The college has been delivering Personal Development Plans (PDPs) to the students using paper based handouts, which is an ongoing process that includes self-reflection of their learning, as well as objectives and goals setting. However due to the cost and engagement aspects of producing and using these booklets, the e-learning team and guidance team have collaboratively investigated ways in which the PDPs could be integrated into the curriculum, using some of the current e-learning tools available.

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The Mahara e-portfolio web application was selected and developed to enable all levels of PDP to be delivered, and was successfully trialed over the first semester of 2012/13. The initiative is planned to be launched college wide during the second semester in a transitional format, to gently phase out the paper versions, and in turn reducing printing costs and widening accessibility. Learner interactivity and engagement has been enhanced with e-PDPs, which are attributed to the extra functionality through the variety of tools that are available in Mahara.


About the Institution

Adam Smith College is an FE Institution serving 14,000 students, with campuses around the Fife region; the four main campuses are in Kirkcaldy, Glenrothes and Leven complemented by local learning centres. The e-learning team is responsible for working with curriculum staff to implement the use of technology, enhancing engagement and learning experiences at the college.


The Challenge

The main impetus for this project was to improve learner engagement with their PDPs during their studies. The current process involved learners completing hardcopy booklets of information based on the level they were studying. However many students were not fully engaging with these booklets. Another drive was to reduce paper usage and print cost.


The main barrier was getting students who were not confident with technology to get involved in the initiative. These students needed to not only learn a new technological system but also a new method of undertaking the PDP process.

The Activity

The initial phase involved the e-learning team liaising with the guidance team to investigate how best to get students to engage with their PDPs using the tools that were available. Mahara e-portfolio system was assessed to determine its suitability for transferring the booklet information electronically utilizing the pages and portfolio sections. The latest version of Mahara (V1.5) was installed and data was input to create an electronic representation of the PDP booklet. It soon became apparent that the material in the booklet was content “heavy” and did not translate well on screen.


The e-learning team and the guidance team worked together to streamline the PDP contents with a view to making it transferable to online delivery. This was done by modifying the contents, de-cluttering where possible, creating more concise questions and creating bite sized chunks, making it more manageable for the learners to engage with.

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Blank templates were created for all the levels (4-9), making them readily available for the students to “copy” and fill in the content. This represented another barrier, as with the paper booklets, students were each given their own level appropriate hardcopy e.g. a class doing level 7 were each given a level 7 booklet, and differing levels would have to implemented in the e-PDP system. During the initial setup it was imperative that students could only access their relevant level and that their e-PDP remained private to each individual. The way this was resolved was by using groups in Mahara.

To address this issue, groups were created for each pilot group including the appropriate teaching staff member. The e-learning team attended classes to provide guidance and training on how to set up individual PDPs and how to enable the sharing of the e-PDPs with staff, making the process as simple as possible, in terms of getting the students started and accessing the appropriate level of PDP.

Advice was also given on how to make PDPs more interactive and engaging using the variety of tools within Mahara, providing the students with the opportunity to be more creative, adding blogs, images, video CVs etc. This level of support particularly benefitted the learners who were not as confident in the use of ICT as others, with e-learning staff on hand to assist with the PDP set up and familiarisation of Mahara.


The Outcomes

Feedback from the pilot groups towards the end of Semester one, on the whole was positive. Many students and staff who participated felt that the new e-PDP system on Mahara was far more engaging and interesting for the students than the paper booklets, particularly the ability to add interactive elements such as videos and images made the process more enjoyable. There was the added benefit in that students were able to access their e-PDPs at any time, from anywhere that has internet connectivity.

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The project met its positive environmental aim, with the reduction of paper, as the e-PDP is rolled out college wide, reducing the College’s carbon footprint and also reducing printing costs.

The e-PDP system offers more security as it will be difficult for students to “lose” their e-PDP materials, as a record of this will be stored on Mahara, which can be restored even if they accidentally delete their copy, which would save the time and costs involved in reprinting a paper document and completing it again. 

It is hoped that the e-PDPs will become general practice within the college, enhancing current practices and promoting the use of technology that will enhance learning and teaching as it is embraced throughout the college.


Lessons Learned

The main lesson learned was that it would have been better to gain a more in depth understanding of the features of Mahara before the undertaking of the project. This would have reduced the technical issues and would have resulted in having the e-PDP materials available to use sooner. This would also have been beneficial in enabling the creation of more comprehensive training materials, to support students at the start of the PDP process.

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Marcello Crolla

Andrew Dalrymple

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The Regional Support Centre Scotland supports the development of educational e-learning. We may refer to specific products, processes or services.  Such references are examples and are not endorsements or recommendations and should not be used for product endorsement purposes.

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