Alternative Assessment in Sakai: Part 3 - Portfolios and Peer Review

By: Wilma Hodges, Ed.D.

In Parts 1 and 2 of this series, we discussed alternative assessment strategies such as using short, focused quizzes, and incorporating game elements into the course for assessment purposes. In Part 3, we turn to the use of portfolios and peer review to assess learning.

Evaluate student work more holistically using student portfolios.

Portfolios can offer a more comprehensive view of student knowledge and skills. Since portfolios are collections of student work over time, they are also very useful in displaying the progress students have made throughout their studies.

There are many excellent eportfolio tools available today. However, many of them require additional cost for licensing or hosting, and they may also require significant setup in order to implement them effectively. The good news is, as long as the scope of your portfolio is somewhat modest, you don’t need a separate portfolio tool to collect and assess student artifacts. You can easily build lightweight student portfolios within Sakai for use in a particular course or program.

For course-specific portfolios, the Student Content feature of the Lessons tool provides a quick way for students to create their own portfolio collections within a class site. With Student Content, your students will be able to author their own pages and upload or link to presentations, projects, or other portfolio items. Better yet, Student Content pages can be made gradable, so the workflow for scoring student portfolio content is streamlined for the instructor.

Another option for student portfolios beyond a single course is allowing students to create individual project sites in your Sakai instance. As the site owner, each student would have site editing permissions in their own project site, and could easily create, upload, and organize their portfolio artifacts within the site. In this way, students can collect items across courses and throughout their academic career at the institution. Faculty or other evaluators can be added to the student project sites as needed. Upon completing their program, students have the option to export their portfolio content in IMS Common Cartridge format via Lessons, or zip and download their files via Resources.

One of the challenges of portfolio assessment is scoring them consistently. Portfolio content is often so varied and unique that it can be difficult to assess by a single measure. The use of Rubrics can help you define a set of common grading criteria and make it easier to rate student portfolios reliably over time and across courses and/or instructors.

Engage students in peer review activities.

Peer review is a great way to involve students in the assessment process. By taking on the “evaluator” role, students gain valuable experience in providing constructive criticism. Also, they get to see real examples of their peers’ work, which typically inspires students to internally review and assess their own projects in comparison.

And let’s face it - portfolio assessment can be quite time consuming. It’s tough to review collections of artifacts and provide rich, detailed feedback to large numbers of students. However, peer reviewers can provide much more feedback to a single student than you as the instructor can provide alone. Student peer groups can provide iterative feedback on their peers’ work in a way that scales effectively for larger classes. In other words, peer review can actually save you some time, which makes using these two techniques together a great way to help balance your grading load.

Sakai has several options to enable peer review. The Assignments tool has a Peer Evaluation assignment type which is perfect for reviewing and scoring peer assignments. The Lessons tool has the option to add gradable student comments to Student Content pages. Also, the communication tools in Sakai, such as Forums, Messages, and Commons are other ways for students to provide comments and feedback to their peers.

Remember, variety is the spice of life.

Alternative assessment strategies often work best when provided as part of a comprehensive course design. So feel free to mix and match, and experiment with different combinations of activities to align with different skills and objectives. Incorporating a variety of assessment techniques within a course allows you to balance the pros and cons of each method, and get a better overall picture of how students are performing.

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