Reflective Practice and Problem–based Learning Course Portfolio

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Reflective Practice and Problem–based Learning Course Portfolio

Mary Sue Baldwin

Valerie McCombs


“Every artist dips his brush in his own soul, and paints his own nature into his pictures” (Beecher, 1887). Schon's description of the reflective practitioner is similar to Beecher's description of an artist. According to Schon (1983), the reflective practitioner looks beyond the classroom canvas to find meaning in the various phenomena, paints a picture of what he or she sees, and in turn reveals a portrait of the practitioner as an artist and scientist of education. Like the artist who displays works of art on a wall where they will inspire and incite the artist to ask the questions “why?”, “so what?”, and “now what?”, educators can portray their works of teaching in a course portfolio so they too can ask themselves the same questions.

Being a reflective practitioner means not only asking questions but also using the information to refine one's artistry in a particular discipline and to gain greater effectiveness as an educator (Ferrarro, 2001; Schon, 1983). Preferably this process is done with the assistance of a mentor. A mentor can engage the practitioner in an examination of the latter's assumptions, values, and perspectives related to teaching and student learning. However, most educators practice in isolation, which creates a need for other means of communicating their reflections. Using a course portfolio to explore their experience in the classroom can enable educators to acknowledge and validate their quality of teaching, allow recognition from their peers, and contribute to the scholarship of teaching (SOT).

Scholarship of Teaching

The focus of discussions about the scholarship of teaching and learning (SOTL) has shifted from the definition and rationalization stage to an increasingly complex one: that of inquiry, sustainability, and documentation. Organizations such as the Carnegie Academy for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning have been instrumental in supporting this effort by working with scholarly and professional societies to construct the vocabulary, criteria, products, and processes by which to conduct and communicate SOTL (Hutchings & Shulman, 2000). The Pew National Fellowship Program for Carnegie Scholars and the American Association for Higher Education's (AAHE) Teaching Academy Campus Program comprise the other organizations examining SOTL.

Since Boyer (1990) published his views on teaching in Scholarship reconsidered: Priorities of the professoriate, there seems to be a growing acceptance among institutions of higher learning that teaching does exist on equal scholarly footing as research because both roles require vigorous intellectual faculty work. No such acceptance, however, has occurred as to a precise definition of SOT nor with the appropriate method of implementing and communicating scholarly efforts. As to the latter, many faculty and administrators perceive “scholarly” work as being publishable only in traditional peer-reviewed journal articles, monographs, or books. And yet, for SOT to gain stature and solid acceptance among educators, a foundation of inquiry and knowledge must be built. Documents should not only reflect excellent teaching and SOT but distinguish between the two. Indeed, Hutchings and Shulman (1999) remarked that the “scholarship of teaching is not synonymous with excellent teaching” (p. 13). Kreber's (1999) Delphi study participants concurred with Hutchings and Shulman. In their view, SOT incorporates continual examination of the process and outcomes of teaching and learning as well as the contextual aspect of teaching. Faculty who exhibit SOT focus on change: they continually hone their teaching craft through a cycle of action, reflection, and revision. To accomplish this task, multiple and varied interdisciplinary inquiries are required to examine the effect teaching has on the depth and breadth of student learning. Identifying and evaluating SOT can be difficult as faculty generally teach within a vacuum, have limited established tools, and encounter negative connotations about “problems” in teaching. No less an issue is the documentation of these inquiries.

