Anticipating change and keeping focus

As EAT-PDP nears the finishing line, it’s pleasing to see our predictions come true regarding the potential uses and enthusiasm surrounding our MyFolio offering. It was recognised in our early evaluation of the Mahara platform that both the features it provides and the entities it maintains would be of interest to different user groups and stakeholders respectively, perhaps even outside of the institution. However, MyFolio was introduced to solve a particular problem in providing an area for self reflection and development and it is important that in whichever direction the offering is taken, it continues to fulfil this need.

On occasion – following a conference, paper, change in strategic direction or alike – initiatives that extend or re-purpose a tool are undertaken without the level of investigation EAT-PDP has performed, with time or speed to delivery constraints likely cited as a reason. These initiatives are often interrupted by concerns over capacity implications, strategic focus, maintenance issues, to name but a few. Our project has preempted these scenarios in an effort to understand the environment and prepare our answers to challenging questions in advance. As a result, when the initiatives have been raised, our teams can refer to the investigation and confidently determine whether the initiative is possible at inception.

An example of the above is highlighted by the recent student catalogue development. The tool is a great example of how the information gathered by MyFolio can be re-purposed for another use. However, we understand through our studies the affect that this might have on the primary goal of the the offering, which is to provide an area for honest and private personal learning. Understanding where the search catalogue fits as part of the wider offering and with our strategic focus naturally brings concerns to the surface, but importantly with associated studies leading to answers. We understand that while exposing information to a search catalogue may be an end result of a student’s self reflection, it must not detract from the process of self reflection itself. This tells us that the search catalogue and its usage must be well communicated with our users, so that they continue to self reflect effectively without distraction or concerns for the general availability of their reflections.

To be able to perform these studies the project has had to fund a part time analyst for 15 months and sufficient time from our key stakeholder groups. This is not an inexpensive task, which is why JISC funded projects play such an important role in spreading the cost of learning. The EAT-PDP project has been committed to documenting as much as possible both through this blog and reports (available this summer) so that the rest of the sector may benefit from our research.

 


Developing the Student Catalogue

Screen capture of the Student Catalogue Search pageThere has been a sudden boost in activity on the EAT-PDP project over the last couple of weeks as we brought on board developers to help design and build the Student Employability catalogue. First a note on the name. We have, since the beginning of the project, referred to this particular tool as the Employability Catalogue but now think this may be too narrow a term. Many users of the catalogue will be either hoping to find employment or hoping to find an employee but there could be other users too. Some users may be interested in mentoring and use the catalogue to identify mentees. Prospective students might be interested in seeing ‘the final product’ from the university. So we are currently using the term Student Catalogue.

So what is the Student Catalogue? An opt-in service within Myfolio/Mahara which allows students and alumni to create an indexed, searchable webpage showcasing their achievements, promoting their strengths and detailing their interests.  As detailed in previous blogs – and most likely in future blogs – the logistics of introducing this service are complex but this technical sprint focuses on actually getting the service to work and start designing the user interface.

Kent is using the Google Search Appliance at the core of this service. The source data is provided by Myfolio users in the form of a webpage which uses a widget to seed information.  We think this service will work best is there is some consistency in the data  users supply – course details, date available, work experience, location etc. The user can then add other information – blogs, free text, images etc using the established Mahara drag and drop functionality and of course re-use  previously created artefacts.  After consent is confirmed, this data is indexed by our Google Search Appliance. The Student Catalogue search page has a Google like interface and will produce faceted results.

Progress was held up by the lack of detailed documentation available on developing Mahara. It feels a bit mean criticising Open Source but the documentation of Mahara.org is pretty sparse beyond the user manual stuff – which is very good.  I think it is generally acknowledged – though I know there are exceptions – that people who love coding don’t like writing manuals. I could write a whole blog on that subject, however….

