eAssessment and EPortfolios – Conference – Dundee – Friday 25th September 2009

I was much relived to actually make it to the eAssessment Conference in Dundee on Friday. Leaving Elgin at 0500hrs meant I made it in 2 1/2 hours and missed the roadworks, the traffic but then I had to sit around the Hilton for nearly 2 hours reading the latest by John Ringo on my eBook Reader and paying through the nose for coffee.. 8-(

Clutching my little jute bag with lots of pamphlets and the odd pen (someone stole the complimentary wine, sweets and biscuits….) I was then lucky enough to meet up with Neil Winton, PT at Perth Academy who was presenting on wikis and John Connell the keynote speaker. I also met Gordon Brown from SQA, who is younger, MUCH better looking and far more efficient than his namesake.

The conference itself seemed to be aimed at everyone within education but it was telling that I was the only current secondary teacher apart from Neil. People from universities and government departments had bigger budgets than poor little me and although I forked out £30 of my cash for a subscription to the RedPen marking website, no way I, or Moray for that matter can afford £2000 per school for some of the software on offer. GLOW will have to take up the burden (once it is sorted) methinks. It was hugely interesting and I spoke to a wide range of people from all over the Higher, Further Education spheres as well as the various government departments, agencies such as LTS and SQA as well as some damm fine salemen (Cheers Matt W – you must have seen me coming 😎 )  I didn’t win the eReader from ECom either….

The premise was to discuss latest developments and the future of eAssessment and specifically for me, ePortfolios. We were looking at how we were going to assess ability, potential and work and also how to create and maintain portfolios for our students.

John Connell opened the proceedings with a 30 minute talk on what he saw learning was about. The slides are here.

My rough notes were made whilst Neil W was tweeting the talk!

John’s title was ‘Convivial Learning in a Tangled World’ The title reflects what he saw as happening in an increasingly networked world inside and outside education. In his introduction he spoke of the history of learning, that often there was inertia due to an innate (small c) conservatism  and previously education had been just another mass production method, the so called ‘smokestack’ or ‘factory’ school.

I saw this as being when in the ‘factory’ school students “accepted their position, became used to their social status and only educated themselves for their future function within employment.” They had no need nor were they given the chance to improve themselves further than the needs of their work. But as  John said, we are now living in a ‘Tangled’ world. Politics, education, technology and economics are all part of one huge network, which have networks which also have networks.

But Scottish Education is not a single network either. We have always had school based and local/national peer networks and increasingly, Personal Learning Networks (PLNs) too.

The title of John’s talk by the way comes from Ivan Illich‘s ‘Tools for Conviviality’. A copy of the text is here for you to read. John pointed out that he re-reads it regularly and some times he agrees, other times he disagrees with what Illich says. Conviviality, according to Illich is seen as individual freedom and personal interdependence, which sounds oppositional but in fact is exactly what education should be about too.

The keynote then moved onto networked learning. In a complex world it’s not just the quantity it’s the quality of learning.

Quotes included the ones in the slideshow which spoke of education being displaced from schools and traditional places of learning to being generally available “anytime anyplace”.

Education is now a state of ‘preparedness for change’ and to ‘know more’ is more critical than what is ‘currently known’.

We have to be ready to teach students to ‘unlearn’ as they change jobs or prepare for those jobs that haven’t been invented yet. The locus of control is shifting towards the student who will control their own learning but teachers will actually become more important as a result.

Schools will become places where learning not teaching will be the focus. Teachers and students will learn together, and there will be social and solitary learning as well as collaborative. It will be immersive both inside and outside the places of learning.

John  also touched on Chris Lott’s ‘creepy treehouse syndrome‘ whereby some students may not like teachers using social media to help each other learn. It can repulse some and infringe on their own social groups.

Finally John  reiterated that education cannot be limited to short term aims. we must all become self directed and motivated learners. As always he manages to sum up complex topics in style and I felt by the end that he had clarified and also confirmed much of my own thinking about the way ahead for education.

I find it amazing that incredibly some teachers do not (a) reflect and (b) keep abreast of what is going on. The day we suddenly start doing ePortfolios and using software to upload and assess our students’ work is going to come as a shock to some!

Other talks included Neil Winton’s on wikis. Slides are here.

