The E-portfolio: a Tool for Authentic Assessment

Gearóid Ó Súilleabháin MScEcon DEIS Department for Education Development Cork Institute of Technology September, 2004

This report suggests that the methodology of portfolio assessment, as adapted for the welearning environment in the form of the e-portfolio, holds the promise of a new authentic approach of great benefit to all stakeholders in e-learning at higher education. Authentic assessment in general is defined as well as traditional portfolio assessment before going on to define the e-portfolio, its key features and advantages and the outstanding issues for this emerging technology.

Alternative Assessment and Authentic Assessment
After Herman, Aschbacher and Winters the terms “alternative assessment” and “authentic assessment” are used here synonymously to mean “variants of performance assessments that require students to generate rather than choose a response” (2). Such assessment is seen as alternative to traditional testing (Barrett 2001) and authentic in the sense of testing a learner’s ability to carry out activities that resemble authentic situations (Elton and Johnston 2002, 40). This focus on authenticity may be seen as a critical one for the range of stakeholders in the learning process today, due to the broader context of the explosion of knowledge itself in our society today as well as the concomitant and accelerating need for new professional skills/competencies. Thus: “…universities and colleges are facing an important increase in

due to some teachers’ (understandable) resolve to teach the test” • • • It is also felt by many proponents of authentic assessment that traditional forms of assessment “fail to provide a holistic picture of” learning. It describes the need for people to continue their education and training throughout life because they will face multiple careers in changing economies and enjoy longer lives in evolving societies. not least by being geared to policy-perceived labour marker needs. as gained over time. The means by which students tend to prepare for conventional ‘snapshot assessments’ also “tend to militate against learning transfer. Authentic assessment in general can bring the assessment process and the instructional/learning process closer Improved Learning 2 .demand from all those in the workplace who need to continue learning if they are to stay employed and if their employers are to remain economically competitive” (Bates 12. a little more recently. not a person (Daniel 7) The Benefits of Authentic Assessment McAlister categorises the claims made for authentic assessment techniques into two broad interrelated categories: improved assessment and improved learning. The word ‘learner’ now designates a role. directly and indirectly.i Lifelong learning has also emerged. synthesis and retention”. His points are summarised under these headings below: Improved Assessment • It is argued that an over-emphasis on reliable standardised testing “has resulted in a narrowing of the curricula. In a related way the last half century of so has also seen the recognition of Higher Education as a resource to serve national economic needs and priorities being used. 2000). as part of the vocabulary of the industrialised world. to stimulate economic growth.

Beyond this an educational portfolio can take many forms. In this regard one thinks of portfolio assessment as employed as part of an accreditation of a prior learning methodology (APL).• One of the most common arguments made in favour of authentic assessment is that the authentic activities upon which it is based upon represent more meaningful and. or for simply demonstrating their art” (Barrett. Now these connotations sometimes mislead the uninitiated but if one was to think of an educational portfolio. The critical thing is that the portfolio is a collection rather than a single piece of work. for this last reason. 2001). may contain little than could be classified as authentic and many will contain a mixture of authentic and relatively conventional assessment materials. for instance. hence “better”. as being a collection of work for assessment then one wouldn’t be too far off the mark. Despite the title of this piece and much literature on the subject which focussed on the use of the educational portfolio for authentic assessment purposes not all educational portfolios. are designed to provide evidence of authentic learning activities. educational experience for students. i. the development of their critical thinking and greater engagement with their own learning • In a similar way arguments are also made that “authentic assessment experiences encourage multiple modes of expression and support collaboration with others” as well as being able to “increase learning and improve attitudes” Portfolio Assessment Traditional Portfolio Assessment Where does the portfolio belong in all the this? Let’s begin by defining what we mean by the portfolio in an educational context before going on to answer this question. as McAlister points out. have various purposes and. portfolios for the acceptance or measuring of previously acquired learning typically for formal credit or entry to a formal course of study. contain many different types of material. • Many claims for the positive effect of authentic assessment on learning are tied closely to the constructivist model of knowledge generation.e. Financial portfolios. already part of common parlance. The term “portfolio” is of course. contain a collection of fiscal transaction and investment holding that represent a person’s monetary worth. by analogy. Certain portfolios. 3 . having to do with the involvement of students in tasks that stimulate the constructing of meaning. We are all aware of the notion of an artist’s portfolio. not dissimilarly. “often using their collection for seeking further work. unlike certain other terms in the field.

