Methods for Assessing Experiential Activities

There are many potential ways to assess experiential activities, both external and internal. These methods are tied to reflection, helping learners to focus their learning while also producing a product for assessment purposes. Moon lists several examples:

  • “Maintenance of a learning journal or a portfolio
  • Reflection on critical incidents
  • Presentation on what has been learnt
  • Analysis of strengths and weaknesses and related action planning
  • Essay or report on what has been learnt (preferably with references to excerpts from reflective writing)
  • Self-awareness tools and exercises (e.g. questionnaires about learning patterns)
  • A review of a book that relates the work experience to own discipline
  • Short answer questions of a ‘why’ or ‘explain’ nature
  • A project that develops ideas further (group or individual)
  • Self-evaluation of a task performed
  • An article (e.g. for a newspaper) explaining something in the workplace
  • Recommendation for improvement of some practice (a sensitive matter)
  • An interview of the learner as a potential worker in the workplace
  • A story that involves thinking about learning in the placement
  • A request that students take a given theory and observe its application in the workplace
  • An oral exam
  • Management of an informed discussion
  • A report on an event in the work situation (ethical issues)
  • Account of how discipline (i.e. subject) issues apply to the workplace
  • An identification of and rationale for projects that could be done in the workplace” (2004, p. 166)

Of these methods, Qualters singles out the learning portfolio as one of the most comprehensive methods of assessing experiential learning. Learning portfolios are distinguished from standard professional portfolios through their inclusion of a reflection component. It therefore becomes more than just “a showcase of student materials,” and instead becomes a “purposefully designed collection connected by carefully thought out structured student reflections.” Beyond assessing student learning, well-constructed portfolios can be used for accreditation, university-wide outcome assessment, and to document and understand the learning process at both the level of course and program (Qualters, 2010, p. 60).

John Zubizarreta proposes a simple model for a learning portfolio with three fundamental and interrelated components:

  1. Reflection
  2. Documentation
  3. Collaboration (2008, p. 1).

This conception of a learning portfolio mirrors that of a teaching portfolio, pairing a concise, reflective narrative with a series of appendices containing appropriate evidence for each area of reflection. Zubizarreta believes that “the value of portfolios in improving student learning resides in engaging students not just in collecting representative samples of their work for assessment, evaluation, or career preparation, but in addressing vital reflective questions that invite systematic inquiry” (2008, p. 2). Portfolios engage students in “intellectually challenging, creative, rigorous work,” and serve as both a process and an end product. This recalls the above-stated definition of experiential learning as being as much about the means as about the ends, and the necessity of devising assessment methods to measure success in both the process and the product.

Keeping Zubizarreta’s three fundamental components in mind, it is important to remember that there is no right way of constructing a portfolio, and each portfolio will be different depending on the program of study or experiential learning activity. Zubizarreta provides the following generic table of contents to give suggestions as to the potential contents of a portfolio and a logical order that can be used to drive learning:

  1. Philosophy of learning: What, how, when, and why did I learn? A reflective narrative on the learning, process, learning style, value of learning
  2. Achievements in Learning: What have I accomplished with my learning? Records—transcripts, course descriptions, resumes, honors, awards, internships, tutoring
  3. Evidence of Learning: What products, outcomes do I have to demonstrate learning? Outcomes—research papers, critical essays, field experience logs, creative displays/performances, data/spreadsheet analysis, lab results
  4. Assessment of Learning: What measures and accounting to I have of my learning? Instructor feedback, course test scores, exit/board exams, lab/data reviews, research project appraisals, practicum reports
  5. Relevance of Learning: What difference has learning made in my life? Practical applications, leadership, relation of learning to personal and professional domains, ethical/moral growth, affiliations, hobbies, volunteer work, affective value of learning
  6. Learning Goals: What plans do I have to continue learning? Response to feedback; plans to enhance, connect, and apply learning, career ambitions
  7. Appendices: How coherently have I integrated evidence with reflections and self-assessments in the portfolio? Selected documentation for areas 1 through 6 (Zubizarreta, 2008, p. 4).

To plan a learning portfolio project, Zubizarreta provides a short rubric that asks instructors to first identify the purpose of the portfolio, and then answer the following questions:

  1. What kind of reflective questions should students address?
  2. What kinds of evidence or learning outcomes would be most useful?
  3. How will students engage in collaboration and mentoring during the process? (Zubizarreta, 2008, p. 4)

The purpose of a learning portfolio “strongly determines the themes of the reflective narrative, as well as the types of documentation or evidence selected in the appendices.” A planning rubric representing this can be a table with three columns—purpose, theme, and evidence—and the content of these columns can be quite broad. For example, if the purpose of the portfolio is “improvement,” then the themes could be “development, reflective inquiry, focus on goals, philosophy of learning,” and the evidence for that could be “drafts, journals, online threaded discussions, emails, statements of goals, classroom assessments, research notes.” If the purpose of the portfolio is “problem solving,” then the themes could be “critical thinking, creativity, application of knowledge, flexibility, curiosity,” and the evidence for that could be “problemsolving log, lab reports, computer programs, spreadsheet data analyses” (Zubizarreta, 2008, p. 5).

No matter what the contents of the learning portfolio, a well-designed project will keep students, active, engaged, and reflective, helping them to “own their own learning as more independent, self-directed, and lifelong learners.” To that end, Zubizarreta cites a recent trend amongst universities to supply alumni with perpetual server space, enabling students to maintain their learning portfolios electronically long after their time in university, “a nod toward a true conception of portfolio development as a lifelong commitment to learning” (Zubizarreta, 2008, p. 6).

Extract from :
Prepared by Michelle Schwartz, Research Associate, for the Vice Provost, Academic, Ryerson University, 2012 http://www.ryerson.ca/lt 
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