ePortfolios for apprentices: What are the barriers? Pt 1

What are the barriers and how to ‘get over it’? Part one

In the third of this series I’m dealing with the perceived as well as the genuine issues raised by management and staff and used as reasons for not introducing technology to improve the delivery of competency based qualifications, including apprenticeships.

I have chosen to deal with the ‘barriers’ ahead of talking about the ‘benefits’ of eAssessment Portfolios, because whilst I don’t wish to give the impression that choosing and more importantly ‘implementing’ an appropriate ePortfolio is anything but an enormous challenge to the most committed organisation. I suspect that this guide is more likely to succeed if the reader doesn’t immediately dismiss the possible benefits as ‘not applying to them’ because: “We haven’t the money, the time, the staff won’t like it, can’t get internet” etc. etc.

But in an age when a Smartphone with more communication power than any PC in general use several years ago and a billion people ‘going online’ to shop, bank, travel, search, learn, create, share, watch TV programmes and movies or communicate with friends and loved ones around the globe. Still more than half of the Learning providers in the UK are using paper based assessment methods to communicate with learners and employers in delivering competency based courses. With assessors spending more time on the road than they do with their learners managed by a leadership that have no plans to change anything anytime soon, as though education is different to everyday life.

stop-1374937_640From my own experience and that of others in the sector, providers often do this for the least business-like of reasons. Perhaps its due to being less well informed as they ought to be, but given the conditions in the FE & Skills sector and the challenges ahead, it’s hardly a good enough reason to ignore the evidence and bypass the potential to do so much better than they do. So once again I propose to pick through the most commonly expressed, so-called ‘barriers’ and comment accordingly. Feel free to do the same.

‘We haven’t got the money we cannot afford it.’

With which I whole heartedly sympathise and no doubt is true, were it not for the probability that the organisation doesn’t know how much it costs to deliver paper based apprenticeship courses so ‘inefficiently’ and hasn’t run a cost benefit analysis on how much it already spends on paper, consumables, staff travel, travelling time. storage, etc. To reassess an existing budget.

Several years ago a large college having seen a ‘good’ eAssessment Portfolio demonstrated at an RSC event, purchased and implemented an eAssessment Portfolio and later shared their experience with others including a cost comparison to its paper version. The information taken over twelve months showed in great detail that the cost in paper and consumables alone was double that of an advanced eAssessment Portfolio and I used that information as well as the findings of other learning providers over many years to overcome that particular resistance to change.

Despite which, all too often I came across the same tired arguments which inexplicably stopped an organisation in its tracks. Such as when presenting the cost comparison evidence to a strategy group at a large college, the chair, who happened to be the vice-principal said “but you don’t understand Colin we have an intake of 1000 learners, where am I to find £30,000?” I replied, “perhaps you could take it from the £64,000 you will spend on stationery over the coming 2 years” and left them to it. Two years later under new management, they made the change.

There are dozens of such examples and hundreds of colleges and independent providers that have overcome the ‘barriers’ and say that there is more to implementation than choosing and buying the right system. Including the need for a robust strategy, support from the leadership for the key players who will be putting in a lot of extra hours. There will of course be costs incurred with any staff development and  there is a tough financial period between the time of purchasing software  and realising any savings in other areas. But to say ‘we can’t afford it’ ought to be based upon all the factors, not just supposition.

Staff don’t have the skills or time to learn new technology

Of course they won’t if based on current practices and methods of delivering staff development. But having ‘chosen wisely’ who said it takes more time to become engaged with a user friendly intuitive ePortfolio than is already being spent on the road, or shuffling paper. What is the experience of learning providers that already have? How effective is the staff CPD programme anyway and does it include a staff skills analysis so that further training is focussed on what is needed, rather than what might be something that the individual is already competent with. Is staff development making use of technology to produce engaging prerecorded tutorials made available online 24/7 for staff that haven’t time during office hours?

And having chosen an eAssessment Portfolio that is not so complicated to an individual who when out of office hours goes online to shop, bank, arrange travel, watch TV, or movies, search, learn, create, share interests and communicate with friends and loved ones around the globe like the rest of us. They just don’t call it ‘technology’, they assume quite rightly that it’s normal. But not if the ePortfolio looks like an Excel spreadsheet on a bad day.

