MET:Assessment and Electronic Portfolios

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This page originally authored by Marc Kampschuur and Phillip Chatterton (2007)
Revised by Katie Hay (2008)
Revised by Ronaye Kooperberg (2014)

Introduction to Assessment and ePortfolios

At the most basic level, assessment is the acquisition and interpretation of information about learning. The assessment process is based on the principles of validity, reliability, flexibility and fairness. An assessment may be formative to facilitate the learning process or summative to conclude on learning outcomes. Accordingly, assessments may reflect both constructivist and positivist learning theory (Barrett, H., Wilkerson, J., 2004).

Principles Dissection of Principles
Validity Does the assessment measure what is meant to be measured?
Reliability Does the assessment consistently produce the same measurement?
Flexibility Does the assessment accommodate diverse requirements?
Fairness Does the assessment produce measurements that are free from bias?

Assessment, when used effectively, not only provides interpretation of information about learning, but it provides the teacher with feedback on individual students, teaching techniques and theories, and even modes of assessment. Effective assessment directs and adapts instruction. It guides capacity building. It moves students forward. It empowers students to take charge of their own learning. It informs students, teachers, and parents about the impact of their efforts (Lafleur, Earl & Katz, 2006).

Electronic portfolios (ePortfolios)
Cotterill et al. (2007) suggest that ePortfolio are a "purposeful collection of information and digital artifacts that demonstrates development or evidences learning outcomes, skills or competencies. The process of producing an ePortfolio (writing, typing, recording etc.) usually requires the synthesis of ideas, reflection on achievements, self-awareness and forward planning; with the potential for educational, developmental and/or other benefits. Electronic portfolios have many different names, they are also known as digital portfolios, eportfolios, E-Portfolios, and online portfolios. No matter the name, they all provide the same learner-centered acquisition of knowledge.

ePortfolios support both formative and summative assessment in the application of constructivist and positivist learning theories. The assessment tools available to ePortfolios are consistent with the principles of assessment.

Characteristics of ePortfolios

ePortfolios can be utilized to collect and present information at three levels: personal portfolios, departmental program portfolios and institutional portfolios.

An ePortfolio is a compilation of concrete artifacts that document learning over time. ePortfolio artifacts take the form of text, graphics, animation, video and audio in response to individual learning styles. The selection of artifacts for inclusion reflects constructivist learning theory while the collection of artifacts reflects positivist learning theory. The temporal characteristic of an ePortfolio affords learners the ability to reflect, reorganize, rework and integrate learning objects.

Connections to Learning Theories

Using ePortfolios as part of the assessment process requires advance planning to address pacing, feedback and learning quality. Both positivist and constructivist learning theories influence the implementation of ePortfolios as assessment in competing ways. Positivist-influenced ePortfolios will put emphasis on student demonstration of learning outcomes. Constructivist-influenced ePortfolios value the reflective nature of the student-selected content (Barrett & Wilkerson, 2004). It is up to the facilitator to set clear parameters as to the learning that is being assessed prior to student ePortfolio development.

Positivist Theory

Example Learning Outcomes

Positivist theory suggests the purpose of ePortfolio affordances is to assess learning outcomes. Therefore, the ePortfolio is the final product presented of the student's knowledge on the specific outcome (So & Ng, 2011). Assessment of positivist portfolios utilizes concrete and objective tools such as artifacts and rubrics. Rubrics may be specific, to assess a defined learning outcome, or holistic to assess the portfolio in its entirety (Barrett, H., Wilkerson, J., 2004).

Constructivist Theory

Example Blog

Constructivist theory, specifically Vygotsky's Social Constructivism, perceives ePortfolios as a social learning environment. The learner constructs meaning through interaction with this environment, whereby the portfolio represents a learning process and record of individual or collective thought. (Barrett, H., Wilkerson, J., 2004). Assessment of constructivist portfolios utilizes self-assessment through reflection and peer evaluation.

Positivist Constructivist
Focus End result of learning Process of learning
Emphasis Understanding patterns of cause and effect Analytical and problem solving skills
Process Learn through the recognition of patterns Learn through assimilation and accommodation

Assessment Techniques for ePortfolios

As ePortfolios are learner-centered and reflective in nature, it is logical to assume assessment must be as diverse as the archived content. Assessment of an ePortfolio can take the form of self or peer assessment as well as by educators and external reviewers. The assessments can be informal, as well as formal, and utilize rubrics, learning goals and learning outcomes. According to San Fransisco State University, a program-based ePortfolio, may be reviewed by a panel. This final review of ePortfolios would assess completeness, or evidence of integrative learning, even though the individual artifacts and reflections have already been given grades from the instructors who assigned them. An oral presentation of the portfolio may also be a part of your assessment strategy (San Franscisco State University, ePortfolios).

Assessment tools assign proficiency levels to learners. Proficiency levels may be assigned analytically or holistically. The choice of assessment tool should be communicated with the learner prior to artifact gathering. This must reflect the design of the portfolio and the learning theory endorsed by the teacher, program, and/or institution.

A wide selection of software exists to help develop and assess E-Portfolios.

Positivist Assessment Tools

Example Rubric

Rubrics can be broadly defined as "[a] scoring scale used to assess student performance along a task-specific set of criteria" (Mueller, J. 2007, p1). Rubrics may be used as formative and summative assessment completed by self, peers or experts. Rubrics for assessing ePortfolios must take into consideration the learning outcomes and the previously communicated requirements for the students.

