The Electronic Portfolio as Assessment Tool and More: The Drake University Model

Marc Cadd
Drake University


The utilization of portfolios has become more common in academia in the last two decades. However, their usage in the language classroom is still relatively rare. Electronic portfolios (ePortfolios) offer students and instructors numerous advantages over traditional means of assessment, including a means by which progress can be tracked longitudinally. These collections of artifacts can be used to demonstrate proficiency to prospective employers and graduate schools. The author provides one model that incorporates and utilizes current technologies as a basis for student-compiled electronic portfolios. In this model, students provide evidence of having met the linguistic and cultural objectives for each language course they take. Much of this evidence comes from in-depth, self-reflective writing, in addition to a number of artifacts selected by the students with direction from instructors. Detailed assessment rubrics are provided for evaluating both the electronic portfolio and the assignments that usually serve as the bases for the ePortfolio’s artifacts. This comprehensive model represents one alternative to assessment through “seat-time” or number of credit hours earned in a given language.


The advent of Web 2.0 technologies has affected the pedagogy of language teachers worldwide. The availability of blogs, wikis, podcasts, twitter, facebook, etc. has allowed teachers to become content creators, freeing them, if they so choose, from the static nature of textbooks.

This movement toward easier creation of online materials has not been limited to teachers, though. Students are able to demonstrate interpersonal speaking skills by using online tools at sites such as and They can utilize bookr ( or to provide examples of their presentational writing skills. Normally users of these websites only have to create an account and can then use them without cost. These are but a few of the Web 2.0 tools available for classroom instruction.

In many language courses, students are increasingly taking advantage of what these tools can offer. Many skills that students have acquired via social networking can be applied to language-learning websites. Students can present their linguistic and cultural knowledge in a more detailed and broadly-ranging fashion than through traditional assessment. It can, however, be time consuming and an organizational challenge for an instructor to navigate multiple URLs for each student. For such a situation, electronic portfolios (ePortfolios) offer teachers a means of having one central location for each student that contains the URLs of various assignments. More importantly, ePortfolios offer students an opportunity to showcase their linguistic and cultural competence in one place.

Purposes and Types of Portfolios

Portfolios have been in use for some time, especially in teacher education programs (Wilhelm et al., 2003). Early portfolios served as a means of providing a central location or collection point for traditional paper files, videocassettes, etc. In the time since portfolios were utilized in that way, however, the types of portfolios and purposes for using them have continued to evolve. More recently, instructors have required students to compile electronic portfolios. Already in 1999, for example, Helen Barrett, a pioneer for and advocate of ePortfolios, gained credibility and the support of instructors who began changing the means through which they assessed their students and had their students assess themselves.

The evolution of ePortfolios has resulted in the existence of several distinct types. Kimeldorf and Kennedy, writing without specifying that the portfolio be electronic, discuss particularly the career portfolio for employment purposes and the learning portfolio for academic purposes (1997). MacDonald, Liu, Lowell, Tsai, and Lohr delineate four primary types of ePortfolios (2004). Working portfolios are those used as a basis for the other three types. They consist of artifacts and reflective writing used to exemplify both growth and competence. The second type identified by the authors is the academic portfolio, which is a collection of artifacts completed and compiled in an academic institution. The professional portfolio can be based on the academic portfolio; it has similarly selected artifacts, but includes a “multimedia environment” (p. 52) with organized links to allow the examiner to move quickly among chosen artifacts. Finally, the presentation portfolio is appropriate when the ultimate goal is employment.

Lankes (1998) identifies additional permutations of ePortfolios. She discusses the developmental portfolio, which provides evidence of growth; the proficiency portfolio, which demonstrates mastery of a learning objective; the showcase portfolio, which provides a venue for spotlighting one’s most accomplished work; the planning portfolio, which allows one to prepare for a future event; the employment portfolio, which documents how well one is prepared for a particular type of employment; and the college admission portfolio, which permits one to demonstrate one’s qualifications for admission to post-secondary institutions of higher education.

Although the literature is rife with a variety of taxonomies, the various models do have a number of commonalities. The most widely shared features are: the compiler has chosen the artifacts included in the ePortfolio, the portfolios include some form of reflection, and they can also easily be modified for a particular audience and intent.

Pedagogical and Logistical Issues Related to ePortfolios

As noted above, one common feature of most electronic portfolios is that the owner of the portfolio has made choices regarding what is included among the artifacts. As early as 1995, Milone noted that the students in his sample were more connected with their work because of the use of portfolios. The role of the teacher changed as well, from one primarily of lecturer to one of mentor. Milone notes that parents and members of the business community were particularly satisfied with the students’ work and the education the students were receiving.

