Professional Development Anybody?


The topic of professional development (PD) seems to be a vexed issue among educators. Who should have it? What PD is most relevant to the individual? Is PD even needed? If so, how and when should it be undertaken? Who should deliver that PD?

I offer the experience below not by way of answering any of these questions but in the hope that it may shed some light on the discussions surrounding them. I have suppressed the identity of the person that prompted this post, as well as avoiding their particular area of expertise, with a view to saving embarrassment. I refer to that individual as “Q”.


Q and I have known each other for years, and we routinely exchange ideas via Twitter. He had been teaching “X” for two years when the events below unfolded, and he felt that he was in command of his subject when it started. It turned out that his knowledge was both partial and faulty, though he did not know that at the time.

The Events

What started as a direct message (DM) unleashed a tsunami of learning for Q. He was puzzled by one small thing, and he sent me a DM about it. There then followed a long exchange of direct messages, including links to educational resources. It rapidly became apparent that we needed a face-to-face session, and the date, time and location were agreed.

I then prepared a PD session using a workshop approach. This included a session plan, handouts, and generating appropriate questions to ask of Q. The first task of the session was to correct Q’s misunderstandings, followed by a gap analysis, and ending with some delivery of learning. Everything was customised to Q’s context. This established a basis for what was to follow.

The face-to-face PD lasted for two hours, and Q was exhausted at the end of it. The amount of preparation time and effort needed for that session was about the same as would be needed for any session of that duration regardless of the number of participants.

The remaining PD was via direct messages, this perhaps contrasting starkly to the factory model of delivering PD to a group of people in a room.

Q then shared some of his students’ work for my comment, and it also became apparent that he was getting a firm grasp of the fundamental concepts. We then went on to the topic of grades. The grade descriptors figured very strongly here. Where Q saw a B and and B+, I saw a B and an A. Working in the industry as I do, I immediately understood the grade descriptors in both the work context and the educational context. Q did not have that advantage. The PD had moved from the phase of understanding the content to the phase of understanding how student work should be graded.

The final step of the PD was to bring in industry considerations, something that was beyond the scope of the curriculum, but that would nevertheless help to inform Q of the type of feedback that he could be giving to his students.

Q shortly afterwards expressed great gratitude for what I had helped him to learn.

Final Comments

The above may point to some perhaps intractable problems. If Q had been asked if he needed PD before all these events happened his answer would almost certainly would have been “no”. Even if he had said “yes”, how would decision makers made the necessary PD available to him? Where would they find the funding, the training provider, and the political will? Regardless of the answers to those questions, I think it is worthwhile pointing out that Q sought out his own PD, and this has benefited both himself and all his existing and future students.

In the Age of Information, Ignorance is a Choice


This post arises from an accumulation of observations of many people for whom an appropriate description would be “willfully ignorant”. I have in the past been described as being “fiercely analytical”. I make no apology for being that way, and it is by being that way that I write the first sentence in this piece.


Teachers have a number of legal, moral and ethical obligations towards those whom they teach. This includes accuracy of the information given, and making plain differences between facts, opinions and falsehoods. Such obligations also extend to anybody who seeks to impart knowledge to others. Search engines have made fact checking very quick and fairly easy. Anybody who fails to avail themselves of this is making a conscious decision to remain uninformed.

“But It’s Only a Theory!”

Words in English can have multiple meanings. The word “set” covers no less than two pages of definitions in the 1973 edition of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. The phrase “Theory of General Relativity” appears to be widely recognised. I have yet to find anybody who thinks that Einstein’s work was just a guess, that being another common meaning of the word “theory”. It seems reasonable to expect that any informed individual would be aware of that distinction.

For anybody who is not fully familiar with the theory of evolution, it is a well-substantiated explanation for the diversity of life on our planet. It is accepted as a fact in the scientific community.

The time has come to introduce Mike Pence and Christina Wilkinson, vice-president elect of the United States of America at the time of writing and headteacher of St Andrew’s Church of England Primary in Oswaldtwistle Lancashire respectively. Christina is on record as saying “Evolution is not a fact. That’s why it’s called a theory!”. This caused such a storm that Christina deleted her Twitter account.

Mike Pence is on record as saying in 2002 “The truth is [evolution] always was a theory [not a fact]” (YouTube video at time stamp 2:26). As far as I can ascertain, Mike Pence still holds this position.

Both of these individuals appear to remain uninformed.

