A Rate of Learning

Acknowledgments

The inspiration for this post comes from this tweet by Heather Julian (Twitter @mathrules13) and re-tweeted by Jill B (Twitter @jillgrafton):mathrules13

Background

I will take it as a given the readers are familiar at least one set of skill/attainment level descriptors going from “can recognise” to “can exploit”, and agree that different people have different levels of recall for different things. I will also take it as a given that readers are familiar with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

This post does not refer to any publications, scholarly or otherwise. It is merely one person’s thoughts, and it is intended merely to provoke discussion.

The Teaching-Learning Equation

There are a number of phrases associated with the acquisition of skills and knowledge from a source outside the learner, each phrase having its own level of acceptability in different contexts. Examples include “teaching”, and “delivery of learning”. My own sense is that such phrases can obscure the dynamics of the teacher-pupil situation. Given the context implied by Heather’s tweet, I propose a scenario where the teacher:

  • has full command of the subject
  • is totally self-confident
  • has excellent communications skills
  • has good empathy
  • has a good grasp of the pupil’s current knowledge base in the subject

(I can hear some of you thinking back to your own school days and thinking “I wish!”.) Also, to do justice to Heather’s question, I think that we need to focus on what is going on in the pupil’s mind (and here I am forced to rely on my own memories of school, as augmented by how some of my own students have demonstrated learning).

A Model of Learning

My own model of learning is constructivism. In the context of numeracy, a grasp of whole numbers is necessary before the idea of fractions can have any meaning, for example, and the rest of this post is written accordingly.

I find the words “truly remember” and “meet our standards” to be thought-provoking, as it raises questions about what level of memory is being envisaged, and whose standards are being applied during assessment. Using the “quadratic formula” as an example, memory may range from recalling “I know that phrase means something” to being able to write it down upon the instant (as well knowing what it is used for), and its consequent relationship to skill/attainment level descriptors.

Extending the words “truly remember” and “meet our standards” to what the learning experience means for the pupil can also be revealing. Again from personal experience at high school, I was in one cohort where everybody was expected to learn lines of poetry and recite them in class. I learned what I needed to in the preceding 48 hours, recited, and promptly forgot them one hour later. In terms of the teacher’s expectation that we should all enjoy poetry, it was for me a disaster: his standards were irrelevant to me at a personal level.

At the opposite extreme, and at the same school and at about the same time, I had a number of experiences that I found to be highly relevant. I have room here to describe only one of them. The subject was mathematics. The class had been working though material for a few days, and I was not quite sure of how all the bits and pieces fitted together. Towards the end, the teacher spoke a single sentence and everything suddenly fell into place. That learning has stayed with me for over 40 years, this in stark contrast to the poetry experience.

Discussion

Teachers may have aspirations for their pupils. Sometimes those aspirations are selfish. At other times they are focused on the pupil. I have memories of both from my school days. It is for this reason that I posited the scenario above.

We are now into the complex area of the teacher’s motives, skills, knowledge and abilities and the interaction of these with the pupil’s motives, skills, knowledge and abilities. I argue that it is this complexity that rules out any simple answer or answers to Heather’s question, and that perhaps we should instead be asking ourselves “What can I do to help this pupil towards self-actualisation in as quick and as efficient way as possible?”.

Conclusion

It’s not an easy job!

A Philosophy of Instructional Design

Acknowledgment

The inspiration for this post comes from Temitope Ogunsakin and his comment on this post where he asks “What would you say is your Instructional Design philosophy?”. This post is by way of answering his question.

Objective

The objective of this philosophy is to make the learning experience as easy and enjoyable as possible for the learner. This has two outcomes. Firstly, it maximises the effective of the learning experience for the learner. It also fulfills part of the social contract between educator and learner, that of mutual respect.

This philosophy uses a number of guidelines as a way of meeting that objective. Discerning readers will notice that I have avoided using the word “rules”, as rules tend to be prescriptive and thereby interfere with reaching the objective.