Logistically, electronic portfolios that are online offer several advantages over paper- and videotape-based portfolios. First, the content is available anywhere one has an Internet connection. Teachers need not be confined to the classroom or home when accessing student work. Carrying bulky papers or even a flashdrive becomes unnecessary. Second, the content can be accessed at any time; it can be archived and used as a record of performance by the student. It can also be used for the research interests of the instructor, assuming permission to do so has been given in writing. Additionally, instructors wishing to view only selected artifacts in the student’s collected work can do so quite easily. The use of “tags” (labels by which to identify particular types of portfolio artifacts) allows the instructor to locate quickly the type of artifact for which he or she is looking rather than simply beginning at the beginning and examining each artifact until the correct type has been located.

Pedagogically, the ePortfolio provides the students with additional motivation because they have control of what goes into it. Motivated students often spend a great deal of time trying to select the work that best demonstrates their competence in the language and culture. As Young notes, “buy-in” from the students is very important; motivation is key (2002, p. 3).

Using ePortfolios offers several additional advantages in terms of assessment. These are highlighted in a publication of the National Capital Language Resource Center (NCLRC, 2011). The NCLRC compares portfolio assessment to traditional assessment. Characteristics of each can be found in Table 1.

Table 1: Traditional Assessment vs. Portfolio Assessment



Measures student’s ability at one time

Measures student’s ability over time

Done by teacher alone; student often unaware of criteria

Done by teacher and student; student aware of criteria

Conducted outside instruction

Embedded in instruction

Assigns student a grade

Involves student in own assessment

Does not capture the range of student’s language ability

Captures many facets of language learning performance

Does not include the teacher’s knowledge of student as a learner

Allows for expressions of teacher’s knowledge of student as learner

Does not give student responsibility

Student learns how to take responsibility

An additional advantage of ePortfolios is that students can give access to whomever they wish. Parents, friends, classmates, and future employers can log on and view an individual student’s progress. Students need, however, to be familiar with the blog settings that allow access to the blog either to anyone, to members of the course only, or to only invited individuals.

Perhaps most importantly, students who persist over several semesters of language study are able to demonstrate to both their instructors and themselves that they are making progress with the language and culture. As Little notes in his examination of nine countries’ implementation of the European Language Portfolio, as long as reflective writing is included, the ePortfolio provides students with “the necessary tools for monitoring progress” (2003, p. 7). Having students view their own work from previous semesters and compare it to their current proficiency level can be a terrific motivator.

Finally, the ePortfolios are beneficial to the functioning of the entire program. Having common sets of goals across languages has assisted with providing a means of program assessment. Accrediting agencies are able to see exactly what our students are capable of and how they are assessed. Additionally, the faculty is able to longitudinally track the progress of individual students or cohorts of students in order to determine whether classroom instruction needs to be adjusted.

There are, of course, arguments against ePortfolios. One might argue that obtaining reliability among graders is difficult. At Drake University, though, there is only one instructor for six of the seven languages; in the seventh, Spanish, the instructors work together very closely.

Another aspect to consider is time, both on the part of the students and the instructors. It is very important that instructors “buy into” the pedagogical rational behind utilizing electronic portfolios. This “buy in” will be discussed below. At our institution, we acknowledge that using ePortfolios is time consuming, but we believe the results are worth our efforts.

Verifying that the students are the ones who actually created the artifacts may also be a concern. By using audio and video recordings, instructors can acknowledge that the students did their own work. The writing artifacts are more difficult to verify, and that is a complaint common to most academic disciplines.

Pre-Implementation Considerations

Prior to having students compile an ePortfolio and explaining to them why ePortfolios are being implemented, the faculty necessarily needs to have a detailed conversation about the rationale for doing so amongst themselves. The faculty needs to agree that portfolios allow students to demonstrate more accurately the scope and achievements of their work. Additionally, those requiring ePortfolios of students should broadly agree on the contents. In the World Languages and Cultures Program at Drake University, each student is required to demonstrate he or she has met the course’s learning objectives as identified in each course syllabus. Students and faculty discuss the ePortfolio throughout the semester and the students are fully aware that they must compile a portfolio demonstrating that they have met the objectives. The instructor works with them overtly to assist them in selecting appropriate artifacts.

Instructors working with colleagues in a department or program will find having a common rubric to evaluate the finished ePortfolios beneficial (e.g., Appendix A). Such a rubric assists the students in determining which artifacts are selected for inclusion. The percentages given to each component of the ePortfolio can be altered depending on the needs and areas of emphasis of instructors and students.

This process of implementation may also require faculty to make compromises when developing and writing syllabi. For example, if all faculty have agreed on the general content of the ePortfolio, does it make sense to have common due dates? Can language center resources handle student demand if all languages and all levels have a level-appropriate assignment due the same day at the same time? What will be the results in terms of necessary grading? Many more similar questions need to be discussed and addressed by the faculty.