Along with the overall discussions on SOT, forums on the best method or approach to conducting and publishing SOT efforts have been held. The initial opinion expressed by Hutchings (2000) was that no one method or approach is the best for conducting SOT. Similarly, Hutchings and Shulman (1999) challenged the perceptions associated with the publishing of “scholarly” work and declared that no one venue has purported to be the best method for showcasing SOT. Accepting only traditional publications, in their view, hinders discussions on SOT. They and others explored alternative methods of documentation, and from these efforts the course portfolio was created and modified from the more expansive teaching portfolio. Based upon numerous studies on the content, process, and evaluation of teaching portfolios (Edgerton, Hutchings, & Quinlan, 1991;Seldin, 1991, 1993, 1997) and through their growing use as a formative and summative tool, the idea of using a portfolio as a form of documentation for demonstrating SOT became acceptable as well as adaptable. Via a course portfolio, faculty could theoretically demonstrate their activities of reflection and scholarship. The course portfolio, however, is not seen as a smaller version of the teaching portfolio, but as a distinct document. AAHE defines the course portfolio as a document in which faculty display their design, implementation, and assessment of a single course (Hutchings, 1998).

For teaching efforts to be considered examples of scholarship, they must be researched, analyzed, and shared so that others may comprehend and repeat the findings (Boyer, 1990; Shulman, 1998). The research should not be performed in isolation, nor should the analysis and results be kept private. Faculty, in publishing their activities and having these activities peer-reviewed and publicly displayed, can illustrate to other educators in the higher education community that scholarly work was accomplished. The course portfolio could be the most relevant method to showcase the evidence of SOT. According to Glassick, Huber, and Maeroff (1997), there are six standards by which to judge scholarly work: “clear goals, adequate preparation, appropriate methods, significant results, effective presentation, and reflective critique” (p. 35).

Writing a course portfolio takes time and energy, thus faculty will not automatically initiate one without some reassurance that their work will be recognized and rewarded as evidence of scholarly teaching and of advancement of pedagogical content relevant to SOT (Paulsen, 1999;Richlin, 1993). Although a course portfolio can be a formidable tool for reflection and personal growth, its ability to document SOT is still suspect. A reliable and valid tool to link course portfolios and SOT does not exist at this juncture in time, but there is an obvious need for such a tool with the increasing number of course portfolios being written and displayed (Samford University, 2000). Future studies are needed to determine the optimal guidelines and evaluation rubrics for affirming the course portfolio's link to SOT, as well as to promote the examination of teaching practices in a consistent and judicious manner.

Faculty Recognition and Rewards

The reflective practitioner role of a teacher has been examined primarily in relation to promotion and tenure processes. This is critically important as most faculty in institutions of higher education view academic advancement as being extremely important, and this impacts the manner in which administrators and faculty approach other issues, such as how to enhance student learning. Unfortunately, the current method for achieving tenure was established in the late 1960s and has not been significantly revised since then (Boyer, 1990).

According to Bosner (1992), the present method is inadequate for several reasons. For one, enrollments have grown at institutions so quickly that a strain has been placed upon the higher education system. Indeed, from 1960 to the end of the 1980s, enrollments in the United States alone increased from 3.5 million to over 13.5 million students (National Education Association, 1994). This has caused a concurrent increase in faculty numbers and an inverse relationship with their respective administrators. Assessing faculty performance, therefore, has evolved into an impersonal process and it is made more difficult by the fact that most administrators, although experts in their particular discipline, may not have adequate training in the principles of education, student learning, management, or leadership.

The Boyer report (1990) brought to the forefront the issue that teaching is equitable with research. Despite this declaration, prominent organizations such as the Ford Foundation continue to emphasize faculty research efforts,>which still carry significant weight at institutions of higher learning. Increase in numbers and the push for research and publications have guided most institutions' missions and subsequent promotion and tenure systems.

Unfortunately, this same combination is thought to have created a void in the assessment and documentation of teaching excellence (Ewell, 1993). This void is beginning to be filled by documents like portfolios.


According to Boyer (1990), the three traditional roles of a faculty member in higher education are researcher, educator, and scholar. He instead proposed the possible solution of viewing faculty work as a process of four overlapping functions: discovery (as in research), integration (synthesizing material such as in a textbook), application (consulting activities), and the scholarship of teaching. To display these functions, Edgerton, Hutchings, and Quinlan (1991) proposed a teaching portfolio. In their view, a teaching portfolio can “help document and display a conception of teaching that is indeed a ‘pedagogy of substance’—recognized and valued as a form of scholarly work” (p. 2).

