Electronic Portfolios: Course Examples

Argument for E-Portfolios in STEM
Course Examples, Assignments and Rubrics
STREAMS SPIDER Network Program and Mentoring
Assessment and Deep Learning
Hints for Implementation and References
Different Models for Different Purposes

E-portfolios are learning tools. Not only does the portfolio serve as a platform for collecting documents and evidence of work, but as a place where students reflect on their learning process and faculty and peer mentors provide feedback designed to enhance the learning process.

Here are a few examples of e-portfolios used in courses. Included are sample rubrics, some assignments, syllabi showing how the e-portfolio was worked into the class, and other ideas.

Physics 199: Scientists at Work - a writing intensive First Year Seminar
An E-portfolio approach to Introductory Science Labs
Physics 422: Computer Simulations in the Physical Sciences - a junior level physics course

Physics 199: Scientists at Work - a writing intensive First Year Seminar

Scientists at Work is a title drawn from an old regular feature column in the New York Times Science section. One purpose of the columns was to highlight the activities and attitudes of famous scientists and mathematicians during the regular routine of doing science – in contrast to the more typical “science reporting” that tends to focus on the announcement of discoveries or “news”.

In the context of Physics 199: Scientists at Work, a Bridgewater State University First Year Seminar, the E-portfolio was designed to develop the view that critical reflection of what one knows is a central component of how scientists and mathematicians behave. The audience of the portfolio in Physics 199: Scientists at Work was the general public, but the most likely readers were science and math students and faculty at Bridgewater and other colleges and universities.

Physics 199: Scientists at Work is part of a broadly supported summer bridge program, where students have many mentors; research faculty mentors, research peer mentors, course faculty, and class peers will all read the e-portfolios and provide advice and feedback. Documentation and evidence of learning in e-portfolios could be multimedia, and in Physics 199: Scientists at Work, each student prepared sections demonstrating what they have learned in their research setting.

Students wrote and revised several substantive reflections on their learning during the summer bridge, linking these reflections to evidence of what was learned (evidence) in other writing in the e-portfolio. Further, students wrote nearly every day in a blog format from a choice of prompts where they organized their thinking on their research. For instance, students might have written in their blog a description of how their data was acquired. This writing to learn activity served double duty; it was practice at writing a “data” or “methods” section, and the text was later used in that way. But students also actively reflected on what they did or did not understand about the data collection process, which prepared them for a productive day in the lab the next day.

Included here are the course syllabus, reflective writing prompts and instructions, research blog prompts, and the rubrics used for grading the research blogs and reflective writing. The full course materials were kept online in a reflective portfolio that I wrote as we went along in the course, and there are links to the students’ e-portfolios from the course main page.

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An E-portfolio Approach to Introductory Science Labs

Note: I have not had the opportunity to teach a lab course in the fashion I describe here. My point in including this is to provide a rough starting point that might generalize to a lab attached to most introductory science courses.

I believe that there is a required conceptual shift needed in transforming a typical lab attached to an introductory lecture course to an e-portfolio based lab. In the typical lab, the learning outcomes are to teach the students (or expose the students to) some methods, demonstrate some ideas discussed in the lecture, and allow the students to write (or learn to write) a basic lab report. For an e-portfolio based lab, I think that the core learning outcomes should be to train students to think like experimentalists within the discipline and maintain a lab journal.

I personally believe the trade-offs here are worth the extra effort in the long run for science or math majors. From a time standpoint, some time usually spent on “methods” may need to be shifted towards learning to manipulate the e-portfolio. The gain, hopefully, would be that a well designed e-portfolio course would engage students in a deeper way, enabling them to remember (or truly learn) techniques and concepts.

An e-portfolio lab course might have the following elements. All students bring to lab their laptops and a camera / cell phone to take pictures or video. E-portfolios would have a reflective part (with 3-4 entries spread throughout the term emphasizing students connecting ideas from lab to lecture); an evidence part containing evidence of learning (student written lab methods, data from labs, statistical or error analysis, any computations, pictures or video of things happening in the lab, etc.); and a running lab blog where students respond to specific prompts. Basically, the e-portfolio would be treated like an online lab journal. Finally, the lab instructor and other lab students would provide feedback or mentoring about the evidence and blogs. This feedback would be designed to encourage students to think deeper about their work, fill in details, emphasize key points more, etc.