Reflective Writing

The inclusion of reflective writing in English in the ePortfolio is essential. Students write in English because most would not be able to reflect as deeply as desired and express those thoughts in the target language. As Barrett has pointed out for some time, the uses and types of electronic portfolios are diverse and multi-faceted, but they all should include some degree of self-reflection (1999). The literature clearly illustrates the benefits and incentives of self-reflective writing for life-long learners. Sparks-Lager, Simmons, Pasch, Colton, and Starko (1990) make the case for teachers to examine their practices reflectively, but the message to include reflective writing in the use of portfolios can easily be applied to learners as well: “Aware that experience is not always a good teacher, proficient teachers search out other opportunities that will serve to cultivate their own learning” (p. 23).

What exactly are the benefits of reflective writing? Freeman notes that, “. . . writing, by its very nature, is a heuristic, problem-solving process. When a writer is actively engaged in the writing, she is making decisions, organizing, hypothesizing, comparing and contrasting, generalizing, synthesizing, and evaluating” (1986, p. 4). Thus, the reflective-writing process engages students in several higher-level critical-thinking skills while analyzing the creation of artifacts for the ePortfolio.

In a presentation shown to students, the author has identified seven reasons why students should write reflectively. Some are more ambitious objectives than others, but several will apply to each student. Students should: 1) think about their own learning through a deliberate process, 2) develop a useful set of learning strategies, 3) demystify the language learning process, 4) check to see what they can and cannot do, 5) plan and monitor future learning, 6) share their personal insights with others, and 7) learn about themselves.

Reflective writing about the culture associated with the language being studied should also be a required element of the ePortfolio. Cook notes that reflective writing is a way to assist students in developing “situation knowledge” about other cultures (2000, p. 18). Although he was writing specifically about social science classes, the logic is equally valid for language classes.

Students benefit greatly from asking themselves the question why in reflective writing. For example, why did one communicative act carry meaning while another attempt did not? If they do not understand why they made a mistake the first time, they are unlikely to correct it in subsequent attempts. This implies, of course, that the instructor is providing meaningful feedback.

Many students do not inherently know how to write reflectively. They are more accustomed to more formal paradigms of university writing. The use of “I” has been taboo in many of their courses, and they need to be given the liberty to write more personally in the ePortfolio, using “I” when appropriate, as in “I felt,” “I think,” etc. Other instructions that have proven beneficial include telling students to write about their thoughts, feelings, and their view of the learning process. Ultimately students need to demonstrate some sort of growth and development or explain why that has not occurred.

One model discussed in the literature is the so-called “What? So what? Now what?” approach articulated by Van Wagenen and Hibbard (1998, pp. 27-28). Moeller (2008) explains the three stages as she implements them:

  • What does my artifact show? Which skills are emphasized? How did I create this artifact? (What?)
  • Why did I choose this artifact? How does it relate to the learning objectives? (So what?)
  • What do I need to work on in the future? What are my future learning goals? (Now what?)

Moeller also suggests that students be provided with the basic framework of sentences for reflective writing. Examples include: “I chose this evidence because . . . ,” “What I enjoyed most about this project was . . . ,” “It is still hard for me to . . . .” “What makes writing/speaking in (name of language) unique is . . . ,” and “I discovered that I am good at . . . . “

Additional questions students could ask themselves prior to writing reflectively have been suggested by the NCLRC (2011). They can be found in Appendix B.

The Electronic Portfolio at Drake University

Contents of the Electronic Portfolio

The students and faculty at Drake University utilize one particular type of ePortfolio that provides both students and instructors opportunities to have input in the assessment process. Each student enrolled in one of the seven languages offered at  (Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Japanese, Russian, and Spanish) is required to compile an electronic portfolio each semester. The ePortfolio is not a random collection of student work, but rather a collection that demonstrates the student has met each objective or learning outcome as determined by the instructor and, in some courses, by the student. The required contents of the ePortfolio are presented in Table 2.

Table 2



Means of Analysis

Interpretive Listening

segment of recorded exam and/or class session

reflective writing

Interpretive Reading

writing assignments that focus on an assigned reading, assigned projects

reflective writing


Interpersonal Speaking

speaking assignments and/or assigned projects, segment of recorded exam and/or class session

reflective writing


Presentational Speaking

segment of recorded exam and/or class session, speaking assignments

reflective writing


Presentational Writing

writing assignments, assigned projects

reflective writing


Products and Perspectives

comments on the cultural blog, assigned project, personal project

reflective writing


Social Behaviors and Values

comments on the cultural blog, assigned project, personal project

reflective writing

Social Phenomena

comments on the cultural blog, assigned project, personal project

reflective writing


Social Changes

comments on the cultural blog, assigned project, personal project

reflective writing


Personal Goal Set by Student

assigned project, other

reflective writing


Regardless of language and level, each student is provided with five linguistic objectives. These objectives are selected by the instructor from a shared rubric implemented across all languages and levels (Appendix C). The utilization of these objectives is discussed below in the section on assessment. By the end of the semester, the student is required to show how she has met the objectives through a variety of artifacts. These can be culled from assignments for the course or from any additional work the student has done. Again, the student makes the decisions about what is included with input from the instructor.

