Collection: Liz Ahrends Project

Liz Ahrends Award project

Project aims

Here's what I set out to achieve:

My research questions are:

  1. Am I using ADSHE’s 7 principles of specialist support effectively to underpin my practice?
  2. How does this approach work for learners with SpLDs?
  3. Can a portfolio be used for quality assurance and Continuing Professional Development?

In order to research these questions, I plan to explore the use of an e-portfolio as a means of collating and, later, sharing my findings.  Building on several other strands of interest (using IT and assistive technologies, e-learning, online support, open source software, digital technology) I plan to document my 1:1 work with students at two universities.  I will use a blog for reflection on my practice.  I will share the e-portfolio with Tanya Zybutz, my line manager at one of the universities where I work, as part of my own professional development and to inform the development of the research.

The funding from the Liz Ahrends award would afford me the time needed to:

  • learn how to use new software and technology
  • have on-going supervision with my mentor
  • analyse and reflect on my developing practice and research questions
  • compile documentation for the e-portfolio including evidence of practice, student views, critique of technology and software,  and mentor input
  • develop a ‘product’ that can be shared with colleagues at ADSHE Networking Day 2012
  • write up the case study and develop user notes for colleagues on software and technology

Development and decisions

Here's what actually happened:

  • The 2 regular-attending students I selected for my research stopped attending regularly
  • It took FOREVER to get to grips with the ePortfolio
  • I found it hard to keep track of stuff I generated on 3 different computers
  • I couldn't get screen capture software to work satisfactorily on my home or my work PC
  • I collected evidence assiduously but I couldn't summarise, reflect and collate as regulary and quickly as anticipated
  • Getting student feedback using the ADSHE form I devised was time-consuming so couldn't do it at every session as planned

Here's what I did:

  • Got permission/agreement to participate from 5 students at 1 university
  • Systematised the collection and storage of evidence
  • Audio recorded all sessions (chunked the recordings for ease of reference/listening)
  • Created templates for writing up sessions and presenting evidence
  • Listened to recordings and summarised strategies with reasons for using them within 5 days of session
  • Uploaded evidence for strategies where appropriate
  • Reflected on each session and wrote a reflection within one week of the session

On the one hand ....

Let's get the negative stuff out of the way first.

  1. My aims for the project were miles too ambitious given the time demands during the academic term
  2. £400 award did not go very far in helping me find non-working time to develop the project
  3. eLearning technology never works as easily and efficiently as you would like it to
  4. Free download technology never works as easily and efficiently as you think it's going to
  5.  It took me much longer to set up and get going on the project because of all the above
  6. I didn't have time to research and reflect to a satisfactory degree
  7. I didn't have time to research Q2 at all, so only addressed Q1 and Q3

On the other hand, once I had established what I could actually achieve in the time available and how to do it ....

  1. I enjoyed using the ePortfolio once I'd figured out how it worked and stopped being frustrated by it
  2. I found it rewarding to put together a full picture of a session with a student.  I always found that I have done more than I thought I had
  3. I liked the enthusiasm of the students for helping me do my research which resulted in us feeling that we were involved in a joint learning venture.  I think this gave added value to the sessions
  4. I learned a good deal from listening to audio recordings of sessions.  Without the content element, you learn a lot about the nuances of voice, inflection, volume, laughter, and (realling interestingly) silence
  5. I found Tanya's feedback valuable in guiding my reflection and in motivating me, and wish she's been able to give more of it in the Portfolio and earlier in the project (technology problems!)

Documentation for the project

The Informed Consent form I asked students to sign

ADSHE 7 principles turned into evaluation questions

Reflection and......




On reflection ......

Creating a porfolio of work (whether electronically or paper-based) is very time consuming for a part-time or freelance tutor.  In parallel, reading, evaluating and giving feedback on a portfolio is very time-consuming for a mentor or a line/service manager.  As a means of providing 'evidence' for quality assurance or Continuing Professional Development for part-time or freelance tutors, I believe that a portfolio of work is therefore not viable.  I believe that observation of a 1:1 session (real time or video recorded) is the most appropriate means for the line/service manager to assure quality (with the added value of what he/she can learn, as a fellow-practitioner, from this observation), and for the part-time or freelance tutor to gain valuable input into his/her practice with a view to achieving continuous professional development. 

During the time I headed up and taught on the PG Cert in Adult Dyslexia Support (between 1999 and 2010 - Edge Hill University, University of Chester, Middlesex University) I had the experience of using observation for teaching and professional development, as well as for assessment.  On this course (which was initially face to face and eventually fully distance and online) participants had to create a paper-based portfolio based on their work placement of 20 hours of 1:1 support.  In these, participants were required to summarise what they did in each session, justify their choice of strategies and reflect on their effectiveness (much like I did for the Liz Ahrends award).  In addition, they were required to observe an experienced tutor doing a 1:1 session and to observe a peer on the course, and write an observation report.  They were also required to be observed on two occasions for formative assessment.

So, based on the teaching experience I've described and on the experience of putting this portfolio together in the past year, I can say without reservation that, as a teacher and fellow-professional, observation followed by constructive feedback/feedforward provides THE richest professional development opportunity.  Much as participants on the course described above might have disliked being watched or video recorded in action, in my view (and supported by feedback from participants) they learned more from the feedback/feedforward  received on being observed than from most of the other teaching on the course.  In the same way, and recognising that many colleagues do not like being observed or video recorded in action for observation purposes, I believe that using observation is likely to be the most effecient and cost-effective way of achieving quality assurance and continuing professional development. Preparation for being observed is important and there's more on this below.

I analysed and chunked the ADSHE 7 principles into a series of evaluative questions, which proved a useful framework for critical self-reflection and for student evaluation.  I would suggest that such a document could form the framework on which to base observations so that the focus of the observation is on the PROCESS (what did I do, why did I do that, and could I do it differently or more effectively? did I apply the 7 ADSHE principles?), NOT on the PRODUCT (did I achieve the perfect session? Did I pass the test?).  In this way, the observation process becomes a tool for the development of practice and of strategies, both for the observer and for the observee.

The observation itself could be live or video recorded but in either case, I would strongly recommend that preparation for observation should be integral to the process.  From teaching experience, I believe that the best preparation for being observed is doing an observation, using the same criteria that will be applied by the person observing you.

VERY importantly, for this process to be valued and valuable to all parties concerned, I recommend that freelance/part-time tutors be paid for 2 hours of CPD (?annually) which is just about enough time for preparation, recording and getting feedback/feedforward.

Finally, I know from experience that setting up and operating the technology side of video recording a 1:1 session can be much more problematic than the session itself, so strongly recommend that freelance/part-time tutors are given dedicated technical support to facilitate this process.



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