Workflow is an e-portfolio learning tool piloted by students within the BA Graphic Design course between January and June 2011. Developed by the Centre for Learning and Teaching in Art and Design (CLTAD) and led by Senior Lecturer Cath Caldwell, the objective of the pilot was to use learning technologies to create a reflective PPD portfolio tool. Students were encouraged to upload their work to create digital portfolios and gain confidence in their own writing and editing.
Here, Cath talks us through the initiative; its aims, outcomes and benefits for both student and practitioner.
Using a CLTAD digital pilot, we created an e-portfolio learning tool for students linked to our Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). First year students within the BA Graphic Design Course created digital collections of their work for specific Units and they uploaded content into an e-portfolio. Each e-portfolio became a personal visual record, showing work and valuable reflective comments. They wrote reflectively to comment on their learning process. This aided the assessors as they marked the PPD learning outcome in that Unit. Students gained confidence in their own writing and editing. The aim was to see if this could be used as a formative or summative assessment tool beyond the pilot.
The BA Graphic Design course at Central Saint Martins is characterised by a diagnostic first year and four distinct routes are established in second year. The e-portfolio was introduced during Stage 1 in order to help the students reflect on their own PPD and learning and to encourage them to show and discuss work among peers and tutors. The VLE is an essential tool with a year group of 180 and the e-portfolio provided staff with the opportunity to keep track of students’ work as it emerged during the year in formative stages of Unit 3 and 4.
Why Workflow? Challenges faced prior to pilot
- The challenge was to teach students how to reflect on their work following formative feedback from tutors.
- The problem was how to get students to engage with a constant reflective process when they didn’t see what was in it for them. They regarded PPD as getting in the way of learning the subject they applied for and were a bit suspicious of it.
- Another problem was that through using social networks like Facebook they were not using appropriate vocabulary in their digital presentations online.
- A further challenge was the sporadic nature of different blogs, websites and links that tutors could not open when viewing moving image and dynamic work for assessment. This created a lack of parity in moderating marks when tutors could simply not open the work due to faulty links and URLs.
- Finally, a cohort of 180 students is hard to manage and the staff were looking for a solution that helped them to keep track of students’ workflow as we approached assessment.
Introducing the scheme to students
I prepared a briefing session for the whole year group explaining the importance of presenting your work in person and the difference between presenting it digitally. I stressed the importance of writing captions in order to explain work, and that this was a trial for two Units.
Mike Kelly from CLTAD supported the project, and he presented the tool to the students and explained how to use it.
We did a second briefing followed by a hands-on workshop with technical expert Ray Barker. Straight after the seminar students logged in and immediately got a feel for the tool, which worked well. We had a drop-in surgery a couple of months later to test the e-portfolio and answer any specific questions. Students mostly learned from each other and used peer support.
Before assessment a colleague explained to our students how digital tools can help personal development. The presentation summarised the learning and teaching benefits gained by students commenting on work and how this enhanced the communication between the viewer and the presenter. This stage enabled students to go back in and adjust their text and labeling. This activity improved wayfinding and therefore helped us with assessment as we could now readily find constituent project outputs.
The pilot lasted from January to June and this allowed time for iterative testing.
About 170 students in all engaged out of 180. This was a good-sized sample for feedback, and to inform CLTAD. Students made some critical comments about the features and fed back to Mike who then made adjustments.
On reflection the main benefits were:
- The students engaged fully and were satisfied with some really well written and well-designed e-portfolios.
- Staff were able to view students’ work easily instead of trying to call individuals in for meetings. This could be used together with online feedback.
- We now could mark work for absentees with accommodated assessment if needed using the digital interface.
- For the weaker students staff found they could use the e-portfolio to identify students who needed support through reading their comments or lack of them.
- Students in that pilot year liked it so much that some decided to continue using it as a personal tool after progression to Stage 2. We can keep an eye on their progress and see how they develop the tool as they mature as learners.
- Some are now linking blogs to it and their own external websites too.
- The e-portfolio tool gave them a sense of achievement and increased the pride in their work. As a group they like the sharing aspect as it came without the pitfalls of other popular social media.
- The tool really helped staff to keep track of students workflow as we approached assessment.
On reflection a few negatives balanced out the positives:
- We needed to keep it simple. A student with dyslexia found it hard to navigate through.
- Some features were not needed, e.g. groups.
- Navigation and ‘going back’ was stilted.
- Students found WordPress software easier to use.
- Occasionally the server went down.
- The UAL password policy made it difficult to access.
- We repeated the experience for Stage 1 students in 2011/12 and built upon our pilot experience.
- Unexpectedly it became a useful tool for progressing students on to the next stage. We were able to hand on the large group of students to their new Route Leaders and show tutors portfolios, all accessible via the VLE. Stage 2 tutors could then talk about the work in an introductory meeting.
- Students learned new skills including how to write captions for their work and to include reflective comments about their learning processes for formative assessment.
- The e-portfolio experience helped students to see the benefit from time they spent reflecting and writing about their learning; a good thing to figure out in Stage 1 and useful to carry forward whilst in HE.