Portfolios and Assessments
The History Department has a policy of inviting History majors to create and keep a portfolio of their developing work in History (and allied disciplines) as a core part of our ongoing assessment of learning in History. We leave it to students to follow their creativity and individual needs in determining the exact nature of the way they build their portfolio, what to include in it, and how to use it.
An Ideal Rationale, Purposes and Goals
We believe that portfolios are a way for students:
- to keep a record of the wide variety of work they have done in History classes, especially different types (and topics) of papers and projects;
- to reflect on the development of their learning, especially significant changes in their assumptions and beliefs about the philosophy and craft of historical study (H97);
- to reflect specifically on what they have learned, how they learn best, and the purposes of their learning, especially for their lives after Wabash;
- to help students see how the parts of their History major (and other courses) fit into an integrated whole;
- to reflect on how well they are fulfilling the five Core Goals of the History Department curriculum, and to help students—and faculty—assess (evaluate) their development as critical thinkers in the study and practice of history;
- to help students prepare for—and pass!—comprehensive examinations, and
to encourage students to take responsibility for organizing in the portfolio their work (writing samples, lists of achievements and skills transferable to a variety of careers, etc.) in preparation for resumes, post-graduate applications, and job interviews.
The Basic Idea
Prof. Michelle Rhoades
Portfolios are perhaps the best way to assess meaningfully what students learn during their years at Wabash. It is significant that "portfolio" means literally to carry around the papers, and "assessment" means (in the original Latin) to sit down beside. Thus, there are two parts and two sets of responsibilities for this policy:
First, students will develop the habit of saving their history papers and pertinent examinations and group work, as well as other papers and work germane to historical study in a portfolio (box, binder, notebook, and perhaps also electronically), and of reflecting on what and how they have been learning as revealed in a judicious selection of the artifacts (i.e. papers and other work) of their historical studies. For many students, we hope this asks you to do little more than what you have already become accustomed to doing — i.e. save your work! The "little more" is not only to save your work but also to reflect on and select good examples of it.
Second, from time to time History faculty members will sit down beside each History major, look at his developing portfolio and reflections and, together with the student, talk about and assess the progress of his learning. This is, in a sense, a concrete, "text-based" (i.e. the portfolio as a text) extension of what we do as advisors and advisees. If adopted, we will ask current juniors to work with their portfolios as part of Senior Comps.
Summary of Possibilities for the Content of the Portfolios
- all papers, or, better yet, representative papers from History (and other) courses, ideally with short paragraph reflections on those papers as the student reconsiders them in light of further work (what I did well, not so well, what I learned)
- other kinds of reflection on a student's progress towards meeting individual Course goals (e.g. the 3-4 most significant things I learned in Courses X, Y & Z) and his progress towards fulfilling the Five Core Goals of the History major
- other evidence of a student's intellectual (or even emotional, social, physical, and spiritual) development—as seems personally relevant to each student: (conferences and workshops attended, responses to co-curricular speakers and arts events on campus and elsewhere, leadership responsibilities, talks and papers presented, travel experiences and observations, etc.)
As we said earlier, we want to start slow. This is a pilot. Thus, we suggest the following:
- for current seniors, do as much—or none—of this as would seem useful for you this year. In April the faculty of the Department will have an "exit interview" with each of you, as we have with other seniors for the past four years, and we will ask if you have kept a portfolio and, if so, will talk about it and ask you questions about it;
- for current juniors, we would like you to begin to put together a portfolio, which we will talk with each of you about during pre-registration in the Spring and will make part of your Senior Comprehensives in a reflective essay question;
- sophomores who declare as History majors in the spring of 1999 will be given this sheet, as revised, and will be asked to begin a Portfolio as a part of their History major.
For all sophomores and freshmen who think they might become History majors (or even if not) who happen upon this sheet, we would encourage you to start keeping a portfolio of your work for all the reasons stated in this proposal.