Session Five—Assessment

Courtesy of Mark Baston from his Flickr web site
Report Card

Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe (Understanding by Design) hold that the development of goals and assessments (the ‘backwards design’ model) prior to crafting syllabi and classroom activities is essential for effective learning to take place. In addition, they suggest collaborative design, sharing and regular feedback from peers as well as from students, in order to make appropriate adjustments to instruction and curricula. Their work has had a significant impact on K-12 education and as evidenced-based learning outcomes become part of the higher educational landscape, it will be increasingly important for us to consider how, what and why we assess our students, our programs and our peers. In this session we’ll look at some examples of ePortfolios: a holistic, summative approach exemplified by St. Olaf’s Center for Integrative Studies and a formative, longitudinal approach as reflected in UCONN’s ePortfolio system. We’ll also see what several authors have to say about the impact of digital repositories and just as importantly, how they predict scholarly activity will be assessed in the next decade and beyond. A decade during which information abundance will markedly change scholarly authority, in many ways reflecting an Understanding by Design approach.


This week’s readings included some very interesting articles. I was struck by Trent Batson’s definition of ePortfolios as a “cultural application,” capable of bridging the gap between informal and formal learning. If I am not mistaken, he considers it to be a sort of online journal in which students may trace and compare their own thoughts over a period a time. This definition, along with the emphasis on the mixed use – leisure and non-leisure – of the ePortfolios, led to the formation of a question in my mind: what exactly differentiates the ePortfolio from, on the one hand, an old-fashioned diary/journal and, on the other, from Facebook? While the latter part of my query remains unanswered (I would assume a certain sense of appropriateness), I understood former when I went to Katie Shaw’s site at St. Olaf’s College: the ability to display online her work on Sequential Art and Literary Narrative – two fields close to my heart – demonstrated to me the potential that the ePortfolio held for the circulation of one’s work, especially amongst those working in the same field. I found the very notion of a Center for Integrative Studies fascinating: if Uconn does not have such a center, I strongly suggest it create one, where students from a wide array of majors would be able to post the results of their studies and efforts.Jensen’s article was also very instructive although he does rely too much on the premise that engaged participation will filter out “crap” and convey a greater richness to online resources. His overview from Web 1.0 to 3.0 was particularly eye-opening, especially his statement that 2.0 is not YET a source of scholarly communication but 3.0 may one day substitute current methods of peer review and tenure. I do wonder about the diffusion of scholarly materials online: at the moment, Googlebooks allows one to read but not download or even print texts. Granted this may be still a relic of Web 1.0 but authors and publishers eventually must overcome their reservations regarding their the publication of online resources according to the criteria of Authority 3.0 that Jensen describes. The eventuality of the disappearance of scholarly publishers in two decades’ time has as its foreshadowing the pre-release of Radiohead’s most recent album ONLY online and for free. Lastly, Jensen’s description of Photosynth could not but call to my mind the futuristic holodecks of Star Trek fame.On the other hand, I must admit that Spurlin’s article left me less than enthused. She honestly admits the impossibility of determining the impact of technology on student learning, given the many variables involved, and she does bring up the extremely valid point of how technology should be employed for the general benefit of our students and how to incorporate technology into classroom. These points, however, are lost in a purely academic question concerning the distinction between assessment (student oriented) and evaluation (faculty oriented). Spurlin complicates matters with a series of odd statements, for instance that assessment is about aggregate information – i.e. “students as a group” – which perplexed me because it implicitly denies the status of group to faculty members. Moreover, she further confounds the reader in my opinion with the statement:“When you assess how well students learn at the course or academic program level, you don’t typically ask about the connection between how the information was taught and how well the students learned ….If faculty find that students have met the [course] outcomes, they don’t ask how the material was taught.” (p.7)

Clearly, if this were true, then there would be no student evaluations at the end of each semester. Lastly, her definition on page 6 of students’ “measurable components” which should help with learning practices and principles – the determination of their backgrounds, their technological skills, their demographics and their learning styles – are for all intents and purposes impossible to measure for any group larger than 30.



