Monday, March 26, 2007

Showcasing Thinking in Portfolio Assessment

Published ten years ago, Bonita L. Wilcox’s English Journal article “Writing Portfolios: Active vs. Passive” may seem irrelevant to a discussion of the exciting possibilities of electronic portfolios (e-portfolios). The tension between teacher-driven, showcase portfolios and student-driven, reflective portfolios that Wilcox describes foreshadows the relationship among the three e-portfolio systems described in Kathi Yancey’s “Postmodernism, Palimpsest, and Portfolios: Theoretical Issues in the Representation of Student Work” (online assessment systems, print uploaded e-portfolios, and Web-sensible e-portfolios).

Wilcox constrasts active and passive portfolios:

While the passive portfolio sits on its laurels, the active portfolio is a place to record, collect, and fine-tune thinking as perceptions and ideas are formulated and reformulated. A passive portfolio is a “showcase” portfolio out of the writer’s hands, while an active portfolio is a “working” portfolio which changes and grows with new input as it creates and generates new output. The learning is in the process itself, and teachers need to show students how to think about that process more carefully. (34)
Wilcox’s active portfolio is a place where thinking happens, rather than a place where finished thoughts are archived—and that is precisely the kind of interaction that Web-sensible e-portfolios can support. Yancey describes the kind of student who authors such an e-portfolio as “one who can make multiple connections and who creates depth through multiplicity and elaboration, who can work in visual and verbal and aural modalities, who can offer a reader multiple narratives extending ever outward” (751).

Like Wilcox’s active portfolio, the e-portfolios that Yancey describes are a place where thinking happens. If the educational community can create the environment that supports portfolio galleries that showcase the thinking and reflection that students do, we’ll be well on our way to the best practice in e-portfolios.

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