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My e-Portfolio "Learning Moment" of 2012

My biggest take home in terms if what I have learned about e-Portfolios for 2012 would have to come from the Faculty of Education (as it was until a recent amalgamation), and relate to an outcome of e-Portfolio use that I was not at all expecting.

The context

2012 is the first year that University of Canberra has seen a number of unit-conveners in the one course seriously using e-Portfolios, namely the Faculty of Education. This fact is critical to the story.

e-Portfolios were one of many topics for a mid-year course (program) team meeting. The team was asked to consider the course wide adoption of e-Portfolios. Three of the ~10 unit conveners had been using them during Semester 1. The arguments put forward by myself and the three unit conveners covered many of the well known advantages. Those new to portfolio practice an Mahara noted disadvantages centered around having to learn the technologies. However the advantages far outweighed the disadvantages, and before long there was agreement across the whole team that this would be an course/program wide initiative.

An Unexpected Advantage 

Of the advantages the three unit conveners threw in this, and it wowed me;

The work students are producing for one particular unit convener, through e-Portfolios, are now visible to all unit conveners in the teaching team. Staff can now see not only each individual students work for their own unit but also what they are producing for other units in the course. Not only does this help unit conveners building a more complete picture of each students' performance, they said it also helped to see what their colleagues were doing which resulted in productive conversations.


Team based approaches to course/program teaching and curriculum design

Experience has demonstrated to me that academic staff have very little time for discussing their teaching practice and unit designs with each other. At one time someone commented to me that they wished they didn't have to develop their unit outline in a vacuum. Often when walking down faculty corridors doors are closed, another sign to me that workloads are high. Teaching and learning departments have tried many approaches to facilitate academic peer collaboration and discussion around teaching and learning because they know it leads to better outcomes for staff and students. In the K-12 sector I have heard it said that a good teacher is a team teacher. In the higher education sector I have seen individual conveners win awards, and teams win awards. The students of the individual award winners obviously had a great experience in one unit, the students of the team had a great experience across a whole discipline or course.

Among various other strategies to help staff connect with the broader curriculum, University of Canberra has implemented a unit outline repository. This provides a high level of transparency to this important document. This have proven to be an important view for staff into units they don't directly teach into. However a unit outline is only a window to curriculum, and a statement of what is planned to happen, it may not 100% reflect the true curriculum - i.e. what really happens.

The real curriculum

On the other hand e-Portfolios (as with other learning environments such as the online teaching and learning environment or the tutorial room) are what actually happens in a unit because they are a view to what students are doing and producing as a result of their learning and attention to unit requirements. When access is granted to all members of a teaching team they have proven (see above) to be a conversation starter between unit conveners around the curriculum they are teaching. This transparency and collaboration is crucial to improved student experience, and probably staff experience too. To me, it is a surprising outcome of e-Portfolios, and a valuable one - it helps to fill a void. This outcome reinforces again to me that e-Portfolios are useful for a great many things, and no doubt I/we will continue to be surprised by what happens as a result of them.

Feel free to comment and add your views.

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