By Tuttle, Harry Grover
Multimedia Schools , Vol. 4, No. 1
Last year when my wife and I went to the parent-teacher conference for our son, James, the teacher explained that James had earned a B in English and handed us a pile of his graded papers. This year at James' parent-teacher conference, James himself demonstrated what English skills he had learned by showing us his electronic portfolio containing scanned-in compositions, pictures of his community project, a movie about him tutoring other students, an oral reflection on his government project, and more. Also, he had a screen listing skills he still needed to master. The electronic portfolio revealed much about our son's learning.
Regardless of whether your school uses "traditional" letter grading systems or has "restructured" student assessment, electronic portfolios showcase the breadth and depth of student learning. Some would argue that letter grading systems of A, B, and C--or even systems with numbers like 82, 92, and so forth--are subjective and not based on solid, demonstrable criteria. Others would argue that restructured authentic assessment, while demonstrable, is not uniformly measurable. In a restructured environment, instead of grades, the student receives a checklist of what goals and competencies he or she has achieved and to what degree.
WHAT IS AN ELECTRONIC PORTFOLIO?
An electronic portfolio is a concise, annotated collection of student work that reflects educational standards. After teachers have established the goals and competencies, students identify their level of mastery and provide proof of learning. Since students usually select their own samples, they are responsible for selecting work that best demonstrates the richness and depth of their learning. They decide if a digitized drawing, a digitized play excerpt, or a scanned-in graph best shows their learning. Electronic portfolios usually tie student work to the district standards.
James' portfolio is typical. It starts off with his name, his grade, his picture, and an oral message recorded by him. On the next screen, he lists skills based on school standards. (It could have been district, state, or national standards.) Each of the skills he has achieved is marked and links to a screen with work samples (see Figure 1). The next screen contains four parts that document skills learned: One section contains a description of his work, another section contains a rubric showing which aspects of the skills are demonstrated in the work sample, and the two bottom sections of the screen are reserved for student and teacher comments. On one side are James' reflections on what and how he has learned. On the other side are his teacher's comments on the merits of the sample (see Figure 2). Each section can scroll to show more information if needed. This four-part screen is linked back to the main skills list.
WHY USE ELECTRONIC PORTFOLIOS?
Electronic portfolios directly relate student work to the stated standards, but they have additional advantages as well.
Portfolios demonstrate wider dimensions of learning than just paper-and-pencil reports or exercises. For example, within an electronic portfolio, a student can play a digitized tape of the most important part of his persuasive speech or show a movie of how he used math and science to help rebuild a park area.
Various parts of electronic portfolios can be interconnected through hyperlinks. Papers and materials do not get lost or misplaced. New student work can replace older work with minimal effort. There is no need to search through a thick manila folder. (In previous years, one of James' teachers had shown me his 10-inch thick paper portfolio. I thought that was a historical accumulation of his year's work, not a carefully selected showcase of learning!)
Electronic portfolios save space. Each student's paper portfolio documenting the K-12 years could take two filing drawers per student. Electronic portfolios can be stored on the school's network or even on an external disk such as the Zip cartridge. …