WSI ePortfolio Highlights and Extensions


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Executive Summary


This project will enable TAFE NSW Western Sydney Institute (WSI) to review existing provision and support processes around engaging learners in the use of an ePortfolio tool to manage their learning evidence for assessment and achieving progression though their learning pathway. The outcomes of the review will enable WSI to document and share lessons learned during the implementation of WSI ePortfolio as well as share good practice models of ePortfolio usage.

The project will be conducted by teachers who have been using an ePortfolio tool with their learners for more than 6 months. Data will be collected from learners who have been involved in using an ePortfolio tool over the past 6 months as well as current usage during the first half of 2012.

Organisational Overview


TAFE NSW – Western Sydney Institute (WSI) is a registered training organisation which provides progressive and innovative vocational education and training to more than 114,000 students every year in around 1,000 Australian Qualifications Framework courses. WSI offers flexible training with delivery in the workplace, in the college environment, through blended learning approaches and through distance education by the Open Training and Education Network (OTEN).


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WSI College / Campus Locations

























WSI ePortfolio Implementation


Is it an off-the-shelf solution (please name and provide a reference), a custom development or a combination?

WSI ePortfolio is externally hosted on the FolioSpaces site which currently runs Mahara version 1.4 open source software and will be upgraded to the recently released Mahara version 1.5 later this year.
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Can all data be readily exported for use outside the system?

Data can be easily exported from the WSI ePortfolio system as a self-contained HTML website or as Leap2A XML format which can be imported into another Mahara instance or other portfolio software that is Leap2A compliant. The entire ePortfolio contents or selected components can be exported by the ePortfolio owner. Importing however, requires an administrator to complete the task.

Which file formats does it support?

Any media type can be uploaded and displayed for example .pdf, .doc, .docx, .ppt, .pptx, HTML, .jpg, .png, .jpeg. Certain types of media and external content can also be embedded e.g. mp3, mp4, and flv, Google Apps, external videos and external feeds. You can also extract .zip, .tar.gz and .tar.bz2 from within the files area.

Are there limitations regarding file size or ePortfolio size?

The FolioSpaces site offers cloud based storage on servers located in the USA, so in theory the storage capacity is unlimited. Individual WSI ePortfolio Institution users have an allocated storage allowance of 50MB. This can be increased according to need at the local level by the WSI Administrators. Maximum individual file size that can be uploaded is displayed to individual users based on the remaining available space in their content (files) repository.
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What ongoing costs are there (per head)?

Ongoing annual "no frills" package costing for 12 months is $2000 for up to 1000 individual users, plus an additional cost of $1 / user >1000. Additional costs may also be incurred if organisations require customisation, reporting, consultancy services or non-standard subscription terms.

Is it stand-alone or is it integrated with (eg) the organisation’s LMS or other system/s?

WSI ePortfolio is a stand-alone provision. It is not currently integrated with any organisational systems, although the ability to do so does exist. WSI has its own Moodle installation (WSI Online). Ideally WSI is aiming to have Moodle / Mahara / with LDAP integration and integration with the TAFE NSW student management systems.

What kind of ICT support is required, both at implementation and ongoing?

A co-ordinated and collaborative approach is required during initial implementation and beyond. As WSI ePortfolio is externally hosted the level of ICT support required locally for the platform is somewhat reduced.

WSI ePortfolio Administrators create accounts for teachers and learner; provide advice training and technical support, troubleshooting any issues that may arise.

Teachers provide advice, training and support to learners in face to face situations, email, telephone and forums and report any technical issues they or their learners experience to the WSI ePortfolio Administrators via a group mailbox.

Issues that cannot be resolved locally are referred back to the FolioSpaces site administrators for follow up and posted to the Mahara Community Forums for advice where appropriate.

WSI ICT involvement is required at all stages of implementation to offer advice and support and to facilitate troubleshooting and resolution of any issues that may be experienced with internet connectivity, in particular wireless networking, and any problems related to Institute computers and laptops that are made available for use by learners on campus.