Potential Artifacts of the ePortfolio

At Drake, several general assignments are shared across all seven languages and levels. There are six of these shared assignments: two speaking assignments, two writing assignments, and two projects. The assignments are designed in such a way that they can potentially be used as artifacts that allow students a vehicle through which mastery of the objectives can be demonstrated. Although students are not required to include the mandatory assignments in their ePortfolios, most choose to do so.

Two of the assignments are speaking assignments. Instructors record a series of prompts that are then posted to MOODLE, a free, online course management system. Several course or learning management systems exist, (e.g., Blackboard, Sakai, etc.), but the faculty at Drake has determined that MOODLE functions best for our purposes. Other instructors or institutions may be committed to other course management systems, but the essential elements of this approach are compatible with any CMC or LMS. Students, in turn, listen to the questions, write them out, and practice them with their classmates and native speaker, working in groups of six or fewer. Once the students feel prepared, they record their responses until satisfied and then submit them on MOODLE using the NanoGong plug-in. These two assignments could be used to demonstrate that students have met the objective of “Interpersonal Speaking” or “Presentational Speaking.” The rubric for assessing these two speaking assignments, designed by the faculty at Drake, can be found in Appendix D. Assessment for the assignments consists of both letter grades and feedback specific to each student’s submission. Again, the assignment need not be included in the ePortfolio; the decision rests with the student.

Writing assignments constitute another two of the six common assignments. Each writing assignment, written in the target language, consists of a minimum of two drafts. The instructors may assign topics or they may only ask that the writing relate to content, grammar, and vocabulary covered in the course. The writing assignments differ from the reflective writing. Students write reflectively in English about the writing assignments they have written in the target language.

Once the students have uploaded the first draft of the assignment by the due date, instructors begin to provide feedback within MOODLE. MOODLE’s “Advanced Upload” feature allows instructors to receive and comment on multiple drafts saved in one place.

Students respond to the feedback as they do in a more traditional approach: they read or listen to the instructor’s response and begin modifying their first draft. Once they have made all the changes they wish to make, they upload the new draft. Although the students normally are satisfied with these two drafts, MOODLE allows unlimited uploads so instructors could ask students to revise their writing much more often. The final draft is assessed using the rubric in Appendix E.

The speaking and writing assignments are normally completed during the first half of the semester, but no decisions about which artifacts to include in the ePortfolio must be made at this time. During the second half of the semester students complete two projects, largely of their own choosing and design, but with the instructor’s input. Students assess at this point in the semester how well they are meeting the overall objectives for the course and determine which objectives remain undemonstrated. They are then asked to write a draft or proposal that shows which aspect of their linguistic and cultural learning they intend to feature and how they anticipate demonstrating their competence through the project. Because there are so many fewer guidelines and straightforward requirements for these projects, instructors ask students to include the following information in their proposals: a detailed description of the main ideas for the project, an explicit identification of which technological tools the students intend to use to produce it, which elements learned in the language course they want to include (e.g., vocabulary, grammatical structures, particular themes, aspects of culture, etc.), and a description of which objectives they plan to demonstrate should they ultimately choose the project as an artifact in the ePortfolio. Model proposals are available to students who feel uncertain about the required format.

The instructor must approve the proposal. Often the students make significant revisions to the proposal once they have received the comments and suggestions of the instructor.

Students are strongly encouraged, if not required, to complete the project in such a way that they simply turn in a URL to the instructor; the URL may, of course, be turned in both as an assignment and an artifact in the ePortfolio. Students are instructed about tools that allow online storage of digital books the students write; tools that allow for uploading PowerPoint-type presentations that allow them to create cartoons, possibly with audio, etc. The instructors compile and electronically distribute a list of sample Web 2.0 tools (excerpt in Appendix F) from which the students may choose, but they are not limited to these tools.

In most aspects, the projects are more complicated than other assignments. There are several issues students need to consider before making a choice regarding which tool to use. They need to ensure that the site allows the creation of projects in the language they are studying. For example, some Web 2.0 tools were designed for European languages only. Students need to determine if they need an account to use the site. The Drake faculty recommends that students create an email account that they use only for registering for these sites. The rationale behind this recommendation is so that student privacy will be protected and, if spammers find the account, the students’ personal email account will continue to be untouched. Students also need to be sure they can allow their instructor to have access to the final project. Perhaps most importantly, they need to determine that the tool selected will not “disappear” before the instructor can evaluate the work. To determine this, the students might consult with their local instructional technologist. They might also investigate how long the site has been up and running, whether it is a beta version, etc. Since students began compiling ePortfolios in this way, a few of the Web 2.0 sites suggested by instructors have ceased to have an Internet presence and students have consequently lost their projects. It does not happen often, but students should be aware of that possibility. The rubric for assessing the project can be found in Appendix G.