as McAlister maintains. as tends to be the case with “high-stakes” summative assessment Although the above points. contain evidence of both authentic and academic learning. Meaning. apply equally to conventional paperbased portfolios it is the argument of many proponents of digitally/electronically-based portfolios. user-friendly and. rather than as a once-off product. that technology can provide a more effective. it could well be maintained. a faculty or a institutional portfolio. transparent. Key Benefits Cambridge maintains that four features (adapted from Liz Hamp-Lyons and William Cordon) “set the stage” for features of electronic portfolios. Because portfolios can be compiled over time they can reflect learning achieved over a period of time. art. Cambridge maintains that portfolios authentically represent a range of work and allow in this way for “a more accurate read” as varied measures are used and is in keeping with the premises that “through learning we change over time” Portfolios can be context rich. maintains Cambridge. as we shall see. This is due in part. The process of completing a portfolio necessarily involves its creator in making self-reflective choices with reference to quality criteria Portfolios can offer a look at development over time. Although portfolios have been unquestioningly used for formative and summative assessment purposes within certain courses of study such as writing. a more “better" way of achieving these potential 4 . to a number of political initiative and policies which encourage the accreditation of informal and non-formal learning. that the portfolio “can provide the kind of thick description that helps [any] user understand an outcome and the reasons for the outcome”  Portfolios can offer opportunities for selection and self-assessment. quite simply. design and multimedia as well as being used for formative purposes in a range of subject areas from primary through to HE and FE it does seem that it is in this capacity as instruments for the accreditation of prior learning that portfolios are currently receiving the most attention in the context of European systems of Further and Higher Education. economical. the promotion of lifelong learning and the integration of European educational systems.Such portfolios may typically. These are:  Portfolios can feature multiple examples of work. Be it a student. possibly.

Batson makes further distinction between e-portfolios and “webfolios”. As we will see. dynamic.benefits. database driven collection of (digital) artefacts for assessment. to “static web pages where functionality derives from HTML links”. e-portfolios. all artefacts have been transformed into computer-readable form Recent literature does not maintain the distinction. by contrast. are “database-driven” and dynamic.” The emergence of the e-portfolio in this sense are seen by Batson as the intersection of three important trends: 5 . a term which. such as a video tape. however. usually in manila folders. as we will see. or may be in computer-readable form. offering more than just a better version of the above but an entirely new set of benefits. a useful one and goes much of the way to defining what an e-portfolio is (and is not). Digital and e-Portfolios As Barnett points out the traditional storage format for portfolios in education is “paperbased. three-ring notebooks or larger containers. the second of which he sees as primarily deriving from the field of composition studies. thus: “An e-portfolio is a web-based. it is when e-portfolios are integrated with systems for managing authentic online learning that they really come into their own. in essence. Electronic. and referring. nonetheless. “uses electronic technologies.” She also makes distinction between an electronic and a digital portfolio thus: An Electronic Portfolio contains artefacts that may be in analog form. is beginning to be associated with a range of commercial products and tools designed to support the creation and management of web-based portfolios. however and either • • uses “digital portfolio” and “electronic portfolio” interchangeably or/and speaks of the “e-portfolio”.” An electronic portfolio. by contrast he tells us. in a Digital Portfolio. Whether we accept the “webfolio” as a useful term or not the distinction made is.

audio. being “anytime. If the portfolio is to be part of a standards-based assessment process then the e-portfolio can present via its hypertextual structure the complex and multidimensional relationships between the evidence offered and the standards. for the assessment of authentic tasks. for different audiences.” We can add that even where it is not the process of digitisation. i. be this certificated learning or of the more authentic kind.). from the same repository of artefacts. providing users with the capacity to manage large volumes of data and information quickly and easily from any internet-worked computer. according to Batson. As can readily be seen such portfolios can free the portfolio ‘creator’ from the limitations of the paper media and allow him or her to: − − Create and compile different kinds of evidence of learning. − It is moreover an approach which achieves the oft-quoted benefits of e-learning. • Database can be accessed and administers via web interfaces. for example. again. “is everywhere”. is for more and more students to have web access and a relatively high level of literacy.e. “is based on a canonical electronic file. Making use of a variety of media (text.e. different portfolios could be created. and the tendency. Although not yet a ubiquitous technology the web is certainly becoming more and more so. is become simpler and cheaper all the time • The web. particularly at Higher Education level. which might not so easily be presented via the traditional paper-based format − − To present the same evidence in a number of ways. In the WebCT LMS. as Batson says.• Student work in now mostly available in electronic form or. pace and place” Developing an ePortfolio It is only fair to note that commercial Learning Management Software vendors have long been making tools available which could be used to support the kind of online portfolio implementation earlier referred to as webfolios. and the technology for doing so. graphics etc. a point of great importance for certain subject areas and. i. anywhere” and “at the learner’s own time. this takes the form of the Student Homepages tool which allows each student space in which to post 6 . objectives and outcomes of the course in question. video.