Reliable and secure infrastructure is required to facilitate provision of access to ICT equipment required to use the web-based WSI ePortfolio platform. For example, we discovered that the use of multiple Smartphones can interfere with the ability of laptops to pick up Wi Fi signals in the Hairdressing section. The Hairdressing team overcame this issue with the assistance and support of WSI ICT Support Officers and managed to resolve the issue by installing additional ethernet cabling in a theory room and one of their simulated salons.

All staff can report issues and log support requests via our WSI ICT Support Helpdesk via a web-based form or telephone.

Authorised teachers and administrative staff have the ability to reset DEC network passwords for learners if required using the Educational Management Utility (EMU). Learners can also reset their own via the DEC Student Portal.

What is the learning curve for learners and teaching staff?

The initial learning curve varies greatly depending on prior experience, existing skills and knowledge and the digital literacy levels of each individual. It takes time and patience to develop understanding. With regular use and over time as individuals become more familiar with using the technology, their skills and knowledge increase resulting in a reduction in the level of support and assistance required.

The introduction of any new technology is bound to be disruptive. ePortfolios by their very nature are learner centred tools that require a shift in thinking for many teachers who are used to being the source of knowledge and in control of the learning and assessment environment.

We have found that some experienced teachers have had difficulty in accepting the idea of using an ePortfolio tool in comparison to simply doing what they have always done in the past. It takes time to accept the learner centred concepts of ePortfolios and to view them as an integrated part of teaching and learning, whereas many of our newer teachers seem to readily accept this as part of the norm.

The assumption that our GenY learners are all tech savvy is not a reality in our experience; some do not know how to operate a computer. However having said that, many do not like to use pen and paper and avoid email, preferring to use SMS and social media for communication so tend to enjoy the social aspects Mahara offers.

The majority of our learner survey respondents (over 90%) indicated that they were introduced to and use the ePortfolio tool as a part of course requirements. This can make it difficult for learners to envisage the potential benefits to them as an individual, despite teachers consciously endeavouring to communicate this important message to their learners, we are not entirely sure that it is being received and are yet to see any significant ePortfolio uptake by individuals.

Learning to use Mahara and the multitude of features it contains can be confusing and overwhelming for some as the software offers the ability to do so much.

Teachers and learners have highlighted experiencing initial difficulties when they began using the ePortfolio tool and also with irregular use. The following areas were highlighted as areas where difficulties were encountered: navigation, creating pages, understanding naming conventions, adding meaningful descriptions, knowing what content to include and how to include, displaying content, and the understanding of sharing options.

What expertise did the organisation need to employ in the initial implementation?

The Institute ran a number of ePortfolio trials in 2009. The success of the initial Hairdressing trials where Mahara was piloted in a teaching and learning context led to continued use in this area.

One of the teachers involved was seconded to work on the Institute ePortfolio Project in the hope of encouraging uptake and usage of others through the sharing of lessons learned and experience gained throughout the initial trial.

Slowly the interest has grown and we now have more teaching areas using or investigating the use of ePortfolios.

What makes the implementation sustainable?

At this point in time the WSI ePortfolio implementation is sustainable due to the relatively low cost involved and the small number of users involved compared to the total teacher and learner population.

There has generally been a slower uptake of ePortfolios in comparison to other platforms such as WSI Online (Moodle). This has allowed for personalised consultations and customised capability development strategies to be developed based on the needs of individual teaching sections.

Outcomes of this Scaling Study


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What was the extent of the change to your implementation?

The initial Mahara trials in 2009 were conducted in a TAFE NSW centrally hosted Mahara Sandpit environment. The continued and increasing use of ePortfolios in Hairdressing, along with interest from other teaching areas and the pending decommission of the centrally hosted provision led the Institute to investigate possible external hosting options to accommodate the continuing need.

WSI entered an external hosting arrangement with FolioSpaces in late 2010. Since that time we have experienced a slow increase in the uptake of ePortfolios in other teaching areas. This is in part due to competing priorities in promoting and supporting technologies to support teaching and learning.

