Portfolios allow students to demonstrate the quality of their work, much like artists do. A student portfolio is a systematic collection of a student's work to achieve a specific purpose. There are many types of portfolios, but for outcomes assessment in engineering the most useful portfolios are created by each individual student to achieve several purposes:

  • first and foremost, to demonstrate that student's achievement of program-level outcomes
  • second,
    • for students to do reflective self-assessment (i.e., thinking about one's own learning) which is vital to the learning process
    • to provide a program-level focus for student-faculty interactions in academic advising
    • as a means for students to showcase their achievements to potential employers

Such a portfolio requires that students compile and reflect on their best achievements during their program of study demonstrating that they have attained each specified program outcome. Note: A third purpose for portfolios, to document the learning process (growth and changes in attitudes), can be achieved in portfolios that require samples of work throughout a program of study. Such a developmental focus with reflections on the learning process is often deemed incompatible with the assessment focus of demonstrating achievement of program-level outcomes and reflecting on achievement.

Design and Implementation Issues

Based on actual portfolio projects, the SUCCEED Coalition developed guidelines for embarking on portfolio assessment in engineering programs. The following is adapted from their material. (Other guidelines have also been field-tested for science, math, and engineering instructors.)

Establish purpose and goals
Establish the purpose and goals for portfolios from three perspectives (the program, the instructors, and the students) so all will benefit.

Define the format and content of the portfolio
Carefully plan a standard portfolio format that will maintain consistency across students while allowing student choice. Choose a storage medium (paper or electronic) and a storage location.

Require a statement of purpose and table of contents. Specify requirements for the annotation for each entry (or artifact), including a date. Consider supplying "context statements" for annotating each portfolio assignment. Require entries that demonstrate both depth and breadth of achievement. Specify the number and types of entries to be included (such as homework, projects, and reflective writing).

Choose an approach for rating the portfolios (such as holistic or analytic rubrics). Develop the rating guide(s) that will be used for scoring. Determine if the rating approach is consistent with the format and content of the portfolios.

Establish procedures for scoring and reporting results
Answer questions such as:

  • Who will rate the portfolios? How will raters' time be secured for portfolio scoring?
  • Will the raters view only the portfolios or will they rate student presentations of their own portfolios?
  • How will raters be trained to ensure the scoring procedures are maintained reliably across raters?
  • How will raters combine their results, especially any detailed descriptions that may be desired?
  • Who will see the final ratings besides the student? When and where will students receive their results? When and where will other audiences receive results? For audiences in addition to each individual student, will results be reported in the aggregate to protect student privacy?
  • What format will the students and other audiences see the results in? How will ratings be reported (e.g., as final scores and/or detailed descriptions)? Because the aim of outcomes assessment is to communicate strengths and opportunities for improvement pertaining to attainment of program outcomes, will different audiences need different presentation formats? Consider presenting a table of numbers followed by detailed descriptions. The table could be the scoring rubric itself including tallies of how many portfolios received each sub-score. Detailed descriptions could summarize the aggregate view of strengths observed and opportunities for improvement.

Support students and faculty in the portfolio process
Support students. Embed advising, feedback and support strategies throughout a program of study for students developing portfolios. Use multiple methods to help students understand the purpose and benefits of portfolios. Find ways to encourage students to interact regularly with their portfolios, to review and revise entries, and to reflect. Restructure student and faculty time commitments to build in time for developing portfolios. Establish times for students to meet with faculty to review drafts and discuss feedback. Such meetings might be used as part of procedures (and policies) to ensure the authenticity of each student's entries in his/her portfolio.

Set deadlines for students to complete their entries and for faculty to complete their reviews.

Make a portfolio website that posts the rationale for portfolios, the requirements (for format, content, and process), the rating guide(s) to be used for scoring, and the procedures for scoring and reporting results. Refer all participants (faculty and students) to this central source of information.

Examples of Portfolio Assessment in Engineering Programs

A number of engineering programs have introduced program-level portfolios to assess attainment of outcomes:

Alternatively, portfolios can be used to

  • demonstrate attainment of a single program outcome, such as writing ability or
  • facilitate the process of achieving learning outcomes in a course or in a co-op experience.

Making Scoring/Grading Useful for Assessment