A close-up on MyDocumenta
Interview to Cristina Casanova and Andrea Contino, creators of MyDocumenta Eportfolio Ecosystem and co-founders of MyDocumenta, responsibles for the development of the Eportfolio and its evolution in the EPICA Project.
How would you define an ePortfolio and what are its main features to encourage future EPICA users to make use of it?
An ePortfolio is a powerful tool that allows presentation of a complete overview of a person’s capacities and skills acquired both in formal and informal education. Its first objective is therefore to allow the people who use it to present themselves in the right way, highlighting their skills through their work, the evaluations and recommendations of professors, colleagues, etc., and to show official recognitions and certifications.
Besides this primarily labour-market-oriented aspect, the ePortfolio offers other really interesting dimensions to improve the teaching and learning process:
a) It is a powerful tool for self-reflection, which allows students to visualize and become aware of their evolution, progress, and weaknesses so that they can analyse and improve them.
b) It allows teachers to undertake a formative assessment, following each student in their progress. This contrasts with the typical summative assessment of other tools in which only the final result is evaluated without taking into account the evolutionary process of knowledge and competences.
- How is MyD ePortfolio ”tailored” to the different users' needs? How flexible can the EPICA ePortfolio be in order to be adapted to the necessities and desires of any student / teacher / university using it?
Flexibility is one of the priorities of the ePortfolio that, starting from the current MyDocumenta Eportfolio, will be developed within the framework of the EPICA Project. It has to respond to new pedagogical approaches of competency-based learning, and, in particular, it has to account for the key competences for work, including entrepreneurial skills. For this reason, the ePortfolio that is developed within the framework of the EPICA Project will allow a double typology of evaluation of the students' work: the traditional summative assessment based on numbers and letters, and the new formative and competency-based assessment.
In addition, another fundamental feature is that once students finish their studies, they can continue to use the ePortfolio as a personal tool to access the labour market or improve their work position. In this sense, the MyDocumenta Eportfolio, and its new version developed within the framework of the EPICA Project, will allow students who have finished their studies to separate their ePortfolio from the academic environment and use it for their personal purposes, free of charge.
Students will have their own URL, with all the contents, evaluations, recommendations, etc., which grants them access to their ePortfolio from anywhere in the world - as well as to anyone they want to share the information with. Moreover, they will have tools to create “permissions”, enabling them to decide which content is visible and for whom.
- In which ways is the ePortfolio designed by MyDocumenta adapted for the EPICA project and for the African partner universities working with it?
Well, this is still a little secret... what we can say is that we are working intensively in collaboration with the UOC, Makerere University, Open University of Tanzania, Maseno Univeristy, and AVU-African Virtual University to detect the requirements of the end users, students, professors, and administrators that will allow the new ePortfolio to respond to different needs. We are currently in the process of detection and analysis of the pedagogical, legal, and technological requirements, and this will soon lead us to the definition of the characteristics of the ePortfolio, its new functionalities, and its look and feel.
- During the first stages of the project, have you noticed many differences between the European and the African universities' needs?
Some, as is unavoidable. In the first place, it seemed to us that the competence approach is a little more familiar in the European universities, which for some years now have started to go in that direction, although with varying results. At the UOC, for example, we know that there are numerous initiatives, and teachers are “pushed” towards that approach. However, it is not a method that can be adopted from one day to another. You need teacher training, the right tools, and above all, the will and commitment of the university’s administrators and decision-makers. It is at this last level that we need to take the decision to support innovative teaching and learning models that are increasingly related to the labour market, helping to create bridges.
- Who is likely to benefit from receiving access to an ePortfolio, i.e. how will this be useful to employers?
As we have said before, obviously, the first beneficiaries are the students. Next are the teachers, who can improve their teaching methodologies through the , support of personalized teaching and follow-up. And of course, universities as institutions benefit too, since the students’ ePortfolios allow them to show best practices and the results of their innovation in a very attractive and accessible way.
However, there is yet another category, outside academia, which is going to gain. We are referring to companies and employers, who need to find qualified, motivated, and competent personnel who can contribute to making the economies and companies prosper. The student's ePortfolio allows them not only to see a qualification or final grade, as is the case of traditional evaluation methodologies, but also to understand much more clearly the strengths and weaknesses of each person. Therefore it helps make the selection process more accurate.
- With its focus on skills being one of the main characteristics of the ePortfolio developed by MyD, can you explain how the EPICA ePortfolio will show evidence of the skills acquired by the users?
What we can tell you is that we’ll use different systems, including a system of micro-credentials and open badges. An important feature of open badges is that they are interoperable and can be exported and visualized in many environments, online and offline. They also offer a good guarantee and reliability, since they allow tracing of how such credentials have been issued, by whom, when, and based on what results.
However, the open badge system will not be the only one. Of course, students can also choose which jobs to show under a certain category or competence, regulating access through a complete system of permissions. There will also be a feature related to comments received from other users, teachers, other students, external people belonging to the labour market, etc.
And finally, the uniqueness of this portfolio is that we are working on an analytical system that will automatically generate the level of competence acquired by each student, a level of competence that will be measured in relation to the main international frameworks.
We are now experimenting with this same method with many primary and secondary schools in Europe in relation to the acquisition of the digital competence. So far, it has provided excellent results.
- How has the EPICA project and the ePortfolio been received by the EPICA Partner universities and their students?
So far, we’ve received very good feedback in terms of features, usability, and usefulness. For example, one of the teachers of the Makerere University involved in the pilot has informed us that the students, even after the end of this first pilot, still use the ePortfolio to present their work and evidence. This is great, because it shows a great acceptance and need, besides the “obligation” of the pilot. But we are just at the beginning, and in the coming two weeks, we are expecting the results of the analysis of the first pilot, performed between March and December 2018, and analysed by the UOC - Open University of Catalonia. The second pilot, with the new ePortfolio, is expected by the end of 2019, and then we’ll be able to get a full overview.
- What do you think are the most important coming steps toward a successful implementation of EPICA’s strategy, such as overcoming technological requirements, increasing the visibility of the initiative, etc.?
We think the consortium is doing a great job in many aspects: technological improvements, dissemination, and engaging relevant stakeholders such as employers, administrations, national policy makers, etc.
Another aspect that will be analysed deeply in the next months is what we call the “ePortfolio implementation pack”, which also includes the analysis and definition of internal processes and resources needed in each university in order to perform a successful implementation of the ePortfolio, which comprises fully engaging students, teachers, and administrators.