Last week I attended the Centre for Recording Achievement’s seminar on Personal Development Planning (PDP) and ePortfolios. It was at the National College for School Leadership in Nottingham (fanTASTic venue, btw). In the spirit of reflective learning here’s what I took away from the event.
When I started with Netskills a few weeks back with a remit to look at ePortfolios I was a little puzzled, seeing them as something of a side issue to the big VLE “dead or alive” debate. I’ve come to the conclusion they are actually more important than VLE’s from a learning perspective.
(Actually, let me clarify. ePortflios as technical tools aren’t that important. It’s the process of PDP that’s really interesting.)
Implicit in the case study presentations and explicit in the keynotes was how much the skills involved in PDP were central to being an effective learner and ultimately and effective employee. This came from academics, students and employer representatives at the event.
The ability to set goals, self-manage development, present information and crucially, to actively reflect on learning are key differentiators in a world where a good degree no longer guarantees a good job.
Such was the importance put on PDP skills at the event I had to keep reminding myself that subject knowledge is also a pretty important part of university education. Having said that, though, with the speed of information change you could argue where the balance lies (although I won’t try that here!).
There were a number of issues for me (not necessarily the key themes of the event):
Technology - This was an event about pedagogy and process so there wasn’t much discussion of the actual technology involved in which I felt was a good thing. There are some very good tools available for running ePortfolios but I’ve yet to come across one that I’m excited by as a learner. Any large scale product is going to suffer a bit in that it can’t do everything for everyone and ends up a little clunky and frustrating. There seems to be some interesting work on using social networking tools as a basis for reflective learning. I appreciated Sarah Chesney’s (University of Cumbria) concept of separating the PLS (Personal Learning System – a series of tools and systems) from the ePortfolio (the eventual outcome).
Culture - Change is difficult, either at personal or institutional level and there were plenty of examples of the challenges of overcoming barriers. One that stuck with me was to do with younger students not having an adequate vocabulary to express their reflections which I’m going to do a separate post on shortly. I’m really interested in the transition from Secondary to Higher Education from this perspective.
Culture 2 – Are people generally open to sharing their learning? One case study we saw (Sarah Chesney again) looked at using blogging as a tool for staff development. Initially, the trial participants kept reflective blogs private but over time, as they became more comfortable with it, wanted to share their posts. Even so, this sharing only extended to the trial coordinator and not to the other participants. This made me wonder about what other experiences people have had encouraging learners to share. Does that fact that being a learner can make people feel vulnerable in a professional context create a sticking point for some.
Merging formal and informal learning - One of the greatest strengths of ePortfolios, in my view. I wish I could remember who it was on Twitter (@mattlingard?) introduced me to the phrase “life-wide learning” but I think it’s a more powerful concept that life-long learning. Life-long learning is only sustainable if it incorporates as wide a range of experiences as possible.
There was also a perplexing/inspiring/baffling keynote from Swedish mathematician Ambjörn Naeve that encompassed Semantic Web, Communities of Practice, “double-loop learning” and “carrot rape” (no, really). That’s going to take a bit more processing so I’ll post about that later.
Oh, this was my AudioBoo that I recorded shortly after the event…