What is a "Portfolio"?
We define a portfolio as a collection of work purposefully selected and intentionally assembled by a learner. The one piece of work that is required in all portfolios is an extensive reflective overview, a piece of writing that presents the portfolio contents to readers / evaluators and that explains why particular contents were chosen and what they are meant to show.
The portfolio is not an assignment. Instead, it is the way we evaluate your work on all the assignments and activities that you have engaged in during the portfolio period. The only piece of writing that you will do exclusively for the portfolio is the reflective overview. It is, in a sense, your argument for a particular grade on that portfolio.
An effective portfolio will most likely not include “everything” you do during that part of the course. One of the principles of portfolio assessment is that the learner takes an active role in choosing work to include. In other words, you are responsible for selecting evidence that you think best demonstrates your performance, your learning, your development of specific skills and knowledge; you are responsible for helping portfolio-readers understand your choices.
Recognize that your teachers are trying to introduce you to an advanced form of active learning, one that challenges you to take responsibility for your success. Your teachers will offer you more help than you want, but only after you have taken charge of the assignment. So share work in progress with your teachers and colleagues, ask them specific questions about the choices you have made, about the work you are doing.
We use portfolio assessment in the First-Year Program because we think it is the most effective way to evaluate the fullest range of work you do. In addition, with the portfolio process, you have considerable responsibility (and independence) in helping determine how your performance will be evaluated. Your choice of evidence helps with our evaluation, and your reflective overview (a central part of the portfolio) helps your teachers understand what you include as evidence and why you include it. In other words, the portfolio gives teachers a broader and deeper view of student performance and learning than is possible with single tests or with single pieces of writing. Also, the portfolio process supports the First-Year Program's emphasis on metacognition (thinking about thinking/learning), on "learning how to learn," and on learners being responsible for their own success.
We will be discussing portfolios more fully during the semester. Be sure that you ask questions if you are unclear about how we will use portfolios.