Integrating ePortfolios to develop learning strategies in ODeL settings

In trying to move away from once-off summative assessment, the University of South Africa decided to integrate ePortfolios as method for alternative assessment. In my presentation yesterday at the Siyaphumelela Conference of the South African Institute for Distance Education, I discussed my views on how ePortfolios can be integrated from a learning-oriented perspective on assessment.

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When ePortfolios are integrated from a learning-oriented approach, lecturers, assessors and reviewers are provided with opportunities to assess and evaluate achievement towards the seven Critical Crossfield Outcomes that should guide all learning at South African institutes for higher education. For the purpose of this discussion, I have identified the following abilities or competencies that need to be developed.

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These seven abilities are also regarded as crucial skills to be effective in 21st century working environments. From a learning-oriented perspective, once-off assessment of assignments is not enough. Feedback should be efficient and enough to allow students to improve their evidence. When ePortfolios are introduced, students can be provided with several opportunities to portray their level of achievement towards the seven competencies, but they can also be provided with multiple opportunities to portray their achievement towards the five Developmental Outcomes that should also guide all teaching and learning at South African institutes for Higher Education.

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The state do not need of higher education to grade students as 50%’ers or a 89%’ers, but to develop confident citizens who can be effective in the 21st century work place. Therefore, I have identified the following learning strategies I believe to be important when I was responsible for a module that was earmarked for integrating ePortfolios as method for alternative assessment at the University of South Africa.

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The strategies are, however, by no means exhaustive. Some of them emerged due to new technologies being developed. Others might emerge due to new technologies being developed while I am writing this report. From a learning-oriented approach to assessment, students have to be provided with opportunities to assess the work produced by their peers. Therefore, I regarded it as important to give them opportunities to learn from one another.

The state requires of higher education to develop effective group workers (Critical Crossfield Outcome) who are sensitive across a range of social contexts (Developmental Outcome), outcomes difficult to assess and evaluate during distance education. Therefore, I required of my students to use my own social networking site, where I can guarantee privacy, to support the development of an online Community of Practice. Various learning strategies can be used to learn from one another, such as networked learning.

The efficiency of networked learning will however be influenced by three types of learners, namely individualistic, competitive and cooperative learners. Individual and competitive learners do not find value in group work. Therefore, it was important to develop cooperative learners.

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ePortfolios can be used to create an informal place where students can learn from one another. However, students often do not use it effectively due to the perception that they are being graded in formal learning spaces. In fact, they are often required to take part five times in a conversation to get 5 marks for group participation. I needed them to experience the value of networked and cooperative learning, while they develop sensitivity across social contexts, therefore they were randomly grouped in cooperative base groups.

Cooperative base groups is a small group technique used to develop cooperative learners. Students are assigned to such a group for the duration of the module and they have only three tasks:

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ePortfolios can also support small groups, but I assumed that the students would not use it effectively due to the formality of such a group. Therefore I have also opened my own, privately owned social networking site to give them opportunities to develop into cooperative learners. I assumed that it will also give them informal, incidental and passive learning opportunities. This provided them with networked learning opportunities.

[will upload network as soon as I have completed data analysis]

Within the first month, the students were embedded in a dense network, that could offer opportunities to get access to a shared knowledge base with regard to the development of ePortfolios. However, some of the students perceived the use of many technologies as overwhelming. Therefore, one of them created a Whatsapp group where they could learn from one another.

[will upload network as soon as I have completed data analysis]

As in the case of the social networking site, it provided opportunities for using networked learning skills to get access to the shared knowledge base. Based on my experience while I was their primary lecturer during the first three months of the year, I believe ePortfolios can support higher education in developing lifelong learners who can enter the workplace confidently.

Please feel free to comment, or contact me if you would like to introduce ePortfolios in your institution. You can also click on the green button at the bottom of this page to be updated.

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