Online and Digital Learning

CMALT advice: Core Area 3 – The Wider Context

I recently offered some insights as a CMALT assessor to learning technologists at the University of Sheffield who were writing their CMALT portfolio. One of my interests is in the role of policy and legal frameworks applied to supporting learning using technology, for example copyright, accessibility, intellectual property rights, institutional learning and teaching strategies and VLE baselines. Any of these areas can be looked at in Section 3 of the CMALT portfolio which asks candidates to demonstrate and understanding of the external context on their practice. I often find that this is one of the more difficult areas for candidates, so I wanted to share some advice here. There is an obvious caveat in that whilst all CMALT assessors will mark to the same criteria, this is just my perspective on what I look for in a good portfolio.

Don’t forget the purpose of CMALT

When writing about the external context, remember on of the key principles of the CMALT scheme is to demonstrate “a commitment to exploring and understanding the interplay between technology and learning.” Essentially, don’t just talk about copyright without discussing how it impacts your practice and the interplay between technology and learning. Similarly, if you are discussing an institutional learning and teaching strategy, pick out the parts that relate to technology-enhanced learning and show how your practice has been informed by them. An understanding of the intricacies of copyright law or an institutional policy in itself is not enough within the context of the portfolio. There must be application and practice discussed. This is why, when assessors look at a portfolio, we look at each of the three criteria for each section: description, evidence, reflection.

Description, Evidence, Reflection


The description within this section is your opportunity to ground the external context within your own practice. Summarise the salient points of a policy you are discussing, indicate the motivators for why this is important in your practice. Then, briefly outline an example or two of how you have worked according to a policy or legal framework. Then move on… the most important part of the portfolio is, after all, your reflection.


The evidence you choose can be quite wide-ranging. The CMALT guidelines suggest meeting minutes, process documentation, deployment of technical standards and justifications of course modifications. Whatever you choose, make sure that the assessor doesn’t have to infer your involvement and how the policy has impacted your practice. It may be an obvious point, but don’t attach emails that don’t evidence your specific involvement and don’t attach the entire policy document, when you need to focus the assessors’ attention on just one bit.

The evidence should show your understanding of and/or involvement in a policy that has impacted technology-enhanced learning practice. Here are a few examples: If you are using course materials, for example where you have advised a colleague on their materials, evidence your individual contribution. If you are drawing upon your own course materials, the focus should be on application of the policy to your practice, rather than conveyance of the policy detail to others. If you have attended a training course, providing the certificate alone is fine for evidence as long as you can also demonstrate (and reflect upon) how that course has changed your practice. If you are evidencing a policy you have written, think about the justifications of that policy and where you have considered impacts on practice.


The reflection should not be an academic interrogation of the policy, but a reflection of your own practice. Think about the benefits and constraints of this policy, how it has positively or negatively impacted your work. What are the opportunities this policy brings for your specific context. The reflection goes back to that first aim of the CMALT portfolio, to demonstrate your understanding of technology and learning together, not just demonstrate your knowledge of it. Your understanding is judged by your reflection of your practice, rather than knowledge of the raw facts.

Influence and practice

The portfolio writing experience is often very positive for candidates, providing time to reflect on individual professional achievement. Whilst the external context area is often seen as the most challenging, the CMALT guidelines do provide the key to this section:

“Statements here should show how relevant legislation, has influenced your work. You are not expected to have expert knowledge of all of these areas, but are expected to be aware of how they relate to your current practice.”

How has the policy influenced your work and how does it relate to your practice? Have that question circling in your head as you write, and this will support your reflective statement. The process of reflection then gives you an opportunity to take stock of the way you have worked, giving you time to appreciate the external context and why and understanding of it is crucial in the championing, development and exploration of technology-enhanced learning.

CMALT stands for Certified Membership of the Association for Learning Technology and is a peer-assessed professional accreditation scheme. Further details available on the ALT website.

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