Electronic Portfolios in English Classes
Wheaton North Institute Day
February 27, 2009
- They help us come to terms with growing pressure from administration and accrediting organizations for authentic assessment.
- They encourage students to "collect, select, and reflect" (Yancey 15, "Introduction" in Electronic Portfolios) upon pieces that demonstrate their learning. Thus, the students become more actively involved in assessing their own learning.
- They help students connect their learning in a class to other classes and life experiences. They look backward (reviewing), forward (projecting), and around (connecting).
- They allow students to use writing to demonstrate and reflect upon learning. Reflecting in writing "makes thinking visible" (Yancey 17,"Introduction" in Electronic Portfolios). "Writing objectifies thought" (Ong), making it possible for students to see and manipulate the words that represent their learning process.
- They broaden the spectrum of assessment, which, in some cases, is limited to multiple-choice tests.
- They have the potential to change the climate of learning on a campus. Reflecting on how learning takes place is the key to dialogue: student to student, student to teacher, students and teachers to administrators, and so on.
Why Electronic Portfolios?
- They take up infinitely less space than paper-based portfolios.
- They can be reproduced, shared, or sent at almost no cost. (CD, email, the Web)
- They are iterative: they can be updated easily, yet previous copies can be archived.
- They can be repurposed for class and program assessment, graduation requirements, or the job search.
- They can include a variety of media that the computer is capable of displaying.
- They are interactive; students can link from document to document, or to outside resources to show how the learning is embedded in a social and intellectual context. Hypertext allows students to discover new connections, new patterns, new possibilities.
- They can be set up with customized access features, ranging from completely private, to student/instructor, to the entire class, to prospective employers, or to the whole world.
Electronic Portfolios in English at NIU
1. History and Overview 2001-2003
A. A humble beginning: early electronic portfolio initiatives at NIU
- Faculty development workshop on electronic portfolios, 2001
- Society for Technical Communication workshop on professional electronic portfolios, 2001
- Undergraduate Research Apprenticeship Program on electronic portfolios, 2002
- Professional electronic teaching portfolios for pre-certification teachers, 2002
B. Assessment initiatives in First-Year Composition
We were aware of
Where should assessment start? With developing context-specific program outcomes.
- The demand for authentic assessment, locally and nationally (Ed White's law of "assessodynamics").
- The demand for consistency across many sections of FYComp, balanced with
- The need for instructors and TAs to be able to teach using their individual strengths, not try to fit into a preset curriculum
We looked to the national organization for writing program administrators, the Council of Writing Program Administrators.
Northern Illinois University's First Year Composition Program Outcomes Statements
- It defines what students should be able to DO at the end of a FYComp class or program.
- It doesn't really describe our program, so it had to be adapted to fit our local context.
- Through this process of discussing and debating just about every word, we learned a great deal about our strengths and weaknesses as a program. (I recommend this process to anyone contemplating program assessment initiatives!)
- Our FYComp committee approved draft versions of these outcomes in 2003.
- They can be found under "Goals and Guidelines" on our FYComp web page.
2. Pulling the assessment and electronic portfolio strands together: the pilot program 2003-2005
- Two local grants gave us support to go ahead with an electronic portfolio pilot project to:
- Test our outcomes and see how our students measured up to them
- Implement systematic program assessment
- Close the feedback loop: we asked, "What can we learn from this assessment to improve our FYComp program?"
- A FYComp assessment subcommittee developed benchmarks to show teachers how to judge outcomes from student portfolios.
- One of us began investigating software solutions, such as the Open Source Portfolio initiative (OSP, part of the Sakai Collaborative Learning Environment).
- OSP looked intriguing, but demanded localized technical support we didn't have.
- Commercial packages such as SharePoint (used by our College of Liberal Arts Teacher Certification Program), and LiveText (used by our College of Education) were both too expensive and too limiting in their designs.
- We decided not to reinvent the wheel. Using existing WebBoard software (Akiva) and our well-calibrated Holistic Scoring team saves money and time. No group -- teachers, students, or scorers -- needs to be specially trained.
- In our seminar on teaching college writing, we introduced the new TAs to the electronic portfolio process. Their English 103 and 104 classes participated in the pilot.
- We derived a rubric for scoring the portfolios from our outcomes statement and benchmarks.
- We began collecting electronic portfolios at the end of fall 2003
- Students submitted their papers and reflections to a private WebBoard Conference
- Instructors could grade them online or print them out.
- Our tech specialist set up a PHP script to "harvest" the papers from two randomly selected students per class and generate a scoring sheet.
- Our holistic scoring team evaluated them using our rubric.
- Our tech specialist fed the data into an Excel spreadsheet, so we could compare scores in different areas.