Reflection on CPD, Recognition of Prior Informal Learning, digital presence and (Bb) portfolios

photo of reflections on River Clyde

(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.


10 thoughts on “Reflection on CPD, Recognition of Prior Informal Learning, digital presence and (Bb) portfolios”

  1. Thanks for sharing your experiences Sheila and good luck with the SF 🙂 I’m a big fan of reflective e-portfolio use as you probably know and I found mahara a good tool for my CMALT application.

  2. Thanks for an interesting post Sheila. It’s fascinating to hear about the ‘soft’ aspects of process in your accreditation. The technical stuff was fascinating too. I bet that if senior people at Blackboard used the editor regularly, it would soon get fixed:) So thanks for making me glad I no longer have to curse at Blackboard on a regular basis.

    1. Thanks as ever for commenting Frances – it has been a worhwhile process whatever the outcome. Bb know about issues with the text editor it has been reported by many so I thought another approach was worth a go

  3. splendid. As a Principal Fellow, I’m sure that the HEA will be very impressed with your portfolio – no shortage of reflection in your blogs etc. As for Bb text editing…hah….indeed….there are quite a few small annoyances in Bb that a bit of a push would tidy up and would completely change some folk’s perspective on the system…little effort, big return……but we’ll see.

    1. Thanks Iain – hopefully the panel reviewing it will think the same and yes a little bit of effort on some current things would make a huge difference for Bb users

  4. Well done on completely the portfolio, Sheila.
    Completely agree re Bb html editor. It’s a nightmare for staff. We usually recommend copying and pasting into something like WordPad first (removes the html formatting) and then into Blackboard.
    Of course, we just have Bb Learn – so no portfolio system at all!

  5. Thanks for the positive words on the partnering, Sheila. Working with you on this served to completely underline the point about ‘blogging as professional memory’ you made to me a while back.

    What I really took away from reading this post was your articulate summary of how almost ALL staff I work with feel about formatting the portfolio in Bb! Most of us don’t have the vocabulary around it, so it just ends up being expressed as “Aaargh!”

    It’s reassuring in a sense to see that you, a colleague in blended learning, feels the same as others (as do colleagues elsewhere), even though you’re able to grapple with a bit of HTML. It’s definitely improving all the time, but I’d say this can often be the hardest part of the process for many colleagues — particularly as it generally comes at a stage when all the tricky writing is complete!

    1. Thanks for the comment Sam. It was very cathartic writing it and I hope it is useful to others, maybe just as informal advice to not leave putting “stuff” into the Bb portfolio until the last minute. On reflection now I wonder if I should have done an early draft in the portfolio format?

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