Douglas Morrison is a lecturer in Stonemasonry and Conservation in the Faculty of Construction, Engineering and Energy at the City of Glasgow College. In this case study Douglas highlights innovative uses of Virtual Learning Environments, mobile learning, interactive assessment and e-portfolios for learners on stonemasonry courses.
About the Institution
In Sept 2010 three colleges merged to become City of Glasgow College, Scotland’s largest FE institution with over 40,000 students and 650 academic staff located in 11 campuses across the city. The College has a portfolio of over 2,600 courses, which are delivered across 12 Academic Schools and a variety of subject areas.
The Stonemasonry Dept. at the City of Glasgow College was conscious of the fact that they wanted to review their assessment reporting process. The existing mandatory assessment/feedback process was not being utilised fully to be of advantage to students – it was perceived an administrative process that was a necessity, yet had little learner value to the learner.
Douglas Morrison was keen to develop more meaningful material and content to suit learners. He also questioned if the existing portfolios (paper based resources made up of photos stuck into a paper folder) were actually of benefit to students. He questions what they did with them when they received them? Douglas had spoken to a couple of students who had left the college and they acknowledged that the paper based resources didn’t look that professional and that they didn’t show them to employers nor did they use them for job interviews.
A large number of students on the Stonemasonry course were apprentices, and liaison with employers was crucial, yet Douglas questioned if employers were aware of what students did at college. Did the existing system acknowledge the learners skills? Did they summarise the activities they engaged in at the college? Dis the system highlight where learners were struggling?
Similarly when external verifiers looked at assessment materials, they read a brief paragraph about the feedback that was given to the student, but again Douglas questioned whether they able to verify the assessment process with the existing material. Did the material record activity? Did it offer guidance on how to improve it? Did it assess whether the guidance and feedback that students were receiving was valid and reliable.
The last thing that Douglas wanted to do was to record the overall learner journey. The portfolio that existed only looked what learners had to do at college; it didn’t look at practical activities undertaken by the learners, purely the assessment. Douglas wanted to try to develop something that recognised the formative work they were doing at both college and with employers, in addition did the work that they were doing that acknowledged personal interests (e.g. additional research students had been reading, drawings that they had been doing, photos they had been taking etc.)? He wanted to find a format that would capture all that information, and this was the challenge.
Douglas developed a portfolio system, which was developed in two main parts:
- Written documentation, which met the mandatory requirements of the course.
- Multi-sensory documentation to add value to the existing written material.
He wanted to create two portfolios that would work together. One was student led, completed by learners and viewed/marked by lecturers and the other was the lecturer produced portfolio and ultimately the two elements are folded into one at the end of the year. The portfolio would incorporate video of assessments taking place and offer and visual feedback to learners.
The written (and student-led) element of this process was developed using standard Microsoft packages – Microsoft Word and Publisher and pre-set forms that were enhanced with student images. The student completed pre-set forms, which focused on areas such as:
- Practical activities learners had undertaken
- Tolerances they had achieved in their practical work
- Risk assessment that the student had carried out
- A method statement for the activity (essentially all the formative work carried out by the student leading up to the assessment).
- Self-reflective questions (e.g. Have you been a successful learner/successful citizen/good team member?)
For the assessment process Douglas took photos of the student at work every day to detail their progress during their course to highlight their step-by-step progress. At end of the unit the student is given the photos which are embedded into the Word and Publisher files using Adobe Acrobat and they are hosted on the students’ cloud storage service (Microsoft Sky drive), in addition the lecturer retains a copy on a master hard drive. Once convinced that the learner’s work is complete and that the student had met the required standards, the final resource is given back to student as a PDF to take away with them and the college has the resource as evidence.
Douglas was trying to develop an electronic portfolio, which recorded student feedback over and above the standard, and was keen to ensure that students gained valuable feedback and process. Students acknowledged that they tended not to re-visit anything in their portfolio and were only interested in pass or fail. Douglas was conscious that the existing system did not provide wider values, for example it did not acknowledge the lessons learned, or the student’s improvement. It did not provide an opportunity for and self-reflection or student feedback.
