The Power and Utility of Reflective Learning Portfolios in Honors

By Corley, Christopher R.; Zubizarreta, John | Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council, Spring-Summer 2012 | Go to article overview

The Power and Utility of Reflective Learning Portfolios in Honors


Corley, Christopher R., Zubizarreta, John, Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council


LEARNING PORTFOLIOS IN HIGHER EDUCATION

The explosive growth of learning portfolios in higher education as a compelling tool for enhanced student learning, assessment, and career preparation is a sign of the increasing significance of reflective practice and mindful, systematic documentation in promoting deep, meaningful, transformative learning experiences. The advent of sophisticated electronic technologies has augmented the power of portfolios and created a virtual industry dedicated to platforms and strategies associated with electronic portfolios and the diverse purposes they can serve in curricular, programmatic, and institutional assessment efforts. Today, the substantial and still growing literature on electronic portfolios has taught us the capabilities of digital media to offer students a robust and flexible mechanism for not only collecting multiple types of selective evidence of their learning but also engaging in a critically reflective process that helps them understand, integrate, connect, apply, and develop the metacognitive habits and skills we associate with higher-order learning.

The intellectual and practical relevance of such innovations in the honors context is clear. Honors programs and colleges often struggle to identify and supply evidence of the value added to honors students' education, a challenge that is not easily or adequately met by standard measures such as tests, surveys, or essays. The portfolio, on the other hand, provides a vehicle for bringing together judiciously selected samples of students' work and achievements inside and outside the classroom for authentic assessment over time. A typical learning portfolio may include both academic materials and personal profiles and may designate some of its contents as public or private. Designed to prompt insight and discovery, a well-constructed, comprehensive portfolio will contain items that fall into the following general categories, which are suggestive rather than prescriptive or complete because a portfolio should represent the individuality of the student:

1. Philosophy of Learning (reflective narrative[s] on learning process, learning preferences, strengths and challenges, value of learning, personal profile);

2. Achievements in Learning (records: transcripts, course descriptions, resumes, honors, awards, internships, tutoring);

3. Evidence of Learning (direct outcomes: research papers, critical essays, field experience logs, creative displays/performances, data/spreadsheet analyses, course online forum entries, lab research results);

4. Assessment of Learning (instructor feedback, course test scores, exit/board exams, lab/data reviews, research project appraisals, practicum/internship supervisor reports);

5. Relevance of Learning (practical applications, leadership, relation of learning to personal and professional domains, ethical/moral growth, affiliations, hobbies, volunteer work, affective value of learning); and

6. Learning Goals (response to feedback; plans to enhance, connect, and apply learning; career ambitions). (Zubizarreta, Learning Portfolio 22)

More importantly, the focus on reflection and on the vital mentoring that is needed to introduce and sustain what has come to be known widely as "folio thinking" helps the student to address a number of critical questions about his or her own learning (Chen and Black). Such questions can provide crucial information about the unique characteristics and value of the honors experience:

* What have I learned? Why did I learn?

* When have I learned most? Least? In what circumstances? Under what conditions?

* How have I learned or not, and do I know what kind of learner I am?

* How does what I have learned fit into a full, continual plan for continual learning?

* Where, when, and how have I engaged in integrative learning? Has my learning been connected and coherent? …

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