Marginal & Central: the positioning of an e-portfolio tool in workplace language learning

I’ve finally completed and am about to submit this paper for the International Technology, Education and Development Conference (INTED 2013)   jointly authored with Robert Chmielewski. The abstract:


This paper explores an Activity Theory based approach to investigating the use of an e-portfolio tool in supporting workplace second language learning. The investigation is on a language learning project funded by the European Commission Lifelong Learning Programme Leonardo da Vinci as a Transfer of Innovation project.

The Second-language Competency for Technicians in Industry (Lang2Tech) project was conceived as a response to evidence on across Europe that technician workforce supply is not aligned with locations of demand resulting in occupation shortages in specific regions of the continent. The most significant constraint on technician mobility was identified as that of language. The L2T project has adapted an e-portfolio tool designed to assess basic skills, to support the demonstration of second language competence through assessing basic skills in that second language. As Piaget argues, change and learning comes not just through exposure to a ‘better’ theory, but rather through actively applying that ‘better’ theory in the world [1]. In other words, to practice (with) it. The purpose of the e-portfolio tool is to assist learners in capturing evidence of language use in practice and to make that evidence, and hence language competence, visible.

When embedded into the process of workplace language learning, the e-portfolio aims to support collaborative language learning through peer network, private and ‘open’ reflections and the capturing of evidence demonstrating the evolution of second language competence. Thus the e-portfolio tool aims to span both a positivist stance for assessment purposes and a learner-centric constructivist stance [2].

As a mediating artefact present in the language learning activity system, the e-portfolio tool offers two separate e-portfolio environments: personal and institutional [2]. Within the personal space, learners are able to record their profile, keep a reflective learning diary (blog), regularly completed self-assessment forms and attach evidence to back up their progress (documents, pictures or audio/video files). At specified points, the learners submit sections of their e-portfolio collection to an institutional area which offers customised access to four specific groups: tutor, assessor, moderator and administrator. The Lang2Tech work should benefit the five project language strands: Italian, Spanish, German, Russian and English. The e-portfolio templates are interoperable within the LEAP2.0 framework. Lang2Tech expected impact centres on the placement of Lang2Tech Certification at comparable levels within Europe’s emerging NQFs, and on a consequent increase in occupational mobility for technicians.

Activity Theory [3, 4] is adopted for the study as it allows for multiple constructions of practices of, in this case, language learning. As a socio-material perspective, Activity Theory understands learning practices in terms of people, activities and non-human materials being intertwined in a dynamic series of interactions. In the L2T project, the e-portfolio sits at the centre of these interactions and potentially anchoring the networking effects of this form of technology enhanced learning and enabling the emergence of communities of learning.

This paper draws on initial findings from the language learning evaluation data to investigate activity systems. The paper will be particularly concerned with the development of a community of language learners with a potential for transnational dimensions.

Keywords: e-portfolios; language learning; VET



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