- About this project
- Learning outcomes in the biological sciences
- Principles of assessment
- Assessment types
- Key issues
- Curriculum matters
- Examples of Practice
Portfolios and reflective journals are examples of assessment tools designed to encourage reflective, self-directed learning. In both cases, students are responsible for reflecting on their learning and development over time. These assessment techniques are particularly applicable to the biological sciences where students are encouraged to reflect on their engagement with new knowledge in a range of contexts, including large lectures, laboratories and during fieldwork activities.
A portfolio is an organised collection of student work designed to represent students' efforts and academic achievements over a period of time. Portfolios are a powerful assessment tool that provide a record of accomplishments and encourage students to reflect on their progress and development in the biological sciences. Students typically take responsibility for organising their portfolio and selecting the most appropriate content, depending on the purpose of the portfolio assessment task (described in more detail below).
A reflective journal also gives students responsibility for recording their thoughts about learning in the subject. It is based on the premise that writing contributes to deeper learning and engagement with a subject, since it gives students the opportunity to clarify and reflect on their thinking. A reflective journal tends to be maintained regularly over a specified period of time. It may describe events, experiences or issues associated with learning, professional placement, fieldwork, or the like. Reflective journals encourage students to reflect critically on the process of learning and their development over time. A reflective journal may be included in a portfolio as a record of student learning [Example: Cooke 2].
In addition to being useful assessment tools, portfolios and reflective journals also provide invaluable feedback to academic staff about what students are learning and the depth of their understanding. This information, in turn, provides excellent guidance on ways to improve the curriculum and strategies for enhancing student learning in the subject.
Increasingly, portfolios and reflective journals are being developed in online environments. e-portfolios provide students with much greater flexibility in gathering, documenting, updating and maintaining the evidence of their learning over time. Similarly, online reflective journals represent greater flexibility and may be updated by students anywhere, anytime.
To be most effective, portfolios should be a purpose-designed collection that functions as a tool for critical reflection as students gather evidence to demonstrate the development of knowledge, skills and competencies, along with the transformation of attitudes and values that have occurred as a result of their learning in the biological sciences [Example: Peat 2].
Student portfolios may be used for different assessment purposes across year levels. For first year students, the portfolio may provide evidence of learning and an opportunity for self-reflection and assessment as learners come to terms with vast amounts of new knowledge in the biological sciences. As students move into later years of study, the portfolio may also be used to support career preparation, thus allowing them to showcase accomplishments that may be shared with prospective employers, or to document specific learning outcomes in a course of study.
Portfolios also allow academic staff to track student development within a course, to evaluate a course and to evaluate and monitor student performance.
There are four main types of portfolios or e-portfolios (adapted from Attwell, 2005; Prouse & Day, 2006).
This type of portfolio is primarily concerned with self-reflection and growth. This has most in common with the reflective journal. The student prepares the portfolio or journal and retains ownership of the document. Therefore the primary audience of this type of portfolio is the student, followed by others with whom the student chooses to share information, including academic staff members and peers.
This portfolio works as a more collaborative document, providing feedback and evidence of learning primarily to the academic staff member, but it may also be shared with peers. The purpose of this portfolio is to guide teaching and learning and to promote independent learning [Example: Ross 4].
For this type of portfolio, the academic staff member provides direction to the selection of contents. The primary audience for this type of portfolio is academic staff, university administration, external assessors or agencies (e.g. AUQA, review panels and professional organisations). The primary purpose of this portfolio is to provide evidence of learning, including graduate attributes and competencies developed in the biological sciences. This information guides the teaching, learning, assessment and curriculum development process.
This portfolio is produced collaboratively between the student and academic staff member. The primary audience extends beyond the university community to prospective employers or interview situations. The purpose of this portfolio is to demonstrate and highlight achievement, skills and abilities.
Assessment of reflective journals and portfolios should be underpinned by all the principles of good practice in assessing student work in higher education. As with any other form of assessment, the process will be determined by the goals of the task and intended learning outcomes.