Teaching Portfolios

Trying to show the full extent of the relationship between teachers and students has been a challenge. Teaching exists more on a continuum that can occur beyond a finite period of time (Cerbin, 2001). This is especially true if one considers that teaching is broader than the two or more individuals involved. Teaching embodies the elements of vision, design, interactions, outcomes, and analysis (Shulman, 1998). Vision entails the description of one's goals and philosophy of teaching. Design and interaction elements portray the method and materials used to enhance student learning. What students actually learn is shown in the outcomes. It is the last section that brings the document full circle. Analysis, or reflection, of all the previous elements promotes the transformation and improvement of one's teaching. Recording these elements requires an extensive and dynamic document.

A teaching portfolio is “a factual description of a professor's strengths, accomplishments and includes documents and materials which collectively suggest the scope and quality of a professor's teaching performance” (Seldin, 1993, 2). It is not to be an “exhaustive compilation of all of the documents and materials that bear on teaching performance” (Seldin, 1997, 2). More than a collection of artifacts, portfolios can pose a teaching problem, make inquiries, and analyze the process. The range of information within a teaching portfolio allows a more complete view of the faculty member as a teacher. Going beyond end-of-course student evaluations and self-assessment survey tools, the teaching portfolio and its content detailing one's involvement in student activities, course and curriculum development, grant writing, publishing on teaching, and feedback from peers can facilitate a more comprehensive merit review. A summary or reflective section ties all the content together into a specific context, unique to the portfolio author's situation.

A teaching portfolio has the advantages of demonstrating the faculty member as a scholarly teacher, displaying evidence of the quality of one's teaching practice, exploring the practice of teaching, improving one's comprehension of teaching, and contributing to SOT. The potential disadvantages include the time needed to compile and organize the various material, having the material open to public scrutiny, and possibly not receiving adequate recognition. These portfolios can be cumbersome. Another possibility exists for faculty to showcase their teaching abilities. That would be to utilize a portion of a teaching portfolio, the portion that looks intensely at one aspect of a faculty's role: teaching a course.

Course Portfolios

As an entity, a course is fairly self-contained. It comprises specific goals and objectives, teaching methods, and classroom assignments designed for students to comprehend certain content and concepts. A fairly new device, the course portfolio can allow faculty to display their scholarly and pedagogical dimensions along with the opportunity to reflect upon their goals and experiences in teaching a specific course (Bass, 1998). AAHE defines course portfolios in contrast to teaching portfolios and states that “the course portfolio focuses on the unfolding of a single course, from conception to results” (Hutchings, 1998, 15). According to AAHE, a course portfolio is compiled to accomplish four goals: to facilitate the retaining of information and process within a course; to encourage scholarly inquiry; to reduce feelings of isolation; and to be rewarded for excellence in teaching.

Of these goals, Cerbin (2001), who first introduced the idea of course portfolios, stresses the second and concludes that a course is like an experiment. The goals of a course dictate its design. The design may not be fully apparent in a syllabus, but one can note the course calendar and assignments for the method in which the “experiment” is implemented. The outcomes of the experiment are shown in the values and ideas students grasp at the completion of the course (Hutchings, 1998). Performing research in this capacity can be considered a process of discovery, a scholarly endeavor according to Boyer (1990); and therefore documenting in a course portfolio this process and the teaching strategies used during the discovery should constitute a scholarly endeavor. Analysis of the entire process is essential to complete the experiment. This in-depth and systematic inquiry into one's teaching can improve not only one's teaching but students' learning as well.