The ePortfolios that the students compile are hosted by the OS Drake server platform. The feature utilized is nominally intended to be used for blogs, but the blog feature lends itself to creating and storing ePortfolios very well. The initial rationale for using this sort of portfolio was two-fold: first, the system could easily and quickly be set up; and second, instructors could access them from anywhere they had an Internet connection. Each student has her/his own blog and is in control of all additions or modifications to it. Drake continued using this system because of the inherent facility on both the part of the student and the assessor.

While using technology of this sort may seem to place a large burden on students, the students have been trained in employing tools of this sort during a “strategies” course that is co-requisite during the students first semester in the program. Additionally, the World Languages and Cultures Program at Drake, although relatively small, is fortunate to have its own informational technologist to whom students can turn with assignment-related technological questions. Normally, the instructor himself or herself would need to be competent enough and familiar enough with the tools to demonstrate their use to students and to troubleshoot issues that arise. This need for instructor familiarity may, of course, become less relevant as students enter classrooms with the skills of digital natives.

Details about these common assignments have been provided because they are indicative of the responsibility students have in language courses. They do not turn in daily or even weekly assignments. Grammar is learned and practiced outside of class time so that students can focus on their communicative skills during meetings with native speakers. The students’ ability to make their own choices and demonstrate forethought is required for increasing their own proficiency and successfully completing the course. This approach supports student “ownership” of the ePortfolio.

Students generally show that they have met the cultural objectives (Appendix H ) for the course  by identifying insightful comments they have composed and posted on the blog specific to each language. The instructor or instructors for each language write posts for the students at all levels of study in that language. Because the goal in using these blogs is to enhance and develop students’ ability to think critically, the blogs are mostly written in English, with links to target-language materials for students at levels high enough to allow them to benefit from the additional content in the target language. Instructors choose topics that lend themselves to encouraging students to make comments that address the objectives. Students engage in thoughtful dialog with the professor(s) and fellow students regarding the topic via the blog. The students subsequently review their comments and determine which, if any, provide evidence that they have met a given cultural objective. A simple permalink to the comment gives the instructor ready access to the students’ selection. Sample blog topics have included drug trafficking in Columbia, the increasing presence of what translates into English as “effeminate” men in Japan, the resistance from some to the spread of Islam throughout Europe, the World Cup soccer tournament, etc.

Reflective Writing

Once students have selected the artifacts they feel best demonstrate their having met the course objectives, they write reflectively about each artifact. Again, this writing is done in English so that students will not have linguistic barriers while reflecting upon the process of creating the artifacts. The rationale behind the reflective writing is grounded in the research described above. Professors look for evidence that the students have clearly thought and written about their own learning process. Because each student has taken the “strategies” course previously or is currently enrolled in the course, they have been presented with a variety of strategies that support and develop their ability to demonstrate each learning objective. Therefore, instructors also examine the ePortfolios for evidence that the students have developed a useful set of learning strategies.

In the fall semester of 2009, the author administered a survey to 68 students in the “strategies” course and asked them in an open-ended question to write about how they learn the language they are studying. The results were somewhat expected. The most prevalent response (n=49, 72%) from students in one form or another was “I study the vocabulary.” While studying the vocabulary is definitely necessary for learning a language, the reflective writing process encourages students to demystify their own learning experience. “I study the vocabulary” does not do this and students who make this comment are encouraged to examine their practices in greater detail. This experience further demonstrates the need to assist students in developing skills that allow their reflective writing to become more meaningful.

Reflective writing also encourages students to analyze what they can and cannot do yet with the language. This, in turn, allows students to monitor any future language-learning experience more effectively.

Another advantage of self-reflective writing is that the writing allows students to identify their individual learning style more precisely. In the “strategies” course, students are asked to select strategies that are both compatible with and that expand upon their learning style.


Instructors assess students’ electronic portfolios at the end of each semester using a rubric common to each language and level (Appendix A). The linguistic objectives are loosely based on those utilized the Nebraska LinguaFolia project (Moeller, 2010). The column labeled “Beginning 0” level was added by the Drake language faculty because the “Beginning 1” level descriptors of Moeller’s original rubric did not address some aspects of learning languages such as Arabic, Chinese, and Japanese. The Nebraska LinguaFolia rubric appears to target European languages. As mentioned previously, students usually demonstrate that they have met these objectives through assignments completed during the course of the semester.

The author developed the objectives for culture. They are a combination and reworking of cultural goals articulated by Singerman, Nostrand, and Grundstrom, working on behalf of the American Association of Teachers of French in Acquiring Cross-Cultural Competence: Four Stages for Students of French (1991); the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages’ Standards for Foreign Language Learning in the 21st Century (2006), and the seven goals of cultural competence posited by Seelye (1984). Although some research regarding the assessment of cultural competence has been published recently (Schulz, 2007; Warford, 2006), there have still been relatively few models proposed. The objectives utilized by Drake and found in Appendix H emphasize the development of critical thinking.