By the end of the sprint our developers had produced a working prototype which we then demonstrated at the Kent Moodle and Learning Technology meeting. I am pleased to report, to general acclaim and approval. We are a long way off implementation and further tweaks to the interface are needed but the developers did a great job in delivering in the short amount of time available and without any useful documentation. A full description of the Student Catalogue and the developer experience will comprise one of the key outputs from the project.


Designing an effective service

Split of Reason - Sculpture by Patrick Crouch on Kent campus

The Split of Reason by Patrick Crouch, University of Kent campus

I attended a Service Design workshop run by JISC CETIS/Snook in Birmingham recently and, as it was designed to do it got me thinking about our users and what we were trying to achieve. It also got me thinking about what the blockers might be. The EAT-PDP project is about engaging alumni – the clue is in the name.  So what would be the major blockers to that? How about the alumni not having access…..

This list is about potential blockers but note that word potential. If we are to design an effective service that satisfies the needs of our users then we need to be aware of what could get in the way of that and work out how to avoid it.

Some headers would be:

Giving alumni access to Myfolio for as long as they want it. This one is pretty major but currently we only have agreement in principal to continue access for one year post graduation. Personally I don’t think that is enough. If we are believers in lifelong learning then how can we expect alumni to engage fully with a service to which they may no longer have access in one year’s time? Yes there is an export facility but its practical use for anything other than transferring content to another instance of Mahara is limited – severely limited. We have to find a way to offer myFolio for as long as alumni want it.

Providing enough storage space – of course we would set limits on this and encourage users to link to external artefacts, using Flickr, Picassa etc. But realistically anything less than 50Mb per user is going to limit the application’s usefulness. A few months ago it looked like the cost of storage was set to continue to plummet but the recent floods in Thailand have seen the price of some HDDs triple in one month. Which just goes to prove how volatile these things can be.  It is difficult to make accurate predictions of what the take up by alumni for myfolio might be and hence how much storage we will need to provide, but we need to do this.  And to work out how we can prevent dead accounts taking up expensive drive space.

Misuse.  A Myfolio account allows a user to publish to the web. How do we monitor and control what is published?  Should we do this? We need to assess the risks of alumni – over whom the university will have fewer sanctions – using their myFolio public space for commercial, inappropriate or even illegal purposes. We have Terms amd Conditions and Guidelines in place already for general use of the University’s systems but are we covering all bases? We might need legal advice on this but comments are welcome….

Lack of interest.  If we build it will they come? And what do we do if they don’t? Key to avoiding this blocker will be instilling the PDP habit in our undergraduates and emphasising the value of an e-folio. Myfolio/Mahara is a good tool and we know PDP works. How popular e-folios will become only time will tell but it seems likely, especially, in professions where multi-media artefacts are essential to showcase an applicant’s strengths – the arts, film studies and architecture spring to mind. But even in disciplines more traditionally based on text, audio/video presentations may demonstrate the edge an employer is looking for. Continuing PDP is invaluable in any profession. So far the early results at Kent are encouraging – uptake is good and not just from courses with an emphasis on the visual.

Competition from other applications. I have noticed that some students are using myFolio but publishing their journals/blogs on third party software like Blogger and Tumblr. Some users may have previously had blogs with these providers so find it easier to continue, others might prefer the themes available or find them easier to use. However there are many good reasons to use the myFolio journal facility. Some separation from purely social blogs is one. Myfolio is University of Kent branded and this identifies it as part of the learning and development process rather than just another blog amongst thousands on a third party site. Myfolio users also have fine grained control over who can access their pages and when and can trust that the University will not exploit their files and artefacts. Although there are some overlaps with LinkedIn I don’t see it as an alternative to myfolio. In fact a link to a Myfolio showcase page will enhance a LinkedIn profile.

Ease of use Myfolio/Mahara has good functionality but the interface is not always as intuitive as it might be and it lacks some features that would increase its usefulness – resume printing springs to mind.  This may also be a reason why some are choosing to use external blogging hosts.The EAT-PDP developers and UELT have already delivered some good improvements to Myfolio but more work needs to be done.