Which is another reason why the choice of ePortfolio is so important and the need to choose ‘the good’ rather than the ‘bad’ or ‘the ugly’ eAssessment Portfolio. Which by the way usually comes with on line support including staff development and that ‘just in time’ moment an individual needs help. Check out the benefits expressed later on in this series.

So whilst not wishing to minimise the challenge of implementing what is a major change, let’s put it into perspective and get some accurate information rather than accept someones opinion and dismiss the project without question.

Being reliant on the internet/network connection

In the C&G report on eLearning and ePortfolios (C&G 2015) the findings showed that of the drawbacks to using ePortfolios, being reliant on the internet was top at 83%. Something we can all appreciate, especially in regions with poor coverage and more commonly in the workplace where access is simply not available. Although I have little sympathy for a learning provider that hasn’t addressed the need for fast connectivity at its training centre, where the learner, assessor/trainer can step outside the door and use Wifi on a bus, café, home or mobile phone.

Access to the internet is a serious consideration but hardly a ‘barrier’ to change as the drive to deliver high speed broadband to all corners of the UK, which is pretty good now and will be better by the time a strategy is in place. But anyway if an organisation chooses a ‘good’ ePortfolio that operates ‘on or offline’, something that was already available in 2015 and certainly now, choose the right system in the first place. What was the question?

Then there are the ‘barriers and challenges’ reported in the recent Jisc survey (Jisc2016) which although statistically challenged does provide an insight into the thinking of a very wide range of staff and management related to the introduction of eAssessment.

Staff would prefer to stay with the current methodologies 42%
The technologies are difficult to implement 38%
The logistics of increasing the volume of e-assessment are difficult to implement 35%
There is a lack of direction being provided by government/ Ofqual/ Ofsted 26%

There is a lack of overall strategy from awarding organisations and professional bodies

We are receiving mixed messages about the development of e-assessment generally 22%
e-Assessment is not high on the senior management’s agenda 20%
Learners would prefer to stay with the current methodologies 19%

Staff would prefer to stay with the current methodologies

Therefore 58% would not and what methodologies have they experienced – next?

The technologies are difficult to implement

Wait for it

Bury_your_head_in_the_sandThe logistics of increasing the volume of eAssessment are difficult to implement

Isn’t that the same question? See ‘what is an eAssessment Portfolio’ the good, the bad & the ugly

There is a lack of direction being provided by government/Ofqual/Ofsted

Apart from a decade of direction by multiple agencies including Becta, Jisc/RSC’s and shedloads of funding. Apart from that no direction. But what of the organisation planning its own direction?

There is a lack of overall strategy from awarding organisations and professional bodies

Someone has to be kidding, driven from the QCA’s 2004 “Blueprint for eAssessment”, not to mention Harnessing Technology: Next Generation Learning 2008-14. All awarding bodies were engaged in the drive to making eAssessment ‘the norm’ by 2008. Perhaps due to that, or just good business practice, many awarding bodies have developed or acquired its own ePortfolio for assessment. One or two are now making it a requirement to using an ePortfolio (preferably theirs) to access learner progression etc. online. But surely the strategy should be that of the learning provider, not an outside body.

We are receiving mixed messages about the development of eAssessment generally

With which I have great sympathy, hence this ‘guide’ to cut through the outdated messages that are currently being promoted.

eAssessment is not high on the senior management’s agenda

Once again I have great sympathy and there was something about ‘leading a horse to water’ but…

Learners would prefer to stay with the current methodologies

Is that right, but who did the asking?

As I said, not a great survey to rely on and has been rightly criticised elsewhere for its ‘worrying lack of context with other, more in-depth studies’, made more worrying as Jisc now report that based on this e-Assessment survey:

‘The survey highlighted many of the key barriers and challenges to development which, in addition to a challenging funding environment, included the need to address the key issues that staff find challenging and their consequent lack of confidence. Through an FE and skills online CPD service, Jisc will provide resource to help teachers and others involved in the design and delivery of assessment to develop their skills and confidence with e-assessment.’

Oh dear!

All the “ePortfolios for apprentices” series of articles:

ePortfolios for apprentices: A guide for providers and employers
What is an eAssessment Portfolio? – The Good, the Bad & the Ugly
What are the barriers and how to ‘get over it’? Part one
What are the barriers and how to ‘get over it’? Part two
What are the benefits and who wouldn’t want them anyway?
What are the challenges and how others have found a way
Making a business case – to get it past finance
What next? – will depend on the Q & A

Colin Gallacher
Learning Technology Consultant


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