Assumptions

This philosophy makes a number of assumptions about the learner. At the risk of perhaps stating the obvious, it may be worthwhile making those assumptions explicit, and it provides readers with an opportunity to challenge those assumptions.

All Learning is Built on Previous Knowledge

While the claim “All learning is built on previous knowledge” may seem bold, and it sidesteps the question of how babies start acquiring knowledge, I would argue that it is a useful starting point for discussing later learning. By way of example, the teaching of grammar relies on learners being able to recognise sentences, which in turn relies of the recognition of words. In a similar fashion, the ability to use money relies on (among other things) the ability to recognise and understand the meaning of digits.

Different Learners Learn at Different Speeds

It is perhaps a common mantra that different learners learn at different speeds, so it is worthwhile checking a few sources to see how widespread this view is. A quick search on Google found this from the Board of Studies Teaching & Educational Standards NSW, this from the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority, and this from the New England Complex Systems Institute, all of which support this view.

Adults and Children Learn Differently

Adults bring a number of skills and personal attributes into the learning situation that can be harnessed to good effect. These include, but are not limited to, life experiences across a wide range of subjects, independent research skills, and a thorough grasp of what they want to achieve from their learning.

All Learning Requires the Sharing of an Idea

With the claim “All learning requires the sharing of an idea” I can see readers saying “But what about psycho-motor learning? And affective learning?”. While subjects such as pure mathematics and philosophy are entirely cognitive, and the claim is unlikely to be challenged in those arenas, I would also argue that “the idea comes first” in both other areas. In the case of psycho-motor skills, the idea is often shared by way of demonstration, and followed by learner practice Examples include how to use a hammer, how to drive a car, and how to use a paint brush. With affective learning, the idea is often first shared by asking a question: “How would you feel if …?”, followed by a discussion. Agreeing the ground rules with a new cohort is another example.

Tasks Analysis

I have designed and used task-analysed teaching material from nearly 20 years, and I have found it to be one of the most effective tools in my educational toolkit. I have found that the ideal length of a learning task is between five and 15 steps.

The Guidelines

  • Audience identification: Unless I have a very good idea about what the learners already know, and what it is that they wish to learn, I have nothing to work with: I have no foundations upon which to present new ideas, and I have no direction as to which ideas I should choose. By way of example, I delivered learning in Microsoft project a group of older people who were experienced project planners using manual techniques and who wanted to learn how to use Project instead.
     
  • Matching the learning material to the learners’ existing knowledge base: Using the same scenario as above, I learned that my audience were in the business of installing water distribution infrastructure, so examples, exercises and questions about pipe laying, construction of pumping houses and supply of electrical power were obvious choices.
     
  • Bite sized chunks of learning: My comment on the ideal size of task-analysed activities translates well into other learning activities when it comes to planning the amount of material to be shared between signposts. Even in an extended whole group discussion, the learners themselves can raise such signposts, and the learning goes on to new ideas.
     
  • Structure: I regard structure as crucial. This is a direct consequence of the idea that learners build their new understanding on the foundation of previous knowledge.
     
  • Humour: Humour can be used tool, though not all learners seem to recognise it at the time. One cohort only came to understand the significance of a Mr Thread as the CEO of the Brazil Nut and Bolt Company in their coursework once they had finished their exams. Other humour can be injected ad lib while speaking.
     
  • Personal relevance: Without personal relevance, the learning material is likely to be less effective. The mathematics of the motor car was so interesting to one youth-at-risk that it turned his life around and he became a productive member of society.
     
  • Relevant technologies: The idea of of using technology as a ploy to engage students strikes me as at best silly. Having said that, I will make heavy use of technology where it is relevant. With the Microsoft Project course, it was appropriate to make the following design decisions:
    • All the learning materials, apart from Microsoft Project itself, were entirely web-based. There were no paper handouts.
    • All learners had individual computers, each with a copy of Microsoft Project already loaded.
    • All learners were invited to bring one of their current projects along with them using whatever technology suited them.
    • All learners were expected to work with both Microsoft Project and the web-based learning materials open on their computer at the same time.
    • All learners were expected to leave the course with a fully functional copy of one of their projects in Microsoft project.

