Collaborative Planning for Electronic Portfolios: Asking Strategic Questions

By Helen C. Barrett, Ph.D.

University of Alaska Anchorage

In the March, 1994, issue of The Computing Teacher, I discussed the technology to support alternative assessment that was beginning to appear in the commercial marketplace as well as some practical strategies for implementation. That article began with a series of questions to keep in mind when considering the use of technology to support alternative assessment. This article expands on those questions that need to be asked (and answered) before decisions are made about a major implementation such as electronic portfolios or using technology to support observational assessment.

There are two broad categories of applications in the use of technology to support alternative assessment:
1. Programs to electronically record and store observations and/or anecdotal data about student learning, mostly by the teacher; and
2. Electronic portfolios, digitizing and storing collections of student portfolio artifacts, using a range of technologies and multimedia elements.

This article will focus more on the second category, electronic portfolios, since there seems to be a broad interest and more variability in that implementation than in the observational assessment software, which is limited to two commercial packages (Sunburst's Learner Profile and Aurbach's Grady Profile).

This article will also use a series of questions to begin to focus the discussion of the use of electronic portfolios with the various stakeholders in the assessment process, under the assumption that developing a shared understanding within a collaborative model will lead to a more useful, productive and successful assessment process.

Assessment systems must be judged based on the value of the information they provide for students, teachers, curriculum specialists, principals, school board members, parents, and community members. All these stakeholders make choices about students, programs, curriculum and instruction. They must be considered within the context of intended use (Baker, 1992 in Fenton, 1996).

Before addressing these different strategies for implementing electronic portfolios, a few general questions may be appropriate to form a context from which to make decisions about assessment in general.
What is assessment and evaluation? Assessment is the collection of relevant information which may be relied upon for making decisions. Evaluation is the application of a standard and decision-making system to assessment data to produce judgments about the amount and adequacy of the learning which has taken place. (Fenton, 1996)
What is a portfolio?

Rick Stiggins (1994) defines a portfolio as a collection of student work assembled to demonstrate student achievement or improvement. The material to be collected and the story to be told can vary greatly as a function of the assessment context.

Vicki SpandelÌs definition (NWREL): A purposeful collection of students' work that illustrates efforts, progress, and achievement.

Stiggins (1994) also states, ".. portfolios are a means of communicating about student growth and development--not a form of assessment"(p.87).

How are portfolios usually stored (without a computer)? Teachers and students have devised a number of strategies, from notebooks and file folders in file drawers, to pizza boxes and larger containers for more creative projects. Some teachers use photographs, audio tape and video tape to store evidence of student work.

NOTE:

(The information immediately below is provided by Skip Via, Fairbanks North Star Borough School District)
What are the advantages and disadvantages of traditional manila folder portfolios?

Advantages: Child-centered, minimum teacher time, easy storage and retrieval, user-friendly interface

Disadvantages: Difficult to back up lack of portability, limited shelf life

What are the advantages and disadvantages of electronic portfolios stored as hypermedia stacks?

Advantages: Easy to back up, good portability, good shelf life

Disadvantages: Teacher-centered, increased teacher time, difficult storage and retrieval, cross-platform compatibility

What are the attributes of an Intranet-based system for storing electronic portfolio information?

A new model: Child-centered, minimum teacher time, easy storage & retrieval, portable, cross-platform, automatically updated, accessible user interface.

New model prerequisites: Distributed storage, ubiquitous high bandwidth access, common document formats, transparent authoring tools, integrated with other applications.

Web-based documents: It's here (everywhere) now, accepted standard, distributed storage and processing, common document standard (HTML), platform independent

What are the elements to include in any portfolio (whether traditional or electronic)?

Why use technology to store portfolios in multimedia format?

Developing a Decision Matrix: Questions to ask before making decisions about implementing electronic portfolios

School teachers and administrators need a decision matrix or a template that will help them decide which programs or strategies to use, based on the Human and Financial Resources available. I am often asked, "What is the 'best' portfolio program?" And my answer is always, "It depends!" (on the assessment context and a variety of other factors, human and technological, that exist in a classroom, school or district). Here are a few of the questions that need to be answered before a definitive response can be made; and an important part of a collaborative decision-making process is including the major stakeholders in answering the questions that directly affect them.

