Portfolio as a tool for academic education and professional development: problems and challenges



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Partly**

Problems of substance



Status in program

6

6

-

Embedded in curriculum

6

4

2

Development and skills

6

2

4

Facilitating skills development

5

4

1

Value academic development

2

0

2

Professional problems



Stimulating reflection

7

5

2

Tutoring development

7

3

4

Change management

6

4

2

Rater reliability

3

3

-

Practical problems




Criteria for assessment

7

6

1

Providing credits

6

6

-

Value of adding assessed products

4

4

-

Technical aspects

4

3

1

Ownership and demands faculty

3

3

-

* Complete = number of respondents which recognise a problem completely

** Partly = number of respondents which recognise a problem partly
The new classification –if accepted- provides a new perspective on the collection of problems. This classification clarifies that the most recognised problem (lack of clear and transparent criteria for assessing portfolios) is in fact a practical problem, while the least recognised problem (value and need of explicit attention for academic development), is a substantial one. This is a positive outcome.
Less positive is the outcome that -according to the respondents- eleven of twelve programs faced one or more substantial problems. Each program is dealing with one ore more professional problems. And nine of the twelve involved programs have to deal with one or more practical problems.

4. Results literature study

Ten articles were selected to lay the foundation for a comparison with the empirical results described above. Firstly general problems are described (4.1); secondly, the attention is focused on the ‘electronic’ perspective (4.2).


4.1. General problems


Based on Woodward (1998) the following problems can be distinguished:


  • Whether or not to give a grade for portfolios. This could change both the content and the purpose of the reflection.

  • Recognition of ownership of the process.

  • Continuity throughout the process (working on a portfolio during a three years program).

  • Conflict between beliefs and reality and organisation of actual assessments.

  • The need that teachers understand the value of a portfolio.

Anderson and Bachor (1998) provide a summary of concerns in the educational measurement literature about portfolio use:



  • Standardisation of portfolio contents.

  • Level of agreement between judges.

  • Stability of estimates of student achievement

  • Rigour of standards used in evaluating the contents of portfolios.

  • Costs and feasibility of portfolio use.

Based on a literature study Wright et al (1999) see the following problems with learning portfolios:



  • Lack of good research evidence about their impact and costs.

  • Confusion about purpose.

  • Uncertainty about best practice – what to include, how often to review portfolios, relationship with other forms of assessment, who assesses portfolios, etc.

  • Insufficient teacher planning and preparation.

  • Reliability – insufficient evidence presented to be reliable (summative portfolios).

  • Reliability – lack of articulation of standards to be applied (summative portfolios).

  • Reliability – inter-rater consistency (summative portfolios).

  • Program portfolios seen as marginal by students.

  • Intellectually demanding (for students [and faculty]).

  • Student indifference and resistance.

  • Possible lack of skills by students in compiling a portfolio.

  • Portfolio development not seriously taken by faculty and/or lack the time to do so.

  • Direct financial costs (faculty training, program redesign, materials).

  • Lack of institutional commitment and support.

  • Incompatible with higher education systems facing intensification and overload.

  • Special issues with electronic portfolios.

  • Not used by employers and universities selecting students for postgraduate study.

They also formulate conditions for success. Transformed into difficulties and problems, the next overview can be created:



  • Poor connection with the goals and structures of a course or program, and with the used pedagogy. Students do not know clearly what the ‘rules of the game’ are; they do not see how portfolios are integrated to their undergraduate experience.

  • Small value because portfolios “appear as an afterthought to the 'real' business of mastering knowledge”.

  • Little advice or guidance for students in constructing portfolios.

  • Extra workload in a busy academic schedule.

  • No proportion between academic credit and the effort in creating the portfolio.

  • Prospective employers are not interested student portfolios.

Fournie and Van Niekerk (1999) evaluated the use of portfolio assessment for a module in Research Information Skills offered at the University of South Africa (Unisa), and they conclude that it was found very valuable. Although they mention several general problems, experienced by students and lecturers (e.g. based on literature study):




  • Some of the activities not clearly explained to students.