Most faculty have an innate desire to foster comprehension and lifelong learning in their students. They will seek advice from their peers, query their students, and attend workshops and seminars on relevant teaching strategies. However, for the educator or a faculty peer to truly understand and support his or her teaching requires more than a snapshot of the course. Classroom observations can be of assistance, but they are neither always timely nor contiguous enough to allow the observer a true feel of the teacher's capabilities. A portfolio, on the other hand, can provide a panoramic view, from the peaks to the valleys of the course. It can be a mechanism for faculty to investigate and document their knowledge and teaching abilities that can contribute to stronger and deeper student learning. The course portfolio allows faculty to literally connect pedagogy with their students' learning by outlining the anatomy, natural history, ecology, or laboratory history of a course.

Depending on the author's discipline, the course portfolio can comprise a number of items from before, during, and after the course. Defining elements from these items are excerpts from a course inquiry and highlights of student learning. What singles out the course portfolio as a scholarly tool is the inclusion of the author's reflections (Hutchings, 1998). These reflections can add to the community of teaching practice and to SOT.

According to Barkley (2001), course portfolios can provide a template for displaying the concepts of SOT, allow for the “messy complexity” (p. 2) of teaching and learning, and convey the full implementation and transformation of a course. Furthermore, the course portfolio pushed Barkley to go beyond intuition and anecdotal information to a “culture of evidence” (p. 4). Faculty may wish to explore issues and concerns encountered in their course, critique their teaching methods, display evidence of student learning, facilitate revision of the course, share insights, or enhance the possibility of being recognized for excellence in teaching. Course portfolios can also encourage individual teachers to pose new questions, explore these questions, and then share their results with the greater teaching community. These approaches will be regulated by their respective audience. Obviously, portfolios written for oneself may vary significantly from those written for promotion and tenure, merit review, professional organizations, or even students.

Suggested content for a course portfolio varies as well. Hutchings (1998) recommended three particular sections: design, enactment, and results. Possible items to include in each section are given in Table 1. To be a reflective portfolio, however, Hutchings stressed that the author must reflect upon every item within each of these sections; and Schon (1996) strongly recommended that the author utilize a “coach” or “mentor” to guide the process.

A mentor can assist the author in ensuring the course portfolio is not a catch-all document. The key is to document the interaction between course design, implementation, and results. Although the course portfolio's content, format, and evaluation have not been firmly established, thus leaving its value to speculation, it can provide a clear, holistic view of teaching and learning.

Cognitive Approach to Problem–based Learning Course Portfolios

Armed with the tools of educational science, teachers can approach classroom problems with a variety of teaching and learning strategies. Continually pondering the effectiveness of these strategies promotes the process of transformation. The essence of transformation erupts from teachers' ability to transform their own learning. Transformational learning allows teachers to augment their knowledge base and create extensive shifts in their own comprehension and visions as teachers (Portnow et al., 1998). According to Hamilton (2002), this deep level of reflective thinking leads to significant contributions to the art and science of teaching. Teachers need to examine and delineate all the actual and potential circumstances and consequences that can impact learning in the classroom. Organizing all these aspects into a common framework and document enlightens the reflected experiences. Creating meaning out of the random chaos that can

TABLE 1 Course portfolio components
Adapted from Hutchings (1998).
DesignCourse vision
or dream
Course calendar
What is the vision for the course?
What problem/issue is addressed in the
Course descriptionHow does this course fit in the overall
Course goals and
What is the history and evolution of the
Course topics
Learning outcomes
What expectations of student learning
are made?
Course rationale
Curricular position
What are the strengths and weaknesses
of the course?
What enhancers and obstacles exist for
the enactment of the course?
Why was this course selected for
documentation in a course portfolio?
of the course
Audiovisual materials
How does this course begin and end?
What is the role of the teacher in this
Lecture notes
Evaluation tools
What is the role of the students in this
Study questions
Peer observations
Why are the assignments arranged in a
particular order?
Web pageWhat is the most important assignment
in this course?
What are the best and the worst
assignments in this course?
Which course element should be
highlighted in the portfolio?
ResultsEvidence of
Learning outcomes
Student essays
What learning outcome(s) did most of
the students achieve?
What learning outcome(s) did most of
the students fail to achieve?
Lab reports
E-mail/chat rooms
What was the most surprising result of
the course and why?
SurveysWhat results were the most pleasing?
Evaluation rubricsWhat results were the most disturbing?
What feature(s) of the course will be
Peer evaluationsWhat feature(s) of the course will not
be retained and how will it be revised?

occur with any teaching experience allows one to comprehend the past and to plan future actions, decisions, and achievements.

