The Role of e-Portfolios in Formative and Summative Assessment

This report and a series of case studies has recently been released by JISC. The publications relate to eportfolio practice in Higher and Further Education contexts in the UK. While that in itself is quite far removed from the primary classroom in New Zealand, whenever the words formative and eportfolios are mentioned in the same line I am naturally curious, due to my own research into the relationship between the two.

Firstly some nuts and bolts stuff. The case studies unpack eportfolio practice in 34 institutions, asking a range a questions/prompts including the context to who is assessing the eportfolio, the tool used and its’ social networking ability and reference to the pedagogical support and summative/formative assessment implications. The question and prompts in themselves are quite focused and almost suggest a criteria of what should or shouldn’t be used in a successful eportfolio implementation. Regarding the tool used, the predominant option for eportfolios was either PebblePad or BlackBoard based with other options including Plone, Joomla, Elgg, Moodle, WordPress, ePet or a self developed in house system.

The report itself has some useful parts. The discussed benefits of eportfolios reinforce the concepts we already are familiar with. I found Table 2, the Matrix of e-portfolio functionality and pedagogical/administrative value against case studies the most useful as it cross references criteria to particular case studies in order to find out more.

Overall though I was disappointed with the reference to and discussion of eportfolios and how they were supporting formative practice. Maybe this comes from my definition of formative practice as opposed to those writing the report:

The terms ‘formative’ and ‘summative’ do not describe different types of assessment. They refer to the purpose of the assessment, the use to which it is put. The summative purpose of assessment is to identify educational achievement as a matter of public record, for use in selection and certification. The formative purpose is to provide information to the learner and others concerned with the process of learning about the learner’s progress, strengths and areas for improvement. Practitioners often refer to assessment used for formative purposes as ‘feedback’.

Or maybe that highlights the difference between the educational sectors, primary vs. tertiary and primary vs. secondary. I see formative assessment (better labeled as assessment for/of/as learning) as being distinctly different from summative assessment. Yes you can use summative assessment formatively, as is almost suggested above, but formative assessment is so much more than that. Student control, student ownership, student understanding. Yes feedback is a component of that as is the learner’s progress, strengths and areas for improvement, but so is effective questioning, co-construction, exemplars, peer and self assessments, ongoing reflections… how does eportfolio use in HE and FE support such strategies?

Are existing assessment structures and expectations holding these institutions back from letting go and giving ownership and responsibility over to the learner?

2 thoughts on “The Role of e-Portfolios in Formative and Summative Assessment”

  1. Hi, Nick,

    I have met several of the authors and have generally been following their work for some years. I respect their expertise and the care they put into their writings. However, I find the report little more than a regurgitation and collation of previous publications.

    My main criticism is that the report misses the point, in that it appears to promote the assessment of the construction and quality of an individual’s e-Portfolio rather than the use to which the e-Portfolio is put.

    Secondly, many of the HE/FE systems described are not true e-Portfolios but very often institutionally owned content delivery systems or assessment tools which should be a part of the institution’s VLE. I think that most teachers in schools recognise that unless ‘ownership’ of the e-Portfolio is clearly in the hands of the learner – with all the aspects of informal/experiential learning – then it does not really take on the most important aspect of self-representation or ‘This is ME!’

    What I want to know is HOW the e-Portfolio supports the progress of the learner, and, for that matter, how the teacher can benefit from the feedback off the learner.

    As I have refered to more than once in my blog, is that feedback is a two-way process as clearly identified in W.J Popham’s book, ‘Transformative Assessment’.

    See more at:

    Best Wishes,
    Ray T.

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