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POT Cert Week 4: designing authentic learning with ‘real’ people – a portfolio approach

Continuing to develop the topic of course design, this week’s POT Cert task was to read in Ko and Rossen the second part of Chapter 3: Course Design and Development and to consider which elements of course design you’d want to build into your course.

The chapter explained that this crucial stage involves ” the actual creation of a syllabus, class schedule, content, exams as well as activities the class will follow” (p.63), and that these activities can be divided up into the following categories

  • instructor generated content and presentation
  • discussion/interaction/communications
  • group-oriented work and student-centred content
  • research
  • assessment

It was also re-iterated that course goals and objectives should already be drafted before proceeding with your course assembly.

With regards to my objectives, Jim Julius, commenting on my post last week, advised me to think through the kinds of assessments I might use in order to clarify a deeper set of objectives for my learners. As I’m taking a holistic view of digital literacies within my course, which not only promotes amongst  learners critical engagement with the topic but personal reflection on their own digital literacy practices, I’m minded to design my course with a portfolio method of assessment. I like this idea because a portfolio can demonstrate not only knowledge but skills and attitudes too, and it seems to resonate with the “life skills” approach that I’d be happy to take. The key to this method of assessment though appears to be “planning an adequate variety of activities” (p.85) from which the learners can assemble a portfolio of their work.

So now the question is what array of activities will best constructively align with my objectives and this method of assessment? At this stage my answer is  fairly generic, ‘any that promotes active learning and learner autonomy’. It’s a work in progress.

However, as the course is aiming to be fully online the element that I’m determined to build in and develop throughout is the sense of authentic learning with ‘real’ people. So I must work hard to develop not just activities for assessment but ways to develop the high degree of  familiarity, trust and interaction necessary so that meaningful discussion and effective group work can take place. It is noted that ” group organisation and working procedures take longer to develop in the online environment” (p.77).  Thankfully, there are some useful ideas for developing this aspect of course design; namely, a personalised introduction to the course or instructor via audio or video, ice-breaking activities, paired chats, exchange of private email and the availability of a “learners’ lounge” (a discussion area specifically set aside for casual conversation).

Published inProgramme for Online Teaching


  1. Hi Helen, interested in the portfolio method of assessment you mentioned. Can you explain? My project involves trying to reach instructors at our college that going online is an opportunity to serve more students. Previous outreach has been either mixed in with orders from above or presentations from non-teaching presenters that don’t pass the authenticity test. Both approaches have been an implied challenge to their identities as teachers.

    My idea is to draw out an awareness of themselves not as fall-behinds or defenders of “outdated” methods but as accomplished professionals reviewing a new teaching environment where they can be themselves. Hope to not even talk about tools at all.

    How to assess what is going to be a “student” created course has me stumped. Measuring self-reflection is tough and it might not even be useful to “grade” the process–flunking self-discovery is a pretty weird thing to have on your resume.

    So how does portfolio assessment work?

    • Scott, I think we’re on the same page, or mission. I too have a student-centred/ personal development ethos within the the course that I hope to design and I’m certainly no fan of assessment for this type of learning, so as soon as Ko and Rossen mentioned portfolio assessment (p.85) I knew that was the way I’d like to go.

      Firstly, there are two types of portfolio; a process portfolio and a product portfolio. One documents the stages of learning and provides a progressive record of a learner’s growth, whereas the other, product portfolio demonstrates mastery of a learning task or a set of learning objectives.

      Either way, a portfolio method of assessment allows the learner to autonomously assemble a selection of documents and various other artefacts that best reflects the activities they’ve undertaken within the course and their accomplishments and achievements therein. Also, this method suitably allows for learner reflection and self-evaluation. I realise that I will have to set guidelines for the types of things that need to be submitted in the portfolio and assessment criteria will have to be laid out for any assignments or activities (emphasis on low stakes assessment such as self assessment and peer assessment), but overall I envisage final assessment will simply be on the basis of the satisfactory presentation of a portfolio. I don’t believe that anything ever grew as a result of being measured, and like you say, flunking self-discovery is a pretty weird thing to have on your resume.

      I understand that portfolio building capacity is readily available in most LMSs, but it probably puts ownership in the learner’s hands,so possibly some work has to be done in this this area beforehand.

      I hope this explanation of my idea of portfolio assessment helps. I’m not the expert but it’s a common form of assessment within literacy education, and for personal development I think.

      I am interested to hear how you get on.

  2. Scott, I’m thinking that “portfolio” could have any number of requirements in terms of content that would be assessable. For one of my classes, their portfolio consists of all their homeworks, which were marked and have to be revised if I told them to do that, plus class notes, etc. The cover sheet has a checklist, and I do grade it according to its completion and quality using a rubric.

  3. Portfolio (and ePortfolio) is one of those multi-meaning terms that can unfortunately lead to people thinking they’re on the same page when they really are talking about something very different. Helen Barrett does a lot of great work around ePortfolios; this paper: may be helpful in clarifying and refining your vision. The rest of her site is worth exploring, too.

    As far as course management system support for the portfolio – it really depends on your purpose and on the particular system your institution has in place. I think blog platforms and website creation tools like Google Sites can serve as much more flexible ePortfolio tools for students, and are especially useful if you want the portfolios to serve as showcases for students and/or would like them to be open for public feedback/comment. On the other hand, if they are to be intensely personal places for reflection and growth; or, are to be very tightly tied in with assessment standards and outcome measures, a closed, institutional system might be preferable.

    Going back to the idea of refining your objectives, I think portfolio is a good direction but still requires a good deal of additional “drilling down.” For me, the reflective possibilities of portfolio assessment would certainly seem to dovetail with your goals and ideals; thus, one of your overarching class objectives might speak more specifically about the student’s ability to critically reflect on their growth as a digitally literate student (citizen?), and an awareness of their areas for continued development, e.g.

  4. Helen,

    The portfolio method of assessment is one approach I have never tried. But after reading your blog and doing a little research, I am intrigued by its possibilities. I also liked your summery of ideas for developing “familiarity, trust and interaction” in a course.


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