I am confident that MyFolio will prove popular and useful for Kent alumni but we need to design the service around the needs of students and alumni and we need to make sure they know just how good it is.  This is something we can do.

 


Graduates seeking employers – and vice-versa

Frozen Pond on University of Kent Campus

A corner of the UKC Campus in winter

One of our project outputs is an Employability Catalogue. This would enable the searching of  data held in Myfolio to identify students matching a range of criteria.  A typical scenario might be where a prospective employer, perhaps already employing Kent alumni, wants to identify students or alumni studying a particular subject and with a range of other skills appropriate to posts the employer needs to fill in the future. The Employability Catalogue would allow the employer to enter criteria and to filter the results to identify individuals that meet those criteria. Obviously a service like this needs careful thought and safeguards – this would be an opt-in service – and I am sure there are diverse views on the merits and pitfalls of providing the Employability Catalogue. However in this blog I want to explore the cost implications.

All services have costs and providing services to our students is not controversial. But how do things change if we extend a service to alumni? At a quick glance, providing a PDP and e-folio application to alumni seems a low cost proposition.  There are some practical areas around security and membership to be surmounted but they should not prove too challenging or have high on-going costs. We will need to provide storage space but again the cost of this should not be too high. We currently offer students 50 Mb of storage but many users will not need this amount of space especially if they are embedding images and videos rather than uploading them to Myfolio. It is difficult to give accurate estimate so soon after roll out but we would not expect all our alumni to continue to use Myfolio and we do not project  support costs to be high.

“In a nutshell – a service which puts employers in contact with alumni”

But if we supply an Employability Catalogue there are other considerations. Currently we are looking at using the Google Search Appliance (GSA) to catalogue and make a user’s data in Myfolio searchable. GSA is a hardware/software solution which offers the security and

customisation, and obviously the search capabilities, we need to provide the catalogue. We can provide users with a familiar Google style interface with faceting to allow users to narrow down their searches. GSA is not a cheap solution but many HEIs will be considering using GSA (other search Appliances may be available) more widely within their organisations – if they are not using it already.  The cost of GSA is dependent on the number of pages indexed. Kent is already committed to using GSA and the addition of Myfolio pages is not going to push the costs up.

There will be initial costs in developing indexes and the front end but the on-going costs will come in the administration. In a nutshell we are proposing a service which puts employers into contact with alumni. So it could be very simple – the alumnus provides an email address and the interested party contacts them. But is this a model which gives alumni and the University the best advantage? Probably not. Would our alumni welcome unsolicited contact from anyone who finds them? In particular it is likely that employment agencies would find this a good route to use, which may or may not be welcome – but less benign contacts could easily become a problem.  Such a plan would also ‘cut out’ the university – we would not gain any insight into how well the service was working or get additional data as to where our alumni go and how well they do.

An alternative would be for Kent to act as a broker for this service but this is where we need to be aware of on-going costs. Acting as a go-between between alumni and prospective employers would require skilled staff with a knowledge of the employment market and an ability to sort the wheat from the chaff – the genuine offers from those seeking to sell additional services. Of course we already have such staff but how would this increase their workload?

We would need to market the service both to our alumni and to employers. And we need to think hard about how long we can offer this service post-graduation.  Kent produces close to 4000 graduates each year. But if we get it right this will be a service which brings benefits to employers, to our alumni and students, and to the reputation of the university.


Taking stock

Back from the Christmas break with the sobering thought that we are about to enter the final six months of the EAT-PDP project. So I have been spending a little time thinking about what we have learnt so far and what we need to do in the time left to us. There is lots to do so I will keep this post short and just raise a few points which I have found myself musing over. Your comments are welcome.

