Educational Progressions: Electronic Portfolios in a Virtual Classroom

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The need to improve student assessment, the desire to advance teacher training, and the increased popularity and accessibility of the Internet has led to a natural conclusion: an online in-service course. The Internet, coupled with a thoroughly developed Web site and support scaffolding is the perfect vessel to develop an online in-service training course on portfolio assessment. The authors have created an Electronic Teaching Portfolio Web Site (ETPWS), which has been developed to facilitate teacher development alone or in conjunction with an accompanying traditional in-service training course.

By itself, the ETPWS is designed to be a self-directed exploration on the topic of portfolio assessment. Although the Web site can be utilized alone, it is being supported by a district-wide in-service training course in a classroom. The classroom course will require only minimal time commitment of two evening classes totaling five hours. The first class will introduce the Web site and will provide teachers with directions and expectations. The second class will meet as a forum for teachers to share their work and exchange ideas. The ETPWS and supporting in-service course is a great instrument, which supports Bridgewater's mission to continually improve the level of instruction in the district.

Gaining widespread popularity in education, portfolio assessment has tremendous advantages over traditional one-time, objective-based test assessment. Objective-based test assessment only focuses on the product and limits the learner's ability to demonstrate the learning process. It d'es not allow learners to focus on specific developmental issues that are important to them, instead forcing them to focus on what the teacher deems important. Traditional assessment is a "moment in time glimpse" of a learner's ability to perform a task or set of tasks. It d'es not account for any external forces that may be affecting learners' ability to demonstrate their skills

Portfolio assessment allows learners the ability to demonstrate their skills over a period of time, as they will for future employers. A portfolio will allow learners to chart the progression and highlight their individual achievements. In addition, portfolio assessment allows learners to demonstrate the knowledge they felt was crucial to their learning experience. Through properly constructed and thoroughly documented portfolios, learners can chronicle the moments of discovery that they underwent during their learning journey. It was from this research that we drew our inspiration to develop the ETPWS.

Because the research clearly demonstrates that the benefits of portfolio assessment are so substantial, many school districts are implementing policies to incorporate it into their educational curriculum. This action has forced teachers to begin to utilize an assessment criterion that is foreign and often overwhelming to them. In an effort to support and train educators, school districts are issuing guidelines to aid teachers. However, it d'es not provide them with a clear concept of or a thorough understanding from which to teach. Often teachers become frustrated with the process of teaching and assessing students with concepts they have not experienced themselves. It is on this assumption that we based the development of our online in-service Internet course. We believe that that through the ETPWS, educators will be provided with a self-directed learning experience that will provide them with a thorough knowledge base. This knowledge base will prepare them with the necessary means to properly implement and effectively use portfolio assessment in their classroom. Our Web site will guide teachers through an active individual learning experience of developing a personal electronic teaching/professional portfolio.

Designing the System

The ETPWS is designed to educate all education professionals, but is being developed specifically for Bridgewater Faculty. Our objective is to aid the Bridgewater School District's continuous district-wide effort to improve overall instruction in the school district. This effort is being conducted through a framework of in-service training and informational sessions held during monthly faculty meetings. Through the development of a teaching/professional portfolio, teachers will be compelled to review their individual teaching values and frame the issues that they feel are vital to the learning process of their students. Through the portfolios, the hope is that teachers will focus their learning energies, be able to concentrate their strengths, and improve on areas of weakness.

Although the Bridgewater School District has not officially implemented a position on incorporating portfolio assessment into the curriculum, this issue is being examined very closely. Over the course of several meetings, various forms of alternative assessment were introduced by a panel of teachers and a majority of the discussion focused on portfolio assessment. At a supervisors' meeting for the school district, the idea of portfolio assessment was discussed, and it was determined that the issue should be looked into further. In a proactive response to meet the need for more comprehensive assessment of students, a cabinet of high school supervisors determined that department proficiency examinations would be eliminated from the evaluation process of students. Instead, all teachers who teach a particular subject will meet and develop a final assessment that will be utilized in each class. To promote the use of portfolio assessment as part of that final evaluation, teachers will be encouraged to utilize a body of work to assess student learning.

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The hope is that teacher innovators will have their interest piqued about the use of portfolio assessment. To encourage and support that interest, the teachers will have the Web page to utilize as a resource. Through the innovators' use and their feedback, the Web site will be continually updated and portfolio assessment will begin to gain a foothold in the Bridgewater School District.

The design of the ETPWP will utilize the World Wide Web to create a visually oriented, student-centered active learning environment. Media elements such as graphic images and multimedia technology will heighten the learner's experience. In addition, a companion compact disc will include pictures, animation and sound that will play on the senses and increase memory and retention of the learner's experience. Although pictures and media elements are included on the Web site, animation and sound will not be included in an effort to expand usability and decrease downloading time. Through visual cues and memory aides on the Web site and compact disc, the learner will be better able to digest the complex concepts and ideas being introduced.