    For the record, the course was extremely successful.

  • Immediate feedback: Some subjects, such a computer programming, Excel and Microsoft Project, have immediate feedback as an inherent quality of the product being learned. Immediate feedback is now normally built into web pages where this is relevant. When I write such pages, I build in such feedback at the design stage.
     

A Final Comment

I would never present all of the above as a single serving to anybody who was learning about instructional design. Having said that, it would not surprise me if experienced instructional designers read it in less than a minute, and then wanted to add their own ideas to the material presented here.

But What Use Does Maths Have Anyway?

Acknowledgment

The inspiration for this post comes from Lee Finkelstein (Twitter: @leefink) with a tweet that resulted in the following exchange:
leefink
and it raises the question of why mathematics is taught in schools. The rest of this post shares my ideas on this question.

Assumptions Revisited

It seems to me that one of the purposes of schooling is to equip students with the knowledge, skills and attitudes to function effectively as adults once they leave school. It also seems to me that different students have different aptitudes and interests, and this has impact both on their performance at school and their learning. There is also the observation students will be “going into the world” where there will be jobs that do not exist at the time of their schooling.

Using Lee’s cri de coeur about why his 11th grade daughter needed to memorize things about the unit circle as a starting point, it is worthwhile commenting that every subject at school has relationships with other subjects, even though they tend to be taught in isolation from each other at high school. By way of example, mathematics is an essential component of the high school subjects chemistry, physics and engineering drawing. Mathematics is also an enabling tool for vast numbers of jobs in the workplace. Similar comments apply to the study of language its relationship with the workplace.

Speaking from personal experience, there were subjects that “bored me rigid” at school. It was not until well into my own adult life that I developed an interest in some of those subjects.

Discussion

The above raises the thorny and perennial question of what, and perhaps to a lesser extent when and how, educators (and by this I include non-teachers as well) should decide what should be learned. I have no answers to this question. All I can do in this context is to mention ideas and raise issues for other people to ponder and perhaps come up with their own answers.

It now seems appropriate to offer some personal experiences. When it comes to mathematics, its relevance to me was that I found it engaging for its own sake. There were three areas in particular (quadratic equations, linear algebra and statistics if you must know) that proved to be invaluable 20 years later, and saved my then employer in the region of US $10M/year. I found history and geography to be as dry as dust, and it was not until I explored the countries of western Europe as an adult that what little I had learned as a child served as an invaluable basis for learning about, and more to the point understanding, what it was that I was looking at.

Finally

I must now leave it for you, dear reader, to respond with your comments below. I look forward to hearing from you.

A Foray Into Learner Experience Design

Acknowledgment

The inspiration for this post came from Joyce Seitzinger (web site: www.lxdesign.co, twitter @catspyjamasnz) and her leadership in the arena of learner experience design.

Background

I have developed a range of different materials for different subjects since the mid 1990s. In terms of generating a positive emotional response, the most successful of these was a paper handout where learners had to puzzle out for themselves how to assemble fragments to computer code to achieve a required outcome. The responses ranged from quiet, but still audible, expressions of satisfaction to loud exclamations of success. But for all the materials that I developed the concept of learner experience design was something of an assumption: I was too focused on producing material that was concise, complete and accurate. The time has come for me to turn this around and produce something focused primarily on learner experience design, and treat the subject matter as a given. (The result of this exercise can be found here.)

Discussion

I wanted to design and build something completely from scratch. This immediately eliminated all existing learning management systems and other software aimed at creating interactive learning experiences. This had a downside: learners would not have a record of their progress.

There then came the issues of the target learners, and the subject matter. My own work with adult learners immediately suggested this group, and my own familiarity with mathematics suggested the topic of fractions.