Ensure a clear link between learning objectives, assessment and outcomes in your course. It is equally important to consider the role that portfolios and reflective journals might play in providing feedback in formative and summative contexts. If development of the biological sciences curriculum is underpinned by constructivist principles that value the benefits of self- and peer-evaluation, the portfolio offers even greater possibilities as a tool for learning and assessment.
Reflective journals and portfolios may or may not be formally assessed. Nevertheless, do not underestimate the amount of time it takes to read through/navigate and grade (if applicable) portfolios and reflective journals. It is important to design curricula and assessment tasks that specify the purposes of each task and criteria for assessment, whether formal or informal.
At the non-assessed end of the spectrum, journals and portfolios may be used as a way of offering students the opportunity to write about and compile evidence of their learning in a non-threatening way. These may be hurdle requirements (i.e., completion is compulsory and the goals of the activity are made clear to students, but no grades are awarded). Alternatively, you may assess these tasks in a range of ways, from criterion-based approaches, to satisfactory/non-satisfactory judgements.
[see also: Curriculum planning and review]
The journal can be used as a reference tool to help you monitor individual development and progress. If you plan to assess the journals, make the assessment criteria clear. You may provide feedback on some or all of the following areas:
Portfolios, particularly e-portfolios, offer unique opportunities to provide an array of feedback to students, ranging from comments stored in an online log to scores on assessment rubrics.
In the case of formative assessment, for instance, students may view the assessment responses online and respond by improving an e-portfolio work in progress and then seek further feedback from the academic.
The following guide provides a useful starting point for planning, development and assessment of e-portfolios (Challis, 2005, p.5). It also draws attention to some of the unique elements of e-portfolios, such as the use of multimedia and navigational elements. When you assess portfolios, you may provide feedback on:
In the case of both portfolios and reflective journals, students who are unfamiliar with this form of assessment often ask for more examples of the type that is required. Since these are not traditional forms of assessment, like multiple-choice items or extended essay responses, students may feel uneasy about exposing their thoughts and reflections. It is important to make your expectations clear.
As you consider using these types of assessment in your classes, remember that students appreciate:
Portfolios and reflective journals offer many benefits to students. For example, they:
Benefits for academic staff members include the fact that they:
Students' use of portfolio assessment and reflective journals helps to develop their:
Portfolios and reflective journals are good examples of authentic assessment methods. They encourage students to reflect on their learning and performance as a student and novice biological scientist. As students reflect on and document evidence of learning in fieldwork contexts, work placements or research lab experiences, for example, they develop the skills of deep reflection so fundamental to successful lifelong learning.
Reflective journals and portfolios may be used as follows:
See also 'Relevant examples' in right hand column
Attwell, G. (2005). Recognising learning: Educational and pedagogic issues in e-Portfolios.
Retrieved 25 May 2007 from: http://www.knownet.com/writing/weblogs/Graham_Attwell/entries/5565143946...?
Challis, D. (2005). Towards the mature ePortfolio: Some implications for higher education. Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology, 31(3).
Retrieved 7 May 2007 from: http://www.cjlt.ca/content/col31.3/challis.html
Prouse, J., & Day, B. (2006). Portfolios, assessment and reporting in the middle school. Paper presented at the Middle Years of Schooling Forum.
Retrieved 25 May 2007 from: http://www3.eddept.wa.edu.au/facilitiesandservices/laep/conferencePapers...
Siemens, G. (2004). ePortfolios.
Retrieved 25 May 2007 from: http://www.elearnspace.org/Articles/eportfolios.htm
Vuorikari, R. (2005). Social networking software and ePortfolios foster digital learning networks.
Retrieved 25 May 2007 from: http://insight.eun.org/ww/en/pub/insight/misc/specialreports/digital_kno...
To reference material from this site, please use:
Harris, K-L., Krause, K., Gleeson, D., Peat, M., Taylor, C. & Garnett, R. (2007). Enhancing Assessment in the Biological Sciences: Ideas and resources for university educators. Available at: www.bioassess.edu.au