Portfolios and Authentic Learning
In an earlier post, I wrote about our Instructional Design work with three of our online instructors in the MSEd Literacy concentration. This mapping and redesign project spurred enthusiastic discourse with both faculty and program managers about the role of authentic assessment in our graduate courses. These conversations led quite naturally to discussions about the role of professional portfolios in graduate level education.
Portfolios aren’t exactly new to education. In fact, K-12 teachers have used them as reflective assessment tools for decades. Nonetheless, they have generally been underutilized in universities in favor of more traditional assessment methods. In this, UNE has been ahead of the game.
On the one hand, we want our students to become skilled researchers who can articulate the major challenges, philosophies, and educational models that drive 21st century education. Yet, while research papers and rote exams may reveal a student’s knowledge of a subject, they rarely reveal what a student can do with that knowledge. For this reason, my IDS colleagues and I work with our subject matter experts – faculty members who are also research-practitioners in their field – to design activities and assessments that focus on the real work that professional educators and administrators do every day.
In many cases, this “authentic learning” manifests in the form of portfolios.
Our UNE MSEd and CAGS students will tell you that they do a lot of research, and, in fact, they do sometimes still write essays or create annotated bibliographies. However, their work doesn’t stop there. Instead, we strive to help our students use their research in the creation of deliverables that are authentic to their field.
At the end of their graduate program, UNE MSEd students complete EDU 695, a Portfolio course in which they showcase the work they completed throughout their time at UNE. Monique Roy, Assistant Program Manager for Graduate Programs in Education,says that students often find the experience to be a fulfilling one, as it provides them with an opportunity to reflect on their academic journey.
Roy says, “One of the biggest things I hear is, ‘I’m so glad I did this.’ The value add is seeing in a tangible way what they have accomplished. They really see how their ideas have grown over the course of their program.”
And the benefits of the ePortfolio go beyond self-reflection. The ePortfolio is also a valuable 21st century professional development tool that students can take with them when they leave UNE. In addition to being a storehouse of ideas, lesson plans, videos, strategies, and professional development tools, students can add to their professional ePortfolio as they grow in their careers.
Since a 21st century applicant pool for a teaching or administrative position will undoubtedly have multiple candidates with knowledge and professional experience, how a candidate frames that experience can make a big difference. In EDU 695, students have the opportunity to put their best foot forward, as they present themselves as tech-savvy problem solvers who understand the importance of research-informed practice.