Like many academics, I have a healthy skepticism of assessment. As a social scientist, I usually object on methodological grounds. In particular, assessment instruments often focus on immediate or short-term gains and do not account for deeper and longer-term learning. Despite my lack of enthusiasm for assessment, I have come to appreciate the increased intentionality that comes from participating in formal assessment. Thinking about assessment increases the amount of thinking I put into assignment and course creation. In other words, assessment usually produces shallow understandings of student learning but it does make me a more effective teacher.
In most courses, most of us typically assess a small sample of students on a few assignments. While this is very useful for thinking about the content and approach to a specific course, this does not really speak to questions about durable learning, i.e., the acquisition of skills across an undergraduate career or throughout a course of study. E-Portfolios offer a remedy to this problem.
This platform, available to all Fisher students via access to Google sites, allows students to archive and reflect on their entire collection of undergraduate work. The space also allows students to establish a professional web presence that may be of use as they apply for graduate school or enter the labor force. The Google E-Portfolio offers a number of advantages that can benefit the student and the faculty member, including:
- It is intuitive, free, and easy to customize.
- They platform is portable and students will retain control over the context after they graduate.
- The College has developed a generic template that provides a useful structure for organizing student work. This template has built in categories that provide spaces for students to upload files and engage in meaningful reflection on the value of that work for designated requirements, i.e., the first-year program, the core, etc.
- Individual departments may also amend or expand the generic template to serve their own needs (more on this below).
- Students control the privacy settings that range from closed, i.e., not visible to anyone other than the student, all the way to publically visible to anyone.
I have been using the E-Portfolios in most of my courses for a few semesters, including major courses, core courses, and courses in the first year program. The results have been uneven but are improving. Below, I have listed some tips that I believe enhance the quality of the portfolios and stimulate more metacognition through directed reflection.
- Introduce the E-Portfolio early in the term and walk the students through setting up it up using the computer and projector. Reinforce this by distributing the link to the online help (http://www.sjfc.edu/campus-services/ed-tech/technologies/eportfolio/).
- Show students an example of a complete and successful E-Portfolio. This can help students develop a sense of buy-in. Have an in-class discussion on how a successful and professional E-Portfolio might help the student, e.g., providing a professional showcase for their work that might help with graduate school admissions or landing a job.
- If you plan to use the space as a means to collect written work (or plan on grading the E-Portfolio, including student reflection) you should spend additional time on the privacy settings. In my courses, I require all students to set the privacy settings so that any member of the Fisher community can see their portfolio. This limited visibility serves several purposes. It allows other assessors, e.g., the Core Committee, to review the work. In addition, by opening the E-Portfolio to campus visibility it creates some incentive for students to take the work seriously.
- Require students to post the artifact and author reflection as part of the grade. This, too, helps create an incentive for students to think more carefully about creating a professional looking E-Portfolio. In the first few term that I used the E-Portfolio, I required that students post the artifacts and author reflection by the end of the term. I quickly realized that this was a bad approach since most of the students waited until the very late minute and the quality of their E-Portfolio suffered as a result.
All of the preceding commentary is in the context of an individual class. However, it is possible to use the E-Portfolio to assess a body of student work over multiple terms. Political Science, for example, has recently agreed to create POSC 400: Portfolio and Presentation. This one-credit course is required in the major. In order to pass the course, students will have to create an E-Portfolio that explicitly articulates how the cumulative body of their political science work meets our departmental learning objectives. The culmination of this work is an oral defense. We are hoping that we can record these defenses and then have the students embed them into their E-Portfolio (and this might be useful for a range of oral presentations). We plan on introducing these requirements next fall and our plan is that students will be working on their E-Portfolio as their work towards completing the major. In doing so, we hope that students will engage in more reflection and metacognition.