AspireCPD

Development of a CPD tool to log professional development and manage training provision

Continuing Professional Development Platform

Introduction

A vital part of an institution’s ability to develop new talent is a robust and usable framework to record skills and training.

The creation of a tool to capture training and Continuing Professional Development (CPD) data has been developed and tested at a number of HE institutions.

The criteria for the training and CPD platform was as follows. The platform will:

  • List CPD activities
  • Encourage participants to reflect on learning activities
  • Allow participants to express their experience in multiple formats
  • Provide online training, assessment and online logging of such data
  • Allow supervisors to focus effort on developing staff rather than administration
  • Allow alignment with requirements of professional bodies

Our extensive research led to the creation of a new bespoke platform, which prioritised cost-effectiveness, adaptability, flexibility and a user-friendly interface. WordPress (with Multi-site enabled) was deemed to be the most suitable platform for a variety of reasons, particularly cost-effectiveness, flexibility and ease of customisation.

The functionality contained within the WordPress Multi-site (WPMS) makes it ideal for establishing a network of user training/CPD webfolio sites within an institution. WordPress is an open-source platform which is the most widely-used CMS software in the world, with an estimated 60% market share of all sites using a CMS.

More detailed information about WordPress Multi-site can be found in Appendix 1.

Methodology

Software Specification and Developers

Advice was sought from a range of stakeholders including institution training managers, licensed bodies responsible for evaluating CPD, professional registration authorities, trainers and other potential users of the tool. The functionality available in existing software packages was also considered.

The initial basis of the CPD framework was to provide institutions/users with the following functionality:

  • Establish a base platform for management at institutional or group level via a plugin-theme combination ‘installer’ package
  • Establish individual webfolios for each user within an institution or group
  • Define privacy functions to hide webfolios from search engines and/or setup password-only access
  • Define profiles/roles for participants and supervisors
  • Allow participants to
    • Build/maintain a journal containing personal profile data
    • Track and evaluate CPD activities, and output reports
    • Run a diary of events/activities
  • Undertake collaborative online training provision, with in-house training material / with assignments and assessments being embedded
  • Assign supervisory roles to manage training programmes and participant journals, assignments, assessments and activities
  • Apply a customisable network theme which provides institutional/group branding options

In addition to the development of the CPD framework software, training materials for installation and use of the software in the form of Wikis and videos were also commissioned.

Background information regarding the developers of the software, MKDO, is detailed in Appendix 2.

Software Development and Testing

Each functionality component was detailed and built on a test platform with collaborative sessions taking place on a periodic basis to review progress and to test out new functionality. Once a suitably stable version of the test environment was available, a copy was installed on the University of Sheffield servers to allow in-house testing and de-bugging. Build issues and debugging were tracked through GitHub – GitHub is a version control and source code management system widely used by web/internet developers.

Testing of the CPD tool build identified a few issues which were resolved as the process was carried out, with further development continuing until a suitable version of the software was in place that could deliver the functionality as per the original specification.

The tool developed provides a WordPress plugin base, accompanied by a bespoke theme that can be used to display content – this package being branded as AspireCPD.

AspireCPD tool

AspireCPD is a plugin/theme combination that can be used to transform a WordPress Multi-site install into a CPD (Continuous Professional Development) management platform.

AspireCPD is a modular, expandable system that provides an out-of-box system via which institutions can record training and professional development activities and personal profiles. All source code, guidance wiki, issue log and training videos now sit with the TDM project following completion of the AspireCPD build and testing.

Functionality available within the software

After setup of the WPMS instance, the AspireCPD plugin and theme are uploaded and activated across the network which then provides the following:

Site branding/styling:
Instances of AspireCPD can be styled as per the requirements of each institution/work-group, including colour schemes, branding etc., the style being applied across the whole network of user webfolios within that group/institution. Additional opportunities for bespoke style changes at individual webfolio level are available if required.

