Hamilton in New Zealand doesn’t have the best reputation and is certainly not one of the prettiest towns in the country. However, I do like going there because it’s usually for conferences that are organized by either the University of Waikato or Wintec. Both tertiary institutions, or rather their staff, know how to organize great events. It’s always nice meeting up with people I know and learn from them and their colleagues.

One of those events earlier in the year was WCELfest16, the eLearning conference of the University of Waikato organized by the WCEL (Waikato Centre for eLearning) team. And yes, you pronounce it like “whistle”. Because pretty much every lecture room is equipped with lecturer recording hardware and software, the WCEL team recorded all sessions, and I recommend checking out the WECELfest resource page (as well as the ones of previous years) for some great presentations.

Terry Anderson keynote

Terry Anderson of Athabasca University was the keynote speaker. He shared insight on engagement and quality in blended and flipped classrooms. A lot of things that Terry presented were not entirely new to me, but it was great to have him mention them to confirm my knowledge as well as provide some nuggets of insight from a different perspective. He provided a good summary of blended learning and why it is important.

Back in 2008 he already said that learning is a dance: The technology sets the beat and the time whereas the pedagogy defines the moves. This is a nice metaphor to describe the connection between technology and pedagogy and shows that both of them are important. Leaving one out would not allow the other to exist.

Terry is an avid supporter of online educational resources (OER) and encourages others to contribute to OER and share their work. In his keynote he stated an obvious truth, but one that needs re-iterating because not many people take it to heart. He said that teachers should get over their shyness and put their material out there because nothing is ever perfect.

I agree with him on that. If we waited until we delivered perfection, nothing would ever be made available online. I’d rather share something and receive feedback on it because then I can review it, revisit it and work on it rather than doubt myself all the time. I try to share as much as possible of my work publicly online. Working on an open source project makes that somewhat easier because a lot of our work needs to be publicly available anyway in order to communicate with our community and do our work.

However, I decided early on that I would also share all my presentations (not work internal ones though when they need to be kept confidential) online and not just the slides, but also the actual recordings to allow those that couldn’t attend an event to benefit from the recording. Since Slideshare nixed its audio recordings in 2014, I still need to re-upload a heap of older presentations and haven’t had the time to stich the audio and the slides together as I have to for a bunch of presentations as I didn’t have screen recording available at the time. But I will get to that eventually.

Nowadays, all my recordings are on YouTube, and my slides are on Slides and also uploaded to SlideShare where people can download them easily.

But back to WCELfest.

ePortfolios in education

I was part of a session that looked at the use of ePortfolios in various contexts. The organizers had asked me to share examples of ePortfolio use around the world before we looked at three examples from the University of Waikato in more detail.

I’m privileged to be working with a lot of great ePortfolio enthusiasts around the world who use Mahara. So I could show a series of examples drawing from the great pool of diverse usage.

There is also a recording of the session.

After this overview, Stephen Bright from the University of Waikato shared his CMALT ePortfolio and explained why he had it set up. It’s an example of a professional development portfolio used to gain accreditation.

He was followed by Richard Edwards who shared his experience using ePortfolios for group work with his student teachers. Mahara didn’t get in the way of the task and allowed the students to be flexible in how they wanted to organize, lay out and present their group portfolios. Often, one person in the group took charge of arranging all content instead of all students working on the portfolio. The students didn’t yet fully exploit all the editing possibilities and thus the portfolios were still very text heavy. Over all, using the ePortfolio allowed students to present their evidence more effectively.

Last but not least, Sue McCurdy presented on work placement portfolios. She described the ePortfolio as evidence collection and “CV on steroids”. The ePortfolio turns a job applicant into a real person, shows real skills and also personality. Sue’s students work quite heavily with images and these depict student behavior well because often the students are subjects in them. Thus, a future employer can see the applicant in action.

Richard Edwards gave another presentation that centred around the different purposes of an ePortfolio. An ePortfolio changes depending on the purpose for which it is created. Therefore, questions of purpose, learning, ownership, agency and structure of the ePortfolio amongst others are important and determine how the ePortfolio is developed and what sort of evidence is put into them. He sums his findings up very well in saying that the task design and the purpose are more important than the choice of the tool.

There were a few other sessions on other topics that I attended. It was clear throughout the day that knowing the “How” of teaching and creating engaging learning activities for and with students is important. Technology is and will continue to play an integral role especially because it allows us to teach and learn in different ways or more flexibly. However, the affordances need to be understood and time given to teachers, instructors and lecturers to experiment, explore and make the technologies part of their teaching repertoire instead of just assuming that everybody knows how best to use them.

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