A blended approach to evidence learning in professional practice
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Research and e-learning both need to have real-life usability in order to be of benefit. This paper analyses the journey followed as an electronic portfolio was introduced into the midwifery programme at a University in the United Kingdom. Underpinning this innovation were key findings from the literature and an ongoing study exploring "Assessment of Practice". Due to a number of curricular changes required by the authors' institution and the professional body, the decision was made to incorporate these - together with current evidence - into a blended portfolio for use by undergraduate midwifery students. The part-electronic, part-paper portfolio enables students to demonstrate the individual range of their practice learning activities and professional development, resulting in them being able to provide evidence of their competence prior to professional registration. The flexibility offered by the e-portfolio system empowers the learner and promotes autonomy in the gathering of their evidence, which they demonstrate through a system of hyperlinks. Clarity and consistency of multimedia guidance and facilities for regular feedback on progress are key features of the new electronic portfolio. The results of a set of longitudinal case-studies which are currently nearing an end at the Centre for Excellence in Professional Placement Learning had a major influence on the development of the blended portfolio. Student perceptions of the validity and reliability of the various practice assessment methods used in Midwifery, Social Work and Post-registration Health Studies in the University as well as the impact of the practice assessment process on their learning have been explored. Significant findings have emerged from this research with regard to the strengths and weaknesses of portfolios. The importance of students understanding the purpose of practice assessment as well as recognising its contribution to their learning and development has also been highlighted. In line with the authors' focus on producing an evidence-based innovation, a pilot was undertaken of the blended portfolio, in which students with a range of IT (information technology) and learning styles were invited to experiment with the new format. Following the successful outcome of the pilot, the portfolio has recently been rolled out to midwifery students and the mentors who support them in their practice placements. The e-portfolio has been show-cased in the wider University, and a number of health and social work colleagues are keen to incorporate a similar assessment method into their programmes. It is considered that the principles of the blended portfolio and other findings from the research will be of interest to a range of other professions which have a practice component, and would be transferable across international boundaries.
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