Friday, October 16, 2009

Limitations of Portfolios

Today, Shavelson, Klein & Benjamin published an online article on Inside Higher Ed entitled, "The Limitations of Portfolios." The comments to that article are even more illuminating, and highlight the debate about electronic portfolios vs. accountability systems... assessment vs. evaluation. These arguments highlight what I think is a clash in philosophies of learning and assessment, between traditional, behaviorist models and more progressive, cognitive/constructivist models.
  • How do we build assessment strategies that bridge these two approaches? Or is the divide too wide?
  • Do these different perspectives support the need for multiple measures and triangulation?
(It reminds me of the current culture clash we are seeing in our larger society today. Is this the equivalent of a red-state/blue-state perspective on assessment/accountability?)

My viewpoint on assessment is through my work with e-portfolios, which are not always developed for the purpose of assessment or accountability. My track keynote at the Assessment Institute in Indianapolis on Monday, October 26, is on "Balancing the Two Faces of E-Portfolios." Those two faces are:  the "portfolio as workspace," a formative approach to support learning with feedback for improvement; and the "portfolio as showcase" of achievements, often used for summative assessment, accountability, or marketing and employment.  I am concerned with the "opportunity cost"* of using ePortfolios for summative assessment.
  • What is the opportunity cost of emphasizing accountability in portfolios over reflection and deep learning?
  • What learning opportunities are we missing when we completely structure a learner’s portfolio, as often happens in many of the commercial e-portfolio tools in use today?
*opportunity cost: the alternative you give up when you make a decision…the cost of an alternative that must be forgone in order to pursue a certain action

1 comment:

Brian D-L said...

Portfolios are collections of artifacts that reflect student work in specific contexts. Presumably they likewise reflect their developing abilities and understandings over time.

Those dismissing the effective use of such portfolios for rich and meaningful learning assessment seem stuck in an imagination shaped by the technological tools of the social/behavioral sciences of, at best, the mid-20th century.

Instead, we have to begin to imagine the possibilities of learning assessment, informed by today's burgeoning technologies of information and communication.

The "bridge" we might be looking for between perspectives might be more like mashups-- drawing rich meaning from a range of otherwise disconnected sources of "learning evidence."

In this information age with our growing capabilities around the gathering and processing of diverse and disparate data (via web 2.0 technologies, cloud computing, relational databases and more) these growing collections of "learning evidence" seem ripe for new means of reading and analyzing their value.