Template management:
Content for each webfolio is divided into 4 types of material:

  • Pages: generic web pages which can contain any narrative material that users wish e.g personal profile, background etc. Media and images can also be uploaded/added. This would make an ideal space for, for example, a continually evolving CV.
  • Journal Entries: ongoing narrative of tasks undertaken and development work carried out i.e. a work logbook. Similar to Pages, however these appear in a user’s timeline in the same way that articles/news items appear within a ‘blog’. Users can categorise their Journal Entries if they want to be able to group content into specific topic areas. Supervisors are able to leave comments and scores on Journal Entries.
  • Assessments: this type of content allows for online training via a series of assignments which can be set as appropriate for each usergroup. Supervisors can add guidance notes to each assessment. Supervisors can be assigned to each trainee and these supervisors/trainers can interact directly with trainees by providing feedback and scores on the assessments undertaken. Evidence to support the participant’s response to the assessment can be uploaded and stored. Assessments can be grouped into competency categories so that tracking/review of material is easier to manage. Each individual piece of work can also be broken down into sets of criteria for which scores can be allocated.
  • Activities: a log of all CPD activities undertaken including detail of events, dates, types of activity, reflection on the value of the event both to the attendee and those interacting with them within their work environment, plus a value score for the CPD activity. Evidence to support/verify that the activity has been undertaken can also be uploaded into the system (e.g. scanned attendance certificate, or links to supporting material etc). This data can be reported on using the tabular format available to participants, and could be used to support annual review activities and professional registration renewals.

Templates for each of the above content types can be defined within the software for each usergroup, the templates then being applied across the network of webfolios, thus providing a consistent format for each group/institution.

Assignments:
Training assignments can be written for each usergroup and applied within the context of the template structure or directed at individual users as appropriate within the Assessments content type.

Menus/Widgets:
Standard menus and widget content can be built which provides the layout and navigational elements for each webfolio, and these menus and widgets can be also be rolled out across the usergroup via the templates.

User-management:
Once styling, templating and assignments have been set up, users can be added into the system, with various permissions being assigned on setup. The options are:

  • Participants: these users own or contribute to an individual webfolio and have read/write access to that webfolio.
  • Supervisors: these users can view and interact with participant webfolios, having read/write access to the webfolios assigned to them. Supervisors may be assigned to multiple webfolios
  • Site administrators: these users can administer a webfolio or set of webfolios but are unable to access the main network settings
  • Super-administrators: these users have full access to all webfolios and the main network settings.

Following the setup of a new participant/webfolio, system administrators can then associate templates, assignments and supervisors with each new webfolio account. Participants and supervisors are then free to build the CPD portfolio.

A system administration guide is available through an online wiki and video tutorials that sit with the project team.

Webfolio use at participant/supervisor level

The CPD tool will provide a number of options for training and data logging at the individual level, the most effective use being where combined content types are used. Once set up, end-users will have a customised version of the standard WordPress content management system which allows pages and posts to be built with little or no knowledge of web coding etc. Approximately 60% of all blog-based websites are delivered via WordPress and the content-editing functionality has been developed/refined over many years with user-friendliness as a key concept.

On logging-in, participants/supervisors are presented with an interface that has added several features to the standard WordPress menu, giving new options as follows:

  • Content dashboard: where users can quickly view each content type (i.e.pages, journal entries, assignments and activity types)
  • Privacy options: these allow webfolios to be set as public or private. In addition, specific content types can be set as private or public as can individual pieces of content
  • Templates: supervisors/site administrators have the ability to amend templates and copy and share content types between webfolios
  • Panels: via these, users can view a number of Dashboard Panels that give an oversight of the activity within a webfolio and/or within a network of webfolios (network views available to supervisors only)
  • Scoring/commenting: this panel provides a quick route into scoring and/or commenting on participant content, thus allowing supervisors to feedback views and guidance to the participant
  • Overall usage screen: this screen provides supervisors and participants with quick visual indicators showing which webfolios have been active and what content has been added/modified recently.

Things to consider when thinking about using the Aspire CPD tool:

  1. Where will the software will be installed and how will it be managed?
  2. How can the software best be utilised in order to get to full end-user engagement?
  3. Will the software be hosted on your institution’s own internal servers? There may be issues for users with accessing it out of hours and off campus, so consider whether hosting it on external servers is more appropriate.
  4. Do you have sufficient IT support available from staff familiar with WordPress (and Multi-site in particular) to ensure that the software is installed and configured correctly and that suitable security, backup and pre-upgrade testing is managed effectively?