We aimed to implement an electronic portfolio requirement that would allow students to reflect on and document their learning while providing educators with deeper knowledge of how students learn and develop. Chalk & Wire provided an easy-to-use e-portfolio and a robust assessment system—a perfect fit for our needs.
We evaluated Chalk & Wire because our university honors program began to develop and implement an innovative learning outcomes-based framework1. We hoped to move away from our traditional measures of credit hours and summative grade point averages toward a model that emphasized the importance of gaining increasingly complex skills around six key competency areas.
The challenge was making this transition. How do you measure program level outcomes in a way that leverages the teaching and learning already taking place?
We aimed to implement an electronic portfolio requirement because it would allow students to reflect on and document their studies while also being able to capture data on how students were learning and developing. Chalk & Wire immediately caught our attention because it was one of the few solutions that provided both an easy-to-use eportfolio and a robust assessment system—a perfect fit for our needs.
To implement our new framework we needed a new way to define, document, and assess learning outcomes. Credit hours and grade point averages would no longer suffice. We reviewed national research on student learning, initiated discussions with a wide range of campus partners to identify the six key competencies and then we created three tiers (performance levels) of student learning outcomes within each area.
|Tier 1||Tier 2||Tier 3|
|Identify and analyze two or more legitimate perspectives on an issue.||Compare and contrast two or more disciplinary ways of understanding knowledge; make thoughtful connections between these ways of understanding knowledge as well as between your academic and personal experiences.||Integrate knowledge of yourself (e.g., passions, values, strengths, limitations) and various disciplines/fields to address a personally meaningful problem, question or project.|
Once we had a set of student learning outcomes, we developed a first-year seminar to orient new honors students to our “competency” focused approach to liberal education. The goal of the seminar was to challenge students to use reflection in their learning experiences and to think about how their curricular and co-curricular activities were contributing to the six competencies. Furthermore by using a portfolio students also have to provide direct evidence to support their reflections.
For our first round of assessment we trained a group of 20 faculty and staff members to review student portfolios. For each competency we developed a rubric that measured a student’s progress in that area. The idea was to show students how they develop from their first year all the way through to graduation. By fostering their reflective skills and having them take ownership of their personal development we hope to grow the students into lifelong learners.
The assessment process has also created some valuable discussion around identifying different levels of performance and presented us with the opportunity to further fine-tune our assessment rubrics. In the end we assessed 383 out of the 412 (93%) first-year honors program students through their portfolio submissions. Advisers held individual meetings with students to discuss the scores and feedback they received and to plan next steps in their educational journeys.
The eportfolios completely changed the nature of our conversations with students. Rather than focusing on helping students complete a checklist of requirements we focused on discussing how they were learning and what they were truly gaining from their curricular and co-curricular experiences. Furthermore this renewed engagement among the students rejuvenated our staff and helped get us to the heart of the educational enterprise. We are excited to keep building on our eportfolio process and seeing how our work aids student development.
As we move forward, we aim to complete the loop of the assessment cycle and begin to use data from the eportfolio submissions to drive program improvement initiatives. We have already started studying the degree to which the competency areas correlate with one another. Having a predictable process for assessment has also allowed us to do some thematic analyses of portfolio entries and identify the specific activities and assignments that foster learning. Once the process of data collection is in place it is amazing what can become possible.
1 Taylor, K., & Haynes, C. (2008). A framework for intentionally fostering student learning. About Campus: Enriching the Student Learning Experience, 13(5), 2-11.