The strength of the process rests on the quality of the writing prompts given to the students: how do the writing prompts build on one another; how are they related to course content, etc. Also, students must know that they will be getting feedback from the instructor, peers, and possibly other faculty on what they write in the e-portfolio – the portfolio must carry significant course grade weight or it won’t be taken seriously, and if it is not taken seriously, it will be a painful waste of everyone’s time.

Writing assignments in the blogs can be used to scaffold towards larger scale assignments. For example, have the students write a blog entry after the week 1 lab on some methods that were learned, then after the methods are used again, this blog entry is a first draft at a methods section for a later in the semester major lab report.

Here are some examples of writing prompts that might be used in a given week as part of an e-portfolio lab course. (The topic of the week’s lab would be an examination of torque.

Pre-lab writing 1: In this week’s lab, we will be using the force probes that we first used two weeks ago. In 200 words, describe to your roommate (who is a science major but who not yet taken physics) how the force probe works. Include a diagram for full credit. Post this to your e-portfolio’s pre-lab writing section before 11:00 pm the night before your lab.

Pre-lab writing 2: In this week’s lab, we will be examining the concept of torque and Newton’s second law written in angular variables. In 300 words, explain to your friend (who is an art major) the concept of torque. Since torque depends on the given force, the distance from where the force is applied to the pivot, and the angle between the line to the pivot and direction of the force, give an example to your friend where you explain how to vary all three of these items. Discuss each separately and include a diagram for full credit. Post this to your e-portfolio’s pre-lab writing section before 11:00 pm the night before your lab.

In-lab writing 1: Take three minutes to write a quick explanation of what it is you are trying to measure and prove in this lab. After doing this, each lab partner will take turns reading their explanation aloud. After that, revise your explanation and post it to your e-portfolio in-lab writing section.

In-lab writing 2: Take five minutes to describe how the activities of this lab demonstrated the concepts of torque discussed in class. After doing this, each lab partner will take turns reading their explanation aloud. After that, revise your explanation and post it to your e-portfolio in-lab writing section.

Post-lab evidence: Post to your evidence section your data and data analysis from section 2 of today’s lab on torque. Include at least 150 words describing how the data was analyzed and what your conclusion is about the relevant physical laws. Do this by 11:00 pm the day after lab.

Post-lab writing: Design an experiment that uses the equipment available in the introductory physics lab that proves that the torque is related to the angular acceleration of an object by t = I a. Write a description of the experiment, including in your description how you will measure the moment of inertia, torque and angular acceleration. Indicate the level of error you expect in each of these quantities and the general level of relative error you’d expect to achieve in demonstrating that the measured and computed torques are the same. Post between 500 and 750 words with figures to your evidence section before 11:00 pm two days before next week’s lab.

Included is a sample rubric for grading course e-portfolio entries.

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Physics 422: Computer Simulations in the Physical Sciences - a junior level physics course

Note: I am first attempting to use an e-portfolio approach in Physics 422 this semester, fall 2011. Previous versions of the course required students to keep a written journal, so that the portfolio approach isn’t completely new.

Physics 422 (Computer Sim) is a junior level course for physics or other advanced science majors. The purpose of the class is to teach students numerical techniques – both from a general mathematical standpoint and a programming standpoint. Students write code in C++ to implement numerical algorithms: integrating a function, finding the root of a function, solving a series of ordinary differential equations, solving a partial differential equation, etc. I assume the students know a good bit of mathematics but know nothing about programming when the course starts.

My version of the course involves getting the students to do a small undergraduate research project, so that I teach them some (65%) of the basic numerical techniques and then go in depth on a subset of the techniques required in the particular research problem. The trade-off of coverage for depth and experience in doing some undergraduate research is one that significantly increases student engagement. It is my hope that if a student really engages in the project that they can teach themselves how to implement some new numerical algorithm at a later date on the fly.

The course structure is that students come to a “studio style” class for 2 hours, twice a week with their laptops and appropriate software. Early in the semester, I give some brief lectures and design some “labs” where students learn to do basic mathematical programming in C++. About the 3rd week, students in the class begin to “teach” methods – a student is assigned a topic, and they give a mini-lecture and design some numerical projects / labs for the students to do. Roughly 80% of class time is spent with students writing computer code on their computers with the assistance of me or the student who is leading that class. In the 8th week or so, I introduce the research project, and we assign teams and tasks. Each team will write a part of the code that feeds into the research project.

The e-portfolios will be used for sharing files as well as self-reflection and resume building. The e-portfolio requirements will include

Towards the end of the semester, students will be encouraged to redesign parts of their e-portfolio to highlight their numerical modeling skills to a future employer.

Included is the syllabus for the course.

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