Beyond the Language Classroom

Students own their ePortfolios. Upon request, students are given a DVD that includes all of their work in the World Languages and Cultures Program. Providing potential employers and graduate schools with evidence of the students’ level of writing proficiency, speaking proficiency, cultural competence, etc. is a better mirror of the students’ ability to use the language in a culturally competent way than seat time or a number of credit hours noted on a transcript.

A number of students at Drake have obtained admission to graduate schools in language study by submitting a copy of their ePortfolio; other students have been hired, in part, due to the materials they provided prospective employers with. These accomplishments are additionally impressive because Drake has no majors or minors in languages.

Examples of Students’ ePortfolios

In this section, three examples of artifacts from students’ electronic portfolios are presented. In the first example, a fourth-semester student of French attempts to demonstrate that she has met the following goal for presentational writing: “I can write clear, detailed text on a wide range of subjects related to my interests. I can write texts such as an essay or report that conveys information or gives reasons in support of or against a particular point of view. I can write texts such as letters highlighting the personal significance of events and experiences.” An excerpt of her writing follows:

Mon Voyage aux Pays Francophones

Après avoir reçu la bourse de l’Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie, j’ai décidé de visiter deux pays. D’abord je suis allée au Maroc. J’y ai passé deux semaines dans ce pays. J’ai commencé voyagé à Rabat, la capitale du Maroc. J’y ai passé une semaine en Rabat. Quand j’étais là, j’ai rencontré  quelques personnes gentilles. Ils ont parlé de leur pays, mais c’était difficile des comprendre parce que la langue française est utilisée plus souvent pour le business. Alors, les langues comme l’arabe, l’arabe marocain, et le berbère étaient les plus populaires. Quand j’étais à Rabat j’ai visité les monuments comme les fameuses mosquées. Aussi je suis allée en Agdal pour faire du shopping. J’adore faire du shopping. J’ai trouvé la ville, qui est près de l’eau, très belle. Apres Rabat, je suis allée à Casablanca pour ma deuxième semaine au Maroc. Casablanca, qui était la plus grande ville du Maroc, est située très près de l’eau aussi. J’ai trouvé la Cathédrale du Sacré-Cœur de Casablanca et les autres monuments très beaux. J’ai appris plus au sujet  du Maroc et des cultures et des religions du pays. J’ai trouvé la religion musulmane très intéressante et très différent de ma religion protestante. Apres les deux semaines au Maroc, J’ai embarqué dans un avion pour le Viêtnam. Pendent mes deux semaines au Viêtnam j’ai voyagé tous le temps. Je suis arrivée à Hanoï, la capitale. En Hanoï j’ai rencontre une gentille fille qui me suis aidée  pendent mon voyage. Nous avons visité les monuments de Hanoï et Ho-Chi-Minh-Ville, la grande ville du sud. Aussi nous sommes allées à Hue, une ville impériale. Pendant mon voyage j’ai visité deux sites naturels et très beaux, la baie de Ha Long et le Parc National de Phong Nha-Ke Bang. Au Viêtnam j’ai trouvé que plus de personnes parler le français et l’anglais que les personnes au Maroc. Aussi les Vietnamiens parlent la langue du pays –le vietnamien. A mon avis il y avait plus facile de parler avec les Vietnamiens. Finalement, après quatre semaines j’ai fini mon voyage et je suis rentrée à ma maison.

The topic for the assignment, as the student notes, was to write about to which francophone country she would travel if all expenses were paid. In this instance, the student has used one of her writing assignments as evidence of having met the course goal, so the assignment itself is not graded again in the ePortfolio. Most of the grade for the ePortfolio is determined by the student’s reflective writing as follows:

In terms of presentational writing a student at the French 52 level is expected to be able to write simple sentences that can be joined into a paragraph in order to express feelings on something familiar or something of interest. As writing becomes better it is expected that the student can also write prose much clearer and detailed than that deemed acceptable at beginning levels. It is also necessary to be able to convey information whether in the form of an article, report, or story and to have it be easy to understand. The artifact I decided to include to prove my ability to portray such information is my Writing Assignment 1. This assignment was given to us students with the directions to write about which francophone countries we would travel to and what we would do in these countries if all expenses were paid through a scholarship. I did like what I accomplished with this assignment, but I feel as if it wasn’t my best work. It was easy to comprehend my ability to express information and personal opinion, as well as my ability to write clearly and with many details, but my biggest problem with my writing is my issues with grammar. Simple grammar can sometimes give me a lot of trouble, even something as simple as masculine versus feminine. Thus, a potential future personal goal when it comes to French for me is making sure to review things before I write them, as well as to make sure I check the tenses and form of words before I use them. Overall though I am proud that this writing assignment, while not my best, does achieve this goal and include some of the more difficult elements involved with writing at an intermediate level.

She has clearly identified the expectations for the writing goal and discussed her strengths and weaknesses. She has also noted a future direction for later work. Although she does acknowledge that there are flaws in her writing sample, there is no penalty for having done so. On the contrary, her reflections should assist her in making future improvements.