The criteria for success came next. I chose the following:

  1. How well did the result reflect the expectations and background of mature learners?
  2. Did the result strike an effective balance between visual monotony and visual overload?
  3. How well did the material draw on experiences that mature learners are likely to have?
  4. How easily would learners be able to navigate their way around the material?
  5. Was the material chunked logically?
  6. Was each chunk of an appropriate size for the concept or concepts that it contained?
  7. Did all the material make a coherent whole?
  8. Were there opportunities for self-assessment?

Experience

My original intention was to provide a complete guide on working with fractions (addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, and simplification) and designed the front page accordingly. When I came to writing material for each of the chunks, two things became very apparent. The chunks were in the wrong order, and there was too much material for all the navigation points to be shown on a single display. This failed two of the success criteria: navigation, and logical chunking. Being as I was both a content creator and a subject expert, I took the decision to omit multiplication and division from the result. I also discovered that I needed an extra chunk to precede the multiplication and division chunks that I had not thought about when I first chunked the material. While the original order might have made sense from the viewpoint of keeping related ideas together, it would have been a disaster from a pedagogical viewpoint.

The choice of what examples to use also arose. My own experience of materials about fractions left me feeling somewhat jaded: just how often are pizzas divided into equal segments in these materials? I used examples and photographs of items in my own house: coins, a lemon, a box of eggs, and an empty avocado tray. I also produced a graphic of a fuel gauge.

I had a very particular idea of how I wanted fractions to be displayed. All the usual packages failed to match my requirement, so it was a case of write my own application to do that, and use GIMP to process the images into something suitable for display on a web page.

Criticisms of the Result

While the result could be described as “adequate” when it comes to the success criteria, the following observations could be made:

  1. The result will not work on mobile devices: the required display size is too large, and the result has no mobile equivalent.
  2. The learner requires an HTML5 web browser.
  3. The use of an avocado tray in the context of an avocado farm probably lies outside the direct experience of most people.
  4. Some learners may find the style too terse.
  5. The chunk on simplifying fractions properly belongs to the (non-existent) pages concerned with multiplying and dividing fractions.
  6. The result has not been trialed.
  7. The result is not compliant with standards such as SCORM.

Lessons Learned

The next time that I prepare such material, I will be able to do so with a more informed perspective.

An Essay on Instructional Design

Acknowledgments

I thank both Jo Hart (Twitter @JoHart, blog johart1.edublogs.org/) and Michael Graffin (Twitter @mgraffin, web site www.mgraffin.com/) for inspiring me to write this post.

On Learning About Instructional Design

When Jo mentioned instructional design in conversation, I realised that while I was acquainted with the term and that it was to do with designing and building educational experiences for learners, I was quite ignorant of exactly what it is that constitutes instructional design, and I regarded this as a quite unsatisfactory state of affairs. A little bit of research soon threw up the following resources:

As I worked my way through these articles, I realised that I had been here before 40 years ago, though in a different context. I was looking at how systems are first analysed, and then designed.

On Analysing Systems

In the business context, the phrase “systems analysis” means producing a model of how part or all of the business works, usually with a view to improving the way that the business operates. This is then followed by “systems design” with the outcome that existing systems are modified to meet the current business objectives, usually increased profits in the case of commercial business.

Translating this into the educational arena, this means producing a model of how education works at the classroom level, and then designing educational experiences to meet the current educational objective, to wit better educated people.

Further Comparison

There are many formal systems for undertaking systems analysis in the business context. This matches the plethora of models of how people learn.

There are many systems design methodologies in the business context. Again the same is true in the educational context: one has only to look at the differing viewpoints in the five links above.

As one trainer in systems analysis and design once said to a class of which I was a part, it is about having a toolbox of methods, and choosing an appropriate method for the situation that you are currently looking at. I think the same holds in the educational context.

The Author’s Toolbox

The concept of instructional design is relevant to all three domains of learning: affective, psycho-motor, and cognitive. However, due to my limited experience in two of them, I address only the cognitive domain.

