Reflections on the MaharaIRL Autumn Webinar

By Lisa Donaldson

The MaharaIRL user group met for our first online webinar on September 19th 2017 following on from the success of the inaugural face-to-face meeting in April. The group was founded in early 2017 to build a community to share information, support learning, and aid collaboration on eportfolios across Ireland.

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Originating from a small group of pilot leads adopting eportfolios in Dublin City University (DCU), the wider MaharaIRL community encompasses faculty, learning technologists and technical staff from many Higher Education institutions. Attendees from eight institutions were represented at the webinar which was aligned with the theme “Using eportfolios to support and assess students on work placement and to track competencies”.

Anne Stevens, a Learning Technology Leader from New Zealand, presented a fascinating insight to using Mahara eportfolios to track competencies of graduate nurses. Lively conversation ensued around the delicate balance between providing structure and inhibiting creativity when using a template approach with students as well as the positive impact of eportfolio grading on the assessors.

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A Q&A session around using eportfolios to support work placement highlighted that the majority of programmes had a work placement element but there was a three way split between those using, not using and those about to consider using eportfolios to support same. Time, technical support, money, and resistance to change were identified as the main impediments to integrating eportfolios.

Fingers were flying across keyboards as those currently using eportfolios in this capacity offered examples of how they were assessing experiential learning and what supports they were providing. Supports referenced included:

  • short videos
  • introductory lectures
  • followup emails
  • FAQ’s, prompt sheets
  • lectures on professional development and critical thinking
  • webinars
  • handbooks
  • weekly supervision
  • online forums, and
  • student eterns

The collaborative nature of the group was evident through the many offers to share these valuable resources.

The majority of cases discussed did not feature a peer-to-peer component but this came out strongly as an area attendees were interested in exploring further. Conversation again turned to templates and whether templating helps or hinders the development of the placement portfolio and digital literacies. Templates, prompts and rubrics proved to be commonly used among the group particularly when first introducing eportfolios to students.

The webinar then moved on to Kristina’s Corner. A specially recorded piece by Kristina Hoeppner (Catalyst IT) on tracking competencies through Smart Evidence – many thanks Kristina. The functionality of Smart Evidence proved appealing and the video was posted online for further review. An earlier and longer presentation by Kristina on this theme is available in the following video…

With time against us, we had a whistle stop tour through attendees Wow moments and Woe moments when integrating eportfolios. Sample Wows included:

  • an oral showcase of final year portfolios
  • student expressing gratitude for the “space” provided by the portfolio, and
  • graduates reporting huge success in securing teaching jobs through presenting their portfolios at interview.

The inevitable Woes featured educators own lack of experience; students not being able to see past the need for technical skills; and a desire to see greater focus on softer skills/graduate attributes.

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The webinar closed after an hour of amazing and generous interaction with a suggestion for a next face-to-face meeting/eportfolio day and perhaps a regular Twitter chat. We hope to plan for those before the end of 2017. Watch this space for more information! If anyone would like to join our ongoing conversations around sharing impactful eportfolio practice, please contact lisa.donaldson@dcu.ie

Many thanks to attendees from Dublin City University, Marino Institute of Education, Hibernia College, National College of Ireland, Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology, Sligo Institute of Technology, Mary Immaculate College, and the National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning. 

Footnote: A special “eportfolio Unconference” on the theme of “Integrating Authentic Assessment” will take place at DCU, with funding from the National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning, on Friday, 26th January 2018 from 10:00am to 4:00pm. Click here to find out more information and register for this event.

Successful Launch of Loop Reflect: DCU’s New Learning Portfolio

We recently launched under the leadership of Lisa Donaldson and Dr Mark Glynn in the Teaching Enhancement Unit in the NIDL our new learning portfolio known as Loop Reflect.

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The new platform, based on a customised version of Mahara specifically designed to meet DCU’s requirements, aims to support students to critically reflect on and share their academic, professional and personal achievements.  In this respect the learning portfolio is intended to help students demonstrate their ability to meet DCU’s Generation 21 Graduate Aspirations, and support meaningful employment on graduation and a wider commitment to life-long and life-wide learning.  The goal is to create a living portfolio which will help develop critical reflection as a “habit of mind” and assist future employers in visualising the breadth of a DCU student’s capability and learning experience.

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The launch event for Loop Reflect was attended by Minister for Education & Skills, Mr Richard Bruton TD, and marks the completion of the pilot phase of Reflect which has seen more than 5,000 students sign up to use the learning portfolio across a range of disciplines and in a range of different contexts. Professor Brian MacCraith, President of DCU explained the importance of this new initiative:

“DCU is committed to providing its students with a transformative learning experience, that will enable them to flourish in the workplace and society.  The world of work requires citizens with transferable skills who are resilient and adaptable, and capable of reflective and critical thinking.  The Reflect portfolio challenges traditional approaches to teaching, learning and assessment, capturing all facets of student learning and providing our students with an opportunity reflect on their personal and professional as well as learning development.”