A second student, this one a fifth-semester student of Spanish, addressed the interpersonal speaking goal by recording a video of an interview she conducted with a native Spanish speaker. The goal for that level of Spanish is: “I can interact with a degree of fluency and spontaneity that makes regular interaction with native speakers quite possible. I can take an active part in discussions in familiar contexts and support my views.” The topic was gender equality in Spain. The interview itself can be accessed at:


Again, the student’s reflective writing gives the reader an idea of her self-reported level of proficiency:

Being able to communicate with the Spanish language has been, and continues to be, my most "important objective." I continue to work on my ability to communicate with other Spanish speakers, and even if I don't know the necessary words, I try to talk around the subject, using words I do know, and that describe what I'm trying to say. I even find myself at some points not being able to explain what I want to say in Spanish, or English. I test myself, trying to say things in Spanish in my head, coming up with scenarios where I will need to say certain words, phrases. Yes, I'm still nervous that while in Spain, I'll fall behind. But with this semester's work, I'm confident that I'll be able to work around my difficulties. I'm excited for the conversations I'll find myself in, and what I'll be learning from those people. For this portion of the portfolio, half of the project was comprised of watching Luis Buñuel's film together with my friend María, from Spain, and then discussing the female's role in the film, from her perspective.”


She indicates here that she has gained some ability to circumlocute in Spanish. She also reveals some of her study strategies. Her motivation to work diligently to improve her oral Spanish is evident.

A final example from an ePortfolio was created by a fifth-semester student of Russian.  The artifacts were used to show how well she had met two goals, reading and listening. The stated reading goal for that level of Russian is: “I can read texts such as articles and reports that are concerned with contemporary problems written from a particular viewpoint or perspective. I can understand contemporary literary prose.” The listening goal follows: “I can understand extended speech and follow complex lines of argument provided the topic is reasonably familiar. I can understand sources such as TV news, current affairs programs, and films in standard language.”

The approach to these artifacts demonstrates that students are able to decide for themselves on the nature of the projects within certain parameters. This student chose to translate materials, and she clearly had to meet the reading and listening goals in order to be able to produce her project. The two links associated with these artifacts are: and


The student’s reflections are quite detailed:

For the final project of RU 140, I chose to read and translate different versions of the English storybook ‘Winnie the Pooh.’ Using a Russian copy of the traditional English tale as well as footage from the original soviet [sic] cartoon, I attempted to produce a hybrid text, bridging the two versions of this classic story. Translating the text of the story required me to read and comprehend the Russian text as well as make compromises necessary in the act of translation (i.e., a literal translation of the line ‘головой вниз, пересчитывая ступеньки собственным затылком: бум-бум-бум’ would have been awkward. So, I needed to not only comprehend the words, but also adapt them to English. I learned a variety of new vocabulary terms in the reading process and produced a translation which is coherent and flows well in English. For the second portion of the assignment, I looked to the soviet-era [sic] cartoon video ‘Vinny-Pukh’ (Winnie the Pooh’s Italian, Russian-speaking, poet cousin . . . In watching and subsequently attempting to translate the video, I had to work on the listening portion of my course objectives. While I only translated Винни Пух’s song, I watched this video in its entirety and was struck by the how [sic] English and Russian cultural differences manifested themselves in the two different depictions of Winnie and his world. Винни Пух’s song was somewhat difficult to translate as some of the lyrics use the nonsensical rhyming characteristic of children’s songs. In the end, however, I produced a translation which captures the essence of Винни Пух’s tone and attitude in the soviet [sic] adaptation.


Although translation is not a skill emphasized in Drake’s program, this student has clearly met the reading and listening goals in creating her project. She has also learned an important lesson about vocabulary equivalence and the inherent difficulties associated with it.


Electronic portfolios provide both instructors and students with a number of advantages over more traditional forms of assessment. They are easy to store, access, and transport. Instructors can listen to an audio assignment numerous times, for example, unlike during a face-to-face interview. Many students are greatly motivated to compile an electronic portfolio because of the sense of ownership that comes with selecting the portfolio’s contents.

There are, however, some inherent issues associated with using ePortfolios. Through our collective experience, we have seen how important instructors’ “buy in” is. The instructor must truly be an advocate of this pedagogical approach. She must explain to students why they will be compiling ePortfolios, and why utilizing them is worth the students’ time and effort. In instances in which instructors referred to the ePortfolios, either explicitly or implicitly, as some sort of “add-on” to the real parts of the course, chaos and dissatisfaction has occurred. The ePortfolios need to have a central place in the course’s intended path. As noted earlier, students also need to recognize the value of compiling a portfolio, but, in our experience, students having a sense of ownership of the portfolio is unlikely to occur without the explicit support of the instructor.

