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Melissa Forbes – Music Department, Faculty of Arts discusses e-Portfolio

Jeff:
Hello, I’m Jeffery Black I am the manager of Digital Media Services within Learning Teaching and Quality here at the University and with me is Melissa Forbes, an academic from the music department within our Faculty of Arts. Melissa has been using e-Portfolio in one of her courses, now e-Portfolio has somewhat of a chequered history at the university with many academics perceiving it to be an end-of-degree resume’ writer. Well Melissa has been using it quite a different way. Melissa, what have you been doing?

Melissa:
Ok, well, firstly I need to explain that what we did with our music practise courses for first year students this year was that we’ve completely re-written them. So traditionally a student would enter university in first year music and they would have a lesson with one teacher and that was kind of the extent of it. They might do some playing in a group at some stage during that year but it primarily focused on a one to one lesson. We’ve completely changed that our first year co-hort this year is actually being taught together as a group, so there is 22 of them at the moment and at the end of this year they will have the opportunity to have access to the one-on-one teaching. So, understanding that we are using it in a small group environment will help to set the context for how we have used e-Portfolio. So what we needed was a way for the student to begin reflecting on their work immediately and to catalogue various artifacts – if you like, that they are picking up along the way. So a number of them have videoed themselves practising they have scanned in scores that they are working on and of course they have used it as a traditional journal as well. So that is one aspect of it, that the students from day one are beginning to collect their experiences from one place and the advantage of e-Portfolio as opposed to a traditional word, word document based reflection is that you can have much richer content obviously so they can link to performances that they inspire to on YouTube and things like that, so that’s one aspect of it. We also needed a place where they could congregate as a group and StudyDesk isn’t really the appropriate place for that. I see StudyDesk as serving a particular purpose and e-Portfolio a different purpose it’s almost like e-Portfolio the casual version of StudyDesk in a way so we needed to have a place where they could communicate with each other, arrange rehearsals etc. so they are playing together in small groups. So i think it’s a number of different purposes for us, quite different to the StudyDesk environment. The other thing that I really wanted was a way to keep track of their thoughts and their reflections as the weeks rolled by, considering that I wasn’t going to have the chance to see them individually week to week. So it’s enabled me to read through their reflections if they are doing as they were asked to, which is accumitivily rather than a bit hit at the end. I can read what they have thought about what we have discussed in class. I can immediately clarify any confusion because i can put a comment in there like, ‘oh you haven’t quite understood what we were on about here’ and that has been one of the great advantages for me as a teacher is that I can really keep in touch, in a much more timely fashion with their thought process and their learning and you know when you are dealing with a bigger group I think it’s a really good way to do that. That’s in a nut shell, how we’ve been using it.

Jeff:
Melissa, I’ve heard you say... it’s like FaceBook but it a secure environment.

Melissa:
Yes, it is and if people are familiar with FaceBook or any of those social media sites it’s quite similar to that, but it’s corralled within the university servers, I’d suppose you say? So that no one from outside the university can actually access, so it’s a safe environment for them to reflect, which i think it’s really important, particularly for first years. If we need to share content, again, we don’t need to worry about things going externally.

Jeff:
Melissa, the students, should they elect to can make some of their posts just private to you. That there is that level of privacy built in to it too.

Melissa:
That’s right, and a number of them actually did do that for their journals which were a part of their assessment for the semester. Because they wanted to reflect not only on their own performances but their interactions with their peers which is really important in music. We gave them the option of just submitting a link to the lecturer so that the lecturer was the only person who read it. But there were actually quite a few of them who were happy for everybody to read their reflections, which I thought was quite healthy as well.

Jeff:
Which leads me to the students. How have the students accept e-Portfolio?

Melissa:
I have been really pleased generally with the response and also quite surprised at the way how the students have used e-Portfolio. Some of them have just used it in just a very basic way. Others have actually used the creativity to put their own personal stamp on their portfolio and what i’d like to do, coming back into second semester is actually spend more time with the group showing them how they can channel their own creative ideas into this environment well and I think that for musicians it is really important for them to learn how to present themselves digitally. That is a fact of life, the internet is going to be the main medium for them to get their work out there, to sell themselves as musicians so this is almost like a dummy run for them in a way, where they can think about how they are presenting themselves, how they are presenting their work, so we are going to be spending more time in class on that, whilst some of them intuitively get that and run with it, others need to be given some guidance.

Jeff:
Yes, and Melissa I’ve also heard you speak of it as a living space where they can grow with it, and their performances can grow as they mature.

Melissa:
Yes, I think... I wish i had it while I was studying because to me it is just the perfect way for someone who is engaged in practise to really track their progress. You have got a video of your very first concert that you did in first year. When you are graduating at the end of third year, you can go back and look at that and watch it and really understand and to see the growth that has occurred between those two end points and I think that is really invaluable actually for us as music practitioners but I suspect that across the university there may be other areas where that would be a really valuable thing as well.

Jeff:
Which leads to my final question, Melissa? In very broad terms how could you see this being used in other areas or how could you sell this idea to other academics?

Melissa:
Well, I think any area in which reflective learning is important. It is an obvious choice to me, because as i said the environment is so much richer and you can be creative and it’s all there and you don’t need to worry about losing the document and things like that. Like i said before, you can also track the entire period you are at University and look back on that and really gage those kind of pivotal moments where pennies dropped and where you made a quantum leap forward in your learning, which I think is really great thing. If I was to ask\ if there was anymore bells and whistles to be put onto the portfolio environment I do think that as the take up increases we’re going to have to look at increasing , the quota for each user, so that they can upload much larger file sizes. I think we’re already running into that problem at the moment. So to me that is really important. And i’d also like to see us be able to link to our vimeo videos, through the environment at the moment and you can link to YouTube but at the moment you can’t link to vimeo, so I think because we’ve got that up and running I think that is an important thing as well.

Jeff:
Thankyou very much Melissa

Melissa:
You’re welcome.