The model of learning that is presented below results from using the following tools:

  • Observing how learners succeed, and how learners fail, when going through a learning activity.
  • Observing learners’ emotional responses to a range of learning environments and learning activities.
  • Observing the differences in knowledge between different learners in the same cohort.
  • Observing the different rates at which different learners learn.
  • Observing the different different types of question asked by learners of different ages.
  • Observing how students react to different styles of presentation.
  • Observing group dynamics
  • Observing how learner motivation changes over time, and considering what might be causing those changes.
  • Observing how understanding of high school mathematics is dependent on understanding previous concepts.
  • Observing similarities and differences between academic endeavour and commercial endeavour.
  • Observing change of subject matter over time.
  • Asking questions.

A Model of Learning

I claim to have some learning in the areas of mathematics and of information technology, and I use both contexts in what I am about to say.

It seems to me that it is impossible to have the concept of a fraction until you have grasped the concept of a whole: there is a whole cake, take a piece out of it, and you have a fraction of a cake. The same applies to information technology: until you are acquainted with spreadsheets, the term “cell address” is meaningless. In both cases, understanding the second idea is crucially dependent on having a good grasp of the first idea. This is a constructivist approach.

There is also the question of “Why bother to learn?”, this addressing the issue of student motivation. This plays a crucial part when it comes to designing delivery activities and materials.

Relevance of information also plays a part. Applied mathematics changes very slowly, while practice in information technology changes very rapidly. Information that was relevant 10 years ago may be entirely irrelevant today: the floppy disk serves as a paradigm for this. This has implications not just for the professional development of educators, but also for the materials that they use.

The way that learners prefer to study also differ. At one extreme, there are learners who much prefer to work through a learning activity on their own. At other extreme, some learners need a lot of support from their teachers and peers.

Devices for Developing Learning Activities and Materials

The ideas offered below are neither complete nor prescriptive. They again come from my toolbox. Readers must decide for themselves which of those ideas are relevant to their own context.

  • Identifying goals, sub-goal, and sub-sub-goals until you end up with something small enough to be a single learning activity. Verifying that the sequence in which the material is going to be present is logical. This is an iterative process that continues until the summative assessment, if any.
  • Project management:
    • establishing existing levels of knowledge in the learners
    • identifying which learning goals will be achieved by when (aka scheduling)
    • identifying the human resource implications (crucial if you happen to be team teaching)
    • identifying costings where appropriate.
  • Identifying the resources needed for any learning activity, and either locating same or preparing your own.
  • For every planned learning activity, checking the following:
    • relevance
    • completeness
    • correctness, particular for task-analysed activities
    • unambiguousness
    • accessibility
  • Incorporating feedback from the learners into existing and planned learning activities.

In light of the increased use of information technology in learning activities, it is perhaps worthwhile going into some detail about making online learning activities more accessible. At the risk of stating the obvious, merely converting an existing printed document into an online form does nothing to increase the accessibility of the material being learned. The advantages of an online learning environment include, but are not limited to:

  • Immediate feedback on assessment tasks
  • Access to live data
  • Increasing or reducing the challenge presented to the learner on the basis of the learner’s answers (adaptive assessment)
  • Opportunities for independent research
  • Choice of route towards a learning objective
  • Audio and video material
  • Being updated for new information – current news stories are relevant here
  • Being updated for correctness

The choice of route towards a learning objective takes on an even bigger role in online learning. While printed material tends to very linear, online learning lends itself to having multiple pathways, so signposting becomes very important.

An Invitation

Please add your observations and additions in the Comment box below. Thank you.

#30GoalsEDU Conference: a Presenter’s Reflection

Inspire Leader

Introduction and Background

I was delighted when Shelly Terrell (Twitter: @ShellTerrell, blog http://www.shellyterrell.com/about.html) invited me to give a keynote presentation at the 30 Goals E-Conference in July of 2015 on the topic of silos and connectivism. When I sat down to start preparing slides for the presentation, I had expected to go through the usual process of doing a “brain dump”, leaving the material to organise itself as I went from slide to slide. I went into Google Slides, looked at the blankness, and realised that I had nothing to work with. Yes, I had a few personal memories, and I was aware of headlines about what the Finns were doing, but there was nothing of any real substance that I could use.