The design of the Web page will allow us to incorporate an interactive learning environment to increase the learning experience for the user. The Web site design will create an environment or "feel" that encourages exploration and discovery of knowledge, and will be designed to provide a scaffolding system that supports the learners in their learning exploration. Extensive hyperlinks will provide additional resources for the learner to explore and help guide them in their discovery process. A resource of Frequently Asked Questions will be developed over time from inquiries and questions purposed through e-mail and the Web site's guestbook. In addition, a compact disc will be designed as a follow-up for Bridgewater teachers that do not have Internet access.

Utilizing the System

Once users have explored the page and developed a body of knowledge, they will be able to access a system of evaluations to gauge their learning experience. There are two types of evaluation that the learner can utilize. The first is the evaluation of the learner's knowledge and the second is the evaluation of the learner's experience with the Web site. First, learners will need to evaluate their body of knowledge. They can accomplish this by measuring their work with developmental guidelines provided on the Web site. The guidelines will provide learners with a means to gauge the electronic professional portfolio that they have created during their learning experience. In addition, it will provide the teacher with a basis to model guidelines for the evaluation of electronic portfolios developed by their students. The site will have sample electronic portfolios that will provide the learner with a standard to judge their work and their students' work.

The second type of evaluation will measure the value of the learner's experience on the Web site. We will conduct this evaluation by two means, one objective and the second subjective. The objective means will occur through a counter that will measure the number of hits to the Web site. Through the information gathered from the counter, we will be able to establish a pattern of usage. This will provide us with an objective means of establishing peak usage periods and patterns for the Web site. The subjective means of evaluating the Web page will be through e-mail and a guestbook. We will provide the user with the opportunity to e-mail us and provide feedback on their experience. This will help us to tailor and update the Web page with the most current and useful information. Through the guestbook we will provide the learner with the opportunity to answer survey questions, thereby establishing another means of providing feedback on their learning experience. Through the compilation of guestbook statistics, it will allow us to monitor the value of the learning experiences on the site. Unlike e-mail, the guestbook can be an anonymous forum for the learners to express their views. Anonymity will provide the user with the freedom to register their response and reaction truthfully about the Web site.

Student-Centered Learning

As the reform movement continues to sweep across the educational landscape, educators will explore and attempt new and innovative practices in the classroom. Education is no longer a passive experience for the student, but has become an active and personal one. We designed our Web site and the learning experience it affords on this simple principle. The desired outcome of the Web site is that the educator will develop a personal professional electronic portfolio through an active learning experience. As a result of the exploration process and creation of their portfolio, they will build a strong body of knowledge. Through their learning journey, they will personally experience the advantages of portfolios. Because of this experience, they will be able to incorporate them authentically into their curriculum and assess their students more effectively. Active learning affords the learner with a better learning experience and aids them in greater knowledge retention.

The educational reform movement is not only marked by alternative assessment, but also with a change from teacher-centered to student-centered learning and new and innovative constructivist learning. A critical component and primary driving force behind the educational reform movement is the need to move away from traditional curriculum and objective type testing. Due to the speed by which information changes in our society, there is a critical need to develop skills that will guide the student to become managers of information. Being a manager of information cannot be demonstrated through traditional assessment means. Portfolio assessment has opened a new world of resources for educators to employ to challenge students to develop vital critical-thinking skills. Students must decide what work best demonstrates their learning experience that they underwent in a particular course. The authentic use of portfolio assessment should focus on the student demonstrating the ability to solve complex problems, analyze information, synthesize knowledge and demonstrate a body of knowledge. The implementation of electronic portfolios for student assessment is an exciting educational innovation. From a heightened sense of responsibility, students will be motivated to accomplish greater feats in the future.

Our primary mission as educators is to prepare students to succeed in our rapidly changing society. This simple statement yields a very complex dilemma. We must prepare our students with skills and knowledge that are versatile enough to be useful no matter what path that student follows. As educators, it is nearly impossible for us to create enough lessons, develop enough courses or have enough knowledge for every student's personal educational needs. However, by allowing students to become the master of their learning experience and to explore their interests and discoveries, we can begin preparing them for their individual futures. This type of constructivist learning environment leads to the unique challenge of assessing student learning. This is where electronic portfolios enter the scene. Through the authentic use of portfolios, the opportunity exists for learners to demonstrate the learning journey that they underwent. In addition, portfolio assessment allows learners to demonstrate the knowledge that they felt was crucial to their learning voyage. Through a well-constructed and thoroughly documented portfolio, students can demonstrate their learning metamorphosis, chronicle their moment of discovery and prepare themselves for a bright future.

This article originally appeared in the 06/01/1999 issue of THE Journal.

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