Project:  The Web-Based Electronic Portfolio As a Foreign Language Assessment Tool
Project web site:  In addition, see for the course.  Contact the project director for password access.
Team members:  H. Jay Siskin, Louis Compoginis and Bette Hirsch

The original project sought to develop a web-based portfolio assessment instrument for first-year French and Spanish courses. The project would assess student proficiency/achievement in four skill areas and culture. The site would also allow the posting of best works, e.g., student-developed projects that illustrate successful attainment of standards set for the first-year language course.

Over the last year, we have developed a web-based portfolio assessment instrument for the first-year French course using WebCT, a commercially-available, course software package. The instrument consists of two parts: a set of discrete-point items that tests reading skills, and grammar, in context and a task-based writing assignment. We have developed a test bank with over 100 items, of which 75 appear in the online assessment site available for viewing. The tool was class-tested at the end of the fall semester and a number of items were withdrawn due to their level of difficulty. These were replaced with more appropriate items, although this resulted in abandoning some of the cultural context (the city of Marseilles) that we had identified to give thematic unity to the test.

Our original plan included audio and video cues. Although we were successful in incorporating a video clip into our question bank, we have not had the opportunity to develop these question types. This is the goal we will be pursuing in the future.

We had also included Spanish in our original action plan. Given the complexities of the French project, some of which are still unresolved, we decided to focus on the successful completion of the French, which will simplify the Spanish task. Remaining to complete as well is a valid set of outcomes that reflect student ability at the end of a year of study. Based on my years of teaching experience and materials development, as well as models developed at other community colleges, I have a good sense as to what those outcomes will look like. I therefore developed the test items with these in mind. However, we have asked for the support of the French department in this endeavor, and are awaiting their completed work.

We will classroom test the new set of materials by the end of the coming academic year and revise them if necessary. The completed testing apparatus will then be made a formal component of the French program.

Dan Rivas, our assigned mentor, and Bette Hirsch, administrative liaison, were crucial in keeping the project on task. In particular, we view Dan's site visit to Cabrillo as a turning point in the project. Up until that time, we had focused on developing a website from scratch, and ran into a number of technological challenges. Although we had the content, we were still struggling with site architecture, forms, feedback and multimedia issues. After discussions with Dan, we reevaluated our plan and identified WebCT as an appropriate tool to accomplish our goals. Dan and Bette were both extremely helpful in evaluating our work, giving us feedback and keeping up our morale.

We had several opportunities to disseminate our work. At a local level, we presented our project to the French Department during FLEX week in the fall semester 2000 and continued our discussion with other faculty throughout the semester and at our spring departmental meeting. On 8 May 2000, we presented the department with an updated version of our site. At the regional level, we offered a session at the Western CCHA conference in Santa Fe in November 2000. Finally, we conducted a session at the conference of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages in Boson, the largest national conference on foreign language education.

Lessons learned
We learned a number of important lessons during the development of our project. At the institutional level, we realized the importance of departmental support for our work. This included not only encouragement, but a theoretical understanding of the issues of standards, outcomes and assessment. Since our work will become a formal component of the French curriculum in the fall, it is crucial that all instructors be able to assimilate these concepts into their thinking about and practice of language teaching. There is still an intellectual gap in this process, but it is our hope that our project will have a "washback" effect and influence language learning at Cabrillo in a positive way.

Another lesson, alluded to several times above, was the fact that our plan proved too ambitious, in particular, in the technological domain. We learned that it is no longer necessary to start from scratch; much work has been done in the area of electronic delivery of content and that there is no detriment (or shame!) in using this work as a foundation for achieving the goals of our project. We were so impressed by the work we saw at the national project at George Mason University in December 1999 that we returned to Cabrillo with the idea that we could create and implement tools as polished as we saw demonstrated. We have certainly not given up on this idea. But we realized that we did not have the time nor the resources to achieve that professional quality over the course of a year.

WebCT gave us an enormous head start. We no longer had to invest as much time in technology but could focus more on content. This is not to say that WebCT did not present challenges. In order to make effective use of it, we had to expand our knowledge of software media applications, such as Photoshop, web editors, such as Go Live! and Dreamweaver, and HTML code.

Finally, a lesson that we still need to learn is whether we will need permission to use visuals scanned from print material and short reading passages in our test bank. Since the site is password protected, and the materials are being used for educational purposes, we feel reasonably confident that permission will not be needed. Nevertheless, before the larger implementation of our project, we will need to resolve this issue.

H. Jay Siskin,
Cabrillo College

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