Just like Felice, I was struck by Trent Batson’s definition of ePortfolios. By saying that an ePortfolio is “not a higher education application” but rather “a cultural application” Batson challenges the classic idea one has of an ePortfolio and imagines a future when people will be using these tools beyond the field of higher education. As a matter of fact, Batson states that “the big market is going to be everyone having an ePortfolio, whether they are in college or not.” Although I agree with the fact that ePortfolios could bridge “the gap between informal learning and formal learning”, I am not sure I fully agree with the way Batson envisions the future of these tools. In fact, even though many people “like to collect things”, I just cannot imagine people using them “in their leisure time,” or “for fun”. By definition, I believe that an ePortfolio should be related to the work or the specialization of a person. If, as Batson seems to suggest, ePortfolios are to become like an online journal (as already pointed out by Felice) we will simply end up having another kind of tool, something that resembles more blogs, Facebook or other similar applications. Regarding Katie Shaw’s website at St. Olaf’s College, I once again agree with Felice, and I must say that I have also found the very notion of a Center for Integrative Studies fascinating, and very useful to allow students “to demonstrate the meaningful relations among the different kinds of work they do.”


7 Responses to “Session Five—Assessment”

  1. alfonsovaronacarrillo Says:


    Today I am commenting on e-portfolios and the future of scholarly publications. Let’s start with e-portfolios.

    I actually went ahead and get inside my Uconn e-portfolio. All we graduate students have one (did they tell me this before but I was not paying attention?). I noticed you can write about you (personality, likes, etc), and share information. That is why one of my questions in class was, what’s the difference between an e-porfolio and a blog? I know what the main difference is: in the blog (at least the basic idea of a “Web log”) is that you write about your life, and it’s open for comments; that is, it is by nature interactive. The e-portfolio is more about your professional life, a place where you placed the documents you have created or gathered that you use in your professional life. But: in the e-portfolio you can also give information about yourself, and you can share information, if you approve. But the fact remains, blog is more interactive (even if it’s for a small circle of friends), e-porfolio is more about documents (and sharing them), and assessing your professional live.
    But as we read in the article, in some states they are creating portfolios for the general public. Once again we see the blurring of a formerly thought strict division, this time for something suppossely for “professionals” now available to general public (does this reminds you that nowadays “general public” can contribute to an enciclopedia, do postcasting, and share wonderfully taken photos?). So I think the common ground between blogs and e-portfolios would blur more, once it is available (and becomes popular) to everybody. You will have two options for sharing material, and let the others know about you. You will decide which one works better for you, or, since most likely you would have both, you decide the focus on each one.

    I still have in my mind the basic idea of Jensen’s article, “The new metrics of Scholarly authority”. The thing is, I am about to start my “scholarly career” and think of sending for the first time material to be published. But that might change dramatically from 10 to 15 years, according to the article, and it actually makes sense.

    I was thinking that there is no way paper journal survive. But there are the electronic ones. The issue though, is they can survive keeping the information available only by subscription, while all the rest of information is everywhere and virtually free. Well, I was thinking one possibility might be something like “i-articles”, similar to “i-tunes”. In amazon you can actually buy articles, but I am talking about this huge online store dedicated only to journals, and this available only for a few cents.

    Other solution might be something similar to cable TV: for what you pay these days for one journal subscription, actually being able to purchase a packet of, let’s say, Medieval literature in Spanish, or any combination, so that you have access to this scholarly information, but in a cheap and abundant way, so that it both guarantees it would actually circulate (hey, some “non experts” will buy it, and comment on it, and make, no doubt, important contributions by sharing ideas with the authors) and at the same time the journals can survive as bussiness. (Or maybe will become only part of a total income, the other part coming from… you can think about it and share those ideas with me, through this same comment section).