As with all projects, issues have arisen which we did not predict, some pleasant and some not so pleasant. Some things we were perhaps overly optimistic about and other things have gone better than expected. But one of the great benefits of being able to spend time on a project like this is the way previously unthought of issues float to the surface. Thus giving us the chance to tackle problems or make greater use of the our resources than we had originally planned.

The take up for Myfolio in the  University continues and it is obvious that many students are finding it useful. What is harder to determine is in what way it is being used. The focus of our project is the use of  Myfolio as a tool for PDP but the University does not set rules for how students can or should use Myfolio. It is obvious that  many students are using Myfolio for coursework and perhaps some tutors are encouraging this. Opinions differ as to whether this is a good thing or not.  Some feel that the use of Myfolio to create or submit coursework undermines its usefulness as a tool for PDP. Personally I think that anything which draws users to the application should be seen as good. A familiarity with the features of myfolio – however that familiarity is gained – must increase the chances that a user will use the application for PDP. But this will only be true if the  importance of PDP is also understood by the users. We can help to encourage that with more promotion of the concept and benefits of PDP.

Thankfully there is also evidence that students are grasping the importance of PDP and using Myfolio to help with this. It is however difficult to get a detailed picture of the extent of Myfolio’s use for PDP. The control of access to a user’s  journals, plans and other artefacts rests with that user. If they wish to keep something  private to themselves then they can – in fact for most artefacts held in Myfolio that is the default.  We cannot – nor would we want to – break that trust by examining  users’ artefacts unless they have been made public or explicitiy shared with us. So there could be a lot more PDP going on than we are aware of. As an aside here I sometimes wonder, in what seems to be an increasingly cynical and less trusting world,  whether our users actually believe that tutors and other staff only have access to what they decide to share with them. Is this an issue we need to worry about?

It is easy to criticise Myfolio as not being lots of things – not the most user-friendly interface, not the coolest application out there, limited in its features and customisability, not as useful as LinkedIn and etc. There may be some vailidity  to some of these criticims though I question the usefulness of  the comparisons. But to make a success of the project we need to emphasise what benefits Myfolio does bring to students and alumni. Myfolio is the tool that Kent has chosen, primarily to assist with personal development planning. It is a tool that clearly does have many benefits as the reports from this project will show, and being open source it is an application that we have already improved and will continue to improve in direct response to the needs of our users. However it is the  process we are using Myfolio for – PDP – which is the most important thing here.  An individual can use any tool they wish to aid self-reflection, to audit their skills, to plan their learning but one of the most important things about the provision of  a Myfolio account to all students is that it emphasises the importance and value of the PDP process.

We are pretty sure that our students are making good use of Myfolio but over the next few weeks we want to confirm this by talking to users about their experience of using the application. Sadly efforts to talk to the Myfolio focus group members who graduated last year has resulted in very few  responses. Ok  – no responses. I didn’t expect this and it is difficult to know how to interpret that fact. Maybe all those individuals have fabulous jobs and are no longer interested in PDP. Maybe they are using other tools for PDP. Maybe they no longer check their kentforlife.net  email accounts. Or maybe they just don’t want to talk to me. As I said some of the unexpected results thrown up during the project were more pleasant than others.


It’s never too early to start on the path

Walker on path across a fieldMyfolio (built on Mahara open source software) was rolled out to all University of Kent students and staff at the beginning of this academic year (2011-2012). By providing software to help with PDP, and as a platform for e-portfolios, the University has provided a service which will be of value not just to current students but also to alumni. Attending a JISC CETIS Service Design day in Birmingham last week, facilitated by Lauren Currie of Snook,  helped me to think about who our potential users are and how we can encourage them to use the application we are providing.

Currently the only alumni who have access to the application are members of the small EAT-PDP focus group – and even they don’t seem to be talking to me at the moment. There is a proposal that initially Kent continues to provide access to myFolio for at least one year post graduation. So by next summer around 4000 alumni could be using myFolio. Realistically the figure is likely to be somewhat lower. So what are the factors that will make one person continue to use the service and another to abandon it? In truth there are many factors which might affect this including the discipline students are pursuing. An architecture student who wants to be able to display models and plans to potential employees will readily see the value of myFolio as an e-portfolio tool. A student of say, psychology, may find the multi-media capabilities of my folio less obviously useful.  That is certainly not to say myFolio has no benefits for psychology students – just that they may be initially less obvious.

