"e-learning projects aren’t just about e, or even just about e-student-learning. At their most effective, they are (in very good ways) highly disruptive. They throw up needs for organisational change; changes to governance; changes in the roles of many staff, and the consequent need for staff development, changes to pedagogy, and hence to the nature and shape and form of courses, and the consequent need for educational development support; changes to the student’s ‘contract’ with their HEI or FEC; even changes to architecture (build another lecture room or more quiet and noisy study spaces, or install wifi everywhere or more servers, or etc?)
"If they are to deliver maximum effect, e-learning calls and projects must accept and embrace all of these areas of implication, and no doubt others."
Comments taken from Dr David Baume, project review of EPICS
There have been several reasons at a subject discipline level for choosing e-portfolios, but for the implementation to be effectively embedded across your institution, e-portfolios should be included in your institutional strategies. These may be driven by a range of agendas such as widening participation, retention, lifelong learning and employability, as covered in our Policy Drivers and Trends section.
The extent to which e-learning is used and integrated within the institution will impact on how e-portfolios are received. If e-learning is embedded within the institution then an e-portfolio implementation will be more progressive for tutors and learners (Stefani el al 2007).
A governance toolkit developed by Newcastle University as part of the EPICS project can help you in developing your strategy, including cross-institutional collaboration. The EPICS site also includes ‘use cases’ that may help in developing a vision and strategy for e-portfolios implementation. Scenario planning is gaining credibility in the educational sector and can provide a useful tool to develop your strategies. Another useful approach involves threshold concepts and these are further explored in the Preparing for Success section. e-Portfolio implementation guidance for senior managers and practitioners is also available from the e-Portfolios Implementation Toolkit.
The pages within this section cover some of the aspects of selecting tools and systems, implementing and sustaining e-portfolios. The Institutional Perspectives section also looks at different experiences of implementation and embedding e-portfolios.
Six steps to e-portfolio-based learning
E-portfolios can mean different things in different contexts. Establish the purpose and objectives of your e-portfolio initiative. Define the issues it aims to address, the likely support needs of the learners and the nature of the learning environment before asking: 'Which tools, systems or approaches should we adopt?'
E-portfolio-based learning offers real potential for autonomous and personalised learning. However, a vision for e-portfolios as the hub of student learning will have an impact on pedagogic and other institutional practices. Ask: 'What kind of learning outcomes do we require from the e-portfolio initiative and what implications will this have for our practitioners, administrative and technical staff?'
E-portfolios raise a number of fundamental issues around ownership of data and identity and access management. The embedding of any e-learning tool requires assessment of risks as well as benefits, plus investment in staff training and support. Accessibility, IPR, copyright and other potential legal issues also need to be raised. Ask: 'Who will prepare the ground?'
E-portfolio use is a far-reaching initiative that may involve practitioners, personal tutors, administrative, technical and learning support staff, and, potentially, workplace mentors outside the institution. Ask: 'What are the most effective strategies for engaging and sustaining the commitment of learners, and those involved in supporting learners' use of e-portfolios?'
Effective e-portfolio use does not occur on any scale without leadership from curriculum managers and practitioner teams. Ask: 'What are the lessons learned from the pilots we have run? What are the factors, such as timing or involvement of e-portfolio champions, that might influence the outcomes?'
Use a range of methodologies to explore the viewpoints both of learners and practitioners - guidance and reusable templates for learner evaluation of e-learning initiatives have been developed under the Jisc Learner Experiences of e-Learning programme. Ask: 'How will we evidence and evaluate the outcomes?'
Implementing e-portfolios checklist
Here are some issues that institutions may like to consider when implementing an e-portfolio (based on the work of Lorenzo and Ittelson and Stefani et al):
Considerations for tutors
- What is the purpose of the e-portfolio for learners? Who is going to explain this to the learner and when?
- How prescriptive will tutors be regarding the use of the e-portfolio and regarding the artefacts used by learners?
- What effect will it have on the curriculum?
- What programme re-design, and possibly re-validation, will be required?
- What aspects of the e-portfolio will be assessed and at which levels: module, programme or institutional?
- Will the e-portfolio be integrated within programmes or an additional optional activity?
- Will it be mandatory?
- Who owns the e-portfolio? (see Ownership and IPR section plus IPR considerations under the Technical Checklist)
- What data will be added to the e-portfolio by the institution eg from student database? Who will be responsible for this? (see Legal Issues)
- What advice will learners be given about what files not to upload into an e-portfolio?
Development and support considerations
- Who will be providing staff support and development? Have tutors been consulted about the type of development they would like? The ePISTLEproject found that tutors had very different attitudes to e-portfolio especially related to how they valued reflection in learning
- What are the roles of tutors and what are the roles of support staff, for example, careers advisors for the e-portfolio implementation? e-Portfolios cannot be deployed in isolation – learners need extensive guidance on how and why to use them
- Who will show learners how to use the system? Will there be an institutional programme or will it remain the responsibility of the tutor? In theirGuidelines 3, the ePISTLE project emphasised that guidance for learners was essential
A key issue is that technology must be fit for purpose
A number of technical issues should be considered when planning the implementation (these are based on the EELLS project and also draw on the work of Lorenzo and Ittelson and Stefan et al):
Hardware and software considerations
- Integration – how will the issues of integrating an institutional MIS and/or the VLE with the e-portfolio be dealt with and by whom?
- Server performance and storage – scaling up to cope with increasing numbers of e-portfolio users and the growing size of the e-portfolios as users expand them over time
- What plug-ins, file formats and browsers will be required or supported?
- What technologies will be used to implement an offline, portable e-portfolio that authors can take with them? (Extensible Markup Language (XML), content packaging, etc)
- Service level agreements for future software releases – once the system is being used on a basis wider than a pilot study and a resilient and reliable delivery becomes paramount
- What back up systems are in place to ensure operational integrity and disaster recovery?
Support and scalability considerations
- Can the system scale adequately as its usage grows and storage expands?
- Will there be adequate staff to develop, deploy and maintain the system?
- Will there be an infrastructure in place to properly train learners and administrators how to use the e-portfolio system?
- Will there be adequate online help or will a staffed help desk be required?
Security and privacy considerations
- What policies need to be in place for governing information access, security and privacy? How will they be controlled?
- How will Data Protection Act agreements be ‘signed’ on a larger scale?
- What are the issues associated with pre-18 year olds using the system?
- What progress can be made with a unique identification number?
- Local security issues with institutions allowing access to MIS/VLEs for learner records
Ownership and IPR considerations
- How will the e-portfolio system authenticate that all the work, documentation and demonstrations were created by the author?
- Who is the real owner of the artefacts in the e-portfolio file repository?
- How will intellectual property used in an e-portfolio be protected?
- What can or cannot be included in an e-portfolio?
- Who owns the learner record (transcript)?
- How likely is it that learners will accept and use the e-portfolio system?
- Will the system be user-friendly enough for adoption?
- How will information be maintained over time?
- What policies are needed for transporting or deleting e-portfolios?
- How will long-term storage requirements be managed?
Interoperability and standards
- How will data entered for e-portfolio purposes be utilised in other ways? By other systems?
- How will standards be adopted into a system that is being developed before robust standards are established?
- Usability – low threshold for participation is required