The buzzword in academe these days is assessment. Today, accreditation organizations require institutions to have assessment methods in place for accreditation consideration. University administrators are asking departments to provide evidence that students are learning and applying what they’ve learned before granting a degree. Many schools are turning to electronic portfolios (e-portfolios) to house that evidence for assessment. E-portfolios are electronic collections of work that learners present to demonstrate they understand and can apply concepts in their discipline. Educators then assess items in the e-portfolio.
Assessment expert Helen C. Barrett says there are two kinds of educational portfolios. Formative portfolios are learner-focused. Throughout their careers, students select items for the portfolio and educators regularly assess and evaluate those items. Formative portfolios are process-centric. Students submit — and faculty assesses — projects based on a university-determined set of outcomes, goals or standards. Research shows formative portfolios reduce student motivation to learn.
Bradley Young, Ph.D., an expert in implementing information technologies in both educational and professional environments, put together for Quill a top 10 list of things a university should consider when adopting assessment tools and the implementation of e-portfolios.
1. BE COMMITTED
Assessment rubrics and e-portfolios need to be part of the institution’s vision. A mention in the 10-year plan needs to be accompanied by an institutional commitment to follow-through with that plan even if top administrators leave the institution.
2. DEVELOP A BACKBONE
Improving the campus’s IT network or information backbone may be necessary in addition to either purchasing a commercial e-portfolio system or creating a unique institutional system. Realistic cost estimates are a must.
3. DIG DEEP
Young says, “Whatever the cost, double it and add half again for a considered deployment. Keep in mind there will be costs in training, rollout, updates, etc.”
4. ARTICULATE STEPS TO SUCCESS
Young says breaking down strategic plans into operational tasks increases the chance for success.
5. DEVELOP MEASURABLE BENCHMARKS
This is critical to long-term success. Implement a regular peer-reviewed examination of assessment practices. Archive course assessment results. Over time, this data provides the longitudinal statistics that accreditation councils require.
PROVIDE CURRICULUM-COMPLEMENTED FACILITIES
Campus learning and teaching centers can help students create their e-portfolios, departments develop effective assessment strategies and faculty adapt teaching methods to adopted assessment tools. This could also include creating project spaces or self-service areas for students to upload or create materials.
7. ADDRESS OWNERSHIP ISSUES
Who owns the e-portfolio? The school? The student? What becomes of the e-portfolio after the student graduates?
8. INCLUDE ASSESSMENT IN FACULTY EVALUATIONS
In their annual review documents, ask educators to demonstrate how they use assessment tools and the e-portfolio system in classes.
9. LOOK FOR ASSESSMENT EXPERIENCE WHEN HIRING
Hiring teachers experienced in assessment and unafraid of information technologies will help cement a culture of assessment and e-portfolio usage at your institution.
MARKET THE CHANGES BOTH INTERNALLY AND EXTERNALLY
Young says that if marketed properly, e-portfolios can both encourage campuswide educational innovation and reinforce the institution’s commitment to high academic standards among the general public.
David Burns, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in Salisbury University’s Communication Arts Department. Burns has worked for CNN and NBC News, in both permanent and freelance capacities, as a videotape editor and field camera operator in the United States and abroad. While living outside the U.S., he worked as a technology correspondent for the IDG Wire Service and for a Polish business and finance weekly newspaper. He has taught new media courses to students and professional journalism workshops to media professionals in the United States, Poland, Russia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Afghanistan.