Research Time!

The time had come to dig into what was behind the headlines in the news outlets, find out what was currently happening in schools and universities both inside and outside Finland, and read curriculum documents. As a research activity, it was all fairly routine. One thing that surprised me was the degree to which headlines could be wide of the mark, with the most extreme being “Finland schools: Subjects scrapped and replaced with ‘topics’ as country reforms its education system” from the Independent Newspaper of 20 March 2015 (accessed 19 July 2015). I found the educational articles available from both the Finnish government’s web site and the Finnish universities to contain a wealth of useful information.

Organising it All

The next step was to organise all the material into a coherent whole. The simplest way to do it was to produce this document which then served as a basis for the presentation. I wrote the speaker’s notes as usual.

The Presentation

Most of my presentations include a lot of text, and I use that as a prompt for what I am about to say. This presentation was quite different: it was almost entirely images. The first rehearsal of the presentation was too short in both content and time. I did a little more research, found some extremely useful material, and added it in. The second rehearsal suffered from two issues: (1) my delivery was hesitant due to the lack of on-screen textual clues, and (2) I was focused on delivering a presentation rather than trying to “sell a message”. There was no time for a third rehearsal, so I had to trust that I would be able to do two things: (1) read the speaker’s notes, and ad lib accordingly, and (2) change my mental focus in the next 14 hours (which included a period of sleep).

Shortly before I was due to present, I was warmly greeted by Jake, Judy and Shelly: their support was extremely helpful. When the time came, Shelly delivered a wonderful introduction, and I was then “on show”. The change of mental focus worked. The writing of the document helped me to ad lib easily from the speaker’s notes. From my own viewpoint, the presentation went as well as I could have hoped. The discussion that followed suggested that I had got my message across. A recording of the presentation can be found here.

Lessons Learned

I have learned two things. The first is that I am not there to deliver a “perfect presentation” but to convince an audience. The second is to trust my own speaker’s notes.

Another day, another lesson learned. 🙂

Recognition of Prior Learning by e-Portfolio

Background

When I was working for my (now outdated) Certificate IV Trainer and Assessor (TAA) qualification, I went through the exercise of assessing a portfolio of evidence against a national qualification. Strangely enough, I have never assessed any student’s portfolio of evidence for the same purpose. But I wondered what creating and submitting a portfolio of evidence was like from the student’s point of view. Added to that, I wanted to see if it was possible to submit such a portfolio entirely by electronic means, rather than (as I have seen others doing) submitting three large lever-arch files crammed full of paper.

The short answer is “Yes, e-portfolios can work”. The rest of this post describes a history of my efforts.

A Piece of Educator’s Jargon

There is a process in Australian education known as “Recognition of Prior Learning” (RPL). If somebody submits a portfolio of evidence, often based on their experience in the work place, to a Registered Training Organisation (RTO), and the RTO assesses that the portfolio demonstrates competence for the award claimed, then the RTO must award the submitter an appropriate certificate.

Subject Area

My subject area was information technology. More specifically, it was Certificate IV in Programming.

The Production Process

Following guidance others who work a lot with the RPL process, I wrote a number of web pages describing my work experiences, and set about matching those experiences against the specific “Performance Criteria” contained in the Units of Competency that constitute the award. Just as I was about to find an RTO that would accept my portfolio, the Certificate was changed, which meant a major overhaul of my portfolio. It will come as no surprise that I found doing the overhaul rather irksome, but at least it meant that the qualification would be valid for rather longer than otherwise.

Structure of the Portfolio

The portfolio was designed with the following objectives:

  • Navigability: it had to be easy for assessors to move their way around the portfolio
  • Adequacy of evidence: the evidence presented needed to be absolutely convincing
  • Entirely electronic

The result was a web site stored on a CD. It contained the following items:

  • A front page, containing links to the rest of the portfolio
  • A guide to the portfolio: how it was organised, with suggestions to assessors as to how they might like to use it
  • An “evidence matrix”, containing exactly one link for each Unit of Competency
  • For each Unit of Competency, a listing of all the Performance Criteria, along with links into the rest of the portfolio showing how each Performance Criterion was met
  • A listing of each of the work place experiences

The portfolio contained a mixture of text, pictures, screen shots, movies and links to external web sites.

