Having fun doing the same VCAL portfolio work I'm asking students to do...
One week into the new term at GTEC at The Gordon and I must admit that I am delighted at how well the e-Portfolio project I've initiated with our Year 12 cohort is turning out.
We're using Mahara e-Portfolios, attached to our Moodle coursework pages. I've written previously about the blogging with students initiative as part of VCAL Senior Literacy (part 1 and part 2), as well as the decision to broaden out the whole blogging idea into an e-Portfolio with Mahara.
It's been interesting to experiment and see what might best facilitate quick uptake of the e-Portfolios in terms of interest level, independent set up and then actual use. So far, the strategy of building a portfolio myself (applying the same literacy outcomes I am asking students to tackle--as demonstrated in the picture above) and screencasting each stage as a demonstrative tutorial seems to have paid off quite nicely.
In what I consider to be a masterstroke of practical forward-thinking, the education development team at The Gordon has created a seamless link between Moodle and Mahara applications. What that means is that students who have already been registered in Moodle as course participants get their Mahara account activated using the same user IDs and passwords. So essentially, we can link straight out of the Moodle coursework to their e-Portfolio accounts and they're instantly accessible at the click of a link.
Using the screencast tutorials for students to set up and format their e-Portfolios has also worked out well. Out of about 50 students, approximately half or so have managed to get the whole set up organised fully independently (including many who did so over at The Gordon library or at home). Of the remainder, about half managed to get most of it right but needed some assistance to tweak certain things into shape. The rest needed some active guidance from (either from teacher or fellow student), but even then the screencasts formed a background awareness that allowed the helper to just give oral instructions or gesture to parts of the screen; students were still building the e-Portfolio with their own fingers at the keyboard.
It's so important that, with about a dozen students needing active assistance, it was possible to have the remainder of the students going ahead and doing things independently while the students who needed the help got it, and promptly. Nobody has been left behind in the overall process.
Based on my sample e-Portfolio and the screencasts showing how I built it, all the students quickly developed their Mahara 'Views' into a basic template that looks like this:
The basic idea is to have profile and personal features (like pics and videos) in the left hand column, a 'blog' occupying the broader central column where literacy task final drafts are uploaded (with planning and drafts attached), and a list of blog posts and writing/reading work folders in the right hand column. The work folders have been set up in a way that means the attached planning and drafting files appear here in list format automatically, with coded abbreviations referencing specific VCAL Literacy outcomes.
An uploaded student blog post, with planning and drafting files attached and listed
I'm also very happy with the individualisation going on with the writing. Some pretty exhaustive preparation of potential writing topics has been done, with grouped themes and information about potential audience and purpose as well as writing prompts organised by text types. There has been no room whatsoever for the oh so common 'but I have no idea what to write about' complaint, and students are still free to adapt or work completely outside the suggestions given.
What we have going here now is a very effective tool for gathering and presenting literacy work, with lots of scope for individualisation and personal preferences via multimedia applications. In many ways it brings teenage literacy more into the real (contemporary) world.
It is also set up in a way that admirably covers our auditing and QA needs. Grades and feedback are delivered privately in Moodle, with direct URL links to both finished products and the files showing the process that built them on Mahara.
And 'literacy' is just the start... Once they've learned how to build all this for one subject, the other teachers will be encouraging and facilitating them to build additional 'views' (or other folios all linked together within the one overall e-Portfolio) showcasing things like manufacturing technology skills (CAD), tool skills, work experience, community projects, fit for work development, etc.
However, and this is where it gets intriguing, we are also now in a zone where intellectual property (one quick example is the covering of creative commons options for images and appropriate methods of attribution or ownership) and responsible use of social media can be tackled.
At the moment, all of the e-Portfolios are in private mode linked only via the 'friends' option. Part of this course will be about how to analyse and differentiate between something like Facebook and a school/professional platform, and what is involved when it comes to certain (what I call) 'social media graces.'
Already we have a couple of Mahara pages that sort of resemble the grunt and grime of your average teenage boy's Facebook page. But it's there for us to see (within our private school circle), address, discuss and tackle from a social education perspective. And these are very much a tiny minority; already the vast majority of students (despite their so-called disengaged 'youth gone wild' reputations) are using these pages seriously and responsibly.
Eventually, when I and the school are satisfied an e-Portfolio is being used and presented appropriately, there will be the option to switch it over to public viewing and (we hope) as an online extension of the resume sent out to potential employers. Hopefully, we can lead the students towards these realisations and expectations through a process that involves individual development and judgment.
The most encouraging sign in all of this has been the students' reactions. Not a single complaint or whine about 'having' to build an e-Portfolio. For most, they've taken it so naturally in their stride that it's been rather like handing an apple seed to an orchard owner.
One learner even suggested, enthusiastically and somewhat more than half-seriously, that it was about time we renamed this course subject 'Literacy ICT.' It got me thinking, because I honestly see them as (increasingly) seamlessly merged anyway...
Anyway, initial successes with the VCAL Literacy e-Portfolios at GTEC. Let's see where it heads from here.