In Hairdressing at Nepean College ePortfolios are now an integrated and embedded technology with current usage in face to face, distance and workplace delivery and assessment.

The WSI Workforce Capability Unit has introduced ePortfolios into the eLearning Facilitator (eLF) Program which is a capability development program for staff. They are used for reflective journaling, gathering, recording and displaying evidence for Recognition of Prior Learning should participants wish to apply after completing the program.

Information Technology sections at two college locations and Business Administration at another have now included the use of ePortfolios in some areas of their delivery and are planning further implementation in Semester Two.

Children’s Services, Electrotechnology and Information Technology at OTEN have also started exploring the potential use of ePortfolios during this semester.

There are multiple pockets of users, each at various stages of implementation. In some areas ePortfolio use is limited to one teacher or one class group, while in others it is an integrated part of delivery and assessment.

What was the reason you chose to change by that extent (rather than more or less)?

A comparative cost-benefit analysis of externally hosted Mahara providers was undertaken prior to the decision to enter a hosting arrangement with FolioSpaces. This decision was primarily based on costing and considerations regarding ePortfolio ownership and maintaining learner access to their ePortfolio after course / qualification completion. If users are removed from our WSI ePortfolio Institution they automatically maintain access to their ePortfolio via a free account on FolioSpaces.

The Institute is awaiting outcomes from the TAFE NSW ePortfolio Research and Business Case Project and in the interim have extended our current hosting arrangement with FolioSpaces.

The various competing platforms on offer have also influenced the extent of change in implementation. In addition to WSI ePortfolio we also have WSI Online (Moodle), WSI Wikispaces and Adobe Connect.

Fear of the unknown, lack of time, lack of understanding about the concept of ePortfolios and how they might be used appropriately, along with the pedagogical considerations and the perceived benefits or in some cases lack thereof have also contributed to the slow uptake.

Do you consider the scale up/out exercise to be successful?

Despite the uptake of ePortfolios across the Institute being relatively low, we have experienced increased interest from a range of teaching areas during this Project. However on the flip side, some teaching areas who had previously piloted ePortfolios have since moved away and are now using other platforms.

Interest in ePortfolios has steadily continued. As the concept and possible uses of ePortfolios have been showcased to various audiences during presentations, individuals are exposed to real examples of current ePortfolio use in WSI and begin to contemplate the possibilities of introducing ePortfolios in their own teaching area or for their own personal use.

While the overall uptake of ePortfolios remains slow, particularly in comparison to other platforms such as WSI Online, there appears to be new interest in some areas and anecdotal evidence from teachers suggests that some are considering individual ePortfolio use for Recognition of Prior Learning and Continuing Professional Development.

Generally speaking we believe our implementation thus far has been successful; yet still deem it to be a “work in progress”.

Lessons Learned

What are the educational benefits and drawbacks your implementation?

Benefits

The provision of increased flexibility and more personalised learning options for our learners and the ability for individuals to maintain ownership are certainly major benefits.

WSI ePortfolio can be accessed from anywhere at any time using any compatible device with a reliable internet connection.
Individuals are able to develop a record of their learning progress over time giving them the opportunity to reflect on their knowledge, skills and experiences.

The provision of ongoing feedback during development (if permission to do so is granted by the learner) has been invaluable and led to a deeper understanding of underpinning knowledge and higher quality outcomes. It can also assist in monitoring and identifying those who may be experiencing difficulties so that additional support can be provided where necessary.

Learners have control and are able to share their learning progress and outcomes with current and future employers, workplace supervisors, family and friends if they choose to do so.

Employers and workplace supervisors can provide feedback within the ePortfolio where permission has been granted by the learner. This allows for easy verification of authenticity and collaboration with teachers and the individual learner.

Drawbacks

Implementation of ePortfolios (or any other technology for that matter) can be a messy process that requires careful planning and scaffolding. It can be frustrating and difficult for teachers and learners alike.

It takes time for teachers and learners to “get it” i.e. develop an understanding of concepts of an ePortfolio and their potential uses. A shift in thinking away from the traditional teacher driven model to a more ideal learner centred approach doesn’t happen overnight; this too will take time and patience.

