Electronic Portfolios: Hints for Implementation and References

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


Hints for successful implementation

Some hints adapted or quoted from John Zubizarreta’s book The Learning Portfolio, others from my experiences.

  1. Start slow and small by piloting the e-portfolio in one course or section or counting it as part (but not all) of the course grade. You’ll find that you can work out the bugs in a pilot run.
  2. Commit to it – build the portfolio in as a significant part of the class, not an add-on. This might mean re-arranging some assignments or removing some assignments from a course.
  3. Have very clear instructions on how to create the portfolio and what sections you want to students to have. Have a student or two test-run your instructions before you do it in a class to look for trouble spots. Have a “sample” portfolio available for students to view.
  4. Help students understand the role of the portfolio in their learning and your course. Talk with them about it explicitly – what do you hope they will gain? What has the portfolio replaced? Explain that this is new for you too.
  5. “Think of the portfolio as qualitatively different work, not necessarily more work, when designing a course syllabus, assignments and assessment strategies.” (Zubizarreta)
  6. Write a draft rubric for scoring parts of the e-portfolio and make sure students see it before they start. This will help normalize quality.
  7. Be clear in your assignments about your expectations. If you expect writing of a certain length and frequency, say so in your instructions and give deadlines that you enforce regarding when material is to be posted.
  8. “Streamline feedback. Focus on purposeful items, don’t try to respond to all dimensions of a portfolio, and collect a digital bank of common responses for reuse.” (Zubizarreta)
  9. Use students in the class as a way to provide feedback to others. Assign small groups of students who will read each others’ e-portfolios and leave comments and suggestions. Alternately, rotate which students’ portfolios you read and comment on in a given week – not every student needs feedback each week.
  10. “Incorporate portfolio work into other work in a course – as drafting for a graded paper, project, or lab report, for example. Let the portfolio serve double duty. The majority of the content items in a capstone portfolio should be work that has already been done and graded.” (Zubizarreta)
  11. Grade as you go – don’t leave all the grading to the end of the term. Suppose you are going to give 20% of the e-portfolio grade to reflections that are done at key spots in the semester. Grade those in real time. Find a way to avoid a lot of grading at once.
  12. Use your rubric to explain to students that their reflections and what they write about their evidence is not supposed to be all sunny and light. You don’t need assignments for students to praise your class or teaching style or give an over the top description of why they’ve learned so much. Rubrics and assignments need to promote honest reflection. Only honest reflection (even if it is that a student didn’t understand a topic) creates a positive learning environment.
  13. Be prepared for a student who, upon reflection, decides they didn’t learn anything or decides they didn’t like your class or the subject material. Grade all students on the quality of the arguments they make in their reflections and whether these arguments are backed by evidence in the portfolio elsewhere, and be explicit about that in your rubrics. This way students will be comfortable telling the truth to you and to themselves about what they learned and why they learned it.

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References for further reading

John Zubizarreta's book The Learning Portfolio is an excellent place to start. Also, colleagues in the biology department at Westfield State University have compiled a nice list of further reading.

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