Sample Rubrics

The following ePortfolio rubric samples assess multiple perspectives:

Artifacts are data elements or "educational experiences" which illustrate the contextual evidence of the learner’s expertise. In contrast to rubrics that measure proficiency on a specified criterion, the artifact itself is proof of the level of mastery. These artifacts take various forms including electronic quizzes, assignments, and projects to provide summative assessment. Cleveland State University (2011) has complied a list of potential artifacts their education students could potentially use to demonstrate comprehension of certain criteria. For example, to demonstrate students understand classroom communication, the student could use a audio or visual recording of their understanding as an artifact or the student could provide a reflective writing piece to conceptualize their understanding.

Student learning outcomes communicate the knowledge, skills, and abilities as outcomes for a learner to attain in a particular course, program, or institution. Outcomes must be communicated as specifically as possible and should clearly instruct the students of the facilitator's expectations. The University of Toronto (n.d.) has excellent resources which provide examples of learning outcomes.

Constructivist Assessment Tools

The Reflective Process is a strategy for students to formulate a thought or idea based on personal experience, concepts, theories, or artifact after meditation on a topic. Reflection is a formative process as "it explains the reasons why a student chooses a particular artifact for the portfolio, helping students to understand how they learn and what they have learned." (Johnson-Taylor, S., 2007). E-Portfolios afford reflection in various forms including journals, blogs, discussions and presentations. Reflection may be assessed in these forms through rubrics and learning outcomes.

To facilitate the reflective process in students, Carrington & Selva (2010) have complied a list of tools to assist this process. It is suggested that extensive journal writing, scaffolding questioning to foster thinking and provide feedback, and to use the 5Rs framework. The 5Rs framework suggests that students report, respond, relate, reason and reconstruct their writing and in such become increasingly reflective.

Peer Evaluation is an important stage in the social context of learning. Sharing ideas, continued discussion and feedback can provide the learner with an increased understanding of learning outcomes, artifacts, or differing view points. Peer evaluation provides a collaborative process which can assist a learner in the clarification of goals, to demonstrate improvement, and to encourage the learner to take responsibility for their learning (Cambridge Regional College, 2011). Peer evaluation is thus formative as it assesses and enhances learning.

Advantages and Disadvantages of ePortfolios


ePortfolios permit the expression of learning through multiple learning styles and utilize positivist and constructivist learning theories. ePortfolios support complex exploratory learning outcomes in a non-competitive collaborative learning environment. Summative feedback is expressed in a manner that is easier for external parties to comprehend, increasing its utility to stakeholders. Formative feedback provides guidance to the learner and expert which furthers learning and appropriate use of scaffolding. The ePortfolio is intrinsically motivational as it provides concrete evidence of progressive learning across a cross section of knowledge and skills. (Sewell, M. Marczak, M. & Horn, M., 2007)


Stakeholders can be skeptical of ambiguous learning outcomes and assessment. The selection of artifacts compiled in the ePortfolio may not be representative of learning outcomes. The digital nature of the learning artifacts may also reduce validity through the possibility of plagiarism. The digital medium removes the possibility to assess non-verbal cues. ePortfolios require hardware and software for production and publication, thus requiring the development of specific skill sets and funding. (Sewell, M. Marczak, M. & Horn, M., 2007)

Advances in ePortfolios

Weblog-Based Electronic Porfolios (WBEP)
Educators are now turning towards blogs to take the place of the reflection portion of electronic portfolios. Chuang (2010) suggests that the nature of ePortfolios could have the potential to become a solitary activity which contradicts the social learning of Vygotsky's Constructivist theory (p. 214). It is argued that the design affordances of a blog (ease of creation, editing and the immediacy of comments and feedback) provide the student with an increasingly communicative and reflective tool.

Web 2.0 and Electronic Portfolios
Many of the advancements of ePortfolios have been implemented due to the advancements of the web. Katie Ash, suggests that "Web 2.0 and other technology tools are making it quicker and easier than ever to create digital portfolios of student work—a method of showcasing student progress that experts say increases student engagement; promotes a continuing conversation about learning between teachers, parents, and students; and extends academic lessons beyond school walls". Social writing platforms, such as blogs, assist many areas of education. Alexander (2006) writes that social writing platforms are useful for student group learning to faculty department work. Utimately, he suggests that peer evaluation and editing are more accessible than ever for students.

Sample E-Portfolios

Individual ePortfolios

Individual ePortfolios can highlight the students written work, artistic renderings, video and sound files, or images. This ePortfoliorepresents the culminating research from a Boston University graduate student. In this example, the student has provided examples of writing, images and reflection.

Functions within the ePortfolio reflect positivist (artifacts, learning outcomes) and constructivist (threaded discussions, peer evaluations) learning theories. These functions allow for a flexible assessment methodology.

Program and Institutional E-Portfolios

Program Accreditation: Quinsigamond Community College Dental Program Portfolio

Institutional Accreditation: Missouri State University Accreditation Portfolio

Stop Motion Video Links

Introductory Video to assessment and ePortfolios


5Rs Framework for Student Reflection

Individual Student Portfolio, Boston University.

E-Portfolio Information,

Peer Evaluation of Portfolios, University of Washington.

Constructivism Links, University of Denver.

Examples of Learning Outcomes from the University of Toronto

Institutional Portfolio: Indiana University Purdue University


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