All ePortfolio users require some extent of basic digital literacy and access to a computer or other compatible device with a reliable internet connection is essential as WSI ePortfolio is web-based.

It can initially be more time consuming due to the time taken to become familiar with and develop confidence in using WSI ePortfolio; as previously mentioned this often varies greatly.

Teacher’s attitudes regarding the use of ePortfolios can significantly influence that of their learners which can be both a benefit and drawback in our experience.

Not all learners are self-directed and the use of an ePortfolio tool can become a barrier to the learning process and create a source of anxiety for some including teachers.

What are the business benefits and drawbacks of your implementation?

The Institute has intentionally taken a soft approach to implementation of this technology that focuses on supporting and assisting individual teaching sections rather than an holistic strategic approach. The approach has allowed the Institute to provide adequate levels of support to teachers and also conduct reviews and evaluation to inform future roll outs.

Benefits

The use of an ePortfolio tool is an environmentally sustainable alternative to the paper based portfolios of the past. There is less paperwork in general which can only be a good thing.

Our current externally hosted solution is cost effective given that we have a relatively low number of users, and that site administration is handled by FolioSpaces leaving WSI Administrators to look after the user administration aspects.

Allows for the possibility of increased collaboration and consultation with various stakeholders including industry, employers and workplace supervisors where endorsed by individual ePortfolio owners.

Drawbacks

As a result of our chosen external hosting arrangement WSI has limited control over the look and feel of our site. We also currently have no access to automated reporting options (although I believe they are almost as limited for site administrators and improvements are being made in Mahara 1.5). This can make it difficult and quite time consuming to gather accurate information for provision of reports to management e.g. usage statistics etc.

Another minor problem we have encountered due the process we have chosen for account creation is that of individual teachers and learners creating free accounts on the site and being orphaned outside our WSI ePortfolio Institution and others ending up with duplicate accounts because we are not aware that they have done so. This is also an issue as we have funded the cost for user accounts that we are not necessarily making use of. It also means that the orphaned users do not have the same options and level of support available to them as members of our WSI ePortfolio Institution users.

Lack of integration with other systems and the external hosting aspect has led to difficulties and frustration over forgotten passwords being experienced by both teachers and learners as the WSI ePortfolio Institution (by choice) is not currently LDAP integrated (however it is possible). Our user accounts are created using the DEC usernames of teachers and learners and a temporary password which users are prompted to reset on their first login.

The time required for teachers and learners to develop the skills, knowledge and confidence in using ePortfolios, coupled with the varied duration of courses / qualifications and different delivery and attendance modes can influence and restrict the potential uptake and introduction of ePortfolios.

Some early adopters have since moved away from the use of ePortfolios as they have found others platforms more customisable, easier to navigate, set learners up in and more user friendly for both teachers and learners.

Others had used ePortfolios with learner groups that have since completed their course / qualification or were moving onto units of study where ePortfolio use may not be considered appropriate or units where teachers had not yet had an opportunity to integrate materials for learners to progress onto.

In hindsight, what (if anything) would you have done differently?

The lack of integration of this platform with other technologies has been one of the factors that has influenced the implementation strategy. Further TAFE NSW is intending to licence and host a state-wide platform for all Institutes so the implementation at WSI has been limited for this reason.

Anecdotal and survey feedback from teachers has strongly indicated that they feel a need for more time to practice and experience using ePortfolios from a learners perspective to enable the development of sufficient skills, knowledge and confidence and to investigate appropriate uses and potential benefits which in turn permits them to support and encourage uptake of ePortfolios by their learners.

In broad terms, what are the RTO’s plans for e-portfolios in the future?

Outcomes from the project will be reviewed and a report prepared for the WSI Board of Management outlining recommendations for future ePortfolio provision in WSI including platform hosting options, capability development strategies and ongoing support requirements.

The Institute is also working with TAFE NSW on preparing business requirements for a state-wide ePortfolio solution that will be integrated with other platforms.

