ePortfolios for apprentices: What are the barriers? Pt 2

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

March 2009 (Becta ePortfolio for apprentices)

‘Evidence shows that when providers use technology effectively, the benefits are inspiring: improved results and retention rates, greater participation by learners and increased effectiveness of trainers. E-portfolios can provide a vehicle to facilitate these benefits because they use technology to allow learners to collect and organise artefacts in many media types, enabling them to track progress, carry evidence of their work across transition points, reflect on their learning and build a skills profile across a lifetime (Barrett, 2006; Becta, 2006).

June 2016

Several years and a wealth of technological advancement later, a significant number of learning providers in the UK appear not to have an IT Strategy that fits in with such a vision or have a long term plan to encourage innovation in teaching, learning and assessment.

At the other end of the scale, hundreds of colleges and independent learning providers have fully or partially embraced learning technology over recent years, transforming the quality of provision beyond anything the experts could have imagined a decade ago. Including the use of advanced ePortfolios. So why the disparity between learning providers with similar demographics, funding, range of courses, staffing etc.?

I believe the issue to be more simple than the recent proposal to ‘raise awareness’ and make CPD available on line, as in my opinion its unlikely to overcome the cultural barriers standing in the way of common sense. Most of which could have been easily challenged by impartial observation with appropriate knowledge of the sector from the outset For example:

“Too expensive”

Despite evidence to the contrary, and or conducting a cost benefit analysis.

“Staff training issues”

Choose an ePortfolio with minimum training requirements and maximum training support

“Makes more work”

Usually reduces it providing skilled staff with more productive opportunities

“Doesn’t work for this or that sector”

Unlikely, but some awarding bodies have their own ePortfolio, so use more than one if it proves to be the best for one sector, less so for another. It will still be more efficient than not.

“We want one system that ‘does everything’ ” (good luck with that)

Usually an MIS with a less than friendly ePortfolio, better to choose the best ePortfolio available which integrate with an MIS. Or wait another few years for the MIS to catch up.

Are these serious barriers? No of course not and according to the research behind the Becta report in 2009, of the twenty ‘issues to consider for e-portfolio implementation and use’ only cost and staff ‘buy-in’ are mentioned in the recent survey, as there are other issues to consider, none of which are thought insurmountable.

Perhaps, the following will provide an insight into what the real challenges will include once an organisation gets over the ‘I don’t like it’ argument and appropriate research initiated. It is obvious that an in-depth development plan will include the need to:

Make a business case for change, a review of staff development needs and how to address them, all beginning with appointing an appropriately qualified ‘champion for change’ with support and authority to overcome the real as well as perceived barriers.

On that point and whilst it’s perfectly understandable for Principals and CEOs to rely on management appointed to look into appropriate use of technology. All too often the resulting proposals rarely get beyond objections raised by departmental heads or staff, which is why the plan must be based on extensive, up to date, impartial research and knowledge to inform a strategy to be endorsed at the highest level.

Which raises an immediate ‘issue for consideration’. It would be unusual if there were a single source within an organisation with the experience and knowledge needed to feed into an organisation wide ILT strategy and if that’s the case, the information must come from elsewhere.

Perhaps from other learning providers to share experience and much of it will. Perhaps a specialist consultant, but surely not one that’s employed by a supplier of a single technology claiming to be the panacea of all technological ills. But the question of ‘which ePortfolio’ cannot be separated from the other key management systems, as in they must integrate. In fact there are other technological needs to take into the strategy such as a VLE or equivalent platform for online courses, which may or may not be an ePortfolio.

I have always believed there is a place for an impartial ‘outside specialist’ on any ILT steering group that can cut through the rhetoric and challenge the doubters by providing accurate up to date information, demonstrating why appropriate technology should be used and to others how it can be used. And yes of course I am talking about myself and my associates, but there are many others too.

Introducing technology will not in itself make good the financial position of any learning provider. Their financial problems in the FE & Skills sector particularly are much wider than that. Although few businesses can survive without accurate and up to date information, so how some learning providers manage using paper based methods or systems is beyond me.

But running a business using methods that were regarded as ‘not fit for purpose’ a decade ago, held back by the barriers currently used as a reason not to change is surely in a league of its own. But unfortunately it does appear to be the case.

To those organisations that have yet to embed appropriate technology in its provision and would like to discuss the subject with impartial Learning Technology specialists please use our contact page to arrange an exploratory discussion.

If it’s all a foreign language to you, we speak it and it costs nothing to talk.

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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