Reflections on an E-Portfolio Assessment in a First-Year Physiology Course

Flynn, Cormac Oliver (2021) Reflections on an E-Portfolio Assessment in a First-Year Physiology Course. Biomedical Engineering Education.


Challenge Statement
Traditional assessments such as closed-book written exams have several problems associated with them. Firstly, the format of the exam has little connection with the real world—1 biomedical engineers do not, during their work-day, sit and write about biomedical engineering. Secondly, closed-book exams tend to only test memory and what the student can reproduce rather than what they can do.1,2,3 Thirdly, there is no opportunity for feedback and reflection during a written exam4 and unless feedback is received immediately after the exam, students have less interest in where they did well and where they lost marks.1 Finally, time-constrained, closed-book written exams have accessibility issues including disadvantaging students who cannot express themselves through writing due to a disability, and disadvantaging those who have anxiety or attention issues that prevent focus.3

E-portfolio assessments are digital representations of students’ work in addition to their reflections on learning.5 It is a social constructivist approach to learning where a student constructs knowledge by interacting in a learner-centered environment with learning materials and other people.6 They can address the problems of closed-book written exams in the following ways.

E-portfolios enable students to connect learning inside the class environment with experiences outside it. Enyon and Gambino describe the creation of an e-portfolio as an integrative learning process where connections are made between diverse experiences inside and outside the class.7

The integrative learning is enabled by the reflection, which is an essential part of an e-portfolio. It provides opportunities for students to examine how they have learned and how they can improve. The reflection within an e-portfolio makes the learning process visible.7 The outcome of the reflection should result in an improved creative process for the next stage of the portfolio. This iterative procedure draws comparisons with the engineering design cycle, where the engineer addresses a question or problem; plans a design; creates the design; and reflects on the design to make an improved version. Student learning is further supported by regular feedback on e-portfolios.

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