Using problems as the organizing focus for the instruction of the content and concepts of a course is a key component of Problem–based learning (PBL). The premise inherent in PBL revolves around ill-structured, complex real-world problems and the resulting cognitive dissonance that stimulates students' collaborative learning and inquiry (Boud & Feletti, 1997). Through carefully constructed open-ended problems, students work to develop and refine critical thinking, research, and communication skills so that they can apply these same skills to contextually rich situations in the future beyond the boundaries of their present-day classroom experiences (Coles, 1997;Dunkhase & Penick, 1990).

Schmidt (1993) outlined three principles from cognitive psychology that support the use of PBL. First, PBL requires students to activate prior knowledge to address the “new” problem posed. Second, using their baseline knowledge, the students, working in teams, must discuss and formulate the association between concepts. Creating these multiple cognitive links between “old” and “new” ideas enhances the students' ability to retrieve and utilize information from memory. Finally, since PBL problems are presented as “real-world situations,” students' learning occurs in a context similar to the one in which the problems will be applied. The problem and its resolution cue the learner when similar problems arise in practice. These cues are necessary to access the prior relevant knowledge embedded in one's memory.

Documenting students' and one's own experiential learning from PBL is an essential component to becoming a reflective and scholarly practitioner. Scholarly contributions to pedagogical content knowledge can arise from the practice of, reflection on, and codification of teaching (Paulsen, 2001). This can be a daunting task without a delineated process. Guidelines for writing a course portfolio can provide a stepping-off place for writing one's ideas and concerns about teaching a certain concept and content (see Appendix A for an example of guidelines). By facilitating the process of reflection, the guidelines can encourage educators to ponder and to develop a deeper understanding of their practice. These reflections can be approached in several ways: reflection-on-action, reflection-in-action, or via a conceptual framework.

Reflective Models

Reflection-on-action involves a retrospective examination of one's current abilities, knowledge, competencies, and practice (Schon, 1983). Modifications to the teaching process and enhancement of student learning can only occur with subsequent courses. Conversely, reflection-in-action is a dynamic process and promotes reflection while in the midst of teaching a class or course. Facilitating this latter process can be by having frequent discussions with one's mentor and/or by keeping a reflective diary. Regardless of either approach, encouraging educators to reflect and document their reflections at some point in their teaching is the ultimate goal.

For some educators, a model or conceptual framework may assist in the stimulation, guidance, and documentation of reflective practice. One model to consider is the Johns (1994) model of structured reflection (see Table 2), which is being used in nursing to reflect upon nurse-patient interactions. Although used in a health-care setting, this model can be applicable to reflecting upon the educator-student interaction experience. Its support of the affective domain and the view of the nurse/educator's experiences from a holistic standpoint are of particular importance. Educators are adept in delineating their intellectual motivations and

TABLE 2 Johns' model of structured reflection
Cue topicCue questions
Adapted from Johns (1994).
AestheticsWhat was I trying to achieve?
Why did I respond as I did?
What were the consequences of that for the students, myself, or others?
How were the students or I feeling?
How did I know this?
PersonalHow did I feel in this situation?
What internal factors were influencing me?
EthicsHow did my actions match with my beliefs?
What factors made me act in incongruent ways?
EmpiricsWhat knowledge did or should have informed me?
ReflexivityHow does this connect with my previous experiences?
Could I handle this better in future situations?
What would be the consequences of alternative action for the students, myself, or
How do I feel about the experience?
Can I support others and myself better as a consequence?
Has this changed my ways of knowing?

processes; recognizing and documenting their intrapersonal and inter-personal reactions to the teaching-learning experience is a much more daunting task.