PowerPoint. One sources reckons there to be a total of more than 30 separate e-Portfolio tools.e. Dreamweaver. that of: • • The dominant assessment models in use in the e-learning environment The primacy of the assessment process The two dominant assessment models in use in the e-learning environment are those of: • Autocorrected MCQs. “now available or in production” (Batson). Photoshop. Fireworks. FrontPage). Premiere. conforming to our earlier definition. The importance of the e-portfolio as an authentic assessment tool can only be fully realised within the nexus of two different contexts. we may saw. After Effects. In addition there is a wide range of well-known multimedia-authoring software which could be adopted for the purposes of creating and compiling digital portfolios. The web itself is full of examples of this kind of implementation. i. Word. the very same as associated with early forms of “pre-internet” Computer-aided learning 7 .to large scale HE institutes to develop their own e-portfolio system as both the University of Washington and the National University of Singapore have recently reported. GoLive or Authorware. The Importance of the e-Portfolio as an Authentic Assessment Tool.e. Recently however a number of new commercial e-portfolio products. which are essentially. Publisher. Cost is based on the application software licensing model. In design. PageMaker. there is a one time licensing fee and annual maintenance fees based on volume. Folio is promoted as a ‘cradle-to-grave’ portfolio tool which allows users to create a range of portfolios from a central repository or folio and thereafter create access privileges for particular individuals or groups of individuals. Typical of such systems is Folio from the US-based company ePortaro but vendored on this side of the Atlantic by Sentient Learning in the UK. including some of the industry standards such as the Adobe or Macromedia range of design and development applications (i.web-based objects and links to pages or other digital resources. have been launched. Director. Flash) along with the range of now widely known and used Microsoft office and design applications (eg. Of course it is well within the abilities of most mid.

its supposed lack of reliability and repeatability. also mention the methodologies of online case conferencing. of peer assessment. Traditional means by which to ensure reliability include the creation of a clear scoring rubric/descriptive statement and/or exemplars of expected outcomes as well as the disaggregation of the contents of portfolios so that tasks may be scored independently of other tasks (Johnston 58). and insuring that they are followed.however what makes the e-portfolio an assessment methodology par excellence is that it subsumes other assessment approaches.g. as everything one does online is archived and may be used as evidence of learning. “Put rather starkly: If you want to change student learning then change the methods of assessment” (Brown et al 7). of selfassessment. Activities carried out in the e-learning environment can all be archived and processed. Now to date we have really been speaking of the e-portfolio as a stand-alone tool. making them an integral part for example of the assessor’s interface. how they understand their role as learners and how they define their learning. essentially the same methodology associated with traditional. of collaborative or individual project work. as well as allowing for a “clean” and easy disaggregation of 8 . Moreover it provides perhaps the means by which one of the traditional aspersions cast on portfolio. i. if such data is required. it is what we might call a metaevaluation technique that can include evidence from all kinds of other assessment tasks. It is in its integration with other online learning technologies that the e-portfolio truly comes into its own. as they see fit. of course.• Assignments. down to the very key strokes the student uses. The e-portfolio can. how they learn. perhaps of increasingly authentic tasks provides the basis for an authentic assessment tool of enormous benefit to all stakeholders in the learning process. for example. potentially support the use of rubrics and scoring guidelines. Of course the e-portfolio is “not the only show in town” with regard to authentic online assessment techniques. e. One could. its defines what the learners regard as important. as we have indicated. perhaps . Equally then if we wish to make learning authentic we have to develop and make use of authentic assessment tools. can be finally put to rest. involving the submission/uploading of essays or reports for marking by a human expert This is of significance because many studies have shown that the assessment methodology used in a course profoundly affects the kind of learning that takes place – assessment is really at the heart of the student experience of a course. all kinds of evidence. An eportfolio integrated with a learning management system used to facilitate its e-learners as they make their way through a series. “precomputer” correspondence courses. a critical point when speaking of the web-based environment. a place a student can to “drop” self-created digital artefact.e. Moreover it can include.

along with longitudinal studies of the range of e-portfolio practices now in evidence in and beyond the Higher Education world in order to sustain and substantiate the concept. high-risk. personal data held in and transferred to e-Portfolios be secured against the range of current and future internet security risks? The pedagogic principles are equally if not of greater important of course. 1 Based upon id=6984 9 . The role of the tutor or mentor must be seen as central to facilitation of the process here. in terms. of mediating and managing the process of creating the e-portfolio. In order for e-portfolios to integrate with LMSs and other enterprise solutions. many of the e-portfolio tools on the market provide a means by which certain individuals can authenticate evidence. digitally sign it and “lock it down” for the future. in this case. in order for students to be able to take their work with them when they move from one e-portfolio system to another inter-operability standards have to be created. a collaboration of higher educatin and IT instiututions. From these principles must derive the guidelines and supports for the facilitation. It may also simplify the validation.tasks. A number of other issues also loom large1: Storage: As indicated some vendors see the e-portfolio as a cradle to the grave technology. Further research into this role and the responsibilities and skill sets which constitute it. gathering. it can also however provide the means by which evidence can be cross-referenced with various server-side metrics. or authentification of evidence. proffered contribution to a group project against online project work participation rate. is very much required. A number of issues are yet outstanding before this brave new world can come to pass. Outstanding Issues. submission and structuring. measurement and accrediting of authentic online learning experiences. work currently being pursued by the ePortConsortium. for example. But who is responsible? Can institutes of learners be responsible for storing all student portfolios for all perpetuity? How can vendors/institutes guarantee accessibility as technologies and media types change over the years? Security: How can the critical.

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