(Image: reflections on the River Clyde from my flickr collection)
I have just finished writing a reflective portfolio as part of our Accelerate CPD framework for accreditation as Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. The experience has, as they say, been quite a ride.
Having the opportunity to take this portfolio based approach is, imho, really useful. Particularly for someone like me who has been around for quite a bit, doing lots of “stuff, hasn’t had much conventional learning and teaching experience. In fact until I started at GCU I had never even considered applying for recognition by the HEA. As I wasn’t actually teaching or a “proper academic” I just presumed I wouldn’t be able to.
Luckily for me, our framework has a number of routes to recognition including RPiL. The structure of the portfolio route here involves working with a dedicated mentor to help develop two case studies and a reflective summary mapped to the UKPSF. My mentor was my GCU LEAD colleague Sam Ellis. Sam’s support and guidance throughout has been fantastic. From explaining the stages involved and the dreaded framework mapping, to teasing out areas suitable for case studies, to just keeping me on track he has been a constant source of calm and reassurance.
Structured self reflection is, I think, one of those painful you know it is good for you but your always too busy doing other things to do it kind of things. Perhaps because I was aware that starting a new part of my career I really needed to validate what I had already done. So for me the RPiL route was actually very welcome, though daunting. I have been involved in so many programmes, projects and standards malarkey it was difficult to think what I could possibly turn into two coherent, relevant case studies. However I did manage to. Over the past 8 moths or so I have been doing a lot of thinking about them and eventually actually writing, rewriting and mapping them to the UKPSF.
A crucial part of the mapping process is evidence. This is where I really feel that my self described unconventional career and in particularly my blogging and open, reflective practice has really paid off. It was really easy for me to look back and find blog posts, presentations. meeting notes and lots of shared reflection. These not only acted as evidence but also triggered my memory about events/thoughts/experiences. My digital presence really paid off. In fact, in classic displacement mode, before writing it, I created a timeline for one of my case studies that linked to loads of posts and presentations. What the evaluation panel makes of it all remains to be seen . . .
Over the past couple of days I have been putting all my “evidence” into a portfolio in our VLE. Perhaps I was slightly blasé about this bit. The hard bits had been done so surely it was just a bit of a cut and past job. Well to an extent it was. However, this is where I have to have a little rant and moan about some really simple things that were just so frustrating.
Our VLE is Blackboard, and to start on a positive note, there have been major improvements to its portfolio functionality over the last couple of years. Setting up a basic portfolio is pretty straightforward as is creating templates. Sharing a snap shot ( a viewable, non editable version) of the portfolio with anyone via email works a treat. The majority of my evidence was hyperlinked so no need to worry about creating “aretfacts” and storing them (that’s for another post).
Hyperlinking in the Bb text editor is a wee bit clunky but fairly straightforward. The most frustration thing for me was formatting. There seemed to be far too much random, rogue formatting weirdness. Having fonts and line spacing apparently randomly changing within pages, and despite using the text editor to reformat without success, is, to put it mildly, somewhat frustrating. More of a what you see you don’t get scenario, which kind of defeats the purpose of WYSIWYG editors. Looking at the Bb HTML editor to trying and figure out what is going on html wise is pretty scary even for a tough old bird like me.
Now, I know that a lot of this weirdness has probably been caused by my cutting and pasting (in this case from a google doc). However in terms of actual use, I think there is a very strong use case around drafts of extended pieces of writing, particularly reflective pieces of writing such as case studies, happening outside the VLE in a sharable document of a learners choices (e.g. google docs, evernote, one drive) and being then the text being pasted into a portfolio structure.
Ah, I hear you say but you could just upload a beautifully formatted word/PDF document. Well yes, but the whole point of an online portfolio, particularly a reflective one such as this, is that the reader (evaluator) doesn’t have to open multiple other documents, they can just read sections within the portfolio structure. Any additional documents should be evidence, not the main body of the portfolio.
I am lucky in that I know a bit of HTML and wasn’t afraid to use that little bit of knowledge along with an HTML cleaner site to get things appearing as they should. But it took ages . . . and it’s those little things that leads everyone to say “ I hate Blackboard” and forget about some of the things that actually do work well. So come on Bb, don’t just wait for the new design, lets sort out the text editor in the version(s) we are all using just now.