Using Portfolios for Student Assessment — and Five Tools to Try

You’ve worked your way through your lesson plans. You’ve covered a topic in depth, and it’s nearing the end of the semester. You want to assess students’ knowledge and see the connections they’ve made. Rather than doing a cumulative exam, how about having them create a portfolio to showcase what they’ve learned?

Portfolios are a way to see how students connect what they’ve been taught, usually with their own personal flair. Portfolios can include papers, lessons, presentations, reflections and more. They can be multimedia rich, using design as another modality to share what they’ve learned, or they can be purely textual.

Some fields use portfolios as evidence of learning by default. For example, an art class might lead to students building a body of work, artist’s statement and all. For coding classes, a collection of commits on GitHub can represent a portfolio of projects. Either way, a portfolio is a chance for students to practice curation in addition to synthesizing materials into something new, including a final reflection.

Edutopia has written about digital portfolios here, touching on a big concern with these sorts of assessments: privacy. Depending on the students’ ages (for example, if they are in the K–12 system or in college), there might be information that can’t be shared. For projects out in the community, image releases might be a concern.

In addition to portfolios being a way to share evidence of learning (and to practice reflective metacognition), they work well for hybrid and online classes. Portfolio requirements can shift to better fit a course’s needs — less time in the classroom might mean fewer sample projects and more reflection, for example. There are many tools available for “digital” or fully online portfolios.

Want to have students create portfolios? Here are five ideas for tools that you can use.

1. Google Sites

Google Sites is a good option for schools using Google’s Workspace, as students will already have Google logins. Depending on your school’s default privacy settings, students may need to be careful when publishing their portfolio so as to not share the site with the internet at large. Google Sites can be shared with teachers directly if privacy is a concern.

Non-Google schools can also use Google Sites as a portfolio platform: with a Google account, anyone can create a free site, embedding Google Docs and Slides and otherwise organizing content. Students can link to coding notebooks, share videos or create image galleries. Google Sites is easy to use, even for students who’ve never created websites before.

2. Microsoft OneNote

A OneNote notebook can serve as a media-rich eportfolio tool, connecting to Microsoft logins and using tools from the Office ecosystem. OneNote doesn’t require a stable internet connection if the program is installed, which can be helpful for students who rely on public Wi-Fi or hotspots. OneNote notebooks can include all types of files — not just text and images, but embedded videos and recorded audio as well. Like a physical notebook, pages can be organized with dividers, giving students more practice in curation and in practicing the delivery of their rhetoric.

3. LMS tools

Depending on your school’s LMS, or learning management system, there may be some tools already available. For example, the Canvas LMS includes the ePortfolio tool. This tool connects to students’ LMS logins, making account creation unnecessary. A built-in wizard helps students build their portfolios. Design is limited, but for purely academic portfolios — bodies of research, or evidence of skill building through lab reports and other written assessments — these sorts of LMS-based tools are convenient. Search for information on your LMS and “portfolio” or “eportfolio” to look for possible options.

4. Coding notebooks

This option is more subject specific, but for STEM classes, having students provide evidence of learning through code snippets gathered into a notebook is both convenient and, depending on the tool used, powerful in its capabilities. For example, Mathematica notebooks allow for embedded objects, comments (useful for reflection or elaboration) and organization through code blocks. Coding notebooks, while useful as standalone portfolios, can also be combined with other tools above (like having students load files onto Google Drive to share via Google Sites).

5. Media tools

This is a broad category, but it’s worth mentioning, particularly for fields that are heavily visual or kinetic, such as dance. Portfolios don’t have to be fancy; a student dancer could create an unlisted YouTube playlist of dance recordings, for example. If privacy is a concern, Vimeo can be used for single videos, offering an option for adding a password. Videos can be created with tools like WeVideo (free and online), iMovie, video-editing apps and more.

Media tools could be best used for capstone projects, which often combine qualities of shared work and reflection. While perhaps not a “portfolio” in the strictest sense, a capstone project nonetheless provides similar benefits. What about having students create a capstone podcast including parts of their work and newly scripted information? Or even a final reflection video?

For more tool options, check out this guide by Common Sense Education. It includes some of the resources shared here, plus many others. This post from educator John Spencer includes tons of ideas on the assessment itself, as well as thoughts on why portfolios are valuable (and why having students choose the portfolio tool might be the better idea).

About the blogger:

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Picture of author

Jesika Brooks

Jesika Brooks is an editor and bookworm with a Master of Library and Information Science degree. She works in the field of higher education as an educational technology librarian, assisting with everything from setting up Learning Management Systems to teaching students how to use edtech tools. A lifelong learner herself, she has always been fascinated by the intersection of education and technology. She edits the Tech-Based Teaching blog (and always wants to hear from new voices!).

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