Monday, October 16, 2006

The Future of Electronic Portfolios: From Assessment to Accreditation

Significant changes are taking place in education. The ability to have almost all student work in electronic format, plus the development of dynamic databases, plus the progress of the internet (anywhere, anytime) are intersecting trends supporting electronic portfolios. There is also an increased interest in accreditation agencies attention to ongoing assessment of student work, and accomplishments of institutional goals. Will ePortfolios help with accreditation by providing ongoing assessment, and increasing accountability?

The Commission on the Future of Higher Education continues to edit their 2006 report; however the Commission currently calls for the creation of a “national accreditation framework,” and asks the National Assessment of Educational Progress be revised to measure students’ readiness for college and employment. The Commission also recommends accreditation agencies “act in a more timely manner” to get their reports done and distributed and to share any results with the public. As stated in the August 8, 2006 draft of the report:

We recommend that America’s colleges and universities embrace a culture of continuous innovation and quality improvement. We urge these institutions to develop new pedagogies, curricula and technologies to improve learning, particularly in the area of science and mathematical literacy. At the same time, we recommend the development of a national strategy for lifelong learning designed to keep our citizens and our nation at the forefront of the knowledge revolution. (p. 8)

Accreditation agencies such as the National Council for Accreditation for Teacher Education (
NCATE), ABET (the recognized U.S. accreditor of college and university programs in applied science, computing, engineering, and technology), and The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) have become more outcomes driven, requiring examples of student learning as well as an aggregation of assessment data for internal program evaluation. Some agencies are providing outcomes workshops for members ( encouraging immediate adoption of these new expectations.

The Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) President and Executive Director Ralph Wolff recently gave a speech claiming “We are moving from assessment to accountability. Shifting to National, State, and System levels as opposed to local, and assessment should be a systematic process about setting goals.” (LiveText Annual Meeting, 2006, Chicago Il.) WASC provides a workshop entitled Using the Accreditation Review Process for Institutional Transformation that embraces improvement, and asks the attendee to consider the accreditation process an opportunity to learning something rather than proving something, which is in line with the Commission’s suggestion for continued improvement. WASC also asks for key indicators of performance and evidence, including actual student work, and rather than a once-every-ten-years visit, it’s looking like accreditation will be a steady review, meaning data has to be more readily accessible than in the past.

George Lorenzo and John Ittelson, in “An Overview of E-Portfolios,” state WASC is encouraging institutions to use e-portfolios for accreditation, and notes the sample portfolios available on the WASC website. The authors consider student portfolios applicable for advisement, career preparation, and credential documentation. Teaching portfolios are for sharing philosophies and practices, and institutional portfolios might be used for department and program self-study or used in the accreditation process. When used in accreditation electronic information may be more visible as a website, making the report more accessible to the public thus increasing accountability. Data collected from the students’ portfolios and the institutions portfolios can be aggregated and compared over time to reveal how well standards are being met, with some institutions dedicating serious time to organizing rubrics which are used for data collection. This provides an opportunity for continual improvement as the institution, department, or professor collects, assesses, and reflects. Lorenzo and Ittelson also report on the advantages of lifelong e-portfolios and the potential benefits for career development. Their conclusion suggests ePortfolios may evolve to be as important as learning management systems (LMS) with enterprise-level implications.

Ali Jafari’s article “The “Sticky” ePortfolio System: Tackling Challenges & Identifying Attributes” was written in 2004 and is interesting because he has developed an ePortfolio system for Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis at Indianapolis, Indiana (IUPUI). He agrees the ePortfolio is a lifelong, personal space for collecting, reflecting, selecting, and presenting, and should be used to demonstrate and assess student learning. He astutely points out Deans and department chairs want to use ePortfolio systems for accreditation and external review. When he compares ePortfolio to LMS projects, he explains the success of LMS was based on the potential for providing classes online, thus a new source of income for the institution. The only source of income for an ePortfolio system may be through alumni organization who could potentially host and charge for services. Jafari’s main concern is that data integration between common management systems (CMS) and LMS, such as PeopleSoft and BlackBoard, is barely developing and to add ePortfolios, a third source of student data may not be the best option.

