Category Archives: Formative Assessment

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?

ePortfolios: Student Feedback on Learning

My formal teacher inquiry for the year is continuing to develop, not a fast as I would have liked but none the less there is progress. The broad goal of the inquiry is to increase quality feedback from parents in the students’ portfolios, and therefore contributing to improved student achievement. We know that feedback has a huge impact on improving student learning through the research from such people as Hattie, Black and Wiliam and Clarke. Our AP at school has also blogged about it here highlighting our school’s belief on the importance of feedback.

Last term focused on getting the students involved in giving each other quality feedback on their peers learning. This was structured, modeled and discussed with the students and success criteria co-constructed.

The students suggested and agreed that quality feedback would:

  • tell them how to get better
  • give positive comments as well as advice on how to get better
  • use the success criteria to guide your comments
  • make the comments easily understood

A great start to providing quality feedback! Time was specifically set aside for the feedback to take place. It was planned for and valued rather than a last minute or accidental.

Here are some examples of what it looked like in practice:

I think that your art is great!!!! I really like your quote. You didn’t have any dead space and it doesn’t look like you have rushed it. You also have the same style writing as Colin McCahon. Next time you should blend your colours more. :-)

I really like your Colin McCahon art work. I like how you put your picture into three different segments but you could have used a thinner brush and made it a bit more smooth.

I think that you kept it really simple, you used a great range of colours!
Next time I think you could blend your colours a bit better.

Hi, I think that your Colin McCahon art work is really good but I think that you could have blended a bit more and use more colours. I like it how you used lots of sections and I like your colours.

Your crossword was a bit challenging some of the clues I didn’t really get but I figured it out in the end. I think you need to make your clues a bit more easier next time.

I think that it was great because it was hard but not to hard. Next time I think that you should have photo of a snake as well.

Wow that was hard. Your colours where good and you had interesting words and great synonyms. You needed to have picture that were related more to the thing you were talking about.

These are just a selection of some really great examples of student feedback.

So where to now?

The inquiry focus in the classroom context will be to make seeking and receiving peer feedback a natural part of the learning process. At the moment this is very much a teacher directed part of their learning. The second focus of the inquiry leading into the term is with the students themselves taking their understanding of how to give quality feedback home to their parents and involving them in giving quality feedback on learning.

I look forward to the students taking on board the role of the teacher in engaging their parents in this process.

Google Docs, Student Writing & Feedback

Our Education Edition of Google Apps allows access to the suite of apps not only for the staff at school but also the students. All students in my class have their own account allowing them to use Gmail, Chat, Docs, Video, Sites and Calendar within our domain.

Students exclusively use Docs for their formal written language. While the initial planning or brainstorming phase may or may not be completed digitally, the complete draft-share-feedback-improve-publish-share process is completed within the Google Apps environment.

We have a school-wide approach to giving feedback on written work, where highlighters are used to indicate where or how a student has met the success criteria (gold) or areas that can be improved (pink). We use the phrases Gold for Goal and Pink for Think to reinforce this process.

Due to the process being completed digitally and the availability of colours in the Docs highlighting palette, I have extended upon the use of gold and pink highlights to include blue and red for the students to use in their self-assessment reflection cycle. These are shown below in the image I generated for use as a poster around the classroom.


The whole process is made manageable and possible by the sharing function built in to Docs. The simplified process looks like this with examples below:

  1. Student writes 1st draft of writing and checks independently against the success criteria. Improvements made.
  2. Student shares writing with teacher (or another student).
  3. Teacher/student highlights text as required in pink or gold and provides additional written prompts to improve writing.
  4. Posted to eportfolio.
  5. Student improves writing as per teacher/student feedback.
  6. Student completes own assessment with blue and red highlights.
  7. Posted to eportfolio.

Writing with teacher highlights:

Writing with student highlights:

The process works extremely well in terms of a reflective learning cycle. I will stress however that this process does not replace face to face feedback and conferencing. It is perhaps best viewed as a checkpoint in the learning to formalise some of the ongoing learning conversations. The process also clearly indicates how a student responds to feedback and guidance on how to improve their learning.

I think this is a really good example of how Web 2.0 tools, when grounded in sound pedagogy, really do help facilitate improved learning. I would recommend you give it a go even if you only trial it with a small group of children!

ePortfolios and Formative Practice on EdTalks

The 2008 eFellows all met up for the final time last week. While tying up any loose ends and finalising our research we all managed to squeeze in a videoed discussion on our research or a related topic for the EdTalks site. Not expecting to see my video online until next year I was surprised to see that it is ready to go.

I have not had a chance to view it yet but will get on to it straight away thanks to the free WiFi at the Rangiora Library.

Nga Tii Roa

I have spent the last three days working with the Nga Tii Roa Learning Cluster in the Bay of Plenty. The schools involved (Otamarakau, Pongakawa, Rangiuru, Te Ranga, Pukehina and Paengaroa) are currently part of an EHSAS cluster focusing on enhancing writing standards and assessment for learning. They are interested in using eportfolios to help facilitate this development.

This was a follow up visit from a teacher who attended my ULearn08 workshop last month. We began with an after school session for the whole cluster and then day two was spent with lead teachers and those with a particular interest in developing eportfolios within their schools. A couple of teachers also joined us from Lynmore School.

