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Saturday, 7 June 2014

Implementing e-portfolio assessment.



I have written extensively about the e-portfolio project for language learning which I introduced 3 year's ago so please forgive me for the use of the most wonderful of affordances we have in digital reality - hyperlinks - in order to offer greater detail to those who may be interested to look into them. 

This blog post is very deliberately big picture, and I think the reason for that will soon become obvious. Language learning is a long term undertaking if you wish to get to a reasonable level of mastery. The outcomes of a course are likely to be simply way stages on a longer journey, summative assessments are just snapshots of your proficiency at a point in time. Their predictive validity of these will depend on many factors (course design, assessment design, appropriacy of language study to the context of usage to name but a few). Even those of us who have studied languages for many years generally consider ourselves language learners rather than experts, the beauty and challenge of getting to grips with a second (or additional) language is that you have to apply your skills to keep up with a constantly changing body of usage. Language constantly evolves, it is a complex expression of the human mind and has to reflect the realities of the human context. As fast as course books and teaching resources are published, the language and culture moves on. The language teacher has a responsibility to acculturate the learner to the reality of this domain, making them aware of effective learning strategies and coping mechanisms. After all, you can hardly stop a native speaker and tell them to only use the language covered up to p35 of your course book when they interact with you, even if the content of your final exam may be more predictable! 
Given that this engagement with the learning process, which can be a transformative one, is a vital part of the skill set acquired during good teaching, it needs to be recognised, embedded, recognised and rewarded alongside the summative achievement of your final "level" at the end of a course. The e-portfolio project was based on literature available through JISC's e-portfolio project  and a narrative creation informed by Helen Barrett's insights into the value of e-portfolios for deep learning.  Documentation sharing the detail is available here, short summaries of the technologies and process used were recently published by ALT and Mahara. 

We use the e-portfolio to force learners to reflect on their learning approaches, make their processes explicit, analyse and reflect upon them. Ultimately the learner has to take ownership of their part of the learning process. This is sometimes uncomfortable, we would all prefer to blame someone/something else for a lack of progress. Initial reactions can be quite negative, tutors and learners have to be shown the value of this approach. We emphasise the importance of connecting to peers whether you are a student or a tutor, supporting each other. The final artefact is an individual narrative of your learning journey and it provides really useful insights from students to their tutors, useful feed forward for our learning design. Ironically, embedding reward for reflection on the minutiae of the individual's learning has helped our learners discover more about themselves and see the bigger picture. It has also helped to equip them for the reality of using and extending their learning in the future, beyond the immediate goal of the final summative course exam. Should the language they have acquired turn out to be not that which they need in subsequent employment, they have the tools to embark on learning another language. They will also be equipped as effective, self regulating learners who can adapt to a new challenge.