Teaching and Learning in a Net-Centric World

First Experience Asssessing E-Portfolios

As an instructor in Athabasca University‘s Master of Distance Education program, I was involved in providing an e-portfolio option to replace the standard comprehensive exam process for non thesis route students. The old ‘comps’ consisted of the candidate writing yet two more essays on material covered in the porgram and defending the essays with two faculty members via audio conference. As students in our program write at least 30 papers over the course of the 11 courses in the program the added value of writing yet two more seems of little value.

We use the elgg platform with its “presentation” plugin to create the e-portfolio. We extracted the graduate competencies from throughout the program and then required students to demonstrate with a blog reflection and an artifact or two from their course work or ‘real life’ to show how they have achieved this competence. The assignment also called for a final terminal “reflection” on the whole program and the e-portfolio exercise.

During the “oral defense” The candidate did an excellent job of both over-viewing the courses and resulting artifacts and as importantly showing how the activities were implemented in her workplace (a teacher in an on-line high school delivering programming to First nations students in Northern Canada).  Unfortunately, she has not yet made the e-portfolio accessible to everyone, though she noted her intention to do so. The nice thing about the elgg system is that permission to view ALL information posted by any participant, is under the control of that participant. They can chose private (for drafts and development), logged in users (people officially associated with the University), restricted to ‘friends’ or people enrolled in particular communities or classes and public (accessible by everyone including search engine bots).

After the experience, I am convinced that this use of e-portfolios is pedagogically much more useful than the alternative, results in increased skills to participants and doesn’t take more time from either authors or the reviewers.  Thus, it scores as a winner for me!

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  1. December 18, 2008    

    Hi, Terry,

    Thanks for taking the trouble to publish your thoughts.

    There are, however, a few comments/questions that I would like to make:

    Firstly, do I assume that over the period of the course you have had opportunity to observe the essays ‘grow’ and that you have had opportunity to give formative feedback? I am sure that in watching a student’s progress, it makes final assessments much easier.

    Secondly, I was surprised that the student had not made her work available to selected peers so that she could collaborate with others and thus build up even better final artifacts.

    Thirdly, out of interest, does your facility allow different tutors to see different parts or subjects of an individual’s e-Portfolio or is this, as it appears, only viewable in its entirety by you as the one supervising tutor?

    Fourthly, apart from written essays, did your students have the opportunity to use other ‘rich media’ to support their work?

    Perhaps, with appropriate permissions, would it be possible to see and example of one of your students’ e-Portfolios?

    Finally, in retrospect, I’d be interested in any advice that you have to other tutors/Principals in relation to the use of e-Portfolios as an assessment tool.

  2. December 18, 2008    

    Thanks Ray for your interest and questions. Brief replies as follows:
    First let me say that the e-portfolio option is new to our program, so we are working things on the fly! I wasn’t involved with this student, as I was not her advisor, so was only involved in a summative assessment role. I am not sure what portions of the portfolio she shared with her advisory, during production, but she has that option.

    Yes, it might have been interesting for peer review and comment and may yet come, but it is a challenge getting a critical mass of users from our program to use this social software system. As her posts were restricted to us, she has received no external feedback to date, but again that was her choice and she said she intended to open them up.

    The student (not the faculty) decides who views what portions of the portfolio.

    Yes, the e-portfolio can link or embed a variety of multimedia artifacts.

    I hope they will want to share their e-portfolios with the world, but for now, students decide if they want them exposed, so I can’t really give that permission to you or other educators.

    Thanks again for the comments and questions.

  3. January 26, 2009    

    As a graduate of the MEd. program at Athabasca and as someone who voiced criticism about the need for the two essays I’m gratified by this change. Writing two more essays was not the appropriate route. The Elgg space, however, is an appropriate route. A student can house progressively developed artefacts and self observations.These are research elements that a student can use to summarize their learning progression – and the online portfolio tool is the perfect vehicle for its transmission. Congratulations to Terry Anderson for his attention to student needs and continued search for alternative approaches to learning and research.

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