Student Portfolios


There are several reasons why the faculty in the Biology Department instituted student portfolios as a major requirement. First and foremost we believe that portfolios represent an important learning process. Development of portfolios affords students an opportunity to bring together concepts and ideas from a variety of courses within and external to the major. Integration and synthesis are key to deeper and more sophisticated understanding of current problems. In short, we view portfolios as a key component in the transition from novice to expert learner.

The following quote from page 31 of the Expanded Edition of How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School produced by the National Research Council and published by the National Academy Press in 2000 supports this decision:

Research shows that it is not simply general abilities, such as memory or intelligence, nor the use of general strategies that differentiate experts from novices. Instead, experts have acquired extensive knowledge that affects what they notice and how they organize, represent, and interpret information in their environment. This, in turn, affects their abilities to remember, reason, and solve problems.

A key component of a portfolio is the narrative in which the student reflects upon what she knows, how she knows it, and what she doesn't know. This metacognitive approach to learning has been demonstrated to increase students ability to problem-solve in new and unique environments (e.g., Palinscar and Brown, 1984; Scardamalia et al, 1984; Schoenfield, 1983, 1985, 1991).

A second reason for requiring a portfolio derives from the current climate of accountability. K-12 public schools are increasingly being held accountable for student learning by accreditation agencies and elected officials. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts chose to require all students to pass a high-stakes comprehensive exam (MCAS) as a graduation requirement. Many graduate school programs also require all students to pass comprehensive exams. These types of curriculum-wide comprehensive exams are not currently required in public higher education, but they are under discussion. Biology Department faculty opted for a comprehensive portfolio in lieu of a comprehensive examination.

Thirdly, we envision using student portfolios as one mechanism to evaluate our curriculum. We need to know if the curriculum is perfect (not likely), needs some revision (most probably), or should be thrown out and redone (not likely).


A PDF file of the following requirements is attached.

The portfolio should include a short narrative and evidence for each of the departmental Learning Outcomes. The checklist includes proficiencies in laboratory/field techniques, instrumentation, technology, oral, and written communication skills. Suggestions for evidence are given for each category; however, the list is not all-inclusive. Freshman and senior seminar will address the requirements and assess (pass/fail) the results, respectively. It is up to the student to keep the portfolio up-to-date.

Learning Outcomes: Include a matrix or text description of your courses and the applicable learning outcomes for each. Describe how you met those learning outcomes or reference specific course materials.

Cover letter and Resume/CV: Include a resume (or CV) with a sample cover letter. If applying to graduate school, also include a copy of your application essay.

Scientific Inquiry: Attach three term project reports that include evidence of scientific inquiry. Two of the three projects should be from a 300-level BIOL course. Research project must be designed by the student and implemented in a course or during independent research.

Laboratory and Field Proficiencies: Include a description of experience/accomplishments and attach file or provide electronic file name (if uploaded to website) for each of the proficiencies below.

  1. Microscope techniques (e.g, focus, oil immersion, DIC, mounting slides)
  2. Field Sampling (e.g. data collection using quadrats, transects, seining)
  3. Electrophoresis (e.g., agarose, polyacrylamide)
  4. Spectrophotometer (e.g., absorbance, transmittance)
  5. Other (e.g. Hydrolab, YSI meter, fluorescence microscopy): ______________________

Technology Skills: Description of experience/accomplishments and attach file or provide electronic file name (if uploaded to website).

  1. Web (e.g. maintaining a webpage, attaching files, adjusting layout, Google Drive, e-portfolio)
  2. Computer Modeling (e.g. ability to adjust parameters, predict outcomes)
  3. Statistical Software (e.g. SPSS, Microsoft Excel, MATLAB, R, PC-ORD)
  4. Other (e.g. remote sensing, GIS, ImageJ): _______________________

Evaluation of Biological Literature

Summarize and evaluate at least five (5) scientific research papers (peer-reviewed, scholarly journal) in 300-500 words (typed, double-spaced)*. A summary table should be provided (example below).

Author(s) Title  Journal  Date Volume, Issue, Page Numbers
Watson, J.D. and Crick, F.H.C.  A structure for deoxyribose nucleic acid  Nature  1953 171: 737-738

Attendance at biology-related seminars, meetings, and/or conferences

Attend at least five (5) biology-related events (biology licensure candidates: two events must be related to biology/science education) and provide a summary of each in a narrative. Summaries should include the topic, description of the talk, concluding statements, and your opinion of the presentation and content. Summaries should be 300-500 words (typed, double-spaced)*. A summary table should be provided (example below).

Speaker Date  Title of Talk Location
Prager, E. October 29, 2013 Sex, Drugs, and Sea Slime  WSU, Westfield, MA

 *Format may vary, depending on course requirements.

Oral Presentation Skills

Present at least five oral presentations (scientific). At least one must be a poster presentation. List title, date, time, and location in a summary table (example below). Include names of co-presenters if applicable. You must present at least 10 minutes of the given talk to be assessed for this skill.

Type of Presentation Title Date Time Course Co-Presenter(s)
Poster Feeding Preferences of the gray squirrel April 20, 2013  3:30 pm Animal Behavior Smith, J.

Written Communication Skills

Submit your written narratives from your topical seminars (or other courses). These narratives should synthesize a biological topic and should follow the directions given by the instructor. Narratives will address one or more of the department’s learning outcomes, so please be sure to reference those outcomes in the portfolio. Be sure to include the course information on the document.

Literature Cited

National Research Council. 2000. How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school. National Academy Press. 374 pp.

Palinscar, A.S., and A.L. Brown. 1984. Reciprocal teaching of comprehension monitoring activities. Cognition and Instruction, 1:117-175.

Scardamalia, M., C. Bereiter, and R. Steinbach. 1984. Teachability of reflective processes in written composition. Cognitive Science, 8:173-190.

Schoenfield, A. H. 1983. Problem solving in the mathematics curriculum: A report, recommendation and annotated bibliography. Mathematical Association of America Notes No. 1.

Schoenfield, A. H. 1984. Mathematical problem solving. Academic Press, Orlando, Fl.

Schoenfield, A. H. 1991. On mathematics as sense making: An informal attack on the unfortunate divorce of formal and informal mathematics. Pp. 331-343 in Informal Reasoning and Education, J.F. Voss, D.N. Perkins, and J.W. Segal, eds. Earlbum, Hillsdale, NJ.