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Departmental-level ePortfolio Assessment Plan Using Canvas

Ranata DeGennaro teaching in Dr. Droney's class

Course Integrated:

  • BIOL 460-01 Biology Seminar Fall 2014
  • BIOL 460-02 Biology Seminar Fall 2014
  • BIOL 460-01 Biology Seminar Spring 2015

Collaborators:

  • James Ryan, Professor of Biology
  • Susan Cushman, Director of Introductory Biology Laboratories
  • Patricia Mowery, Associate Professor of Biology
  • David Droney, Associate Professor of Biology
  • Juliet Habjan Boisselle, Director of Digital Learning, IT Services
  • Deborah Rasmussen, Digital Learning Consultant, IT Services
  • Ranata DeGennaro, ’15 WS, NY6 iTap Student

Goals and Objectives:

  • To evaluate the use of an ePortfolio program in Canvas’ Learning Management System at HWS Colleges
  • To introduce and pilot the ePortfolio assessment platform into the Biology curriculum to collect information and evidence of student learning to determine if students were reaching goals for the Biology major
  • To build a database that would demonstrate and record how a course or courses met departmental objectives

Digital Toolkit:

  • Canvas ePortfolio tool
  • Excel spreadsheet

Digital Learning Team Role:

"It felt good to look back on everything I've learned. It gave me a great sense of accomplishment and satisfaction."

—Biology student

  • Identify the functionality of related digital tools and assist Cushman and Ryan in developing a pilot ePortfolio assessment program
  • Develop a Canvas ePortfolio template that students would use for narration and artifact submission
  • Develop Canvas ePortfolio instruction guide for biology students
  • Provide training to student staff and facilitate workshop for biology students to build their individual ePortfolios
  • Provide drop-in consultation hours for biology students during ePortfolio building

Summary

This project builds an ePortfolio assessment program in Canvas’ Learning Management System at HWS Colleges. The goal is assess the Biology curriculum by collecting information and evidence of student learning, and to determine if students were reaching goals for the Biology major.

In 2014-2015, faculty offering senior biology seminar courses piloted the use of Canvas’ ePortfolio. Digital Learning staff provided training sessions for the students to create and use the ePortfolio module of their Senior Seminar Canvas webpage. These seminar students were asked to reflect on whether they believe they fulfilled the seminar course objectives as well as the objectives of the biology major.

For each objective in their ePortfolio students were asked to upload files from past courses that provided evidence of their abilities and competence. As a result of this pilot, 23 senior biology majors completed an ePortfolio in their senior capstone seminar. There was an overall sense that building a student portfolio was a valuable experience, however using Canvas’ ePortfolios as an assessment tool has limitations. Canvas cannot be used for departmental long-term data collection and storage. Furthermore, the data (text or files) uploaded to the ePortfolio cannot be easily accessed and analyzed to help us assess and reshape our departmental curriculum and do not archive data for institutional assessment for Middle States.

We plan to continue working with the Digital Learning Team to test other digital platforms that can gather information about student learning and assessment.

Student Feedback:

In Fall 2014, faculty who offered our [two] senior biology seminar courses piloted the use of Canvas' ePortfolio with their students. Students were trained to create and use the ePortfolio module of their Senior Seminar Canvas web page. Digital Learning staff provided training sessions for the students. These seminar students were asked to reflect on whether they believe they fulfilled the seminar course objectives as well as the biology major objectives. For each objective in their ePortfolio students were asked to upload files from past courses that provided evidence of their abilities and competence.

As a result of this pilot, 23 senior biology majors completed an ePortfolio in their senior capstone seminar. Students were also asked to send a .zip file of their ePortfolio to their professor upon completion. As part of our assessment, students were asked to complete a survey providing feedback about their experience building their portfolio.

The seven students out of a sample size of 23 completed a survey at the end of the course and the majority (71%) agreed that the ePortfolio tool was relatively easy to build, especially with the help of the Digital Learning staff. They also found it relatively easy to add evidence of their learning by uploading lab reports, papers, oral presentations they gave, etc. However, some ran into issues of lost documents, a lack of assignments that actually demonstrated their learning of a specific objective in biology, since a majority of their assignments were lab reports.

In addition, the majority of students found that ePortfolio was helpful in organizing their thoughts and reflections about both their capstone seminar and the biology major. Interestingly, 100% of the student respondents thought it was more useful for the major curriculum. Students included comments that building a portfolio of evidence and reflections was particularly helpful in "uniting concepts and making connections" across four years of biology courses. One student said that "it felt good to look back on everything I've learned. It gave me a great sense of accomplishment and satisfaction."

Overall, only one student provided a neutral response when asked if ePortfolio was a useful tool to gather information and evidence of learning, while the remainder either agreed or strongly agreed. While these are great responses, our sample size (n = 7) is low and may not be representative of the larger population of biology majors.

Related Resources:

Pros of using ePortfolio in Canvas:

Overall, we find the ePortfolio tool in Canvas to be beneficial for student reflection and assessment of an individual course. Specifically:

  • The content is available anywhere, anytime as a web-based program
  • Students can add content over time as a student enrolled at HWS
  • Since ePortfolios can persist over several semesters, students can view their work from previous semesters and compare it to their current proficiency level
  • Students find satisfaction in reflecting on their courses and accomplishments
  • "Data" can be exported into a .zip file after the ePortfolio is complete

Cons of using ePortfolio in Canvas:

We found that ePortfolio was not the best tool for collecting data/information for department/major curriculum assessment. Specifically:

  • While student ePortfolios can persist over several semesters in the Canvas "cloud" (as long as the individual is a registered student at HWS), they are specifically linked to a particular course rather than available to an advisor (using Peoplesoft)
  • Evidence (uploaded files) and text cannot be stored over long periods of time (beyond graduation) on the Canvas "cloud"
  • A small number of courses are currently using digital file submission through Canvas (which is retrievable). Students may not have saved or archived paper submissions
  • It is difficult to access and analyze data in a quantitative manner using Canvas.
  • "Data" can be exported into a .zip file, however the data cannot be queried like a database can
  • Students must be trained to setup their ePortfolio tool

Conclusions

The goal of using ePortfolio in Canvas as a tool to assess student learning in a course was successful. There was an overall sense that building a student portfolio was a valuable experience, however Canvas cannot be used for departmental long-term data collection and storage. Furthermore, the data (text or files) uploaded to the ePortfolio cannot be easily accessed and analyzed to help us assess and reshape our departmental curriculum and do not archive data for institutional assessment for Middle States.

In conclusion, the practice of building a digital portfolio for student assessment has both pros and cons, from both the students' as well as the biology faculty perspective. As a department, we realized the difficulty in transforming our curricular objectives into a set of survey questions that could be easily assessed. We plan to continue working with the Digital Learning Team to test other platforms that can gather information about student learning and assessment.

 

Preparing Students to Lead Lives of Consequence.