As always Neil was enthusiastic and the examples he showed really gave a flavour of the great things he and his staff  and students are doing. Whether it is a support wiki with information and things to help students get into texts or a creative writing one, Neil has obviously managed to get a lot out of wikis and the students of Perth Academy. Examples included The Caves of Mull (S1 Creative Writing) and Midsummer Night’s Dream (S4 Shakespeare). My S5/6 wiki on ‘Bold Girls’ is here

Mhairi McAlpine showed SQA’s Gamespace, a virtual world where students’ enter and take part in testing to assess their learning in sales or healthcare. Site is here. I thought it was interesting but they said they would be adding lots of text help to each problem to enable those with poor literacy skills to access the assessment modules. Which rather defeats the object…if they can’t read/write to a good standard how can they become salespeople/ healthcare professionals? I found it all very simplistic actually. Conversations with an AI in a Second Life type environment (it is based on Thinking Worlds‘ software) are no substitute for real life conversations complete with verbal/visual nuances and body language.

Dumfries and Galloway have been using ePortfolios for some time and they came along to tell us about the project.

Neil’s comments from his tweets:

Listening to Dumfries College talking about eportfolios using WordPress (WPMU?) Their portfolios are not just for the college. Some local schools are using the platform… even though no direct contact with college. System is very interoperable. Exporting the ePortfolio in various formats (including as a website!) Really forward thinking. WPMU platform is very flexible..D&G College: The use of permissions for writing and moderating are being used really cleverly. Like that students can delete tutor comments. It’s about giving trust and responsibility to the students. Tutors are using a ‘lock’ to stop editing of student posts. WPMU plugin? Great for work deadlines. Tutorial record on WP pulls in information from the College admin system. Only visible when logged in. Beauty of ‘comments’ for assessment is that a possibly ‘throw away’ comment becomes an integral part of the assessment process Portfolio allows students and tutors to have meaningful dialogue about progress/learning.

I am keen to try and implement a trial ePortfolio system as are a couple of other teachers here at Elgin Academy.

The day ended early for me as I wanted to get home and wasn’t keen on a wine reception after the eAssessment Awards. Got home after tea having had a brilliant day where I learnt a lot, meet loads of interesting and dedicated education professionals and am now buzzing with ideas for assessment and portfolios using digital means. Thank God it was free and I was happy to pay my travel costs for the chance to meet some fellow “twitterati” (we illuminate things by tweeting).

As I told John Connell, he ‘was worth travelling three hours for’. I nearly said “worth getting out of bed for” but we’re both married men 😎  Thanks especially to Kenji Lamb and the crew from RSC (NE) who organised the whole day and ran it so well.

Thanks to John Connell, Neil Winton and Gordon Brown – nice to meet you and looking forward to seeing you all again at gregmeet on 13th October in Glasgow.

Listening to Dumfries College talking about eportfolios using WordPress (WPMU?)
Their portfolios are not just for the college. Some local schools are using the platform… even though no direct contact with college
System is very interoperable. Exporting the eportfolio in various formats (including as a website!) Really forward thinking.
Like Dumf. College’s thinking. WPMU platform is very flexible..
D&G College: The use of permissions for writing and moderating are being used really cleverly. Like that students can delete …
tutor comments. It’s about giving trust and responsibility to the students.
Tutors are using a ‘lock’ to stop editing of student posts. WPMU plugin? Great for work deadlines..
Tutorial record on WP pulls in information from the College admin system. Only visible when logged in.
Beauty of ‘comments’ for assessment is that a possibly ‘throw away’ comment becomes an integral part of the assessment process
D&G College: Portfolio allows students and tutors to have meaningful dialogue about progress/learning.

One comment

  1. I’m glad to hear you enjoyed the eAssessment Conference, it was a really good event and like you I was very impressed with John Connell’s presentation.

    I think my talk tho might not have been entirely clear. The version that I demoed at the event is the version that will be released once a few minor bugs in the coding have been corrected. The additional text help is where candidates can drag elements to form a description, rather than write it from scratch. SQA achievement evidence for NABs can be collected in any form, unless writing skills are directly assessed, there is no requirement for candidates to write – their evidence may be presented in any way they choose.

    The initial development (of two units) has taken just under a year, but a great deal of that has been taken up with software procurement and establishing how to develop games based assessment for a certified qualification in a valid and reliable manner where we are confident that all of the performance criteria is evidenced. We aim to get the development time down to 3-4 months from next year now that we have contracts in place.

    Incidentally, if you offer any Skills for Work courses or Baccalaureate in your centre and would like to trial an e-portfolio with them we can offer you SQA DeskSpace free of charge for use with candidates on these courses.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *