About this post
In this guest blog post, Sarah Chesney reflects on a day spent chairing a PebblePad sponsored event at Sheffield Hallam University on the subject of eportfolios in professional development. In the post, Sarah discusses the recurrent themes from the day and examines the evolution of eportfolio practices in support of staff development as well as considering the challenges surrounding eportfolio implementation. Enjoy.
It’s impossible to do justice to the range of conversations from the host of professionals who attended the day. Some delegates were attending to find out more about eportfolios to support professional development because they were at the start of designing a process, and some were there to share their practice. The day was billed as a conversational event for people involved in supporting or promoting the use of eportfolios in:
- professional development
- professional standards and recognition
- performance management, promotion and tenure
For me, there was an element of ‘coming home’ after having been the project lead for the Jisc Funded Flourish Project (2007-2009) which focused on using an eportfolio to support staff development activities. This event was, therefore, an opportunity to catch up and find out if the purpose for using an eportfolio for staff development had evolved and if there are still some challenges to implementation (spoiler alert – there are!)
Reasons for using an eportfolio for professional development
Delegates identified multiple reasons for using an eportfolio, but what was striking was the desire for the process to further enhance practice, this included:
- A better understanding of the student perspective (Iain Griffin, University of Northampton)
- Selling the experience as good for students, so why not ourselves (Esther Jubb, University of Cumbria)
- Preparing staff in advance of using an eportfolio with their students (Joy Robbins, University of Bradford)
So even when thinking about our own development, we are still concerned with how this impacts upon the relationship with our students!
Challenges around implementation
It was interesting listening to the discussion around the challenges of using an eportfolio for professional development. In hindsight, some of the challenges described were very similar to those we experienced a decade ago with the Flourish project. I'm not sure we truly identified challenge 1 and 2 below when the project was running and it's only now, after reflecting on the conversations at Sheffield Hallam, that these come into sharp focus.
1. Staff digital literacies
A decade ago this wasn’t a recognised term and it’s only in retrospect that I can see how significant a challenge this was. While it may represent progress to better understand the challenge, many delegates felt that we are not much further forward when it comes to feeling that, as a body, staff have the digital competence to use and review others’ eportfolios.
2. Attitudes to professional development
Attitudes to professional development can vary widely between individuals. Some individuals are keen to record and reflect on their development and see this as an ongoing process and an integral part of their professional identity. Others view professional development as a limited number of activities that are designed to comply with institutional processes e.g. performance review, rather than a longer term, iterative and cumulative process. This difference in attitudes is never going to change. I wonder if we need to acknowledge this and rather than try to ‘convert’ colleagues to our way of thinking, just move on and focus on things we can change.
These differences gain greater emphasis if different services have different approaches e.g. HR and academic development. Throughout the day we returned to the need to talk to the range of stakeholders in any professional development process. There can be some easy wins here - one delegate reported that as a result of a conversation she had with her counterpart in HR, the HR department asked if they could use the eportfolio for performance review.
3. Professional bodies acceptance of an eportfolio
To be fair, when Flourish was running, eportfolios were an unfamiliar technology for many and professional bodies were assessing how an eportfolio could support the activities they required members to engage in. However, it’s disappointing to learn that 10 years on, some professional bodies are still reluctant to engage with eportfolios as a means of accepting claims for recognition or as evidence of remaining in good standing.
A decade on from Flourish and the broad, sector-wide challenges facing institutions are much greater. The agendas around the teaching excellence framework, reporting of staff qualifications, how to track remaining in good standing, and the pressures of keeping costs down and doing more with less mean that there has never been greater urgency for the development of systematic and sustainable eCPD.
Recurrent themes from the event
If I was to pick out recurrent themes from the day, then these would be:
Although the reasons for using an eportfolio were to generally to enhance practice, there are some things ‘we’ (collectively) want in return. We want a secure, private online space to record and reflect upon our development.
The word ‘trust’ was used in a number of conversations – we need to trust the software and have the ability to control what we share. We need to trust the people we share with.
Staff as learners
Ultimately we want to be treated as ‘learners’ and we need an acknowledgement that we are vulnerable when we reveal what we are learning. This is so often a crucial part of whether staff engage with the eportfolio or not.
We want a software system that allows flexibility and some structure, depending on the developmental process it is being used for.
Senior management support
We want senior managers to demonstrate meaningful support of the use of an eportfolio, and we need leaders to help us take our initiatives forward.
To sum up, the creativity and patient development work that was demonstrated through the presentations provides us with reason to feel optimistic in the face of the challenges we face. The day evidenced that we have professionals in the sector who can and will develop robust and valuable processes that are underpinned by an eportfolio approach.