I regarded both the evidence matrix and listings of the Performance Criteria for each Unit of Competency as being crucial to the organisation of the portfolio. It allowed me to check for completeness of evidence prior to submission, and it also afforded assessors a means to do their work easily and efficiently.

A Side Issue

As an educator, I assess student work against Units of Competency, and I do so quite ruthlessly. If there is a requirement for something to be demonstrated, but it is not demonstrated by the student, then I am required to not sign off on the award. As I was digging through one of the Units of Competency (ICAA5154B), I came across two things that I did not immediately recognise (Oikos, SOCCA). After doing some research on the Internet, I discovered that they were both projects that had ceased by 1997, and so could no longer be considered relevant. I approached Innovation and Business Skills Australia about this, and was told, in effect, that they can be ignored for the purposes of assessment. This was in stark contrast to what I was taught when I undertook my TAA training. This, and other issues with other Units of Competency, has left me wondering about how well Units of Competency relate to the needs of such a rapidly evolving industry.

Finding an RTO

There are a number of RTOs near where I live, any one of which could have assessed my portfolio. The first one that I approached kept on passing me from person to person, and never returned my telephone messages. This carried on for weeks. The second responded on the same day that I approached them, and I was enrolled on an information session for RPL candidates two days later.

Feedback from the Assessors

When I attended the information session, I handed in a CD with a copy of my portfolio as it then was, this with the purposes of establishing whether or not the assessors might be happy with it as a means of proceeding. In my view, the contents of that CD could not in any way be considered as being fit for assessment: almost half the evidence matrix was missing, and there was a major error in one the work place experience files. Nevertheless, the assessors concluded that I “was operating at a level far higher than [the] Certificate IV level” (their words), though they did not tell me this until much later. Being educators, and hence rushed off their feet, it can be argued that going through that version of the portfolio thoroughly would not have been a legitimate use of their time.

The assessors needed to check that the portfolio was indeed my own work. They checked with one of my clients that I performed the work claimed in the portfolio. They had also encountered another RPL candidate whose portfolio was not his own work (in other words, a fraudulent candidate), and they needed to check that I was indeed the author of the portfolio. We arranged to meet. It was at this meeting that I handed over a CD containing a complete and correct portfolio of evidence. They also revealed that the fraudulent candidate did not even understand the questions that he was being asked at the equivalent meeting.

The assessors deliver learning in a Microsoft context. I work an an open source context. This might have presented something of an issue when it came to a practical demonstration of my own competence. I required of my assessors that I perform my demonstration in my own context, to which they were unhesitatingly agreeable. As a result, I needed to use a student computer in a sandpit setting so that I could load on to it everything that I required. Fortunately, such computers were available. (For the uninformed, most student computers are locked down so hard this sort of thing is quite impossible on them.) The practical demonstration went flawlessly.

The meeting continued after the practical where we chatted about both education and information technology. I was asked for my motive in going through this RPL process, and I duly explained. They also invited me to go for a Diploma based on the evidence that they had seen on the initial CD.

And returning to the theme of having an entirely electronic portfolio, the assessors said that it was by far the best that they had seen, and that it was very easy to navigate. I had achieved my objective.

Update

In a similar fashion, I submitted a CD for the Diploma of Software Development a few weeks later. This was assessed as demonstrating competence without any further work needed on my part.

To the Future

There is a Teachers Guide on the Use of ePortfolios in Education by Med Kharbach (twitter: @medkh9). My own portfolios sit at the “Portfolio as Showcase (Product)” end of the spectrum. They were created using a simple text editor and basic image editing software, this coupled with a good grasp of HTML and CSS. For classroom usage, I would suggest the tools pointed at by Med’s post.