21st-Century Professionals

EPortfolio to Encourage Autonomous Evidence-Based Learning

Jitka HlouskovaPardubice (CZ), October 2019 – One of the Tech Labs at OEB Global 2019 is called "Working with ePortfolios - the Tool for Self-Directed Learning (BYOD)"; it is being held on Friday, 29 November, from 14.30 to 15.30. This hands-on event – managed by Jitka Hlouskova - is aimed at education professionals who wish to further develop their ICT-based teaching skills. You will be inspired by practical insights from the author’s experience with the use of an ePortfolio to encourage autonomous evidence-based learning and assessment. You will get insight into how working with an ePortfolio can stimulate desire for creativity, motivation, digital literacy, and self-reflection, skills that are demanded from 21st-century professionals. Get hands-on experience with the structure and principles of an electronic portfolio.

How and why are ePortfolios used at the University of Pardubice?

Jitka Hlouskova: Different types of portfolios, including electronic ones, have been used at the University of Pardubice over the past few years.  I work at the Language Centre, where we started using portfolios in 2010. At the time, we were involved in an international project entitled The European Language Portfolio on Students’ Journey to Professional Life. Together with colleagues from partner universities in five other European countries, we focused on the development of new teaching methods and materials while encouraging our students to work with national versions of the European Language Portfolio (ELP) developed by the Council of Europe.
The project was also aimed at transforming teacher identities, enhancing learner autonomy, and promoting multilingualism and lifelong learning. Part of project was an investigation among enterprises into the benefits of the ELP for the world of work. It showed that at the time, potential employers had only marginal awareness of the existence of the portfolio and its advantages.

How long have they been in use? Who introduced them?

Jitka Hlouskova: Thanks to technological development, ePortfolios have gradually become available. We are now able to use their benefits for all sorts of purposes, including those mentioned above. For example, several years ago I used the registered electronic ELP model created by a Czech educational institution with a group of students learning English for Specific Purposes at our university. I had known about the Mahara ePortfolio for some time then, but in the beginning I did not have enough courage to use it in my teaching. It took me a while to grasp its capabilities and potential. Luckily, I got priceless support from a very patient colleague and Mahara enthusiast, who gave me guidance during my first tentative steps through the system.
The same colleague also initiated the installation of the Mahara site at the University of Pardubice. She had been inspired to use this ePortfolio by a German teacher whose Mahara presentation she attended at a conference. The installation itself happened in April 2012, when we were able to afford the necessary hardware thanks to an ESF-funded project the Language Centre was then working on. In June 2012, we had a workshop with the experienced German educator, thanks to which we could begin immersing ourselves in the seemingly bottomless depths of the system. My colleague became our internal trainer, and members of the Language Centre staff gradually began to create our Mahara team.

How have students reacted to working with ePortfolios?

Jitka Hlouskova: The University of Pardubice’s Mahara site has more than two thousand actives users at the moment. They have created over ten thousand pages so far. Approximately 1,400 users, with about six thousand pages of the total number, are registered with the Language Centre. The ePortfolio is also used in courses of the Faculty of Arts and Philosophy, which created its own Mahara institution in the summer of 2015. It has about three hundred users, with more than sixteen hundred pages. The users are mostly students and lecturers of the Department of English and American Studies. Other members of the Mahara community at our university include individual users and external participants in various workshops and trainings.  
I personally use the Mahara ePortfolio with a group of students in a post-graduate programme at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Informatics. My main motivation for using the system is to support their learner autonomy as students of English for Specific Purposes. At the beginning of their course, the students set themselves their own learning objectives based on self-assessment. During the semester, they collect evidence of their learning in the form of pages and collections in the Mahara ePortfolio. At the end of the course, I have individual interviews with the students based on the discussion of their personal ePortfolios. The interviews summarize the students’ achievements, progress in English, observations and reflections concerning their learning styles, future goals, etc. In this particular course, the interviews have replaced traditional testing and exams. For me, they have become a powerful instrument utilizing one of the biggest assets of ePortfolios as I see it, and that is its potential as a tool of autonomous learning and assessment.
Students usually find working with ePortfolio challenging, especially at the beginning. They perceive the complexity of the system, and some of them complain it may be overwhelming. The factor they mention as being the hardest for work with ePortfolios during their final interview is that they are supposed to create their own SMART goals as learning objectives. Many of them struggle with the concept for the whole initial three weeks, the period when they are asked to finalize their goal page. What they emphasize during the final interview is that this is completely new to them, and - as some of them say - it takes them some time "to get it". Others add that it feels unusual because normally it is the lecturers and teachers who tell them what to do, and they then try to meet the course requirements.

Are ePortfolios accepted in the business world?

Jitka Hlouskova: The question of how ePortfolios are accepted in the business world deserves more investigation. Teachers who use ePortfolios in their subjects present the strong argument that once the students create their Mahara pages, they will have access to the system forever and can make full use of all its extensive features for all sorts of personal as well as professional purposes. However, we as educators have little information about how the students actually use their ePortfolios once they graduate and join the business world. It would definitely be worthwhile to use the alumni network for a survey into this topic.
My experience with the responses to the questionnaire for businesses I mentioned in the introduction in connection with the ELP tells me that the number of labour market professionals who are familiar with ePortfolios, their purpose, functions, and potential is not very big. I realize, though, that my view is limited locally, namely to the Czech Republic.