Effective use of e-portfolios to support widening participation and progression.

e-Portfolio narrows the gap between 6th form and HE

DEL regional stories
Effective use of e-portfolios to support widening participation and progression

ELP Project
University of Bradford
Contact Carol Higgison and Neil Currant
e-Portfolio PebblePad
Students at three Bradford schools worked with the University of Bradford to use an e-portfolio as an integral part of their career planning activities. The tasks in the e-portfolio were assessed and, on successful completion of the module, students gained 15 UCAS points towards an offer at the University.

The University of Bradford already has a history of working closely with local schools via its Compact Scheme which supports sixth form students with their current programmes of study, gives them the opportunity to sample future degree options and helps them with their university applications.

Using the e-portfolio represented a change in approach, as it meant that the module could be delivered in the schools, rather than at the University. Although this involved a great deal of liaison between the University and the schools in order to get things up and running, it allowed the University to engage with more students at an earlier stage and provided additional support to teachers in the schools.

Neil Currant and Christopher Murray, the two Project Officers, were crucial to the success of the project. Because of their past experience, they had an understanding of how the school sector, FE sector and careers services worked and were able to engage and have credibility with staff in these areas. Neil had taught science in secondary schools for a number of years and had been a keen promoter of technology to support teaching, and Christopher had worked in careers guidance in FE.

Learners gained 15 UCAS points towards an offer at the University of Bradford.

Each school supported 17-25 students, who were also supported by a tutor from the University. The Compact Officer at the University was also involved.

The e-portfolio was used to record evidence for a module that supported learner progression into HE. It was intended to encourage more informed decision-making by getting students to think about university earlier and to reflect on their skills and abilities, narrowing the gap between the sixth form and HE. 'When we first started, I thought we were starting early [in thinking about university] but I think now that it was a good time to start', one student said.

Students were enrolled on the five-credit Foundation Level Module at the University and given initial training in using the e-portfolio. 'They needed to understand what the purpose of the e-portfolio was and its potential, not just how to use the software', Neil said. PebblePad was the chosen e-portfolio as it offered the required degree of flexibility.

The schools found it helpful to have someone from the University endorsing their messages about HE - 'someone from outside telling them [the students] is more credible than it just coming from us', one schoolteacher said.

There were some technical issues, mainly resulting from the firewalls on the school networks, but students didn't experience technical problems at home. This highlighted the importance of involving IT staff in partner institutions and getting their buy-in at the planning stage of a project.

'They needed to understand what the purpose of the e-portfolio was and its potential, not just how to use the software'.

Students completed eight generic tasks that were designed to fit in with any university application. These included: research into possible universities (not restricted to Bradford), a skills audit and a personal statement. They were given dedicated time and support to do this work and the length of time varied from school to school.

One of the key tasks was the completion of the personal statement for the UCAS application. These are often written at the last minute, which can mean that learners don't think enough about their skills and abilities. What students most liked was that the e-portfolio gave them a more structured way of building this statement. 'It was very useful to me because it made me record my experiences, something I wouldn't usually bother to do', one student said. A total of 86% of students who took part in the project (and the survey) agreed with this! Recording skills, achievements and experience was considered to be the most useful aspect of using the e-portfolio.

The skills audit also gave them the chance to consider what new skills and experience would be of benefit to their future. 'I have been able to identify my strengths and weaknesses and to include things I've done in my spare time, like voluntary work', one student said.

Following the compulsory tasks, students had to complete a reflective activity as part of their webfolio. This was something that was new to most of them and, although they didn't always find it easy, acquiring this valuable skill will help their future learning. 'Having to write about yourself was difficult. You don't usually write about yourself and so you had to think about it', one student said.

Like all projects there were challenges as well as benefits. Giving feedback electronically represented a change in working practices that not all staff got to grips with in the timescale of the project. Teachers did not find that giving feedback in this way was practical when students were working on their portfolios in a classroom setting and so they continued to provide individual, formative feedback verbally in the face-to-face sessions.

Working through issues such as this has all been part of the learning process. 'One of the real bonuses for institutions was the gain in intellectual capital; something that is hard to measure and often not considered', Neil Currant said. 'This included improved ICT skills in students and staff, as well as the reflection, planning and 'learning how to learn' skills development in students. At the same time, staff developed their competence in e-working, e-facilitation and e-support'.

The e-portfolio module is now being offered by the University of Bradford to all Bradford schools as a part of its suite of Compact scheme modules.

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These stories were written by Paula Taylor and Sara Caselton-Bone

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