Source: Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 46(7)
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)
As pre-service teachers (PSTs) in Australia must demonstrate their ability to achieve the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers (APST) at the graduate level to gain professional registration, there exists a need for students to utilise a digital platform throughout their studies which can assist with the collection of evidence and allow for meaningful reflection on this evidence in order to share it with prospective employers.
Therefore, this study addresses a significant gap in the teacher education literature by investigating the use of technologies to achieve accreditation requirements in this era of accountability.
The study thus focuses on answering two research questions:
1. In what ways does PebblePad assist preservice teachers to gain increased awareness of the APST through tagging?
2. In what ways can PebblePad assist PSTs to demonstrate evidence of meeting the APST at the graduate level?
Rationale & Approach
Extending Masters (2013) and Pate and Main’s (2017) research, the authors report on a study conducted with first year Bachelor of Education students undertaking their first Professional Practice course at Griffith University, Australia.
PebblePad was selected as an effective platform for PSTs to gather and reflect on evidence pieces from their practicum to demonstrate achievement of the APST and was part of a wider implementation of this platform.
As students were in their second semester of their degree, the rationale for the project was to create a deeper awareness of APST and how PebblePad could be used to assist students develop a beginning teacher identity, make authentic connections between their course work and practicum, and appreciate how they might utilise the platform over the course of their degree and into their working lives as teachers.
This study utilised a mixed methods approach.
Students enrolled in a first-year ITE course in an Australian university completed an online survey using Likert Scale questions with opportunities for extended qualitative responses survey.
These students were then provided with the opportunity to contribute to 10-minute focus group sessions to follow up on their survey responses.
A total of 502 students were enrolled in this first year ITE course.
239 Bachelor of Education students over three campuses completed the survey.
97.5% (n=233) of students were in their first year of the program, four were in their second year, and two in their third year.
All students had some limited experience of using PebblePad in the previous trimester and had just submitted their final piece of assessment at the time they undertook the survey.
Additionally, the 14 tutors who facilitated the delivery of content and marked the assessment with four of these tutors participating in the study through an interview.
Interviews were conducted individually, were approximately 40 minutes in length and were audio recorded and subsequently transcribed.
The transcriptions were then given to participants for member checking prior to being coded and analysed for themes.
Data was collected from 239 Bachelor of Education students via an online survey.
A total of 20 students participated in a focus group interview and a total of four tutors from the course who participated in an individual interview.
The third task of the course that was the focus of this research required students to begin developing their Professional Portfolio which would be built upon throughout their degree.
Every time students added an example of evidence (called an 'asset' in PebblePad) which aligns with an APST, they would tag or label it with relevant descriptors.
Each piece of evidence might include multiple tags.
The online survey consisted of 20 questions covering foci such as the types of functions students utilised, employment of formative feedback from assessment tasks, how links between evidence pieces and the APST were created, and the challenges of certain features of the platform.
Questions also included check boxes to indicate if the students used the tagging function, and if they tagged the graduate attributes, or the professional competencies.
Several open-ended questions were also included to allow students to comment openly on the advantages and disadvantages of using PebblePad.
The open-ended questions allowed for the manual coding of themes from the responses.
As so many students wrote such detailed responses (n=385 survey responses) this allowed for an in-depth analysis from the emerging themes for both the focus group interviews and the open-ended questions. The data was coded for general themes and then once these were gained coding for more specific themes was conducted.
To add depth to the data five tutor interviews were conducted.
The tutors taught the students over three campuses and therefore had excellent insights into the ways their students engaged with PebblePad.
A total of four student focus groups were conducted on two campuses with the interviews digitally recorded.
A total of twenty students participated in the focus groups with group size ranging from three students to six students in each interview.
The focus group interviews allowed for a greater depth of data to be collected and for clarification around some of the survey questions.
Results and discussion
This study extends on Pate and Main’s (2017) research and addresses a gap in the current research by specifically investigating how the PSTs used tagging to the
APST by including their voices and personal opinions.
In answering the first research question, results demonstrated an increased and more nuanced awareness of the APST and
descriptors as students applied them to the way their personal experiences aligned with the
Tutors also felt that the students used PebblePad in the most complex ways which suggests that it was a well used platform.
In answering the second research question, survey responses revealed that apart from acting as vehicle for creating greater awareness of the APST, the vast majority of students were positive in their approach to using PebblePad and forecasting to applying for teacher registration saw value in tagging their artefacts according to the APST.
Students found tagging very easy and an efficient way for them to keep track of the type of evidence pieces they were collecting.
As one student stated, “we could look and we could see what we’d covered and it was so easy to just go in and tag them. It’s a very simple process”.
Students were able to tag their assets directly according to the APST.
This allowed students to gain an in depth understanding of the APST as well as to learn the types of evidence required to collect in order to meet each APST at the graduate level.
The ease of using the tags is an advantage to using the platform PebblePad, however, other platforms can also be used such as those reported by Brooks (2017).
Importantly, students were given feedback by the tutors on their assets which allowed the students to learn which types of their assets may fit the APST better than others.
The researchers were particularly interested in whether students at such an early stage in their teacher training saw the relevance of building a flexible and open-ended portfolio over many years based on the APST as a valuable tool for the deep learning and career progression.
As Lambert and Lines (2000) suggest, students often view traditional authoritarian models of assessment as something which is done to them, and not with them.
The PebblePad ePortfolio is an alternative multimodal model of assessment with purposes and potential much greater than the initial summative assessment.
The survey responses were mixed in this regard, however, but there were several comments which suggested that students were taking ownership of their portfolio with a sense of agency to support their applications for employment and map their teaching progression as a “career-long and lifelong investment” (Smart, et al., p. 1881).
In the survey, open ended question responses allowed for coding of themes which showed future projection of the uses for PebblePad.
This came through overwhelmingly in the results.
As PebblePad will be available to the PSTs to use once they are practising teachers, they were also able to project that they could see uses of it both in their future studies and when they become practising teachers. Students suggested it would be useful as a professional portfolio and also as an excellent online tool to store resources when teaching.
With the increasing use of ePortfolios in ITE in Australia, there are several implications for educators of PSTs evidenced in this research.
As the results of this study suggest, the vast majority feel confident with learning emerging technologies and new platforms in their course work.
Students in their first year have little knowledge of and experience with the APST and do not naturally forecast to the end of their studies when they will need to provide evidence of these for teacher registration.
They do, however, understand the need to be proactive in this area.
When prompted, students can become aware of, and work to collect and organise the types of evidence pieces that can contribute to a professional portfolio, such as assessment tasks, lesson plans, reflections, observations, and teaching resources that they have developed.
Brooks, W. (2017). The roles and features of ePortfolios in two Australian initial teacher education degree programs. In J. Rowley (Ed.), ePortfolios in Australian Universities (pp. 99-116). Springer.
Masters, J. (2013). Scaffolding pre-service teachers representing their learning journeys with eportfolios. Journal of Learning Design, 6(1), 1-9.
Pate, H., & Main, S. (2017). Constructing the pathway: Supporting student employability in an Education program. Proceedings of ePortfolio Forum: Owning, supporting and sharing the journey (pp. 43-52). eLearning Services.
Smart, V., Sim, C., & Finger, G. (2015). Professional standards based digital portfolios vs. evidence based digital portfolios: Recommendations for creative, interesting and longlasting digital portfolios. Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education International Conference 2015, 1875-1882. https://www.learntechlib.org/p/150256