Looking Forward

This is not the place to try understand the reasons behind the choice to remain ignorant. It is a question perhaps best left to educational psychologists. The question that does remain is how can educators encourage future adults to take take advantage of the great quantity of information that is easily accessible. I suspect the answer starts with each child’s first day at school.

A Philosophy of Instructional Design


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.


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.


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.

A Foray Into Learner Experience Design


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


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.)


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?


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


I thank both Jo Hart (Twitter @JoHart, blog and Michael Graffin (Twitter @mgraffin, web site 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.

Silos and Connectivism


My thanks go to Shelly Terrell (Twitter: @ShellTerrell, blog for prompting me to write this post.


The story starts with an experience towards the end of my high school career when I was studying physics and chemistry (among other subjects). During one particular week the topics being taught were so closely related that I imagined that the two teachers were talking to each other about what they were teaching. I asked one the teachers about this, and he said that they both worked quite independently. This left me with a puzzle for over 45 years. With current discussion in the educational community on the matter of silos and connectivism, now seems like a good time to give that puzzle an airing.

Of Subject Interdependency

Subjects at most high schools are taught quite independently of each other, and yet the links between them are obvious. The study of literature is crucially dependent on a thorough understanding of the language in which the literature is written, often English in English speaking countries. Similarly the study of science is dependent on a reasonable grasp of mathematics.

Speaking from my own background in the sciences, I was learning the mathematics that I was to need in science classes typically one or two years beforehand, a subject that I have always enjoyed. As a consequence, I found the mathematical content of science classes to be trivially easy.

Development – Part 1

There is a theme that I have encountered regularly for decades which is that school leavers avoid reading physics or chemistry at university because in their minds they contain too much mathematics, and instead opt for one of the “softer” sciences such as environmental science or psychology.

There is an area of mathematics known as “statistics”. Understanding statistics depends on first understanding some other “simpler” areas of mathematics. (If you must know what those areas are, they are algebra and calculus.)

At the time of writing Swinburne University of Technology offers a Bachelor Degree in Psychology with a compulsory unit “Foundations of Statistics“. Also at the time of writing Curtin University includes what I would regard as high school mathematics, but without any statistics, in its physical science courses. These two examples come from a few minutes research on the Internet, and reinforce the idea that softer sciences need more powerful mathematical techniques than the physical sciences to obtain meaningful results at the undergraduate level.

We now have all the ingredients necessary to describe a potential problem. Anybody leaving year 12 and opting to study a “soft” science on the basis of their weakness in mathematics is making a big mistake. The cause is perhaps obvious: high school biology, for example, is less about mathematics and more about form and function than either physics or chemistry, leading students to think mistakenly that this will carry over into their university studies.

Development – Part 2

The preceding section identifies two issues. The first issue is the apparent compartmentalisation of knowledge, and is the burden of this post. The second issue of people not understanding what is needed to study soft sciences is beyond the scope of this post, and may be the subject of a future post.

The teaching of different subjects by different teachers is a paradigm based on silos of knowledge. It is up to the student to develop an understanding of how those subjects are related. The idea of a holistic approach to teaching in high schools seems to be regarded as being revolutionary. Finland may be the first country in the world that has addressed the issue of helping students understand the links between traditional subjects. As the Independent newspaper puts it “Subjects scrapped and replaced with ‘topics’“.

This then raises the question of what we should be asking our high school teachers to be teaching. While many teachers might feel threatened by this, I would have expected each of my physics, chemistry and mathematics high school teachers to be comfortable teaching across all three subject areas. A similar case could be argued for history and geography. You could probably suggest your own combination of subjects.

The Future

The reaction from teachers in being asked to engage in cross-disciplinary teaching is perhaps predictable. It came as no surprise to me that the target of the above link includes the words “the reforms have met objections from teachers and heads“. But as Marjo Kyllonen, Helsinki’s education manager, has said “There are schools that are teaching in the old fashioned way which was of benefit in the beginnings of the 1900s – but the needs are not the same and we need something fit for the 21st century.“. I suspect it may be many years before this approach becomes the norm in Westernised countries. I think that it will take the efforts of educators with this vision that will help to shorten the timescale. I see social media, physical conferences and online conferences as being essential communications tools for those educators to talk to each other and the wider community.

I will confess to my own impatience for the advent of holistic teaching.

Recognition of Prior Learning by e-Portfolio


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.


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.