Conversely, Personal Development Planning is something that all students and alumni should be considering. But the greatest benefit will be obtained by those who have used a tool like myFolio to build a timeline of their learning and development throughout their student years.

One of the strengths of myFolio is that over the period of learning it enables a student to build a picture of their progress. Skills audits and plans are obvious manifestations of this but reading back over journal entries can be even more useful in presenting evidence of how an individual has progressed.

Most days I have a look at any publicly available new entries in myFolio. There are already many examples of journals which demonstrate the value of the process. Some first year students have initially been reluctant to engage with the process but by being honest about this and keeping a record, even of their misgivings,  they are actually starting the process of PDP. For some students this takes the form of something akin to having a conversation with one self – in other words self-reflection. Even in the few weeks since term started myFolio users are documenting their progress and talking about their learning processes. If we want our alumni to keep using  myfolio thereby maintaining a link with the University we need to get our students on the PDP path as early as possible.

So how do we get more of our students into the habit of using myFolio?  One idea we are currently exploring is encouraging those already engaged to act as student ambassadors.  We are considering offering prizes for the best video blogs showing how using myFolio is helping with PDP. Creating these videos could itself be seen as part of the PDP process, neatly completing the circle.

 


Personal Development does not end at graduation

A section of the Kent labrynth in autum

A section of the Kent labrynth in autum

I recently attended a Guardian Higher Education Seminar in their very impressive offices behind Kings Cross, London. The Seminar was entitled Using Social Media to Enhance the Student Experience so had lots of relevance to the EAT-PDP project.

I had expected that some of the delegates would talk about Mahara – it may not be what  people first think of when social networking is mentioned but it has many of the same functions – blogging, friends lists, sharing  multi-media pages – as well as being a valuable tool for PDP and and an e-folio.  The speakers hardly mentioned it but when I asked a question about its use it became obvious that many HEIs were considering it or already using it. Some attendees expressed reservations about the viability of closed systems such as Mahara but others were running trials or evaluating e-folio and PDP software including Mahara. Interestingly some of the issues that participants saw as a downside to social networking in HE – distraction, confidentiality concerns, public exposure, concerns over ownership –  are solved or at least easier to control within ‘closed systems’ such as Mahara.

The clearest message I got from the day was that just making social media available was not enough. For students to engage and see benefits from these applications there needs to be involvement and engagement from staff too. Personal Development Planning needs to be seen as part of the curriculum not just an optional extra. And that can mean more work for tutors who might already feel they are being stretched thin. This was the experience of some who spoke at the seminar but these same people were also very enthusiastic about the rewards and benefits to their students and about what many perceived to be a better understanding of their students’ needs.  Students supported each other through networking, informally reviewed their colleagues work, arranged group study sessions and honed their writing and visual skills. But this did not happen by magic.

Many participants talked of the need to create a culture within which social media was seen as an acceptable, valid and appropriate tool for PDP and education.  Few people are natural bloggers. Many people feel nervous about openly commenting on others’ work. But when students were encouraged to form groups to work together, or to meet up and talk about how they might use blogs and wikis to augment their learning and development the concept started to gel, ideas flowed and this translated into content appearing online. Over time, applications like Mahara create the story of a individual’s progress and development. This in turn can both boost confidence by showcasing achievements and identify gaps that need to be bridged.  This type of ‘auditing’ does not and should not cease just because a period of formal education and development has come to an end. The EAT-PDP project is about engaging with alumni but actually the engagement has to start with under graduates.

