Thursday, February 11, 2010

5.3.3: Key findings from Swan (2009)

Article: Swan, G. (2009). Examining barriers in faculty adoption of an e-portfolio system (full text). Australasian Journal of Educational Technology 25(5), 627-644.

Swan (2009) reports on an 'exploratory implementation' of ePortfolios in a teacher education programme. ePortfolios were used in particular for student placement reflections and evaluations.

Swan performed in-depth interviews with faculty and university supervisors for some insight into their experiences (n=15) as evaluators of ePortfolios. Interviews took between 45 and 75 minutes.

Key findings:
  • Faculty tended to rely on their existing means of evaluating students. Student ePortfolios provided additional insight into student experiences. Faculty were used to reviewing the reports of cooperating teachers and were content with the feedback on those reports, so seldom made use of the additional information available in student ePortfolios. They also felt tha they knew their students well enough to not need to consult the eportfolios. Those supervising larger numbers of students werre more likely to make use of the student reports in their ePortfolios.
  • Supervisors liked the data storage capability of the ePortfolio. The fact that all information was availle through the same paperless interface was perceived as a plus.
  • Providing feedback to students through the ePortfolio system was perceived as 'redundant'. Supervisors met with their students on a regular basis anyway, so they did not se the point of repeating themselves when giving written feedback on the ePortfolio.
  • Accreditation (final marking) can be messy. Respondents indicated that they found the final marking (or 'accreditation') of the ePortfolio difficult, because information was so spread and marking is often left to the last moment. I suspect that the problem in this case was to do with the ePortfolio platform itself (Open Portfolio) and the requirements of the accrediting body.
Swan (2009) concludes with the observation that, in his case, "the culture of assessment in this research setting is far from ideal for meeting the loftier goals of an e-portfolio system" - a vital lesson from the 'coal face'. Conversations, it seems, be centred on assessment systems, practice and aspirations rather than 'which tool should we use' or 'which course should we try it on'. Swan (2009) talks in terms of gaining faculty 'consensus' (a common theme in ePortfolio literature), and 'centrifugal force' surrounding implementation. As Swan hinted at earlier (see previous post), implementation involves challenge:
It may be that project leadership must not shy away from conflict and possibly be courageous enough to actually initiate and see it through to resolution.
This certainly resonates with experience! There are a number of implicit lessons from Swan's work:
  • Take systematic change seriously. It is not enough to add an ePortfolio into a workflow; it must be embedded within systems. This, of course, requires change management, intensive conversation and negotiation, listening, changing...
  • Choose the tool carefully. I have not examined the Open Portfolio tool, but from the article screenshots it looks highly customised. This can be problematic, as highly customised tools lack flexibility and can serve to reinforce older systems rather than provide opportunity for new ones.
  • Understanding faculty workflows is vital. After all, it is faculty who will ultimately determine the effectiveness of implementation. If all an ePortfolio does is add an optional extra to their responsibilities, it is no surprise that they may not use it at all. On the other hand, an effective and smooth-flowing system that saves time and improves their ability to interact with students' ideas is likely to achieve its own success.
  • Get students to create their own final submissions. Swan (2009) found that student information tended to be difficult to compile when needed for accreditation; why not get stduents to do this themselves, according to clear guidelines? The problem Swan encountered may be to do with the constraints of a highly customised system however transferring aggregating work to the stduent seems a very clear and valuable exercise - both for faculty, and for the students themselves. It seems Swan is working on further customising the ePortfolio platform to permit better summaries of data... (see second bullet above).
A very useful article, with some very important lessons for implementing ePortfolios at a programme level. In the days ahead I hope to draw additional ePortoflio-related lessons from literature together.

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