Reflecting upon one's teaching from a SOT approach requires a different approach. A multidimensional model for SOT developed by Trigwell, Martin, Benjamin, and Prosser (2001) offers a framework for documenting reflections in a course portfolio. Their model was designed to be consistent with the literature on SOT, allow for the diversity in faculty's teaching, and make visible the process of student learning (Ramsden, 1992). Building upon the works of Andresen and Webb (2000), Boyer (1990), Glassick, Huber, and Maeroff (1997), Rice (1992), Schon (1995), and Shulman (1993), the model was developed around four core dimensions. The dimensions' descriptions and levels are outlined in Table 3. As one can infer from the table, those faculty who exhibit level-4 behaviors clearly are practitioners of SOT.

TABLE 3 Scholarship of teaching model dimensions: descriptions and levels
Adapted from Trigwell, Martin, Benjamin, & Prosser (2001).
DescriptionExtent faculty are
aware of their own
disciplines and
in general the
literature on
teaching and
Ability to reflect
on one's teaching
and the effect on
student learning
and make relevant
Dissemination of
practice and
theories related
to general and
teaching and
Place on
from a focus
purely on
student learning
to one mainly
on teaching
Level 1Informal teaching
and learning
theories used
Exhibits little to
no reflective
NoneTeaching focus
from a teacher-
Level 2Aware of general
teaching and
learning literature
Disseminates ideas
and teaching
practices informally
Level 3Aware of general
and discipline-specific
teaching and learning
Actively reflectsDisseminates ideas
and teaching
practices at national
Level 4Conducts and links
action research and
adds to pedagogical
knowledge base
Actively reflects
and proposes
relevant research
to improve teaching
and learning
Disseminates ideas
and teaching
practices in
scholarly venues
Teaching focus
from a student-


Teachers who desire to become reflective practitioners must constantly assess their choices and behaviors in the classroom, as well as the interrelationship between students, parents, and other teaching professionals (LEARN NC, 2001). Recognizing the positive consequences from such actions, institutions around the world are encouraging teachers to be actively involved in learning communities in which discussions and documents focus on the assessment of teaching strategies (like PBL) and student learning. Within these learning forums, teachers can interact with their peers and contribute to their own professional education. By using these teaching dialogues and course portfolios to explore their teaching, teachers can demonstrate not only their skills as reflective practitioners but also their growth as scholars in teaching.


Andresen, L. W., & Webb, C. A. (2000). Discovering the scholarship of teaching. Richmond: University of Western Sydney Hawkesbury.

Barkley, E. F. (2001). From Bach to Tupac. AAHE Bulletin, June.

Bass, R. (1998). A hypertext portfolio on an experimental American literature course. In P. Hutchings (Ed.), The course portfolio: How faculty can examine their teaching to advance practice and improve student learning (pp. 91–96). Washington, DC: American Association for Higher Education.

Beecher, H. W. (1887). Proverbs from Plymouth pulpit. In The Columbia book of quotations. New York: Columbia University Press (1996).

Bosner, C. F. (1992). Total quality education? Public Administration Review, 52, 504–12.

Boud, D., & Feletti, G. I. (Eds.) (1997). The challenge of Problem–based learning (2nd ed.). London: Kogan Page.

Boyer, E. L. (1990). Scholarship reconsidered: Priorities of the professoriate. Princeton, NJ: Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

Cerbin, W. (2001). The course portfolio. American Psychological Society News and Research.

Coles, C. (1997). Is Problem–based learning the only way? In D. Boud & G. I. Feletti (Eds.), The challenge of Problem–based learning (2nd ed., pp. 313–25). London: Kogan Page.