Jafari’s portfolio system at IUPUI was put to the test during their regional reaccreditation review with The Higher Learning Commission, A Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (NCA) in November, 2002. The review was very positive, with comments specific to the portfolio system. The NCA appreciated the clear performance indicators communicated through the ePortfolio, and the climate of collaboration. They credited the institution for making the information, almost all the supporting documents, available to the public on the web-based portal, demonstrating openness and integrity. They liked that stakeholders could all access consistent information. Their few suggestions included providing faculty mini-grants to pilot student portfolios, and adding portfolios to tenure and promotion evaluation. They would also like to see long-term tracking of graduates to see where they go, and an alignment of student identified outcomes evidenced through student work.

Trudy Banta wrote an article reflecting on this NCA review and IUPUI’s use of the ePortfolio system. In “Electronic Portfolios for Accreditation?” Banta suggests electronic portfolios may be the answer to outcomes assessment, offering evidence of students’ current status, and evidence of growth and development over time. She notes the development of an office of planning, evaluation and improvement which links performance to campus goals plus the lower cost of duplicating paper copies helped keep costs down for 2002 review. Online accessibility made information available for public scrutiny and IUPUI was commended for “the transparency of the evidence”; the quality of the information; the persuasiveness of presentation (links to evidence and illustrations); and connections between element. Unfortunately it seemed the review team did not always understand the features of the tool, some links were broken, and some found the abundance of information overwhelming. Reviewers suggested more summarizing, highlighting, and prioritizing. Frustration for the institution hit a high when they were asked to provide a paper narrative. Banta acknowledges the paper makes it easy to “highlight passages, make marginal notes, and mark a page worth returning to later.”

The need to have a paper copy and pen in hand when reviewing does seem to be an issue, but is it a generational issue? Will technology fix it? In “The use of E-portfolios to enhance student learning: a Faculty-level strategy and experience” by Allan, Zylinski, Temple, Hilsop, and Gray, the authors discuss the value of the students creating assessment output in web format. The student does the work, the tool collects the data. Student work was compared to the assessment criteria, and assessment was based on expertise in the subject, not graphic design. They implemented an ePortfolio in Life Sciences, provided general structure and training, and assessed the students twice during the semester. At the end of the semester the students presented their ePortfolio face to face. A web survey resulted in 40% response, with 67% agreeing the ePortfolio added valuable knowledge. Most of the negative responses were from “mature-age” students, with lower computer skills. They conclude this is a start for student-centered, learning oriented assessment, and are creating an ‘ePortfolio How To’ for faculty and staff.

Helen Barrett, a pioneer in the use of electronic portfolios, has long endorsed the idea that ePortfolios are by the students and for the students. In “Differentiating Electronic Portfolios and Online Assessment Management Systems” she worries many ePortfolio systems are for simply grading and record keeping. She provides a detailed chart comparing the electronic portfolio and assessment management systems in areas of purpose, data structure, data, storage, control of design and links, locus of control, skills required, and technology competency demonstrated. The chart does make a clear delineation, however improvements in current tools have blurred the line. She asks “Just because technology allows aggregation of portfolio data, should we succumb to this temptation?” This paper was written in 2004, and with the pressures of accreditation agencies this is a moot point: with the focus on accountability we have to aggregate data.

The Federal Government of Australia conducted a National Professional Development Program in 1994 – 1996, which funded the ‘Teacher Professional Development for Accreditation of Workplace Learning’ project. John Retallick and Susan Groundwater-Smith report on the project in “Teachers’ Workplace Learning and the Learning Portfolio,” written in 1999. Social changes that move us from industrial economies to knowledge economies increased the teacher’s responsibilities to include both maximizing formal learning opportunities for students, but also to enable their student to “become fully contributing citizens when they enter the adult world.” They wanted to encourage teachers to take advantage of opportunities to increase their knowledge while they worked. They first met with stakeholders then produced professional development guidelines for compiling portfolios. Workshops included subjects such as designing the learning portfolio, setting and managing of standards, and developing intercultural understanding of school and academic workplaces. They negotiated with the university so credit would be awarded for the portfolios, legitimizing workplace learning. Assessment was based on the standards for the course for which credit would be earned. Criteria included validity, authenticity, reliability, currency, sufficiency, and while there was a general structure each candidate was responsible for supplying appropriate evidence of learning.

