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E-portfolios in Year 11-13 classes

Cluster and Context:

Twizel Area School has 180 students from year 1-13 and is part of the Te Manawa o te Wai Pounamu (Heart of the South Island) Cluster in the Mackenzie Country.  While one group of staff focussed on Inquiry Learning another group looked at increasing senior student engagement using Eportfolios

 

Intentions.

Our teachers are looking for ways to engage senior students more in learning. Helen Barrett (helen.barret.com) writes of supporting deep learning in an environment of reflection and collaboration. “The use of technology can be a motivating factor for portfolios, especially if we make it engaging for learners and give them opportunity to express their own voice in their portfolios”

 

After a year out completing a PGDipEd in e-learning, our HOD English returned to school at the end of 2010 singing the praises of e-portfolios, having worked extensively with the My Portfolio Tertiary e-portfolio platform as part of his studies at Massey University. With the support of several senior school staff, Alan Grant became Twizel Area School’s administrator for My Portfolio Schools.  Our initial objectives were to use the journal function in the e-portfolio to support students reflecting on their learning processes; and for staff to use the platform to introduce e-learning tools into their courses.   It was decided that students from Years 11-13 would be the first cohort to use My Portfolio, with students in Years 7-10 to be added as staff became more adept at using the platform and developing effective strategies for using My Portfolio with classes.   Alan was to meet regularly with staff members from the secondary part of the school to assist them in developing familiarity with the e-portfolio concept and how to navigate My Portfolio effectively.

 

Interventions

 

Professional development with staff members continued through the first two terms, however other than in the English department, use of the platform by staff and students to support teaching and learning has been limited in 2011.  Discussions have suggested several reasons for this. In the first instance setting up pages for students to use is comparatively time consuming, as is training the students in use of the program.  This can be justified if the pages are likely to be able to be re-used with classes in the future, however for ‘one shot’ activities, the time required to prepare material on My Portfolio may outweigh the value of attempting to do it in this form.  A second and equally as important factor has been that unlike university courses where lecturers can build their courses and assessments largely as they see fit to meet their students’ learning goals; senior high school teachers are often limited by NCEA requirements, as many standards are not able to be worked using an e-portfolio platform, thus limiting student buy in to the concept (when the teacher has to answer in the negative to the eternal cry, “do we get credits for doing this?”).  For many students going online outside of class time is seen as ‘extra work’, rather than integral to the courses, so attempts to set up asynchronous forum discussions or collaborative work has met with no real success particularly with such small classes.

Alan is in the process of seeking discussion with teachers who are using My Portfolio in other schools with a view to exploring options for more effective pedagogy with e-portfolios and secondary students.

 

Impact on students /teachers /whanau

 

E-learning needs to pedagogically sound: there is no point in using e-technology when it does not offer significant advantage over existing systems.  The potential of e-portfolios and the My Portfolio platform seems enormous, as it offers huge numbers of ways for students to interact with peers and teachers, and create and organise learning artefacts, in ways that are not possible offline; however 2011 has demonstrated some limitations of the potential of e-portfolios in a high school setting. 

 

Firstly there needs to be regular access to computer time for all the students involved.  Without this, teachers are reliant on students accessing their portfolios in their own time, a difficult proposition if work to be done in the e-portfolio is essential to progression in class.  Timetabling therefore becomes an issue.  The Year 12-13 English class have had easy access to computers during class time in 2011, but other classes have not, so their experimentation with the concept has been much more limited.

 

As noted above, NCEA assessments in many cases do not allow work in e-portfolios to count for gaining credits, either because of the possibility of the students working on line bringing in work that is not their own; or more often because the assessment elements do not include a requirement for written reflection.  It is difficult to require senior high school students to complete a learning journal (or similar) ‘for their own good’ which they perceive will be work that is unrewarded.

 

The impact of the e-portfolios on whanau has been very limited, simply because the students themselves have all but total control over who accesses which parts of their portfolios, so parents will not see the portfolios unless the students choose to show them what they have been doing.

 

There have been a number of positives however.   Having resources from classes copied into My Portfolio has been appreciated by students in the 11 English class, and a number of these students now regularly communicate with their teacher(s) through My Portfolio.  This access to study materials at home will continue for these students next year, and with their increasing familiarity with the platform, should hopefully also enable more activities to occur online, particularly in terms of supporting learning (for example discussion forums supporting the reading a of text to be studied.)

 

The Year 12/13 English class used My Portfolio as part of a unit standard theme study.   Regrettably none of the individuals completed the assignment, however along the way there was the opportunity for the teacher to give feedback on progress, and make suggestions on the next steps forward.  In the end however the failure to complete the work was not the fault of the attempt to integrate e-learning, but with the level of commitment on the part of the students.

 

On unexpected benefit of having the students able to access My Portfolio was that a page was set up to help the cast prepare for the school production, which included files on techniques for learning lines, copies of the lyrics of songs, and youtube clips of the songs for the students to practice with at home.

 

There also have been the beginnings of experimentation with My Portfolio in the middle school, with some students occasionally opting to use My Portfolio as a way of presenting work.  Year 9 and 10 students were invited to present a page with embedded youtube clips showing different perspectives on the situation in Somalia which they had been studying. A copy of one Year 9’s page is linked with permission. On reflection it seems that the ideals of e-portfolio, as a virtual file recording the evolution of an individual’s skills and understandings of personal learning; is possibly better suited to a middle school teaching and learning environment than a senior school one, simply because unlike in NCEA classes, middle school teachers have the freedom to plan teaching and learning activities in which use of an e-portfolio can be integral to the learning.   This is certainly something to be explored in 2012.  Further staff professional development in terms of e-learning pedagogy will be required for this to become a reality, and as noted, regular timetabled access to computers for each student will be required in courses or for activities that intend to use My Portfolio applications.

Comments

  • Diane Mills

    Some interesting issues are raised in this article that will resonate with other secondary schools.  For example the time spent setting up 'pages' measured against the student time spent using them; the reluctance of students to engage out of school time; the reluctance of students to carry out any work that is not going to be assessed for NCEA and the ongoing problem of student access to computers.  Interestingly enough you mention the success with students in years 9 and 10 and the benefits of having a page of information dedicated to the school production.  I suspect the success of e-Portfolios for you, will come about with students using e-portfolios earlier in their schooling and with students driving the ways in which they can be used. And of course once they have access to the technology (whether school supplied or students bringing their own devices) during normal school time, progress will be maximized.