It would be all too easy to be cynical and negative about the use of social networking in HE. The EAT-PDP project sees myfolio as an extremely useful addition to Kent’s learning and PDP resources and a tool which could help students increase their employability at,  and beyond graduation. If alumni access is implemented Myfolio will also help the University maintain links with its alumni and build the Kent brand. But the existence of myFolio is not going to be enough – we need to build on good work already done to embed it firmly in the culture of University.

Kent went live with Mahara, branded as myfolio at the beginning of this term. It is too soon to be able to judge how many of our students will use it – and even more difficult to judge how many will continue to use it after graduation – but  hundreds of accounts have been ‘claimed’ already and a good number of  e-folios and profiles created. First impressions are good. In the next couple of weeks we will be surveying our focus groups – who have had access to the application since April 2011 –  and trying to find out if those who have now graduated are still using myfolio.


Who are our alumni and how can we help them?

Coloured facades of Central St Giles buildings in Central London

Central St Giles buildings seen from HEFCE offices in Centrepoint

On Tuesday

Steve and I went up to London for an Alumni Engagement Cluster Meeting with colleagues from the Glasgow SAVE project and UWIC’s GradSpace project. Although most of us had met at the initial start-up meeting back in April and exchanged a few emails since, this was our first proper face-to-face meeting. It was also a chance to meet Peter Kawalek , our Critical Friend, and Pete Speak the latest recruit to the Glasgow SAVE project.

I confess that I was slightly sceptical as to how much common ground there was between the projects and had wondered how useful this meeting would be. But at least we didn’t have to schlepp all the way from Glasgow or Cardiff.  However, it quickly became apparent that getting together informally in this way was very useful and supportive. Many of the problems we had experienced were also an issue for the other projects and it helped to discuss how others had risen to the challenge.  This felt like a ‘safe’ space to be honest about project issues we were worried about and a good place to share our successes with colleagues who understood the challenges we faced.  All three projects (if I can be immodest for a second) demonstrated that a lot had been acheived since the start up only five months ago. Steve and I came away feeling that between us all we were putting together valuable resources that would not only benefit our students and alumni but also act as a template for other Higher Education institutions.

During our discussions I found myself thinking about how the recommendations from the Logins for Life project were relevant to the alumni engagement projects.  Allowing graduates to retain their IT accounts beyond their time at university would go a long way towards solving the problem of alumni authentication.  This would help with those graduating now and in the future but we also discussed the issue of re-engaging with alumni where contact had been lost. How do we check that these are really alumni of our university? From here the discussion went wider. Do we always need to authenticate alumni? Or could we offer free resources to anyone who is interested?  That will depend on what sort of service we are offering. If we are ‘brokering’ contact between prospective employers and Kent graduates then of course we do need to make sure they are actually Kent graduates. But there are perhaps other services we could provide along the lines of the UWIC GradSpace offering,  which could be available to all. There are many Open Education resources available which could improve employability and making these available all in one place to all-comers would enhance the reputation of Kent as an institution that encourages life-long personal development and offers much more than ‘just fee charging courses’. It could help to expand and strengthen the much talked about ‘Kent community’. It is plain that the jobs market is challenging at the moment and shows few signs of improving in the short term. There is little doubt that additional services for graduates, which might just give a job applicant the edge,  are going to be much in demand.

Whatever  services universities offer in the future, the cluster group meeting broadened our thinking about alumni engagement and that has got to be a good thing.


Student blogging

One of the EAT-PDP Project outputs reads as follows:

Greater understanding of the broader issues involved in students publishing blogs etc under the University of Kent brand

Last week Stewart Brownrigg and I sat down to draw up a list of headings which we felt should appear in the report we will write to satisfy this requirement. The list ended up being a lot longer than we thought it might be. It should be said from the outset that many of the scenarios we listed are, we hope, highly unlikely to arise. We do not consider our students to be champing at the bit just looking for a chance to insult, defame and libel staff, fellow students or members of the public. Nor are we overly concerned that our staff and services are likely to attract the sort of criticism that would warrant us having to take legal advice. However, the potential consequences of worst case scenarios are so serious that we considered it was definitely worth flagging up the issues.

