Let’s Get Serious about Assessing E-Portfolio Here

So far I’m mostly been moving the sand in the box, seeing what I can build, what things can do, what happens if I kick the stuff around. And every time I find that the sand won’t do something, the admins come along and plug in a new shovel so I can make the sand do what I want it to do.

It’s time to start thinking seriously about mining data off the back end of the project.  (I’m just getting started.)

MySQL and Usage Stats

The back end of the web is, I must admit, one of the places where I’m still quite unfamiliar. It’s not a dark alley I fear so much as a space I haven’t explored enough – yet. I can upload stuff, make some mods to files on the server, etc. But manipulating and culling material out of a database is not my thing at all. And so I have some serious questions about what CAN and what CANNOT readily occur back there.

I’m thinking now about stats on my own usage of the AC over the last week or so.  Can the admin quickly pull that data to provide stats on such hypothetically meaningful information as:

  • How many posts have I made in my blog?
  • How many files have I uploaded?
  • How many times have I added a page, made an edit, etc?
  • How many comments have I made on others’ blogs?
  • How many friends to I have?
  • How many times have I logged into the AC?
  • How many edits have I made to the Mediawiki install?
  • How many widgets/plugins/etc have I activated? How many themes have I tried out?

Why does this matter?

I’m seeing that e-portfolio adoption is about much more than simply getting students to reflect on and upload work samples in their classes.   I think it is important to start to think about e-portfolio in terms of usage.  I’d like the system to be able to report, for example, that 250 students created 1200 pages, and commented on 400 posts in an academic year; that students, on average, friended 39 peers over the year; that students change their themes 7 times in a year on average, and that they add 4 widgets/plugins/etc.

MySQL and Portfolio Samples

At WordCampEd there was some serious discussion of assessing e-portfolio samples over time, with Bret Eynon raising perhaps the single most important assessment issue of the day:  If students can freely add to, subtract from, and edit their e-portfolio elements at any time, an effort to assess development over time likely to be highly problematic.  One possibility involves archiving e-portfolios each year, something that I think Joe suggested.

The possibilities here are fascinating.  Imagine not only evaluating a student’s writing and reflection at Year 1 and again at Year 4; imagine evaluating a student’s level of engagement with the platform, and level of engagement in the community.  NSSE surveys students about engagement on campus; this would potentially measure engagement on a whole different dimension.

My question for now is far simpler, while still being very important.  Is it a straightforward database query to pull, say, a random sample of 5% of the final papers from a freshman writing cohort, together with the students’ reflections on those samples?  (I imagine that the reflections would be in a Page, and the papers would be word docs or PDFs attached to the page.)


  1. Wow, great idea about giving the students the zip with 4 different snapshots. Then you’ve got a technique which can give institutional documentation–but also promote even *more* student reflection and metacognition.

    I think we need a team–maybe a development team of some kind in addition to a pedagogical team–working on making this happen. A snapshot plugin, which could do some of the database querying and assembling of snapshots with data and galleries, shouldn’t be too hard to write (says the man who doesn’t have anything like the skills required to write it).

  2. Nice meeting you at WordCampEd, and thanks for reading the blog! You’re not being curmudgeonly at all. I very much agree with you about the tensions (perhaps even contradictions?) here.

    Like you, I want students to make e-portfolios theirs, to carry them with them through and beyond college, and to embrace the central idea that learning is, in part, about reflecting on experiences (in and out of the classroom). This is why I really like the blog/document/social networking synergies, and why I’m interested in learning about the extra-curricular uses to which our students might put e-portfolios if we help establish them. It is also why I’m personally bothered by bland, limited option e-portfolio arrangements. (The repository/assessment model is not one I imagine students having much interest in contributing to, at least not outside of a classroom context. And I’m not sure it’s one I could muster the energy to advocate for at a local level.)

    At the same time, higher education is increasingly called to account for demonstrable learning outcomes. AAC&U’s VALUE initiative is working to get at some of this stuff in ways that offer an alternative to the hegemony of the standardized test, and their work uses e-portfolio. Out here at a senior college under tremendous pressure for improved CPE pass rates, improved retention of students, and improved graduation rates, we need to document our students’ educational achievements. E-portfolios provide the possibility that we can document these achievements through real examples of work completed in courses, something that I think is far superior to a rising junior timed exam.

    And if we put the students first in the process, there’s a decent chance that we can provide them with good reasons to be engaged in their portfolios. My queries about documenting usage, and about pulling samples to assess educational growth over time seek to get at just this stuff.

    I’m not interested in locking students into snapshots of themselves. But the idea of capturing a snapshot of an e-portfolio in a database archive, an e-portfolio Wayback Machine of sorts, strikes me as a fascinating possibility. Students remain open to develop, revise, alter their e-portfolios (they’re their portfolios, after all). And the institution would be in a position to document student development and achievement. (It might even be interesting to the student if he or she received a zip file with 4 different snapshots of the e-portfolio upon graduation, much like I can look at York’s website in different eras by visiting the Internet Archive.)

  3. I’m no Mysql expert, either. But yes, I do think that’s pretty straightforward.

    I would also speak from a more curmudgeonly (and privileged, I admit) viewpoint about the best (or maybe even appropriate) uses for eports. I really hate the idea of freezing content, or seeing these powerful student expressions primarily as a tool for them to be rated (or programs to be rated) or assessed.

    While I admit that these measures work better than standardized tests, I just feel that their primary power and use is for the students’ own self-representation and especially REFLECTION.

    Every time we focus on using eportfolios as a way to track or externally evaluate students, I shudder, because that focus moves us each time a step farther away from the students’ OWN values and experiences.

    Credentialling (of students or of programs) is definitely something we have to keep in mind. But it’s the least interesting, the least powerful, the least effective, and the least important purpose of education.

    I think that as we move towards school 2.0, the more we focus on credentialling and assessment, the more likely we are to miss the point of where things are going and where students are moving.

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