'…if we wish to enable students to develop as self-regulating learners they must be given a more active role in assessment processes.'
A difference in focus has emerged between e-portfolio tools designed primarily for institutional assessment purposes – for example, demonstrating achievement, recording progress and setting targets, as in records of achievement and individual learning plans (ILPs) – and systems which aim to nurture a continuing process of personal development and reflective learning, more commonly used in higher and continuing education contexts. These uses are not, of course, mutually exclusive and in certain disciplines such as medicine and healthcare, e-portfolios are commonly used to support both areas.
Formative assessment is seen as an integral part of e-portfolio-based learning as it encourages self-analysis, critiquing and informal feedback for peers and tutors as key elements of the learning process.
However, this approach tends be adopted in HE contexts whereas the emphasis is more on using e-portfolios for summative assessment in the FE sector.
Although there are different views on whether they should be used for summative assessment given the learner-centred nature of e-portfolios there are benefits to a more holistic, evidence-based approach [ePISTLE Guidelines 3: Transition].
E-portfolios support a more dialogical, incremental approach to assessment helping a move away from traditional forms such as submitted assignments and examinations which could help reduce the assessment burden for institutions. Redesigning assessment practices in HE has been explored in the REAP project which looks at how new technology can support new assessment models for the benefit of learners and institutions.
Among other tools, e-portfolios have a key part to play in this as recognised by the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency (now Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation - Ofqual) in its Blueprint for e-Assessment which has advised that all awarding bodies should be able to accept e-portfolios by 2009. Our section on assessment guidance LINK discusses these issues in further detail.
There are a range of contexts and settings in which e-portfolios could be used to support assessment and related learning and support processes as a number of Jisc projects are exploring. The use of e-portfolios has developed particularly in disciplines which are traditionally evidence-based such as healthcare, education and the creative industries.
The ELGG e-portfolio used as part of the HELPP project at Hull College proved a useful assessment tool on the HNC Engineering programmes. The Engineering Tutor talks about the experiences in using the tool to support a major project that each student is required to work on, and in the past had been produced in hard copy only.
"… it’s letting me adopt a more formative approach. I’m able to look at how things are progressing and give them feedback in a periodic nature rather than looking at it at the end, marking it, and … saying, ‘there you go’… and again the good thing is the way that I’m assessing it…
"Slowly but surely people are getting into it and I think they realise the benefit of having it there because they can talk to me rather than messing about and opening different packages and all that sort of thing so the flexibility’s very good… they are able to upload a multitude of different files, videos, PowerPoint documents, Microsoft Project documents, lots and lots of different bits of information that otherwise would be just a paper source, so we’re able to look dynamically at the information."
Recording from Helpp website
Students perception of feedback via an e-portfolio
Peacock, Murray, Kelly and Scott (2011) employed a qualitative research approach to explore whether e-portfolios, with their dual emphasis on both the product and process of learning, could encourage deeper and broader learner engagement with feedback. They found that the learners were generally positive about using e-portfolios and a number had also begun to use feedback provided through the e-portfolio as a springboard for reflection and planning for future development.
Role of external examiners and assessors
External assessors and/or examiners are probably involved when e-portfolios are used as a vehicle for summative assessment. External assessors are usually associated with professional bodies and the whole course whereas external examiners are usually associated with a group of modules as part of a course according to their subject expertise. Another difference is that external assessors will review or examine all students’ work whereas an external examiner normally receives a sample from the modules.
Implementing e-portfolios for assessment can provide benefits for such assessors and examiners but there are also drawbacks as shown in the table below.
|Access 24/7||Lack of access to suitable equipment in some NHS contexts|
|Reduced paper and associated portability||Difficulties associated with software versioning|
|Early identification of students ‘at risk’||Lack of training|
|Early identification of students who may pose a threat in health practice|
|Examiners able to decide sampling method which they feel is more robust process|
Healthcare and medicine
General Medical Council guidelines and QAA requirements have supported the development of e-portfolios as a method to help foster a reflective approach to evidencing the achievement of both module-specific and programme learning outcomes in medical education. Newcastle University, for instance, introduced e-portfolios in its undergraduate medical degree programme in 2003. Following successful pilot initiatives at different stages of the curriculum, the use of e-portfolios has been rolled out across the programme and they have been used extensively for summative assessment and appraisal as well as reflective practice.
The HORUS e-Learning Management project (HELM) extended the application of the HORUS tool to support doctors in training learn in the workplace by expanding its use as a reflective log for learning as well as supporting the assessment cycle by providing an online area for learners to record their workplace assessments which tutors access and grade.
The MANSLE project showed how aggregated e-portfolio services could play a significant role in supporting lifelong learning and student progression in clinical practice settings. A key responsibility of practice tutors within these settings are responsible for overseeing student competency claims, and the making and validation of such claims needs to be efficient and feed directly into the enhancing the skills repertoire. e-Portfolios could play a part in making this assessment process more efficient in a work-based environment.
Following these and other successful applications of e-portfolios in medical and healthcare settings, the NHS uses an e-portfolio in several contexts including Core Medical Training, Acute Care Common Stem and Dentistry.
There is a requirement for trainer teachers in FE to compile a portfolio of work which they can then take forward as they move into a professional teaching career, and use as the basis for their ongoing Continuing Professional Development (CPD). A number of projects have looked at e-portfolio development in this area. For example, the ESCalate (previously) subject centre of the Higher Education Academy undertook a study into the transferability of e-portfolios in education which investigated existing e-portfolios models and their use in the field.
One of the aims of the ePISTLE project was to gain an understanding of how e-portfolios are used by learners and assessing bodies when submitted for assessment as part of teacher training. A key finding was that “e-portfolio use can clinch vital points of understanding through rapid closure of feedback loops; a prompt response from a tutor can consolidate a central point of understanding in the mind of a student, rather than prolonging a hiatus of uncertainty characteristic of time delays in traditional formative assessment cycles”(ePISTLE Final Report, p13). This fluid process has also helped reduce the build-up of assessment for tutors and diminishing pressure at key assessment points.
One project at Leicester College and the University of Leicester, WoLF, explored how mobile technologies in the form of pocket PCs can support teaching assistants on foundation degree courses in reflecting and collecting evidence for training in a work-based setting.
The Helpp project is looking at digital media to record workplace experiences and to use e-portfolio to present evidence for assessment, particular with regard to storing assessments and reflection in portable formats. The project has produced a video which explains tutor usage and also how students feel the system is helping them to gain the most from their placements.