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August 23, 2017

Measuring the Unmeasurable with Digital Portfolios

There are not many experiences that compare to commencement speeches, not only for students but faculty as well. An undoubted air of hope and expectation fills the room as speakers pass along advice for how to trudge forward in the world outside of college. Using their newly-earned college degree as a stepping-stone for a career they want to pursue, graduates are given a hint of empowerment that faculty can’t help but feel proud of. But, as the pomp and circumstance of graduation ceremonies fade with the passing summer months, educators are tasked with the less exciting challenge of student assessment.

Shifting Assessment Measurements

Evaluating the work produced by students throughout a semester or school year is no simple feat. Several rubrics exist that are aimed at making the process easier for educators, but these tools are more focused on tangible evidence of learning than they are other aspects of student success. Proof of communication skills, reasoning, and critical thinking are reviewed through the work students have left behind based on a core set of competencies developed by higher education powers that be. The unfortunate truth is that not-easily-measured strengths and weaknesses are overlooked or dismissed altogether in the process.

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Introducing: Student Digital Portfolios

Portfolios have become a more powerful tool in getting through the drudge of assessment season, allowing faculty to consider student samples in a more comprehensive way. Because portfolios are collections of work, evaluations, and specific products of learning, faculty have a greater opportunity to see how well teaching initiatives reflect certain student outcomes. Assessing work included in a portfolio goes beyond looking at the simple completion of class assignments. The collective nature of a portfolio also sheds light on the progress students have made toward lifetime education goals and improvement in competencies throughout their college tenure – measurements of student success that are intangible through other assessment tools.

 

The use of portfolios in today’s education environment invokes the use of necessary self-reflective assessments among students and a broader understanding of the far-reaching arm of learning objectives both in and out of the classroom. Students have the ability to include whatever they believe is relevant in a portfolio, including analysis of their own strengths and weaknesses in school, in professional development, and personal growth as well. The combination of these self-reflective attributes lay the framework for a more robust assessment of student learning, for educators and the students alike.

 

As the summer winds down and another semester is on the horizon, educators can look to portfolios for help in the assessment arena. While the process may not bring as much excitement as commencement speeches or graduation ceremonies, faculty can feel confident that the tools used to measure student learning outcomes and competencies are rooted in more than tangible, static metrics.

 

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