It is important to emphasize here that the intention is not one of seeking to ‘prove’ that the project worked very effectively and achieved all of the outcome which were desired. Instead, the intention is to indicate the learning that has occurred during and as a result of, the project. (p. 56)

As a result of this study at least two universities offered Master’s programs based on compilation of a portfolio. The authors feel the project and professional learning portfolio allowed for the accreditation and validation of workplace learning.

1996 was also the year ABET went through accreditation reform now requiring skills for lifelong learning and productive contributions to the profession, employers, economy, and society. The focus was reoriented from institutional inputs to student outcomes. Yong Bai and Ron Pigott review the developed Technology Criteria 2000 (TC2K) and report on how they developed assessment methods that helped meet the new requirements. The report acknowledges that institutions previously could have waited the year before an accreditation review to prepare for the visit; however withTC2K institutions must demonstrate achievement through outcomes assessment, graduate career performance, and employer feedback. Institutions are also required to demonstrate continuous improvement by establishing specific educational goals, determining appropriate outcomes, and developing and implementing assessment methods to measure the outcomes. The Department of Engineering Technology at Texas Tech University developed a Professional Assessment Portfolio (PAP), and shifted from a teaching environment to a learning environment. Part of their PAP, as covered in this paper, consists of pre- and post course assessments with students. The assessments determine the need for remediation; assure the students were learning according to the goals of the course; and what improvement could make the course better. These were used to evaluate the course, not the students. The portfolio includes a total of 12 assessment methods and provides information on student learning and effectiveness of teaching, meeting the accreditation criteria in TC2K. The authors also suggest the department can use the results for continued improvement. While this report does not specify this was an electronic portfolio, it nonetheless supports documentation of ongoing assessment and continued improvement in order to meet accreditation standards.

Bullard and McLean’s paper “Jumping through Hoops?” discusses the use of teaching portfolios with geography teachers (students) for the purpose of assessment. They reviewed eight teaching portfolios and interviewed the authors. Bullard and McLean feel the portfolios provide an opportunity for senior teachers to help with problems expressed in the portfolios; problems with students and issues with resources and time management. The portfolios reviewed provided evidence of a reflective, experimental approach to teaching and teaching philosophies proving student centered conceptions of teaching. There is some discussion toward about the freedom these students had to write and reflect, and yet there is acknowledgement some type of framework may be necessary. Bullard and McLean caution the portfolio is only one piece of a developed teacher; previous experience, the training program, discipline and the institution also must contribute. This qualitative study emphasizes the need to know the goal of the portfolio, be it electronic or not.

Trent Batson’s 2002 article “The Electronic Portfolio Boom: What’s it All About?” is the one of the most cited document in ePortfolio studies. He considers the popularity in ePortfolios to be directly related to the intersection of three trends: most of student’s work is already in electronic form; the web is internet ready; database development allows dynamic websites. The ease of being online, the change in habits, and new norms of work have also contributed. Technology provides a way to have organized, searchable, and transportable work allowing “enormous possibilities for re-thinking whole curricula: the evaluation of faculty, assessment of programs, certification of student work, how accreditation works. In short, ePortfolios might be the biggest thing in technology innovation on campus. Electronic portfolios have a greater potential to alter higher education at its very core than any other technology application we’ve known thus far” (p. 1). Even in 2002 Batson saw the pressure from accrediting agencies who are ask for better organized and accessible student work. He discusses the potential benefits of having an ePortfolio such as tracking student work over time, aggregating student work to see group progression towards goals, assessing many courses to allow review of an entire program, and organizing curricula around professional standards. Batson uses the University of Rhode Island’s ePortfolio system in his writing class, providing a best practice for others to model. Students write a paper a week and put them together in a portfolio, after 10 weeks they can re-write three of the papers, allowing the student to reflect and incorporate new learning into their work. At the end of the semester they review their entire portfolio and can remove two papers. They write a final paper on how they’ve developed as a writer by referencing their portfolio. This practice allows the student to see their own improvement.

The AACSB sums up the importance of accreditation in their brochure aimed at businesses.