Periodically checking on students’ progress with their ePortfolios is also essential. Procrastination plays a role in this and can defeat the purpose of providing the student and instructor with an idea of the longitudinal progress being made. Regular checks also convey to the students that the portfolios are of central importance in the course.

The inclusion of reflective writing in the ePortfolio forces students to address mentally and in writing how they learn. They learn about themselves, articulate particular strengths, and identify areas that need to be addressed in the future. Many students have never done this sort of reflective writing and the experience can be quite eye opening. Some students find reflective writing beneficial in their other courses as well.

Not all students enjoy compiling ePortfolios. Utilizing portfolios is not very widespread at Drake, so many students don’t understand why they can’t just “learn the language” and not compile a portfolio throughout the semester. Our goals as instructors is broader than just “learning the language”; we want our students to develop skills that will necessarily be of benefit to them throughout their lives.

Drake University has utilized some version of electronic portfolio for eight years. Although the required contents and available tools have changed, this form of assessment has been successful in demonstrating to both students and instructors that linguistic and cultural course goals have been met.

About the Author

Marc Cadd is Associate Professor of German and Director of the World Languages and Cultures Program at Drake University. He received his Ph.D. in Second Language Acquisition and Teacher Education (SLATE) from the University of IL at Champaign/Urbana in 1991. His current research interests include cultural identity, study abroad, curriculum design, and utilizing technology in the teaching and learning of world languages.



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Appendix A:
Rubric for Assessing Electronic Portfolios*


*Electronic portfolios submitted after the due date may be subject to an automatic 25% deduction in the final grade. Incomplete portfolios will receive a proportionate reduction in the grade.

**If the links, audio, video, etc. do not play correctly at the time of assessment, your portfolio will receive zero.




Areas for Improvement:


Appendix B:
Suggested Questions for Reflective Writing (NCLRC)

  1. What did you learn about yourself as a learner by doing this ePortfolio?
  2. What did you like about creating the ePortfolio?
  3. What did you dislike about creating the ePortfolio?
  4. What main things did you learn about the language you are studying?
  5. The next time you create an ePortfolio, what would you like to do differently?
  6. Did you meet the objectives for the course through the ePortfolio? How do you know?
  7. Did you meet your personal objectives for the course? How do you know?
  8. Did the ePortfolio help you use a variety of strategies in learning your language?
  9. Is there anything else which you would like to add about the ePortfolio?

Appendix C:
Levels of Competence

(Adapted from Moeller 2010)


Appendix D:
Rubric for Assessing Speaking Assignment*


NOTE: If the volume of your audio file is not loud enough, your speaking assignment will receive 0 points.

*Speaking assignments turned in late may receive an automatic 25% deduction in the overall grade.

**Grammar includes things such as agreement, tense, number, word order, word function, articles, pronouns, prepositions, particles, etc.




Areas for Improvement:



Appendix E:
Rubric for Assessing Writing Assignments*


*Writing assignments turned in late may receive an automatic 25% deduction in the overall grade.

**Grammar includes things such as agreement, tense, number, word order, word function, articles, pronouns, prepositions, particles, etc.




Areas for Improvement:

Appendix F: Web 2.0 Tools

The following list includes Web 2.0 tools that might be useful in designing projects for student ePortfolios. Note that by using these tools, you are taking a risk that the supporting companies may disappear without warning. Notice then that you are responsible for producing a project that works, is accessible, and does not disappear before your work is assessed.

Other tools can be used, so let your professor know in your proposal that you would like to use something else and explain why.


Writing Tools

This tool allows you to make projects with photos, video, and/or audio from a variety of sources. You can then add voice recordings, text, or draw directly on your presentation. Several people can work collaboratively. You could use this tool to demonstrate Interpretive Listening, Interpersonal Speaking, Presentational Speaking, or Presentational Writing, depending on how you use it. Please note that with a free account, you are limited to three presentations.

Audio Tool

Here you can make your own speaking avatar. By recording your own voice on their website, you can demonstrate having met the goal for either Interpersonal or Presentational Speaking.

Video Tools

Viewpoint is an audio and video repository that allows you to record your audio/video online. There are also several free videos in several languages. To use this to create content, click on either "Record Video" or "Record Audio." We suggest you create a free account, though, because if you don't, your work will only be held for seven days. With this tool you might demonstrate Interpretive Listening, Interpersonal Speaking, or Presentational Speaking.

Story Telling Tools

Plurk allows you to create a timeline of things you have done or that you are thinking about. It is an interesting alternative to facebook or twitter. Because you can also link to or upload videos you have created, you might use plurk to demonstrate Interpretive Listening, Interpersonal Speaking, Presentational Speaking, or Presentational Writing. For an example, go to and type in any search term you want.

Appendix G:
Rubric for Assessing Projects


*Projects turned in late may receive an automatic 25% deduction in the overall grade.

**Grammar includes things such as agreement, tense, number, word order, word function, articles, pronouns, prepositions, particles, etc.



Appendix H:
Cultural Competence Objectives