In the interim and pending outcomes of the TAFE NSW Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) ePortfolio Research and Business Case, we have extended our external hosting contract with FolioSpaces and are eagerly anticipating a forthcoming site upgrade to the recently released Mahara version 1.5.

We are committed to the ongoing review, evaluation and improvement of our administrative processes, capability development strategies, support resources and documentation in response to feedback from our ePortfolio users.

We hope to encourage an increase in the uptake of ePortfolios by individuals through the education of learners regarding the benefits of ePortfolio use outside of course requirements and to engage and empower learners throughout the progression of learning which can only be to the benefit of all involved.

Can you provide any other data or information that may be useful to the VET sector?

Surveys, Data Analysis and Reporting

We conducted initial and follow-up skills analysis surveys with new users, and learner and teacher surveys using our corporate Survey Monkey account to gain feedback from our users regarding their experiences using WSI ePortfolio. Surveys were distributed using a range of methods including hyperlinks in WSI ePortfolio group homepages and forum announcements, direct requests from teachers during face to face classes, email and SMS . Surveys questions and various reports are included in the table below:

Survey Questions (PDF Version)
Survey Data Analysis and Reports






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Focus Group Interviews

Focus group interviews were also conducted with teachers who had moved away from using ePortfolios with their learners to gain insight into their previous experiences and gather feedback on the factors influencing the move away from using ePortfolios. The interview questions and a transcript of the recorded audio responses can be found in the table below:

Focus Group Interview Questions
Focus Group Interview Transcripts



Can you provide any quantifiable evidence that learners have benefited through the use of e-portfolios over time? This can include pre-existing data where available and appropriate.

59.1% of learner survey respondents and 69 % of teacher survey respondents believed that using an ePortfolio tool had increased their digital literacy levels or had contributed in some way to greater computer skills and knowledge.

Can you provide any anecdotal evidence or survey response data from learners indicating that they perceive benefits (or otherwise) in the use of e-portfolios over time? What are those perceived benefits or drawbacks?

A small number of Hairdressing students who have just started using WSI ePortfolio have indicated that they are surprised how easy it is to use once they get into it despite having pre-conceived expectations that it would be difficult based on feedback from colleagues and friends who had used it previously.

Teachers participating in the eLearning Facilitator Program (eLF) have been very positive about the potential for ePortfolio use in teaching and learning. During the program they have been able to experience the use of Portfolios from a learner’s perspective and reflect on that experience in relation to their own teaching context.

Anecdotal feedback provided from teacher interaction with learners suggests that some find using the ePortfolio tool to be a struggle and have expressed feelings of relief when they are finished the required tasks (this is also the case with some of our eLF participants).

However, the teachers and eLF Facilitators feel ePortfolio use encourages learners to formalise what they are thinking and reflect on their learning, and that the ability to provide ongoing feedback has led to better outcome for learners.

Some teachers have stated that the ePortfolio provides learners with a nice record of their achievements that remains after course completion and can be shared with potential employers or used to gain recognition for previous studies.

Implementation Suggestions

Suggestions and questions others might like to consider before implementing ePortfolios

Consider…
ePortfolio concept, purpose, relevance, ownership, privacy, copyright, pedagogy, transferability and exportability. Integrate ePortfolio use within the learning and assessment processes not as an add-on.

Ask…
  • Do your teachers and learners understand the concept of an ePortfolio? If not how can you develop and nurture understanding?
  • What do you want to achieve through the use of an ePortfolio?
  • Is an ePortfolio the most appropriate tool to achieve your desired outcome?
  • What ePortfolio tool would best meet the needs of teachers and learners in your organisation and achieve desired outcomes?
  • How will you evaluate your ePortfolio implementation?
  • How will you support teachers and learners in using the ePortfolio?

Advice...
Learn to use the ePortfolio tool as an individual through development of your own ePortfolio. Practice over time to develop knowledge, skills and confidence before attempting to implement with learners. Pilot with a small group learners and be above all else be patient, it will take time.