Resource Questions

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Limited experience with storing samples of student work in file folders Uses portfolios regularly as teacher-centered assessment tool, incorporating rubrics for evaluating student work. Prior levels plus able to manage student-centered assessment environment, including student-led conferences

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Limited experience with desktop computer - able to use mouse, menus, run simple programs Level 1 PLUS proficiency with a word processor, basic e-mail and Internet browsing; enter data into a pre-designed database Level 2 PLUS able to build a simple hypertext (non-linear) document with hypertext links (using either a hypermedia program like HyperStudio, Adobe Acrobat Exchange, or an HTML WYSIWYG editor) Level 3 PLUS able to record sounds, scan images, output computer screens to a VCR; design an original database Level 4 PLUS multimedia programming or HTML authoring; create QuickTime movies live or from tape; program a relational database

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Students have little or no access to a computer during a typical week. Students have access to a computer for at least two hours a week. 20:1 student-computer ratio Students have access to a computer for at least a half hour a day. 15:1 student-computer ratio Students have access to a computer for at least one hour a day. 10:1 student-computer ratio Students have access to a computer for at least two hours a day. 5:1 student-computer ratio

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Limited experience with desktop computer - able to use mouse, menus, run simple programs Level 1 PLUS proficiency with a word processor, basic e-mail and Internet browsing; enter data into a pre-designed database Level 2 PLUS able to build a simple hypertext (non-linear) document with hypertext links (using either a hypermedia program like HyperStudio, Adobe Acrobat Exchange, or an HTML WYSIWYG editor) Level 3 PLUS able to record sounds, scan images, output computer screens to a VCR; design an original database Level 4 PLUS multimedia programming or HTML authoring; create QuickTime movies live or from tape; program a relational database

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No computer A single computer with 8 MB RAM, 80 MB HD, no AV input/output One or two computers with 16 MB RAM, 250+ MB HD, simple AV input (like QuickCam) Three or four computers, one of which has 32+ MB RAM, 500+ MB HD, AV input and output, scanner, VCR, video camera, high-density storage device (such as Zip drive)

Level 4 PLUS CD-Recorder, at least two computers with 48+ MB RAM

Optional: video editing hardware and software

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No network - all stand-alone systems Printer sharing and file sharing only via AppleTalk network Dial-up PPP access to network through 28.8 modem Ethernet network with 56K access to district server Full TCP/IP (Internet access at T-1 or ethernet speed. WWW server in building

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No money for additional hardware or software $300 per classroom for additional hardware or software $600 per classroom for additional hardware or software $2,000 per classroom for additional hardware or software $5,000+ per classroom for additional hardware or software

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No money or staff development time After-school workshop and/or credit class on own time In-service days dedicated to implementation Release time for teachers to visit other classrooms release time plus in-class support

Portfolio Context Questions

Before building a portfolio, educators need to ask a few questions about the assessment and portfolio context.

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Teacher-Centered

Mixed Model

Student Centered

Teachers take full responsibility for all aspects of the electronic portfolio process. May have parent volunteers to assist.

Little or no student self-assessment or peer/parent involvement in assessment.

Teachers share responsibility where appropriate with students. Students lead their own parent conferences. Students collect most of the artifacts, digitize some of the work. Collaboration in self-assessment is encouraged. Students are completely in charge of their own portfolios, including digitizing work samples, storage and presentation. Students are responsible for assessing their own work, often in collaboration with peers, parents, teachers and others.

Other Assessment Context Factors

What are the multimedia elements that could be included in an electronic portfolio?

The following multimedia elements are often included in electronic portfolios. These elements are illustrated below, with comments about the type of competencies needed to collect data using the digital medium

What are the support technologies needed to manage this digitization process?

Comparing Multimedia Presentations and Electronic Portfolios

The difference between constructing multimedia presentations and creating electronic portfolios that contain multimedia elements lies in the assessment purpose and context. Many of the hands-on technology skills are the same.
Process for Constructing Multimedia Presentations Process for Constructing Electronic Portfolios
  • decide on goals of presentation
  • describe the audience
  • decide on audience-appropriate content/sequence of presentation
  • decide which tools is most appropriate for the presentation context
  • gather multimedia materials to include in presentation
  • organize in a sequence (or with hypermedia links) for the best presentation of the material
  • conduct presentation for audience
  • evaluate effectiveness of presentation
  • decide on goals of portfolio based on learner outcome goals that should be based on national/state/local standards with associated evaluation rubrics
  • decide on and describe the assessment context (see above)
  • decide on and describe the audience(s) for the portfolio (student, parent, college, community?)
  • decide on content of portfolio items (determined by context)
  • decide which software tools are most appropriate for the portfolio context
  • decide which storage and presentation medium is most appropriate for the situation
  • gather multimedia materials to include in the portfolio which represent learner's achievement (preferably linked to standards, preferably in a relational database)
  • record student self-reflection on work and achievement of goals
  • record teacher feedback on student work and achievement of goals
  • organize with hypermedia links between goals, student work samples, rubrics, and assessment
  • present portfolio to appropriate audience (by student, in age-appropriate situations)
  • evaluate effectiveness of portfolio related to the purpose and assessment context

What are some multimedia tools to develop portfolios?

Conclusions

There are many options available for implementing electronic portfolios. The best solution is dependent on an assessment of many factors that affect each of the stakeholders in the assessment process: teachers, students, parents, administrators, and the general public. Further research is being conducted to determine the best type of electronic strategy to use, based on the answers to the questions posed in this article. Preliminary results can be found on my electronic portfolio web site which can be found at: http://transition.alaska.edu/www/portfolios.html

References

Copyright © 1997, Helen C. Barrett; All Rights Reserved