Dunkhase, J. A., & Penick, J. E. (1990). Problem solving in the real world. Journal of College Science Teaching, 19, 367–70.

Edgerton, R., Hutchings, P., & Quinlan, K. (1991). The teaching portfolio: Capturing the scholarship of teaching. Washington, DC: American Association for Higher Education.

Ewell, P. T. (1993). Total quality and academic practice: The idea we've been waiting for? Change, 25, 49–55.

Ferrarro, J. (2001). Reflective practice and professional development. Educational Resources Information Center Digest.

Glassick, C. E., Huber, M. T., & Maeroff, G. I. (1997). Scholarship assessed: Evaluation of the professoriate. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Hamilton, S. (2002). Mirror, mirror, to the mind: What we see(k) is what we find!Writing reflectively about teaching and learning. PBL Insight, 5, 1–4.

Hutchings, P. (Ed.) (1998). The course portfolio: How faculty can examine their teaching to advance practice and improve student learning. Washington, DC: American Association for Higher Education.

Hutchings, P. (Ed.) (2000). Introduction: Approaching the scholarship of teaching and learning. In Opening lines: Approaches to the scholarship of teaching and learning (pp. 1–10). Menlo Park, CA: Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

Hutchings, P., & Shulman, L. S. (1999). The scholarship of teaching: New elaborations, new developments. Change, 31, 10–15.

Hutchings, P., & Shulman, L. S. (2000). Preface. In P. Hutchings (Ed.), Opening lines: Approaches to the scholarship of teaching and learning. Menlo Park, CA: Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

Johns, C. (1994). Guided reflection. In A. M. Palmer, S. Burns, & C. Bulman (Eds.), Reflective practice in nursing. Oxford: Blackwell.

Kreber, C. (1999). Defining and implementing the scholarship of teaching: The results of a Delphi study. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Canadian Society for the Study of Higher Education. Universite de Sherbrooke, Sherbrooke, Quebec, June.

LEARN NC (2001). Standard 9: Reflective practice. Chapel Hill, NC: North Carolina Teachers' Network.

National Education Association (1994). Statement on faculty reward structures. Washington, DC.

Paulsen, M. B. (1999). How college students learn: Linking traditional educational research and contextual classroom research. Journal of Staff, Program and Organization Development, 16, 63–71.

Paulsen, M. B. (2001). The relation between research and the scholarship of teaching. In C. Kreber (Ed.), Scholarship revisited: Perspectives on the scholarship of teaching (pp. 19–30). New directions for teaching and learning, No. 86. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Portnow, K., Popp, N., Broderick, M., Drago-Severson, E., & Kegan, R. (1998). NCSALL's research findings. Transformational learning in adulthood. Focus on Basics, 2, 22–27.̃ncsall/fob/1998/for2id.htm.

Ramsden, P. (1992). Learning to teach in higher education. London: Routledge.

Rice, E. A. (1992). Toward a broader conception of scholarship: The American context.

In T. G. Whiston & R. L. Geiger (Eds.), Research and higher education in the United Kingdom and the United States. Lancaster: Society for Research into Higher Education.

Richlin, L. (Ed.) (1993). Preparing faculty for the new conceptions of scholarship. New directions for teaching and learning, No. 54. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Samford University (2000). PBL-PR web site.

Schmidt, H. G. (1993). Foundations of Problem–based learning: Some explanatory notes. Medical Education, 27, 422–32.

Schon, D. A. (1983). The reflective practitioner. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Schon, D. A. (1995). The new scholarship requires a new epistemology. Change, 27, 27–34.

Schon, D. A. (1996). Educating the reflective practitioner: Toward a new design for teaching and learning in the professions. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Seldin, P. (1991). The teaching portfolio: A practical guide to improved performance and promotion/tenure decisions. Bolton, MA: Anker.

Seldin, P. (1993). Successful use of teaching portfolios. Bolton, MA: Anker.

