How might we create new assessments and evidence learning through a portfolio of work?

Ed Charlwood explores the history and future possibilities of evidencing learning through a portfolio of work

Ed Charlwood  Head of Design at Nottingham High School; Subject Knowledge Assessor at Teach First

Portfolios have a long history in education and have been both in-and-out of vogue; you may recall the red-booked National Record of Achievement of the 1990s or remember carrying around a bulging A3 Art folder. The word portfolio derives from the Italian word portafoglio. Historically it was a case or folder for carrying loose papers or pictures. Da Vinci famously created reams of pages and curated notebooks of sketches, notes, preparatory drawings and diagrams. 

A modern portfolio is a compilation of materials that exemplifies skills, qualifications, education, training and experiences. An e-portfolio (or electronic portfolio) is a compilation of assets curated by students, but in a digital format. An e-portfolio can include digitised versions of ‘analogue’ work, for example, a digital photo in .jpg format of a hand drawn image but also solely digital work, for example CAD models, audio files, video as well as digital badges and credentials. 

Exam boards require a portfolio of evidence for D&T, Art, Computer Science, Geography, Drama amongst others for the Non-examined Assessment (NEA) and many schools currently are in the strange position of creating digital portfolios only to then save it as a PDF or print it out for submission. The HPQ and EPQ (Higher/Extended Project Qualifications) require evidence of planning, research, analysis, synthesis, evaluation and presentation skills.

To external stakeholders creative subjects are often judged by outcomes – a made object, a finished food dish, recital or an essay – and the process of its creation either evaporates or proves too cumbersome and time consuming to capture.

‘Sprezzatura’ is another Italian word that first appears in Baldassare Castiglione’s 1528 The Book of the Courtier, where it is defined by the author as “a certain nonchalance, so as to conceal all art and make whatever one does or says appear to be without effort and almost without any thought about it”. The outcome of a piece of work – a lab report, a painting or a presentation – can be seen through this lens, regardless of the process of crafting, drafting, struggle, redrafting, editing and rearranging that created it. 

By assessing the process of a piece of work as well as the outcome teachers can emphasise the importance of the struggle and the value of iterations. Feedback loops become visual and over an extended period of time students can reflect on their long term progress. Because digital work can be endlessly added to students can create a rich, personalised, multi-year, searchable resource.

Latymer Upper School and Nottingham High School have had great success with making the e-portfolio the focus of parents evenings. To facilitate this a homework task is set before a parents evening date; to show the parents the e-portfolio and discuss the completed examples of work they are proud of (the “showcase”) and also some of the records of process of work were the outcomes were more more ephemeral (the “workspaces”). The discussion with parents is therefore shaped around the work and how the student can improve either their processes or their outcomes, or both. 

When considering how to assess an e-portfolio it is important to differentiate between two aspects; firstly the e-portfolio is a container of assets (e.g. sketches, presentations, essays, proof of drafting etc) that you would assess normally and secondly, and at the same time, the e-portfolio is an asset in of itself that can be assessed for factors like clarity of communication, layout and visual appeal.

Rubrics can be deployed as a useful tool for assessing eportfolios holistically, for evidence of self-reflection, responses to feedback or to evidence progress in a certain area.

At this inflection point of near ubiquitous use of technology in the classroom many of the barriers to creating e-portfolios are dissolving. Within digital authoring software tools most have in-built version histories or add-ons like Daftback provide visualisations to track changes in documents as they progress. New digital tools like 4G connected phones with HD cameras and cheap wireless laptops now make the previously cumbersome process of capturing the development of a piece of work intuitive and efficient. 

Getting started will mean choosing a tool, and this will depend on your own circumstances. Google Sites are free, simple, effective and intuitive while a paid options like Wordpress or Wix will give you a highly customizable platform but might require more advanced coding skills. All of these tools have extensive self-paced tutorials and training available. 

Is now the time to explore how an e-portfolio can be used to support teaching and learning in your school?


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