The E-portfolio Landscape Western Australia 2009

Challenger TAFE


Background

Challenger TAFE (Challenger) and Fortescue Metals Group Vocation Training and Employment Centre (FMG VTEC) formed a partnership for this project with the aim of piloting E-portfolios to assist with Recognition of Prior Learning for FMG’s workers located in the Pilbara, WA.
FMG assists Indigenous groups in the area of its business operations with education, training and employment. It has established a contracting company that has taken on the landscaping and garden maintenance of the FMG housing project and has also gained contracts from outside sources such as the WA Department of Housing and Works. The Indigenous employees working on these projects are skilled and experienced, but this had not been recognised through formal qualifications.
By using E-portfolios (Mahara), we were able to collect and store a wide variety of types of RPL evidence for each of the workers involved with the project. This evidence was then accessed by the RPL assessor located in Perth.
To achieve this outcome, a large amount of preparatory work had to be done with the RPL assessors in Perth, the FMG VTEC administrative team and the workers who were to be assessed. None of the project participants were experienced in using E-portfolios (including Mahara) and training was also required in the use of some of the digital technologies that were used to collect evidence. The concept of using Mahara for RPL from the assessors’ perspective also needed to be developed and trialled.
The Challenger TAFE team was Christine Cooper, Project Manager & Annelieske Noteboom, Project Facilitator. The FMG team was Damien Ardagh, VTEC Services Manager and Candice Thompson, VTEC Administration Officer.

What was done

The following is an example of one of the FMG employee’s RPL story:
Alfie is a supervisor of a landscaping team and is employed by FMG. He is responsible for the on the job requirements such as installing irrigation, curbing, using landscape designs/plans, installation of plants to specifications, plant selection, team management, communications with the VTEC office, on-the-job trouble shooting and site completion to required standards. He has been employed in this position for some time and has no landscape qualifications.
As this form of RPL assessment was a new concept to all involved, we decided to start with two level 3 landscaping units that could be demonstrated fairly easily by video, pictures and by audio recording of underpinning knowledge. We would also be able to use scanned copies of 3rd party evidence, site plans, etc. in addition to previous qualifications.
We analysed the units in terms of how the candidate could demonstrate evidence and then developed a simple set of tasks matched to evidence gathering techniques that the candidate could follow, using available technology. These were then included as a fairly prescriptive set of instructions for the candidate and VTEC Administration Officer, into the Mahara site. The level 3 units selected had a large practical component that could easily be demonstrated by using video. Some aspects were acceptable as still photos. We required audio recordings of underpinning knowledge – answers to specific questions and also discussions. Documents and 3rd party evidence would be scanned.
The initial plan was to train Alfie (and the other Indigenous employees) to upload his own evidence into Mahara, but once we had visited South Hedland and observed the daily business operations of FMG VTEC we realised that this would take the workers away from their hourly paid employment and disrupt the work flow of the whole team. In consultation with the VTEC Manager, we revised the plan so that the administration officer who coordinated these work teams from the South Hedland office would be able to collect the required evidence and upload it into the candidate’s page on Mahara. This proved to be a much more manageable solution for all parties, with one main point of contact and was vital to the success of the project.
Alfie is quite familiar with communication technology. His Blackberry is the main form of communication with his manager and administration support while he is working on site. He regularly sends text messages to request supplies and reports on the progress and issues of each job several times a day. Each landscape job is photographed at completion as a final record of the completed contract.
He was interested in the evidence gathering process by using technology and did not hesitate to use the camera glasses to demonstrate his work. Some of his tasks spanned a large landscape area and these glasses were not successful at capturing this. They proved a better option for short sections (approx 2 minutes) of a smaller job (eg. planting a tree). The audio was of poor quality when used out on the job, accompanied by machinery use and noisy colleagues.
To overcome the shortcomings of the camera glasses, we used video for the practical aspects and a digital audio recorder. The interview was conducted on site and Alfie was able to explain all aspects of the unit using the example of the landscape job we were standing in for many aspects. This evidence was all confirmed by 3rd party evidence from his employer. Alfie had no hesitation about having this discussion recorded and confidently answered all the questions, with very little rephrasing or explanation of the questions necessary. This was an outcome that was repeated with other work colleagues when they were interviewed for their RPLs, even though we had been warned that they were very shy and may not be easy candidates to interview.
Alfie used the RPL interview to reveal some interesting and useful information about himself. He volunteered the information about his previous study and achievements, including his trade qualification in carpentry and joinery. This was something that we had not been aware of and is of significance to his Landscape RPL application as one unit that he will be able to be exempted from covers timber structures. He was very pleased to discover that his past achievements could be used to help him with his new qualification.
All of these evidence components matched the task list for the unit that had been entered into Mahara for the units of competence being assessed. The various forms of evidence were stored in the E-portfolio as links next to each task so that the assessor’s job to locate them was simplified.

