planning meeting for our institution and I think the decision about what to do will eventually rest with my boss. I am going to put together a pros and cons chart and present it and see how that goes down. I'll let you know what materializes.

Barbara Nicolls said...

I work within the Faculty of Society and Health where the majority of teaching and management staff were trained as nurses and they maintain their CPD records on the RCN learning zone portfolio.

I believe it is quite cumbersome to use and the system locks you out regularly! They're also thinking of changing the system.


Sarah Stewart said...

I'll be interested to hear what they move to, Barbara