e-portfolios, VLEs and PLSs

by Patricia McKellar on 18/09/2006

At UK Centre for Legal Education we currently have a project on e-portfolios within legal education. We were granted funding from the Higher Education Academy and JISC and there are three pilot projects ( Strathclyde University, Oxford Institute of Legal Practice and University of Westminster) which will contribute to the final outcomes. We set out to try and create an e-portfolio which would take students from their undergraduate education, post graduate professional education and right through to their professional lives and CPD. The projects, although based in universities, all have links with the profession and parallel studies are being carried out in legal firms. Only a few months into the project and we’re beginning to see just what a task we have in front of us- not least of all due to the ever shifting sands of  technology. Taking heed of others who have gone before we are not rushing into this, we are trying to involve students and, we hope, we are ensuring that e-portfolios are ‘right’ for each project before implementation. And yet we must have one eye on the future and when it comes to e-portfolios there seems to be a blurring occurring with some of the other Web 2.0 technologies. The fusion of blogging, social networking and e-portfolios is drawing us to the possibilities of Personal Learning Spaces( PLSs). A PLS gives users a set of tools to customise their own personal space and create a single learning environment. Social networking with peers, tutors, current students in different levels, former students, solicitors, other university students nationally and globally will give significant opportunities for collaborative learning but in addition there are the possibilities for managing, controlling, integrating, reflecting on and planning individual learning. One of our problems is persuading lawyers and law students that this is the way forward. Another is interoperability and this reminded me of a report by IM&M (http://www.immagic.com/eLibrary/GENERAL/IMM/I060616F.pdf ) on The Use of VLE Software in UK Universities 2001-2005. While it showed that by 2005 something like 95% of UK Universities were using a VLE it was the changing market share that was interesting. The market for proprietary VLEs dropped from 93% to 53% with the gap being filled by Open Source (11%) and those developed in house ( 30%). Michael Feldstein comments on why there has been an increase in homegrown VLEs suggesting universities were making their decisions about VLEs ‘based on their own criteria’ and that cost may not have been a deciding factor. Maybe the universities are beginning to realise that a one size fits all approach doesn’t necessarily work. Maybe they are listening to staff who want specific tools rather than a whole suite that may never be used in that institution however attractive they may be to another. How does this all fit with PLSs? In some ways a PLS is an individual VLE for each student. The focus for learning is shifting from the monolithic and sometimes rigid VLE to the flexible nature of a PLS, controlled and managed by the student. Will it be easier to integrate a PLS with a home grown VLE or a proprietary system? If it is the former how will that effect market share of the proprietary systems?

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Paul Maharg September 23, 2006 at 21:53

Absolutely right about the one-size-fits-all model of VLE.
But —
> One of our problems is persuading lawyers and law students that this is the way forward.
— maybe the way to persuade is twofold: set the structure in place for PLSs at the various stages of legal education: that’s essential. But as for persuasion, I don’t think that this will take much to persuade students to use a PLS, as long as it’s well-designed, not just the internal structure but the way that it continues what the curriculum is about. And that’s where the real problem lies. If the curriculum is full of assessments that only snapshot knowledge and say little or nothing about values, attitudes, skills, then the PLS is pretty redundant except as free academic transcript. I think PLSs, like e-portfolios, will need a transformation of the curriculum to work effectively. In the meantime, though, if I were a student I’d much prefer a flexible personal environment to an institutional VLE.

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