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Making connections - growing e-Portfolio communities

A critical aspect of my role managing Mahara and supporting e-Portfolios at the University of Canberra is making connections between people engaged or interested in e-Portfolio practice. Staff sharing experiences and practice is a key aspect of helping portfolio use grow. The stories below are an example of a common experience I have where I might have 2-3 academic staff want to use e-portfolios, unaware of each others shared interest. Connecting these people so they can share practices and experiences is crucial to helping good practice grow and avoiding bad practice. My experience can only help so much before disciplinary specific needs and issues are best tackled with someone in the field.

From the Faculty of Art and Design I was approached by 3 academic staff over 12 months (it is interesting to note the timescale this has happened on), they are from the same faculty, and had individual interest/motivations for using e-Portfolios, i.e. the interest from this faculty was not at this time course driven but unit driven.
 
Person 1. Last week I met with someone from the Arts and Design faculty to talk about integrating e-Portfolios into her unit curriculum. She is convening a 3rd year PR and communications unit and wanted her students to begin using e-Portoflios to gather evidence against learning outcomes. This evidence would then constitute the assessment for the unit. Good e-Portfolio practice and pedagogy would require students to augment artifacts with a critical reflection on how and why the artifact constituted evidence, etc. Besides leading to an interesting discussion on what would constitute evidence from the assessors point of view, and ethical considerations, etc, the meeting revealed that e-Portfolio use was not a course wide strategy at this point in time. As a final year unit this meant that the technology and e-portfolio practice would be a learning curve in addition to the learning curve students would already be facing as they transition to professional life. Rather than do this it was decided that we should wait, and try to engineer the curriculum such that students be introduced to e-Portfolios early on in the course. Embedding e-Portfolios course wide would also leave amply time to teach portfolio practices and technologies, and help students develop a holistic sense of self and a resource that would help them as they transition to professional life. (See Kathleen Blake Yancey on strategies to help students make connections between various aspects of their life, I attended a presentation she delivered at the 2011 e-Portfolios Australia Conference in Perth: http://www.english.fsu.edu/faculty/kyancey.htm)

Person 2. The other day another academic staff member from the same faculty contacted me again about introducing e-Portfolios in a unit for a first year cohort. This seemed to be exactly the kind of thing we were looking for with person 1. This conversation had actually been started in November 2011, followed up briefly in July 2012, and picked up again by Person 2 now. Essentially this person has been thinking about integrating e-Portfolios since our initial meeting where we discussed e-Portfolio practice and Mahara but needed a good time to do it. Semester 1 2013 seems to be the target so we will meet soon to discuss.

Person 3. Two weeks ago, together with a research partner, I interviewed a different unit convener from Arts and Design who has been using various social media platforms for the last few years. These platforms effectively become the portfolios of the students' work. Many of the advantages and issues inherent in e-Portfolio use have been encountered by this unit convener, and the convener would be an excellent person to put in contact with the two people above.

I can only offer limited knowledge and experience in terms of supporting staff getting off the ground with e-Portfolios. In addition my disciplinary background is Information Systems and Education, so talking to me about the pedagogical challenges and knowledge/skill requirements associated with Public Relations and Communication is interesting for me but not the best use of time for the academic. These people will greatly benefit from sharing practice with each other since they share so much disciplinary and teaching knowledge, so at this time I make every effort to communicate their efforts to each other. I remain as part of the network but not the center of it, as it the case when only a few people from different disciplines have contacted me about e-Portfolios. This is also an excellent opportunity to link this new community of practice with other groups in the wider UC community.

During 2013 I will try to update this story with a progress report, and follow the development of the Arts and Design e-Portfolio community of practice. I should do the same for the Education and Health COP's.

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