Douglas felt that one way of addressing this to involve learners a bit more in the assessment process and one way of doing this was to get the students to film lecturers assessing their work. This had a few advantages:
- Students actually had to watch the assessment process-taking place; in effect they were the lecturers eyes. They had to focus on what lecturers were looking for by recording the assessment.
- As a result of this process, the students produced video evidence, which was not only useful to watch again, but were provided as evidence to external verifiers. This resource provided evidence of the lecturers carrying out this process ensuring that the feedback was valuable and rigorous. It also encouraged lecturers to consider the feedback they gave and ensured that it was thorough and valid – in a sense this was a reflection tool for lecturers as well as learners to consider the quality of their feedback.
Douglas considered how best to link the assessment videos that learners had created based into the existing paper based portfolios. This could be done by providing hyperlinks to the student videos, which would ultimately be uploaded onto You Tube. Instead Douglas tried to build up an interactive portfolio using iBook’s Author, a free software programme by Apple. Using this tool on His MacBook, Douglas created a page for each unit, and this page includes learner videos and their photo image gallery. This was very easy to set up, and easily populated by dragging and dropping images and videos into pages, and as the year progressed and as the evidence started to build up the students could access information and view what they had done. In the longer term, Douglas would like to encourage students to do this themselves, but at the moment the department uses PCs not Mac computers.
At the end of the process students can take the iBook’s resource with them, either incorporating it into their iTunes account and viewed on IOS mobile devices and for those who do not have access to this, learners could access as structured electronic PDF’s via their College sky drive accounts or as printed PDF’s.
Ultimately whatever format they choose to use, learners have a final product that is professional and provides them with something that they can take to job interviews. There are many opportunities for Stonemasons to work overseas and their e-Portfolios can be easily shared electronically to prospective employers.
- One element of peer learning emerged during this project that wasn’t necessarily planned, when students brought in good quality reflective pieces of work, a traction effect or learning community started to develop within the class, which wasn’t evident previously. Students started sharing ideas and photos using social networks such as Twitter and Facebook.
- Students had a greater involvement, control and understanding of their assessment. They were able to track their progress, and they had greater insight into how much they have to do. This process allowed them to revisit their assessment and they receive more constructive feedback.
- As well as the final resource being available in a standard format, Douglas wanted to ensure that they would be available in alternative formats. In these alternative versions, information has been chunked into sections of information, which helps learners focus on specific areas of information, in addition there is less screen clutter and a dyslexia friendly font has been used. Douglas shared this alt format version with the students seeking feedback. The response was very positive, particularly for the dyslexic students in the groups. They reported that for the first time they had been able to read with confidence. As a result of this feedback learners can now access this information in either the standard format or the dyslexia-friendly format. In addition Douglas is in the process of providing this information in MP3 format and is planning to use Balabolka a free (and portable) text to speech programme to do so.
- Lecturing staff now have a more organised reporting framework and can monitor students progress more easily.
- There are additional environmental impacts – a significant reduction in the use of use of paper and printing which has helped reduce the department’s carbon footprint. Other departments in the faculty are also interested in the work that the Stonemasons are involved in and the aim is to extend this initiative to other trades.
Douglas would like to merge the two systems together but is not currently aware of software that would be user friendly enough for students and staff to use with ease.
At the moment the initiative described above is being developed on a unit-by-unit basis and as it progresses and the project is evolving on an on-going basis. Douglas is keen to continue to liaise with and seek feedback from learners in particular to learn more about what they would want to be incorporated into their portfolios.
In terms of developing this initiative, he would like to consider how best to develop this model using software that is that is cross platform.
Douglas suggests that anyone interested emulating this initiative should aim to work in partnership with his or her learning technologies teams/colleagues.
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