Assessing portfolios

Guidance and resources on using and assessing portfolios.

What is a portfolio?

In its simplest form, a portfolio is a collection of objects. The objects (usually termed artefacts) may be written, physical, digital or artistic, or any combination.

Why consider a portfolio for assessment?

Portfolios are always more than a single item of work. The artefacts included can represent abilities across a range of topics and collected at different times. Often students are asked to provide some sort of commentary or reflective narrative to supplement or synthesise the raw items in the collection.

Portfolios provide a way for students to collect and organise items which might otherwise become muddled or lost. They encourage students to reflect on their own learning journey over many months or years. The portfolio can be used to support applications for further study or employment.

Many professions require members to demonstrate on ongoing commitment to personal and professional development, often recommending (or sometimes requiring) a portfolio to be used for this purpose.

How to assess a portfolio

Define and explain the purpose

There is no one correct way to tackle assessing a portfolio. The best approach will depend on the purpose of the assessment in your context. You should take care to explain the assessment process to your students, and give them detailed guidance about what is expected from them.

Assessing everything, or making a selection

Assessing a large collection of portfolios can seem daunting. You may wish to consider whether it is important to assess every item in the portfolio, or whether assessment of a sample would be sufficient.

If you prefer to assess a sample of the portfolio, there is then a choice about how to select the item(s) to be considered.

Options include:

  • All students submit the artefacts representing their work in weeks (say) 4 and 7
  • Students select their “best” two items and explain why they made this particular selection
  • Students select and submit an artefact that they feel demonstrates critical thinking, or problem solving, or … (you select the topic, the student picks the artefact to match)
  • Students select two items that together demonstrate an improvement in their understanding, with a short reflective commentary

Some of the suggestions above include a tacit assumption that there is an element of self-assessment in the process. Equally there are options for peer-assessment of portfolios, or perhaps it would be appropriate to include a placement host in the assessment process in some cases.

Assessing the complete portfolio may be necessary, in order to reflect the amount of effort invested in its creation, and perhaps the weighting given to the assessment. By their nature portfolios tend to be diverse, which can lead to challenges in ensuring reliability of their assessment. This is discussed more fully in the documents suggested for further information.

Further information

More information about PebblePad - the University’s digital portfolio system - is provided by Information Services