THE EPICA PILOT
Since the launch of the EPICA project in January 2018, the EPICA Consortium has been collaborating to co-design the ePortfolio developed by MyDocumenta to adapt it to the requirements of the end-user communities in the participating countries. The activities undertaken were addressed to foster innovative solutions supporting the transition between higher education and the workplace, the use of micro-credentials for employability, and the articulation of employability skills to prospective employers.
The universities taking part in the pilot are Makerere University in Uganda (MAK), Maseno University in Kenya (MU), Open University of Tanzania in Tanzania (OUT) and Open University of Catalonia in Spain (UOC).
Between September and December 2019, UOC, in close collaboration with the piloting partners, elaborated the methodology and the workflow for the pilots’ implementation. During the first semester of 2020 each of the four academic institutions, coordinated by UOC, launched the pilot study.
The pilot’s methodology, designed by thoroughly analysing how graduate skills are approached from different successful perspectives, drew heavily on the need to be able to showcase the development of employability skills first to teachers and then to potential employers. The methodology developed had to be adaptable in order to fulfil the specific delivery methods of each university (online, blended-learning, face-to-face).
The implementation of the EPICA ePortfolio and the pedagogical model proposed for the pilot required the adoption of new pedagogical approaches in the piloting universities. Their integration required, in fact, flexibility from the academic institutions and demanded a change in the working processes as well as staff adaptability.
After the identification of the most relevant employability skills for the participating countries, three common skills were selected to be tested in the four participating universities: Creative Thinking, Problem-Solving, Communication and Interpersonal skills. The piloting of additional skills (Digital skills, Teamwork, etc.) was left as optional.
The methodology of the pilot entails a double articulation of the employability skills understood as the ability to identify and communicate the development of skills to specific target groups.
The first articulation consists of presenting, discussing and submitting to teacher assessment curricular, extra-curricular, and job-related evidence according to each skill. This process consists of inquiry, reflection and integration practices inspired in the Catalyst framework on High Impact ePortfolio Practice (Eynon & Gambino, 2017). A set of rubrics adapted mainly from those proposed by the VALUE project (Association of American Colleges and Universities) are used to score students' achievements from an academic perspective. If the students demonstrate their skills to a higher level, a micro-credential is issued giving them the opportunity to showcase their skills openly.
The second articulation, directed towards potential employers, entails the student customization of the ePortfolio and the presentation of a video testimony based on the STAR (situation, task, action, result) method widely used for interviewing job candidates. This exercise allows students to connect their capabilities to the workplace or professional requirements. Employers appointed to the pilot used a scoring scale that assisted them in appraising and deciding where to endorse those students who showed outstanding potential through a written commendation that awarded value to the candidates’ profile.
The methodological approach designed for the EPICA pilots is represented in the workflow below, which describes, step-by-step, the process of each participant’s profile. It provides an overview of the entire procedure involving local coordinators, teachers, students, and employers. It also showcases how they cooperate, the actions they perform and the different stages at which they intervene.
A set of support materials, the EPICA Employability Skills Kit, was created for the pilots’ participants to guide them in the performance of the steps envisaged by the micro-credential process. These support materials were created to be followed or adapted by the piloting partners on the basis of their local needs.
The handbook was designed to present detailed information on how to develop and assess employability skills in Higher Education, embed them within university programmes, and make them visible through an ePortfolio system. It includes examples of learning activities, outcomes and evidence.
With the Handbook at hand, teachers that were not very experienced with the development and assessment of employability skills could engage students in purposeful activities, monitor their progress and foster an effective use of the ePortfolio.
The handbook together with a set of end-users’ specific guides assisted participants in the pilot. The guides were designed for teachers, students and employers and aimed at supporting the showcase of the employability skills, its assessment and visibility for the workplace.
These guides also provided the conceptual framework which inspired the pilot’s methodology as well as concrete hints, scripts and examples to support academics, students and employers, partaking in the pilot, to perform the different steps of the micro-credential process.
In addition to the support materials, a self-training course, designed by UOC, was delivered to the local universities (MK, MU and OUT) in a “Moodle Pack format” to be imported within their local Moodle platform. The self-training was a modular asynchronous e-learning course aimed at developing lecturers’ competences in the implementation and assessment of competency-based activities and in the use of the EPICA ePortfolio.
RESULTS OF THE PILOT
The EPICA pilot had to take place in exceptional circumstances due to the pandemic and the problems caused by the Covid19, forcing the original pilot implementation plan to significantly change in order to provide a suitable response to the new situation and reach the project’s goals.
Major difficulties caused due to Covid19 were seen in a reduction of student numbers as well as connectivity problems experienced by the participants that had to use the ePortfolio at home, especially in some areas of Africa in which the access to the internet in private homes represents a challenge.
However, all the universities managed to integrate these new methodologies in their educational practices to implement the EPICA ePortfolio and the pedagogical model proposed for the pilot and the experience from all those involved with EPICA ePortfolio was highly positively perceived.
Most activities initially planned to take place face-to-face were delivered online to ensure a smooth pilot implementation. Students were able to receive peer to peer, lecturers, and employers´ feedback that helped them identify their strengths and weaknesses and gave them the opportunity to improve their skills as planned.
The final results of the pilot, in a nutshell, show that the EPICA ePortfolio was piloted in four universities in four countries, three in Africa and one in Europe; 197 students were able to test the ePortfolio in their own real-life situations uploading evidence of their skills development; 14 teachers were involved in the process of guiding and mentoring the students, and 31 employers had the opportunity to provide feedback to students while testing the value of the EPICA ePortfolio for their own recruitment processes.