This proved to be a valuable session with lots of discussion about the purpose of the eportfolios and looking at the best tool for the job. I used the following slides to generate a discussion on how an eportfolio has multiple purposes due to the different perspectives that the stakeholders bring. Before you can select the appropriate tool you need to make sure it meets all of the purposes. Fit the tool to the purpose not mould your purpose to fit the tool. The third slide shows the criteria we used when selecting our eportfolio tool.

This all came from several other discussions I have had when talking about Dr Helen Barrett’s portfolio characteristics. Here she describes portfolios that have characteristics of assessment for learning or those of assessment of learning. She advocates in this white paper that in order for a portfolio to be formative the:

Purpose of portfolio agreed upon with learner.

I argue that it is not this concise and that the purpose of a portfolio is multi-dimesional. The purpose of a portfolio for a parent can be significantly different than the teacher and students. This is particularly so with younger students who see the purpose of the portfolio to, “Show Mum and Dad what I have been learning.” Trying to negotiate and agree on the purpose of the portfolio as being an embedded tool that helps them to become self-regulating and self-directed in their learning is a little to abstract for them.

Our eportfolios fulfil a number of purposes and not all of these the student can articulate but this does not make them less formative. They are still student-centered and student-directed and feed forward to improving student learning. They are eportfolios that facilitate assessment for learning despite the fact that the purpose is not necessarily agreed upon with the learner.

Was is important is that the teacher, who facilitates the process, bases what is happening on sound pedagogical strategies and while the student may not understand or see this purpose until they are older and more aware of their learning, it under pins the whole process.

One thing that is certain is that Barrett’s comparison of digital portfolios that are either formative or summative never fail to generate a good discussion.

I also had the opportunity to work with the Te Puke Principal’s Association giving them an overview of my research and the outcomes. We had difficulty establishing an Internet connection on their machines so we used a Hot Potatoes quiz I had saved locally instead of a Google Docs form. Some of them wanted to use this with their staff so here it is.

uLearn08 Workshop Presentation

Here is an abridged version of my uLearn 08 workshop presentation, minus any audio or video content, activities, links and of course the all important commentary. If I have time, a slidecast version will be added in the future.

Any feedback would be welcome either here or on SlideShare.

View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: 2.0 web)

Look no further than Google Apps for eportfolios?

Helen Barrett in her latest blog entry has made a big claim regarding Google Apps, formative assessment and eportfolios.

I am now convinced that in GoogleApps (Sites, Docs, etc.) I have found the best free Web 2.0 tool for maintaining an online personal learning environment that can be used for formative assessment in education.

I have a lot of respect for Helen Barrett and have used and referenced her work and research many times. However on this occasion, I do not fully agree.

Google Apps are fantastic. They continue to offer new apps and improve on existing ones all for free. I would be lost without my gmail, docs, calendar and reader. If you were to take a snapshot of my personal learning environment (PLE) and time spent in various web 2.0 tools, GoogleApps would far and away take up the largest slice of the pie.

However, my experiences with Google Sites as a means for pulling together all the strands of an eportfolio for the students at our school, were not entirely successful. I base these thoughts on the set of criteria we developed in order to select the eportfolio tool that best fit what we required to support teaching and learning.

If I take one of the criteria, based on the concept that viewers should not have to click links and download files, it should just be there, embedded waiting for the play button to be clicked…

Ability to demonstrate learning: The ePortfolio solution needs to be able to display (show within the portfolio not provide a link to file) all the possible media that the students will generate or want to share. This includes but is not limited to: podcasts and movies (m4v, m4a, mov), documents (pdf), images (jpg, png, gif) and embedding Web 2.0 content.

In my experiences with Google Sites, this is not possible. Embedding Web 2.0 content just doesn’t seem to work, apart from Google related products. This has caused me many frustrating moments as the embed code is stripped for other content. Again, Google Sites is a great product but are we trying to fit an eportfolio in a package that doesn’t really work?

Regarding the statement of GoogleApps and formative assessment, any tool that supports feedback, reflection and commenting can theoretically support formative practice. However, when one looks at Barrett’s process for developing eportfolios using Google Sites, what I believe is one of the most important aspects of a formative eportfolio, the student acting on feedback and their own assessments to improve their learning, only gets a passing comment at the very end.

The portfolio developer should be given the option of updating the work, based on the feedback and the rubric.

I see formative assessment as being cyclic in nature with the student action as I described above central to the process. After all, self-direction and self-regulation by the student are two very important outcomes. The following diagram (click for larger version) was developed to reinforce this point as part of the big picture of developing eportfolios for learning.

So what do you think? Is the student action component as important as I believe? Are the GoogleApps really the best solution despite my reservations? Let me know!

eLearning and ePortfolios

I presented to a group of Hawke’s Bay principals today on how how my research and implementation of eportfolios is beginning to effectively pull together the strands of elearning, assessment for learning and the NZ Curriculum. This will be increasingly so as the process of facilitating learning through eportfolios is increasingly embedded in the teaching and learning process.

eLearning ePortfolios

View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: assessment formative)

When putting this presentation together I used the coloured pencil as a visual metaphor for the themes and elements of elearning, assessment for learning and the NZ Curriculum. There are lots of different coloured pencils out there just like there are lots of options for designing your schools curriculum delivery model…