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Case Study Introduction - The University of Nottingham

Page history last edited by kirstiec 10 years, 4 months ago
Summary Case study Home Page An overview of use The implementation journey



What is distinctive about this implementation case study :


  • Large-scale implementation informed by the e-Portfolio Implementations Toolkit guidance 
  • Formal and ongoing evaluation and research to inform choices, develop capacity and understanding of the factors that support the effective use of e-portfolios
  • Development of user community


e-Portfolio tool: Mahara and PebblePad.


PURPOSE:  Personal Development Planning, Continuing Professional Development of Staff, Transition to/from the institution, Work-based Learning, Employability/ Graduate attributes, Assessment, Life Long Learning, Professional and Statutory Body requirements, Enterprise and Entrepreneurship.


PROCESSES:  Information capture, Information retrieval, Planning, Feedback, Reflection, Collaboration, and Presentation.


DRIVERS: These were context dependant as the initiation was bottom up, i.e., driven by perceived needs of and by course leaders. Employability was central to many of the implementations.  Potential efficiency gains figured highly in some cases as did a focus on supporting learning throughout a whole course.

At a senior management level the Teaching and Learning Directorate perceived e-portfolio use as potentially supporting the institutional focus on improving feedback to students and the role of the tutor.


Key words: Nottingham, PDP,  Mahara, PebblePad, tutor support. 


Brief overview of the organisation:

The University of Nottingham is a research-led Russell Group university with over 35,000 students studying at its UK campuses and a further 10,000 students at its campuses in China and Malaysia. It has a strong internationalisation focus. Further information can be found at http://nottingham.ac.uk/about/


History of the use of e-portfolios

There was a legacy of personal and academic records development and use within the University to support tutorials, but the use of this tool, ePARs, was not widespread. Paper based portfolios were in use in courses such as Medicine, Initial Teacher Education, Nursing and Midwifery, Pharmacy and Social Work. The School of Veterinary Medicine and Science had established successful use of PebblePad, and BioSciences and elsewhere had developed e-portfolio use with Mahara supported by the CIePD.


What are e-portfolios used for and by whom - approx numbers of students

As of the end of 2013 there are 2800+ using Mahara. All Veterinary students and a significant number in Health Sciences use PebblePad (numbers tbc).

Evaluation of e-portfolio use - evidence of value

The CIePD and an academic from Education worked with practitioners implementing e-portfolio use to reflect upon and share and discuss their experiences. The Community of Practice (CoP) was a forum for doing this as was the Talking of Teaching University Blog and the EPI Toolkit. Exemplars of effective student use was shared within projects to encourage wider effective use.


What have you found are the key factors for successful large scale implementation? what lessons have been learnt?

The University of Nottingham implementation set out to evaluate the e-Portfolio Implementation Toolkit guidance and the following is a summary of the lessons learnt. A research paper is in preparation that explores this further and will be made available here during 2014. A conference paper presented at Epic 2013 is available here.


The value of the Toolkit

  • The staged approach fitted the ways resource is allocated within the University to developments that require central support.
  • The fact that the Toolkit had been externally funded added credibility to the bids for funding of the pilots put forward by the CIePD.
  • The CoP was a useful way of engaging the Teaching and Learning Directorate - a member was invited and attended meetings of the CoP.

  • Resources from the Toolkit were used throughout the pilots by the practitioners and by those supporting them.

  • The Toolkit provided a means of raising the profile of the pilots for the practitioners - their case studies would be shared on a Jisc website.

  • The Toolkit provided a means of sharing the emerging practice during the pilots with those wishing to use e-portfolios during the embedding stage.  


What the Toolkit did not provide

  • The focus of the Toolkit is on large scale implementation rather than issues with each individual implementation and as such has not captured the instances where e-portfolios were trialled with courses and then abandoned.  The table below seeks to partially address this by summarising the issues raised by  the pilots and the related e-Portfolio implementation principle.


e-Portfolio implementation principle
Evidence of issues arising from the University of Nottingham pilots

Purpose needs to be aligned to context to maximise benefits

One pilot used Mahara to support a CoP for distance students on a course that involved residential sessions at regular intervals with the notion that all tutors and students would engage with this. Mahara did not seem ideally suited to this purpose and only the lead tutor and a few students engaged with the CoP.
Learning activity needs to be designed to suit the purpose

The pilots were in general successful at learning activity design, where there were problems these were associated with the fact that the purpose was not aligned with e-Portfolio use, i.e., the purpose might have been better achieved in another way or there was too much emphasis on replicating a pre-existing paper process.  The pilots provide evidence of the ways a range of well designed learning activities across a course can be used to engage students in e-Portfolio use to support their learning, for example, the MA in Learning Technology in Education and the Graduate School Doctoral Training Centre case studies.

Processes need to be supported pedagogically and technically

The pilots reported that students sometimes find the Mahara interface and functionality difficult to get used to but where appropriate support was provided  the benefits of use overcame reluctance to engage, for example, see the BioSciences case study. Short screencasts/videos and other training materials as well as drop-in sessions went some way to overcoming these initial obstacles.

There are issues for courses that use professional competence/standards within the e-portfolios. Where the process is student owned then this can work well but there is a need for bespoke solutions, for example, see the Medical and Health case study.

Ownership needs to be student centred
Where checklists of competences/standards were used in one pilot  these were perceived as tutor rather than student owned.  e-Portfolios are student owned and tutor access to the checklists need to be shared by the students with their tutors - this proved problematic administratively.
Transformation (disruption) needs to be planned for
One pilot involving a CoP for distance students did not allow for the fact that the working practices of the majority of tutors were not aligned to the expected change and so they did not engage with this. Another pilot successfully used a champion working alongside colleagues in a setting where the change in working practice was imposed -see the Centre for English Language Education case study.



What the evaluation highlighted


  • The value of the Toolkit for Senior Management relates to its status as a Jisc resource and the ways the stages align to the ways central support is managed.
  • The situated nature of implementation means that even though the purpose for the e-portfolio is apparently the same as one elsewhere the actual context and practice is different and so careful planning and support and ongoing exploration into developing practice is essential. 
  • The experience within the pilots at the University of Nottingham revealed the importance of the five principles underpinning effective practice that were developed from research into issues around individual implementation experiences that preceded the development of the Toolkit.
  • Some implementations are complex and an initial pilot may need to be developed into further pilots  - the case study in Medicine is an example of this.
  • Most staff involved in the pilots had a focus on teaching and learning within the institution.
  • The importance of the central unit in leading the middle-through implementation process - this central unit is the key agent for change.
  • The joint approach including a central service and academic researcher lent scholarly and pedagogical integrity to the implementation and was a successful approach for implementing learning technology.
  • The value of students themselves sharing their best practice and acting as champions.
  • The value of the Community of Practice (CoP) in providing an ongoing forum for sharing experiences
  • The staff leading the pilots included professors and administrators and did not perceive themselves a e-portfolio champions. This has implications for moving on from the pilots to the embedding stage.
  • Traditional evaluations of implementation that tend to focus on numbers of students engaging and highlight resistance to change are not ideally suited to evaluations of e-Portfolio implementation. This can be quite dispiriting for all involved.  It is important initially to focus on the good practice that is emerging ,e.g.,  the  small number of students who engage effectively and share this. This suggests an appreciate inquiry approach to evaluation may be more productive.






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