A shortlist includes

  • Libel
  • Bringing the University into disrepute by the publication of text or images which are, for example,  considered obscene or are deemed to ‘glorify terrorism’
  • Publication of extreme political or religious views (eg promotion of extreme right or extreme left views, racist or homophobic statements etc)
  • Publication of data contrary to the Data Protection Act
  • Damaging the reputation of the University by publishing work of a poor quality (eg poorly researched work, erroneous analysis or conclusions, poorly written work etc)

Perhaps an obvious question is ‘so why let our students blog under the Kent brand?’ In part I have already answered this – we think the risk is low. For a worst case scenario to actually occur not only do we need to have the offending text or images but they will need to have been made public too. Then someone has to find those offending artefacts and be sufficiently disturbed by them to make a complaint. Most blogs within Mahara will be kept private or be available only to tutors and other registered Mahara users. A few will be included in pages that the users make available to prospective employers. We think that very few will actually be made public. If a student particularly wants to blog on a pet subject and get themselves widely read they are probably going to do this via one of the already available free blogging sites like WordPress.com or Blogger.com.

On the other hand,  giving our students this opportunity will help them to reflect on their progress, to build their confidence and hone their writing skills. It is an integral part of Personal Development Planning at Kent.  If bloggers wish to get comments from tutors or their peers it is easy to solicit this. Student blogging also sits well with the concept of openness widely supported by most academic instituions. It shows that we trust in our students, that we think them mature and responsible and are confident that the service we provide is more likely to attract accolades than brickbats.

This seems to be new territory for the Higher education sector. That is not to say that student blogs do not exist but so far the ones I have found appear to be ‘hand-picked’ and probably moderated. I am not aware of any student blogs bringing their alma mater into disprepute though there are examples of academics upsetting their employers with blog comments!

One other aspect of Kent’s decision to provide an in-house platform for student blogging which we felt worth investigating was the University’s duty of care to its students. What guidance and protection should we be offering to help students avoid compromising their security or confidentiality through the public interface we are supplying?  Comments on all of the above are very welcome.

 


First Meeting of Steering Group

The EAT-PDP Steering group met for the first time on Monday in the Templeman Library. The Steering Group draws together members from the Unit for the Enhancement of Learning & Teaching (Jane Carne), the Careers Advisory Office(Bruce Woodcock) and the Alumni Relations office (Fiona Jones) along with Michael Wilcox, Steve Coppin and Leo Lyons from Information Services.
After the administrative parts of the meeting were completed, members discussed how the Project should proceed and talked about how the project’s work might impact on the members’ own areas of responsibility. There were some concerns that work with myFolio, which had been on-going for the last couple of years, might be negatively impacted if the findings of the EAT-PDP project and feedback from its focus groups was not always positive. This was a risk particularly as the EAT-PDP focus group members had, by design, been ‘left to their own devices’ and given only minimal training in myFolio in contrast to previous pilot groups who had been well supported. It was acknowledged that there was a need to avoid creating negative impressions – especially as overall the reaction from all users was very positive – but this had to be offset against the need to give comprehensive reports based on the feedback received by the project.
The aims of the EAT-PDP project are well-defined and separate from other work done in the area but there are areas of overlap. In particular the EAT-PDP project will be informed by alumni use of Mahara/myFolio and seek to demonstrate how this can enhance and extend relationships between the university and its graduates.
The wide range of experience – of alumni relations, careers, PDP and Learning Research – presented by members of the Steering Group membership gives a strong base to build the project on. All members were enthusiastic about the benefits myFolio would bring to Kent’s students and felt that by ensuring good communication across the areas represented we could not only ensure the project was ‘well driven’ but would also improve relationships between the various interested groups represented.
The Steering Group will meet again in one month’s time