This post follows a meeting with students and staff at Derby College involved in the Foundation Degree (FD) in Construction. The FD cohort is a mixture of employees undertaking CPD and students hoping to work in the sector.
The students are Derby College’s first Mahara-users and they are currently populating their personal pages with CV-type information about their skills and qualifications. The aim is to use the system to either help them to find work or to provide evidence for career progression, depending on their situation.
Understanding what to include, how to record and present themselves is part of a professional mindset which is being developed through participation in the pilot.
The company has responded positively to the concepts of being able to view shared student data with interest primarily from one or two of the employer mentors. They see benefits in being able to keep an overview of their employee activity whilst they undertake rotational placement within the company (technical training occurs in at least 3 areas of the company) and to be able to view their evidence.
The company are also keen to ensure that promising employees are not ‘lost’ through ensuring their evidence is retained over time. This helps the company, employee and college to match up their experiences at work with course requirements from the college and to see the progression of their employees and evidence to support their investment in training.
Further business benefits have been discussed within the company around offsetting the cost of checking qualifications for recruitment.
Support for job-seeking
Would employers be interested in viewing a student’s showcase page? The system provides another channel for students to use to promote and market themselves to potential employers. Having the supporting ePortfolio CV, incorporating personal achievements, differentiates the candidate to employers. Participants recognise the value in being able to quickly pull together bespoke ‘views’ for different applications based on existing personal ePortfolio content.
The ePortfolio can be used to supplement/enhance the paper application where existing processes restrict the application format. Once a link is provided within an email, it is also easier to be passed on within the company or through personal networks.
A valid point which needs investigating is whether it is possible to track who has accessed the ePortfolio showcase, or how many time it has been accessed. This is an important part of assessing how effective the channel is. This could potentially be as simple as a read receipt or hit counter, or providing stats back to the user via Google Analytics.
Whilst on the course, students are made aware of what it is appropriate to upload and to share. The issue of confidentiality and IPR has previously arisen within Derby College’s Tea-Project in relation to concerns about company-owned material being stored on college systems for assessment. Also, where the employer is paying for the course there may be an assumption that they should be able to access the employee’s ePortfolio by default.
Introducing an agreed code of conduct before using the system is one way to alleviate these issues.
College staff see the benefit of the level 4 students sharing elements of their ePortfolio with level 3 students, demonstrating to them early on in their learning techniques and exemplars for employability.
Overall, the value is seen in being able to understand what employers want to see and what they are interested in. Students understanding how to ‘sell themselves’ in the employment market and to present another channel for them to differentiate themselves from other candidates.
Some practical points
Students thought a Facebook link would be desirable. Mahara currently includes a plugin for Facebook (consuming), but students saw more value in being able to click through from Facebook to Mahara and viewing the activity stream, as they would be more likely to incorporate its use into their day.
Where the employer mentor defines what they want to see, this may determine how students not currently in employment structure and present themselves via the ePortfolio, giving a greater understanding of what employers want to see more generally. Employer interaction with the employee’s ePortfolio will enable all students to fine tune their ‘views’ thus providing a valuable insight into employer requirements, helping inform the whole cohort, not just those in work.
Students are being encouraged to keep a regular record of their progress to promote professionalism in reflective and self-directed learning, a valuable skill which the CIOB Professional Body is keen to promote.
SHED and other projects
Using ePortfolio to record skills and achievements to present to employers is not new. Our SAMSON and ESCAPES projects have been promoting new practice within the University of Nottingham for students evidencing and reflecting on their placements.
However, SHED is looking more closely at the employer perspective and how to design systems to promote the mutual benefits of sharing data. Employers are keen to access the talent within education instittions but are also interested in other services and opportunities available. Investigations within SHED have also informed another CIePD project, the Ingenuity KnowledgeHub, which aims to provide an engaging and interactive online community (using the In A Fishbowl model) of benefit to SMEs and social enterprises.
This community will also present relevant University information (such as research, events or news) based on new semantic technologies developed at the University of Derby. Longer term, there is the potential for students to open up their own information into this channel to promote their skills and access a wider range of local employers - and professional and career learning is part of this whole picture.