    Let me know what you think about these ideas. Meanwhile, I want to publish in either paper or electronically, knowing that in the future the only paper used will be that of the printer. (And don’t forget to recycle paper).

  2. Barbara Says:

    What an interesting idea, Alfonso, to envision a business model that allows for selective purchases of articles á la the iTunes model or cable TV model (one that would truly provide quality of choice and content). This approach certainly didn’t hurt recording artists’ sales when iTunes launched and, in fact, created a thriving new venue for indie artists, confirming the long tail effect that Chris Anderson talks of. This concept might actually provide for greater publishing opportunities. Are publishing companies listening?

  3. alfonsovaronacarrillo Says:

    Two classes ago, we read about the possibility of disappearance, or at least major changes in the production of scholarly writing, if it’s to survive to the changes that Web 2.0 has brought along. Well, if you are interested on a viewpoin against “2.0 hype”, take a look to the Britannica blog (second item in the blog roll, upper right corner of this page). Look for Michael Gorman Web 2.0: the sleep of reason, part I and part II.
    These are good counter arguments to the idea of the “intelligence of the crowd”. Michael Gorman, at the last paragraph promises to talk more deeply about wikipedia on a next post, although I couldn’t find it. (But there are other interesting posts too, and also, of course, the responses to this one).

    This is part of a series on Web 2.0, conducted in June, by Britannica.

  4. martinawp Says:

    Dear Barbara, dear Alfonso,

    you bring up interesting ideas concerning the future of publications and publication organs. Online information as manifested already in e-portfolios, podcasts, and blogs allow faster access to a persons ideas and interest. At the same time, as Trent Batson states it in “Beyond Campus Boundaries e-Portfolio Transforms into ‘Cultural Application”, these tools allow to overcome “campus boundaries”. Research and education in particular will highly profit from these developments since ideas can be transmitted faster and more authentic, particularly in perspective to Alfonso’s “i-articles.”

    Nevertheless, Alfonso’s hint on Michael Gorman and Felice’s former contribution pointed at possible risks for our (scholarly) work. Thus, as Barbara, mentioned it, it will be interesting how publishing companies as well as authors will react to this in the (near) future.

  5. orsitto Says:

    Dear Alfonso,
    I would like to continue my analysis of Batson’s article and, in the meanwhile, attempt to answer your question: what is the difference between an ePorfolio and a blog? I have to say that, I fully agree with your description, “a blog is more interactive (even if it’s for a small circle of friends)” while “an e-porfolio is more about documents (and sharing them), and assessing your professional live.” I believe this is the main difference between these two tools. I can understand the fact that possibly “the common ground between blogs and e-portfolios would blur more, once it is available (and becomes popular) to everybody” but I believe that the main difference remains, and has to remain: in blogs one writes about his/her own life, about a topic, about whatever one wants to write. EPortfolios display documents, certificates, syllabi, videos and – theoretically – a gazillion of other things. Nonetheless, they are authored-centered rather than user-centered. By changing this factor I believe we would just be turning ePortfolios into blogs.

  6. rventura Says:

    Ok guys,
    what is the utility of a ePortfolio? What I mean is that these new electronic tools need to give us something more than “ancient” tools (in this case I am thinking the old fashion CV on paper). Let’s look at Facebook. Can we call it a blog? If it is a blog, is this kind of a blog admissible into an academic sphere?
    Would you really like your future employer to look at your pics on the network friends?
    Maybe we should have a basic distinction with blogs: the one you do for fun and the one you do for a professional goal…

  7. Barbara Says:

    An interesting point, Renato. Is a CV enough now? Five years from now? And for whom? If we ask our students to provide multiple measures of their abilities using a variety of media—print, audio, video—would/should these not also be part of their final portfolio in addition to grades (and, just as importantly for educators and students alike, to support the awarding of those grades) to provide a richer picture of who they are and what they can do?

    As we’ve seen, what is posted on the web stays on the web, so whether posting professionally or personally, we all need to keep that in mind and make our students aware of this also.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: