The School of Law run a compulsory taught module called “Legal Skills” for first year students. In order that they pass the module, students are required, to build two e-portfolios using the University’s VLE and containing specific pages. The module convenor introduces the e-portfolio tool in the first week of the module.
Legal Skills became a pilot study for the DEVELOP Project because the University’s e-portfolio tool does not allow for a predefined set of templates. Previously, workshops at the start of the module focussed too much on the set-up of the e-portfolio. Although an e-Learning Team member was present for the workshops, the focus set a precedent for the module convenor to provide technical support. More crucially the introduction to the module had too much of a technical bent and students were not spending enough time thinking about the work they had to do over the year.
The DEVELOP Project ran a series of seven pilots using the e-Portfolio Templates widget. The widget provides “just-in-time” help around the VLE e-portfolio tool, prompting students at each step in the creation and maintenance of their e-portfolio and responding to their actions accordingly. It also allows students to import sets of templates into their e-portfolios in just a few clicks and take a quiz that creates a portfolio page for each student’s answers. The purpose of piloting the widget with Legal Skills was to see if it could enable the module convenor to focus less on technical set-up and support and more on the aims and expectations of the module.
The pilots proved very successful and achieved more than was expected. Although, as usual, a member of the e-Learning Team was present for the duration of the module’s first workshop (this year, run seven times for different groups of students), there were far fewer calls for assistance; the students were able to follow the help prompts on the screen. The ability to import a set of templates into the e-portfolios cut the time spent on technical set-up down from approximately an hour to about ten minutes at most. The remaining time scheduled for the workshop could then be used to focus on what the students were expected to do with the e-portfolios throughout the year with the module convenor taking the time to explain the purpose of each page. The availability of a quiz function precluded the need for a whole area of technical support as instructing the students on how to upload Word documents was no longer necessary.
Report from the pilot lead
Following on from the successful introduction of the new portfolio tool in the autumn term 2011 I thought I would take this opportunity to compare the ‘portfolio experience’ for this academic year against that of last year (2010-2011). I would like to make the following points:
- The portfolio tool is located within the Legal Skills module and is launched directly from the portfolio tab. I think this has been very successful and reduced the level of confusion experienced by part 1 students when accessing their portfolios after the initial teaching session which takes place in week 1 of the Autumn Term. This has also meant that the link between the portfolios and their being assessed as part of the Legal Skills module has been reinforced. Previously the portfolios were launched through iLearn.
- The new prompts that are now part of the portfolio tool significantly reduced the number of queries relating to the completion of the Individual Learner Profile (ILP), and its subsequent insertion into the personal portfolio. A brief assessment indicates that the number of queries were reduced by over 65% (from 2010-2011) and those that did query the process were almost all students that did not attend the PC workshop where the portfolios were created. The queries received in the main were amount a ‘glitch’ that did not allow the completed ILP to be located in the portfolio. This was resolved quickly by the DEVELOP team.
- The ‘how to’ prompts in general are a very good addition to the portfolio tool and I hope have been helpful for the students.
- The main benefit for both the students and me has been the reduced amount of time spent building the portfolio and thus the increased amount of time spent teaching the students about the content required for the templates contained in the portfolio. In general, and again only a brief assessment, the number of queries I have received during the autumn term in relation to the portfolios has again reduced significantly, and are more to do with the content required for templates rather than other issues to do with construction of the portfolios.
- At the end of the autumn term 2011 I completed the first of the reviews on the legal skills portfolios. Those students that had started the portfolios had done so very well. As ever there are a number of students who have yet to start the process and it will be interesting to see when they get closer to the deadlines for submission whether they contact me.
- As a consequence of the new portfolio tool and the revised way of teaching session I have now produced a new handout for the portfolios. It is succinct and deals only with the mechanics of creating the portfolio. As ever, there are always a number of students who did not attend the initial timetabled sessions and I decided on this occasion to run a further teaching session for those students. They were instructed to create the portfolios using the handout as a guide prior to the session. They all managed this successfully and also completed the ILP prior to the session. The session, therefore, focused purely on the content required for the portfolios.
- The portfolios are also used by part 1 students at TUC in Malaysia. On a recent visit the Legal Skills leader was instructed on how to use the portfolio tool. She will hopefully provide feedback to me shortly.
I hope the above comments are of use to you. I think the project has been successful from both my point of view and that of the students.
School of Law
6th February 2012.