Office of Institutional Research and Assessment

Portfolio Assessment

Mason’s assessment approach is adapted from a successful course portfolio system developed by the College of William and Mary. Course portfolios serve three purposes:

  1. Mason Core program assessment. Taken together across courses and categories, the portfolios provide a clear picture of the overall effectiveness of the Mason Core program at Mason.
  2. Learning outcomes assessment. The portfolios provide direct evidence of student achievement in Mason Core learning outcomes through samples of student work.
  3. Course review. The portfolios provide the most updated information about what is being taught in the course, what kind of learning experiences are offered to students, and what assessment strategies faculty use.

Course portfolio assessment at Mason began in 2008-09 and has been implemented as an ongoing review of Mason Core courses across the categories. Courses in the respective categories are assessed on a six-year cycle, with adjustments in this schedule made as needed.

Who will Submit a Course Portfolio?

When a Mason Core category is under review, all faculty, regardless of appointment status, who teach an approved course or section during fall and spring semesters may be required to submit a course portfolio. For courses with multiple sections, the Office of Institutional Assessment selects a random sample of those sections. For faculty who teach the same course in both fall and spring semesters, or who teach multiple sections of a course, only one course portfolio is required. Faculty on 9-month term, adjunct, teaching assistant, and post-doc appointments are eligible for a modest honorarium for completing a portfolio.

Major Components of a Course Portfolio

 An electronic course portfolio has the following components:

1.     Course/Section Syllabus. The syllabus must include learning outcomes from the Mason Core category in addition to course-specific learning outcomes. Reviewers also look for the following information in the syllabus:

  • Instructor and contact
  • Course goals/learning outcomes, including Mason Core outcomes
  • Textbook/Readings
  • Technology requirements
  • Major assignments
  • Grading policy
  • Academic integrity
  • Weekly schedule, including topics, readings, assignments, due dates, etc.

2.     Course Assignments/Projects. Provide the instructions for the assignments/projects that address or assess the Mason Core learning outcomes. The assignments/projects may take different forms, e.g., individual/group papers, lab reports, websites developed by students, presentations, performances, videos, essay/short answer exams, multiple-choice exams, etc. Along with these, faculty are also required to submit: grading guides, checklists or rubrics, if available (not answer keys for the exams).

3.     Course Map. The course map identifies the activities and assignments that are being used to address the learning outcomes, as well as the activities or strategies that are used to assess learning. The map also asks how well students demonstrated achievement of the learning outcomes based on the following levels of competence: highly competent, competent, marginally competent, and less than competent. A template is available in an Excel spreadsheet.

4.     Samples of Student Work. From among the assignments/projects, select one assignment and provide actual examples of student work. Typically, this is a final project in which students demonstrate their achievement of one or more primary learning outcomes.

  • The Office of Institutional Assessment will provide faculty with a randomly selected list (usually 4-10, depending on enrollment) of students in mid-semester.
  • For each work sample, please specify the level of achievement: highly competent, competent, marginally competent, or less than competent. Faculty are encouraged to provide a self-selected exemplar.
  • For student presentations or performance: Faculty can provide samples from various media. Technical assistance with editing and uploading media is available upon request.
  • If multiple-choice tests are the only method used in class, faculty should identify the items that address the Mason Core learning outcomes and provide a grade distribution of the test based on the entire class, not just the randomly selected students.

5.     Faculty Statement. A 1-2 page narrative, focused on the following questions:

  • Discuss your experience using and assessing student achievement of the Mason Core learning outcomes. What worked, and what did not?
  • What activities or strategies were used to assess the learning outcomes?
  • Think about the student work samples. What did you know about their knowledge and abilities when they started the course? How do you rate their developmental progress over the semester? In what ways did your experiences with these students shape your expectations for student learning in the course?
  • Based on what you learned this semester, what changes do you plan to make the next time you teach this course?
  • Additional information that will help reviewers understand your course, such as the course context, challenges or issues and how you addressed these, experimentation or changes that you implemented and how they worked or did not work.

Who will Review Course Portfolios?

A review team composed of members of the Mason Core Committee and appointed faculty will review each course portfolio using a common review rubric. At the end, the review team assigns a single rating for each course/section. The rating reflects the extent to which the course provides the learning experiences that result in specified student learning outcomes. Again, this review is not an evaluation of the instructor, but of the course’s demonstrated alignment with the respective Mason Core category. Review results are sent to the Mason Core Committee, individual faculty, and the appropriate department chairs.

What Happens after the Portfolio Review?

The reviewers’ ratings are used in the following ways:

  • The Mason Core Committee monitors the effectiveness of the Mason Core program
  • The SACS compliance team uses the data as evidence for reaffirmation of accreditation
  • Department chairs focus on improvement of Mason Core and faculty development in their departments
  • The Mason Core Committee, the Office of Institutional Assessment, and the Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education develop recommendations for the Mason Core program as a whole

The ratings are not meant to be used by chairs, deans, or the Provost as elements in merit pay or reappointment, or in promotion and tenure dossiers. Course portfolios focus on the alignment of a course with the institution-wide Mason Core outcomes and goals. In some cases, a faculty member may receive recommendations from the department chair regarding course improvement. In a very few cases, and only after consultation with the relevant department, it is possible that the Mason Core Committee may remove a course from the approved Mason Core inventory. Departments may also initiate the withdrawal of a course from the inventory. Such actions are not intended as evaluation of, or commentary on the value and effectiveness of a particular course or instructor; many outstanding courses meet learning outcomes for a specific discipline, but may not be suitable for inclusion in the university’s Mason Core program.

Technology Support for Electronic Course Portfolios

All course portfolios are stored in Blackboard, protected by password. Faculty members have access to their own portfolio only. The review team members, Mason Core Committee members, and staff from the Office of Institutional Assessment have access to all portfolios. An outstanding portfolio may be made available to the university community with the faculty member’s consent.

A “course” (with a generic name such as “Mason Core – Arts,” “Mason Core – Literature,” etc.) is automatically assigned to the faculty members who are required to submit a portfolio. Faculty are, in Blackboard terminology, “students” in that course. They are instructed to upload portfolio items under the designated “assignments” of that “course.” The Office of Institutional Assessment provides technical support for creating electronic course portfolios.