Benefits experienced by Challenger and FMG

As many aspects of this project were new to us, we had to familiarise ourselves with the products we were using and become comfortable using them, before we could engage our FMG partners and RPL candidates. We were able to use a ‘sandpit’ version of Mahara through WestOne Services and received help and guidance from Janice Calcei and Tim O’Lachlan. We also used POV camera glasses for the first time, with mixed success. This was all done in Perth and then the training of the FMG staff and RPL candidates was undertaken on site in the Pilbara and then continued by phone and email from Perth.
It was clear from the beginning of the project that we would have to design a method of evidence collection that would suit both the candidate and the assessor, as well as maintaining AQTF standards. We needed to avoid the possibility of the candidate collecting irrelevant material for the units of competence and also of not knowing how to organise or present it so that it was easy for the assessor to follow.

Lessons learnt

Preparation for RPL in this type of environment needs to include:
• The assessor providing concise instructions to the candidate about the type of evidence required for all aspects of each unit. If this is not provided before the assessment is started, the assessor will find they have an assortment of relevant and irrelevant evidence to organise before they can commence the assessment. This would prove time wasting and frustrating for both assessor and candidate. (Future projects may be able to provide templates and/or further guidance on this aspect).
• Establishment of the work context of the candidate at the beginning of the assessment. Many work places, particularly in regional areas, have different environments and procedures to that of city based candidates, and standard questions and tasks may not fit the distance candidate/work place, although be valid in terms of assessment. Distance candidates could be disadvantaged if they are presented with standard ‘city’ assessment tools.
For this aspect of assessment using an E-portfolio, it is suggested that the assessor has an initial phone interview with the candidate if possible (or the person who has organised the RPL activity) and ask them to enter a profile of their job role and workplace onto their E-portfolio page.
• Training will be required for the RPL assessors, candidates and others involved, in the use of the E-portfolio selected for use. It may not always be the best option to have the RPL candidates managing their own E-portfolios. In this instance it was more practical and efficient to have the administration officer of the company requesting the RPL work to collect and organise the evidence on behalf of the candidates.
• Training may also be required in the use of recording technology. This may be for the candidate to use in the field and then to upload their evidence. It may also be for the assessor to be able to access and play the assessments, and also for them to be able to suggest suitable methods of evidence collection to their candidates.
• Recording devices should be trialled and evaluated to establish which are the most appropriate and easiest to use for evidence gathering in various employment situations. One of the problems that had to be overcome was that file size of some of the evidence (eg. video) was large and could not be loaded directly into Mahara. This was overcome by using the ‘private space’ in YouTube and only using the link in Mahara. There were also issues with the DSS file used by the audio recorder. We also realised that there were times when it would be necessary to edit material (eg. from the camera glasses) and we had to work out how to do this.
• Thought needs to be given to establishing some way of capturing the additional information that may be useful for the candidate’s progress. An experienced RPL assessor will pick up on this type of information, but if the assessor is not personally guiding the interview (ie. set questions asked by a third party), this information will be lost.


The results

The major outcome of the project is that we have developed a model for using E-portfolios for RPL in an industry where the candidates themselves live and work in a region that is remote from the assessor. We extended the pilot to include the VTEC Services Manager, who developed an E-portfolio of evidence for the Horticulture Diploma, and the VTEC Administration Officer who has begun to collect her evidence for a Business Management qualification.
We were also encouraged by how well the Indigenous employees responded to using the technology to record their skills and knowledge. They were enthusiastic about the concept of gaining their higher level qualifications through recognition of their work experience.

Reflections and suggestions

Based on the experiences of this project, it is possible to use E-portfolios for RPL assessment; however there are many aspects of using this type of evidence collection, storage and presentation that need to be considered by the assessor, as outlined above, before they begin the process. It is not just a simple matter of providing a bit of training in E-portfolios and then expecting the assessor and candidate to get it right.

The Framework Connection

The national training system’s e-learning strategy, the Australian Flexible Learning Framework (Framework) funds and supports E-learning Innovations projects which aim to embed e-learning into the national training system by supporting and enabling innovation in training design and delivery, at the state and territory level.
This project pilot demonstrates how an E-portfolio application such as Mahara may be used to provide a portfolio of evidence for recognition of prior learning. Whilst undertaking this project we have started to build an E-portfolio-RPL model that can be readily modified to suit other qualifications.
In engaging in this E-learning Innovations project, we used the resources from the Framework’s E-portfolios – Managing Learner Information business activity.

Acknowledgement

This is a Western Australian E-learning Innovations project output, developed by Challenger TAFE and Fortescue Metals Group Vocation Training and Employment Centre, with seed funding from the Framework.


For more information

For more information on the E-portfolio Landscape:
Christine Cooper
Principal Lecturer
Challenger TAFE
Phone: (08) 9229 8423
Email: Christine.cooper@challengertafe.wa.edu.au


For more information on the Australian Flexible Learning Framework:
Phone: (07) 3307 4700
Email: enquiries@flexiblelearning.net.au
Website: flexiblelearning.net.au