As part of the assessment plan for my educational technology course for pre-service teachers, I included the production of a portfolio as a semester-long project for the students. This addressed several objectives important for the course as well as for the students as pre-professionals.
Introduction to Types of Portfolios
The first objective was to give students an introduction to the theory of portfolios, and the different types of portfolios that might be used in education. Most of them were familiar with historical, “kitchen-sink” portfolios. Most students have been shown our university’s standard ePortfolio tool in their introductory writing course. They get started with uploading writing samples and resumes, but they often forget all about this resource in subsequent courses —- and they forget to continue to save examples of representative artifacts throughout their college career. I wanted to remind students, especially those who would go into teaching, to keep collecting examples of their work so that they would be ready for graduation.
They also forget the reasons that they might want to save examples of their work — either for reflection, to showcase their best work, or to prepare for job interviews. So, when I laid out the plan for the term, I spent some time explaining the different types or reasons to keep a portfolio and shared with them the most excellent work of Dr. Helen Barrett, whose presentation and website on eportfolios completely changed my understanding of the role of portfolios in education last year.
Since many of these students will be assessing their own students in a year or two, I also wanted them to appreciate how portfolios can be used as a tool for assessment of a student’s growth over a period of time by seeing this enacted in their own learning. Hence, their very first assignment for this class was a short term paper discussing what they knew at the beginning of the course about educational technology and to reflect a bit on how they had seen it used in their coursework throughout high school and college so far.
Since they had already done a portfolio for their freshman class, many students rolled their eyes at the assignment. But, by the end of the term, nearly all of them admitted that they realized, in preparing their final portfolio for me, how much they had grown and learned in 15 weeks. Many were amazed at their own growth and were even eager to show their portfolio to their family over term break.
Students also rolled their eyes in exasperation over my guidelines for the assignment, which were extremely open-ended. I let them not only choose what type of portfolio to create (historical, reflective, showcase, or job-hunt), but I let them decide what type of tool to use to organize and present the portfolio. They could even use a 3-ring binder, although – since this was an educational technology class – I encouraged them to try a digital format from the list pulled together by Dr. Helen Mongan-Rallis on her ePortfolio resources website. Making a choice, and defending it to me in a final review of the portfolio with each student, was an important part of the learning for this assignment. By the end of the term, we had reviewed many different tools in terms of accessibility and fitness for purpose; I wanted to see how many students were developing the critical ability necessary to choosing educational technology for their own K-12 classrooms.
Although many students took the easy route, printing out the assignments from the term and putting them in a binder, a number went out and used online tools. Google sites was one of the most frequently chosen options, offering students a free but customizable option that they could also share with friends and family. Many also chose the university’s program, ePortfolio, although they found quickly that it has limited options for putting a personal spin on the presentation.
Some other free website hosting options existed, and a few students chose them, but a drawback turned out to be the inability to include “alt tags” to increase accessibility for the visually impaired. We had included accessibility as a major criterion for choosing technology for the classroom, especially for online materials, and a number of students noticed that they couldn’t create alt tags when adding images and photos to their some of their portfolios. At first, they assumed that they were overlooking something, doing something wrong, but upon closer examination, we found that some of the free website creation tools simply were not amenable to creating accessible sites. It was another good learning experience for us all.
By the end of the term, I think the portfolio exercise demonstrated to us all – teacher and students – how much we had learned and how many tools we had experimented with using. It was a very worthwhile assignment.