Case study: Working Together: Enhancing Employability through ePortfolio Based Authentic Assessment

Ian Deamer and Emma Purnell of Plymouth University have written a case study for our blog, entitled “Working Together: Enhancing Employability through ePortfolio Based Authentic Assessment”:


A second year module within the Faculty of Business at Plymouth University uses ePortfolios to support both individual and group assessments to enhance student’s employability skills. One of the main aims of this approach is to utilise ePortfolios to provide students with an authentic assessment opportunity through the completion of a group community consultancy project. The ePortfolios are worked on collaboratively by groups of students and external project sponsors in organisations. The use of an individual ePortfolio alongside the group assessment supports individual development, reflective skills and employability. Students are given the opportunity of a real life experience in the group consultancy project that they evidence through ePortfolio, whilst simultaneously working on another ePortfolio that supports their development as a reflective individual.


Plymouth Business School, Plymouth University, Faculty of Business

Context and challenge

The Professional Development module has objectives relating to introducing key concepts of research and the practice of management consultancy.  The two topics are tied together by setting assignments that require the application of research within the context of business development.

The development of academic rigour, expected as the student becomes a novice researcher, is linked to the practical application and assessment of impact of research.  A critical part of this module is the development of the student’s knowledge, skills, attitude and experience in connection with employability.

The approach

The module requires the interaction of personal reflection, technology use, community engagement and university study.

Students will create two ePortfolios within this module as they satisfy the assessment demands.  The first involves reflection of their journey through research to produce an influential ‘thought piece’ article. They are to take an idea that is linked to global employability and produce an article that leaves the reader absolutely clear about their stance.  Their writing is contain evidence that they wish to refute or use to support their position.

The purpose of this first assignment is to encourage the use research to support ideas, to become reflective, to develop criticality and to write persuasively.  Calling this a ‘Thought Piece’ locates the work in the area of consultancy where this type of approach is often used to forward ideas or raise issues for consideration.  This shows the student how the propagation of ideas in the business world differs from the more structured and rigorous form of the academic world

The second assignment is a group project related to consultancy with a local organisation.  Two organisations are involved and each produces between 6 and 10 project options.   Students choose their groups and their projects.  An initial requirement is a project proposal document that clearly defines the research problem, paradigm, objectives and questions.  This document also requires a suggestion of most suitable methods and any ethical issues along with their resolution.

The groups are expected to follow the traditional research structure of literature review, method development, data collection, data analysis, findings and conclusions.  However they are to create two final report versions.  One is for academic assessment and one for the client use (the client version is most often a cut down version of the academic version).

The use of an ePortfolio allows the students to easily use a structured method of reporting. They report regularly, monitor and reflect upon their progress.  Within this portfolio students are required to add and update Gantt charts and provide a cost analysis of their consultancy.  Each hour of student time is ‘charged’ at £50.  The external organisations and project mentors have access to the student group ePortfolios from the start.


The first assignment allows for the development of refection, criticality and persuasive skills.  The impact of this assignment relates to understanding how to influence in the business world and how academic and businesses worlds differ in terms of progress of knowledge through research. In the second assignment it is suggested the content and ePortfolio approach provides an authentic assessment opportunity through the outcome of a completed community project. Where there is an accurate and live record for the client to see progress and process and easy access for project mentors and external organisations providing the projects whilst ensuring individual development and reflective skills are kept equally important. There is also the impact of supporting local businesses, one of which is a charity and one a community interest company.

Lessons learnt, next steps and sustainability

This approach derived from student feedback and perceived experiences where they felt that earlier versions of the module didn’t build on previous learning.  The new approach was developed to enhanced ‘a largely disconnected series of useful chunks of knowledge’ and to demonstrate how these can be knitted together to form a cohesive whole that has relevance to a diverse range of audiences all with specific purposes

This year an option was provide to undertake amore traditional research project relating to student employability.  It was found that in the previous year that some students lacked the confidence in their language skills to work with a client.  About 30% of the cohort chose the research based option.  Some of the 30% ended up with this option as this did not organise themselves in time to undertake the client project.

In terms of sustainability the coming year will see the introduction to two new clients so the project can be more varied and research project specifically aimed at research problems that the faculty wish to understand more abut.  These research projects are connected to student engagement with placement opportunities.

The amount of work demanded is considerable but well within the expectations of 200 hours of study for a 20 credit module.  The structured approach offered provides scaffolding for students and eases their planning.  A spin off benefit is that many of the students subsequently undertake a project management module where they can refine the approach they have explored in this module and adapt it using recognised project management techniques.  This demonstrated an integrated curriculum and addresses the criticism of providing seeming unrelated chunks of knowledge.

Contact and links

Ian Deamer, Associate Head of School (Employability), Plymouth Business School, Plymouth University, Drake’s Circus, Plymouth PL4 8AA.

Emma Purnell. Senior Learning Technologist. Academic Support Technology and Innovation [ASTI] Plymouth University, Drake’s Circus, Plymouth PL4 8AA.

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