  • Students’ need for a workshop organised earlier in the year to support the completion of the portfolio activities.

  • Increased workload for lecturers if the study material and portfolio activities are not clearly and unambiguously written.

  • Not providing comments and/or continuous feedback on students' strengths and growth.

  • Not providing enough lecturer direction.

  • Possible controversies in grading.

  • Possible misunderstanding that a portfolio and portfolio assessment fits all purposes.

  • No absolute reliability of portfolio assessment. Portfolios may lead to controversy over issues such as the reliability and validity of the data collected as well as the standardisation of portfolio content.

In his research Klenovski (2000) found that lecturers and pre-service teachers identified “numerous difficulties and constraints associated with the use of portfolios for assessment purposes in a teacher education context”. According to Klenovski many of these problems were related to the assessment procedures and the grading system:



  • Lack of opportunity for lecturers to meet often to improve their understanding and adopt a more consistent approach to the grading of portfolios. Lack of time to meet with colleagues and learn from each other.

  • Insufficient clear framework and specified guidelines, so especially pre-service teachers would understand what was required of them. These guidelines include learning outcomes and suggestions of evidence suitable to address these outcomes, criteria to be used in the assessment of the portfolio, grade descriptors and exemplars that illustrate standards.

Zeichner and Wray (2001) see the following problems in the use of portfolios in teacher education:



  • Frequent conflict in purposes among teacher educators and their students. While students focus on the "showcase" aspects of portfolios to present a favourable image to prospective employers, teachers use the portfolio for professional development and/or assessment.

  • Ownership of the portfolio. “Leaving the construction of portfolios mainly to students has sometimes caused problems in both assessment and professional development (e.g., superficial reflection about teaching, limited evidence on which to base an assessment of teaching), but too tightly prescribing what goes into the portfolios has sometimes caused negative reactions by student teachers who, lacking ownership of their portfolios, are more likely to see them as something that diverts their attention away from their teaching and their students.”

  • Deficit perspectives about low-income students or colour brought in by teacher education students to their education programs. This prevents them from successfully teaching these students. This issue can be also a constraint for the development of a portfolio (especially reflection). Some amount of structure provided by teacher educators in teaching portfolios and other vehicles for promoting reflection are needed to confront student teachers with some of the difficult issues that have to do with race, social class and inequality. Providing this structure conflicts with the ownership. Furthermore, it implies the possibility "to go too far in this direction which raises the issue of indoctrination".

  • Difficulty to stimulate students to work on their portfolios over time (e.g., a course, a field experience) rather than producing it just before the exam. A portfolio is the result of a long process, not a product that has been developed in a short period.

  • Not much evidence on the nature and quality of reflections that emerges under different conditions of portfolio use.

Van Tartwijk et al (2004) formulate three conditions for success in implementing (electronic) portfolios. These conditions imply the following problems:




  • No match with the goals of the curriculum.

  • Insufficient managerial support of the educational change which using portfolios implies. There are no authentic learning situations used, there is no opportunity for individual development, there are no investments in coaching and alternative assessment.

  • No added value of working with portfolio in the perspective of teachers and students. They are not willing to invest the relatively large amount of time and energy in working with portfolios.

Driessen et al (in press) have researched the conditions for successful reflective portfolio use in undergraduate medical education. Based on their findings it can be concluded that obstacles for successful reflection through portfolios are:



  • No adequate coaching available to stimulate reflection, to motivate students and to help them formulate learning needs and learning plans.

  • No suitable structure and guidelines for students. Driessen et al (in press) conclude: “Although weaker students needed structure and guidelines, too much structure may become an obstacle for students with good reflective skills. These students should have more freedom in compiling their portfolios.”

  • No opportunity for students to have a sufficient variety and quantity of interesting experiences as subjects for reflection.

  • Reflection not seriously taken by students and teachers if there is no summative assessment.


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