Assurance of learning to demonstrate accountability (such as in accreditation) is an important reason to assess learning accomplishments. Measures of learning can assure external constituents such as potential students, trustees, public officials, supporters, and accreditors, that the organization meets its goals. Another important function for measures of learning is to assist the school and faculty members to improve programs and courses. By measuring learning the school can evaluate its students’ success at achieving learning goals, can use the measures to plan improvement efforts, and (depending on the type of measures) can provide feedback and guidance for individual students.

The growing interest in ePortfolios is certainly inspired by requirements from accreditation agencies. The proper ePortfolio tool allows assessment of individual performance and aggregation of group data with a way to easily access information for evidence of student learning for assessment, accountability, and accreditation. The data is readily accessible for internal or external monitoring.

With ePortfolios students can see their own accomplishments, and benefit with a life-long learning component and work related resume potential. The lifelong ePortfolio provides the institution with an opportunity to follow graduates for longitudinal data on career paths. Faculty can use ePortfolios and data collected to assess effectiveness of teaching, and for tenure and promotion. Rubrics can tie specific assignments to standards or goals; assessment methods can monitor outcomes. If use of an ePortfolio leads to individual reflection and the aggregated data leads to institutional reflection then there is the possibility of continuous improvement, something every stakeholder desires.

AASCB Standards - Retrieved August 8, 2006.

ABET Mission, Vision and Strategic Plan Retrieved August 8, 2006.

Allan, G., Zylinski, J., Temple, V., Hilsop, J., and Gray, K. (2003). The use of E-portfolios to enhance student learning: a Faculty-level strategy and experience. In G.Crisp, D.Thiele, I.Scholten, S.Barker and J.Baron (Eds), Interact, Integrate, Impact: Proceedings of the 20th Annual Conference of the Australasian Society for Computers in Learning in Tertiary Education. Adelaide, 7-10 December 2003.

Bai, Y., & Pigott, R. (2004). Assessing Outcomes Using Program Assessment Portfolio Approach. Journal of Professional Issues in Engineering Education & Practice, 130(4), 246-254. Retrieved Tuesday, August 8, 2006 from the Academic Search Premier database.

Banta, T. (2003) Electronic Portfolios for Accreditation? Assessment Update, July – August 2003. 15(4), 3-4. Retrieved Tuesday, August 8, 2006 from the Academic Search Premier database.

Barrett, H. (2002). “Researching the Process and Outcomes of Electronic Portfolio Development in a Teacher Education Program.” Paper presented at the Society for Information Technology in Teacher Education Conference, Nashville, March 17-23. Retrieve Saturday, August 5, 2006, from

Barrett, H. (2004). “Differentiating Electronic Portfolios and Online Assessment Management Systems.” Proceedings of Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education Conference 2004 (pp. 46-50). Chesapeake, VA: AACE. Retrieve Saturday, August 5, 2006, from

Batson, Trent (2002) “The Electronic Portfolio Boom: What's it all about?” [Online]. Retrieved Saturday, August 5, 2006, from [20th July 2003].

Bullard, J., & McLean, M. (2000). Jumping through Hoops?: philosophy and practice expressed in geographers' teaching portfolios. Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 24(1), 37-52. Retrieved Tuesday, August 15, 2006 from the Academic Search Premier database.
Commission on the Future of Higher Education - Revised Draft Report, dated August 8, 2006. Retrieve Wednesday, August 16, 2006, from

Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. “Report: A Comprehensive Evaluation Visit” for the Higher Learning Commission, a Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools. November 18-20, 2002. Retrieve Saturday, August 5, 2006 from

Jafari, A. (2004). “The “Sticky” ePortfolio System: Tackling Challenges & Identifying Attributes.” EDUCAUSE Review, vol. 39, no. 4 (July/August 2004): 38–49. Retrieve Friday, August 3, 2006, from
Lorenzo, G., & Ittelson, J. (2005). An Overview of ePortfolios. D. Oblinger, ed., ELI paper, July 2005.

Retallick, J., & Groundwater-Smith, S. (1999). Teachers' Workplace Learning and the Learning Portfolio. Asia-Pacific Journal of Teacher Education, 27(1), 47. Retrieved Tuesday, August 15, 2006 from the Academic Search Premier database.

WASC workshops are listed on, with accompanying PowerPoint presentations as of 8/15/06