Author: Colette Eaton – Lecturer and Placement Co-ordinator: Health & Social Care
As the placement co-ordinator for our Foundation Degree in Health and Social Care, I am always looking for creative ways for our students to record their learning and development through their placement experiences. Up until two years ago, students would record their placement learning in paper portfolios, meticulously cross-referencing their evidence documents with a complex skills log. I enjoyed reading these frequently giant files with very personal accounts of what each student had drawn from events on placement, but they still felt a little flat. Some of the documents, particularly the Reflective Practice Records (RPR) constructed using Gibbs’ (1988) Model of Reflection, often read like a two-dimensional, academic record of an event with very little of the human challenge of care practice negotiated between practitioner and service user. I wanted more…
I had already started to look for online, e-portfolios and was introduced to OneNote Class Notebook by a member of our TELT (Technology Enabled Learning and Teaching) team. After a whistle-stop tour through the ‘How to…’ guides on Lynda.com and Microsoft, I felt ready to introduce the basics to my group of undergraduates. I wanted something unstructured, that students could build for themselves but after trialling Class Notebook with a small pilot group, feedback strongly suggested the students needed some structure. It was quick and easy to set up section headings and template pages for students to start the portfolio. I began by copying over the structure from the paper version and this is where it begins to get really interesting.
There was some initial reluctance from some students when I first introduced the Class Notebook portfolio, largely due to some anxiety about ICT and lack of skills. I tried to reduce this anxiety by offering several guided workshops throughout the year where we worked on the portfolio documents together. I explained that I was also learning how to use OneNote Class Notebook and I asked them to explore and play then report back on how they might use the different functions. This invitation to play encouraged many to go beyond the minimum needed to pass and students immediately began to add their own pages and sections. Almost all students uploaded some photographs and links to websites for policy documents or placement information. Several students included video and voice recordings of practical sessions or discussions with staff members and service users. Together as a group, we explored inserting links to cross-reference documents within their portfolio and the more confident members of the group were happy to share their use of links with other students. Slowly, as individuals saw how interesting and attractive their portfolio could be, the more confident they became in experimenting with different features.
Most exciting for me was seeing the greater depth of reflection students began to include in their work. I had always felt that the paper portfolio appeared to confine students to completing documents in a formulaic, academically safe way in order to achieve their Pass grade. In setting up a basic structure in the Class Notebook portfolio and a list of essential document templates and examples establishing the minimum needed to pass, I believe I created a safe start which appeared to encourage students to take more risks in recording their experiences. Students began to move away from offering only academic report writing towards more creative evidence including poetry, drawings and sketches, screenshots of emails and text messages and voice recordings, offering real colour to their feelings around an event. Most of students used the App on their smartphones which allowed them to record events, feelings and learning in the moment and the portfolio became current and truly portable. As students experimented with different media to record their experiences in practice, the events became lively, more colourful and imbued with feeling and genuinely interesting to mark: hearing a student talk about her experience in a safeguarding situation, with all of her fears evident in the tone and pitch of her voice, was a humbling experience. Likewise, watching the video of another student laughing at her attempts to inflate a large resuscitation mannequin then hearing other students give her hints and tips allowed me to share some of the learning and group process from that CPR workshop.
For me, one of the great advantages to using Class Note is the opportunity to access each student’s portfolio allowing me to review work immediately and offer timely supportive feedback. With paper portfolios, we usually had to wait until timetabled portfolio days or even the end submission to see how students had worked with their evidence and some occasionally left all work until the last moment, often resulting in fails on the module. The built in Accessibility Checker and Immersive Reader functions are excellent for students with specific learning needs and allow quick and easy differentiation of documents for better access. Using the Review Work button allows me to identify individuals who are having difficulty gathering or recording evidence and I can offer constructive comments to support the ongoing work. I was unsure about adding Stickers from the Insert menu, given that all of our students are over 18 however, I certainly wasn’t prepared for the competition for best sticker which started when I tentatively added some to students’ reflective records. The multi-coloured unicorns were particularly popular.
Paying it forward
This will be my third year of working with students using the Class Notebook Portfolio and there are a few features I want to experiment with, including more use of the Collaboration Space to support small group work. It would be a useful space for students to share hints and tips as they experiment with their evidence gathering. Most importantly for me, the Class Notebook has allowed me to establish myself as a partner in learning rather than ‘the author’. Having completed their own portfolio, several students have agreed to come back to support our new first years with their portfolio building and offered examples from their work to inspire others. I can step back while students support and encourage each other to experiment and find their way around the portfolio and the result is a creative, truly personalised record of work-based experience and learning rather than a teacher-led assessment.