Resources and References


Adobe Connect
"Adobe® Connect™ is a web conferencing platform for web meetings, eLearning, and webinars" (Source: http://www.adobe.com/products/adobeconnect.html, date accessed 18 June 2012). TAFE NSW has a centrally hosted Enterprise Adobe Connect platform.

Australian Qualifications Framework
"The Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) is the national policy for regulated qualifications in Australian education and training. It incorporates the qualifications from each education and training sector into a single comprehensive national qualifications framework" (Source: http://www.aqf.org, date accessed 2 April 2012)

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FolioSpaces
"Is the world-leading FREE fully featured electronic portfolio, weblog, resume builder and social networking system, connecting users and creating online communities. FolioSpaces free ePortfolio provides you with the tools to set up a personal learning and development environment" (Source: http://www.foliospaces.com, date accessed 2 April 2012)

HTML
"HyperText Markup Language (HTML) is the main markup language for displaying web pages and other information that can be displayed in a web browser" (Source: http://www.wikipedia.org, date accessed 8 June 2012)

LDAP
"Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) A protocol used to access a directory listing. LDAP support is implemented in Web browsers and e-mail programs, which can query an LDAP-compliant directory. LDAP is a sibling protocol to HTTP and FTP and uses the ldap:// prefix in its URL"(Source: http://encyclopedia2.thefreedictionary.com/LDAP, date accessed 18 June 2012)

Leap2A
Specification for ePortfolio portability and interoperability (Source: http://www.leapspecs.org/2A/, date accessed 2 April 2012)

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Mahara
Open source ePortfolios (Source: http://mahara.org, date accessed 2 April 2012)

Mahara Community
Great place to get free support and advice about anything relating to Mahara (Source: https://mahara.org/group/view.php?id=1, date accessed 2 April 2012)

Mahara Demo Site
You can try out the latest version of Mahara (Source: http://demo.mahara.org/, date accessed 2 April 2012)

Mahara Download
Download Mahara open source software (Source: https://launchpad.net/mahara/+download, date accessed 2 April 2012)

Mahara User Guide
Fantastic Mahara User Guide available in PDF, Epub and HTML formats for both Mahara 1.4 and the recently released Mahara 1.5 (Source:
http://manual.mahara.org/en/1.5_STABLE/intro/introduction.html, date accessed 2 April 2012)

Mahara Wiki
(Source: https://wiki.mahara.org/index.php/Mahara_Wiki, date accessed 2 April 2012)

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Moodle
"Moodle is a Course Management System (CMS), also known as a Learning Management System (LMS) or a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). It is a Free web application that educators can use to create effective online learning sites" (Source: http://moodle.org/, date accessed 8 June 2012)

Smartphone
"A smartphone is a mobile phone built on a mobile computing platform, with more advanced computing ability and connectivity than a feature phone" (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smartphone, date accessed 18 June 2012)

SMS
"Short Message Service (SMS) is a text messaging service component of phone, web, or mobile communication systems, using standardized communications protocols that allow the exchange of short text messages between fixed line or mobile phone devices. (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SMS, date accessed 18 June 2012)

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Survey Monkey
"World's leading provider of web-based survey solutions" (Source: http://www.surveymonkey.com/, date accessed 8 June 2012)

WSI Online
Western Sydney Institute's locally hosted installation of Moodle

WSI Wikispaces
Western Sydney Institute's externally hosted private label Wikispaces


WSI Exemplar Project Team Contact Information

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Nayomie Baihn
WSI ePortfolio Exemplar
Project Manager
Elizabeth Hobbs
WSI ePortfolio Exemplar
Project Sponsor
Project Officer Learning Technologies
TAFE NSW Western Sydney Institute
Workforce Capability Unit
Project Manager Learning Technologies
TAFE NSW Western Sydney Institute
Workforce Capability Unit
Phone: 02 4724 8260 or 02 9715 8830
Mobile: 0457 408 981
Email: nayomie.baihn[at]tafensw.edu.au
Phone: 02 9715 8480 or 02 4724 8226
Mobile: 0417 123 055
Email: elizabeth.hobbs[at]det.nsw.edu.au
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