Seldin, P. (1997). The teaching portfolio: A practical guide to improved performance and promotion/tenure decisions (2nd ed.). Bolton, MA: Anker.

Shulman, L. S. (1993). Teaching as community property. Change, 25, 6–7.

Shulman, L. S. (1998). Course anatomy: The dissection and analysis of knowledge through teaching. In P. Hutchings (Ed.), The course portfolio: How faculty can examine their teaching to advance practice and improve student learning (pp. 5–12). Washington, DC: American Association for Higher Education.

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Center for Problem–based Learning Samford University

Problem–based Learning-Peer Review (PBL-PR) Course Portfolio Project

(Supported by Samford University and the Pew Charitable Trusts)

Course Portfolio Outline


  1. Introductory Information
  2. Course Design
    1. Rationale
    2. Reflective essay on course content
    3. Reflective essay on instructional practice
    4. PBL context and application
  3. Student Understanding
  4. Reflective Summary of the Course

(Detailed instructions for each component of the portfolio can be found in the step-by-step guide.)

Background Information

What Is a Course Portfolio?

The course portfolio is not an omnibus collection of all materials related to your course, but a focused look at one aspect of the course design. In general, you should think of the portfolio as a qualitative study of the course. Be clear as to the purpose of your investigation and include any material relevant and supportive of your endeavors. A good course portfolio will adhere to the same guidelines as a good scholarly article: clarity of purpose, original ideas, appropriate use of evidence, and significant conclusions. Additional information on the components of a course portfolio may be found on the Samford PBL-PR web site at

Compared to a “teaching” or “professional” portfolio, a course portfolio examines a particular teaching/learning experience. Although it is assumed that most faculty employ a variety of instructional methods in a course, the review board is particularly interested in the PBL activities, whether they constitute a complete course or are learning situations not formally designated as a “course.” If you have concerns or questions as to your teaching/learning experience being applicable to this project, please contact the Director, Center for Problem–based Learning.

What Is Problem–based Learning?

Course portfolios may be written for many purposes; however, the current project is limited to courses utilizing PBL. Detailed information about PBL as a pedagogical method is available via many sources, including the Samford PBL web site at To summarize some of the common characteristics, PBL involves:

  • student-centered learning
  • use of small student groups to discuss the problem(s) and possible avenues of resolution
  • teachers acting as facilitators or guides
  • problems as the organizing focus and stimulus for learning
  • problems that are not subject to easy or formulaic solutions (sometimes referred to as ill-structured or complex problems)
  • student gaining problem-solving skills through the learning experience and acquiring new knowledge via self-directed learning

Owing to the project design, one component of the portfolio will specifically address the manner in which PBL has been used in the course. The course portfolio should clearly explain the reasons for using PBL as a teaching method.

Why Write a Course Portfolio?

Preparing a course portfolio is an intellectually demanding and time-consuming activity. Faculty should seriously consider the commitment necessary to complete the writing of the portfolio. On the other hand, a portfolio provides an excellent means of communicating publicly the labor behind good teaching. The course portfolio also allows possible external review of the scholarship of teaching, similar to a journal article making possible the review of traditional research. Increasing numbers of faculty are using course portfolios during performance reviews for tenure, promotion, and merit-based raises. For this project, exemplary portfolios will be registered on the project web site and acknowledged as a scholarly document that withstood the scrutiny of peer review.

The PBL-PR course portfolio project is one of several national initiatives currently underway to validate the scholarship of teaching. Building upon Ernest Boyer's (1990) work, Lee Shulman and Pat Hutchings, respectively the President and Senior Scholar of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, have delineated the scholarship of teaching as being public, open to assessment, and forming a basis for others to foster lifelong learning in students and to enhance the practice of teaching (Hutchings & Shulman, 1999). An important component of a document displaying the scholarship of teaching is the reflective piece. Reflection details the author's thoughts and experiences as to what worked and what did not work in the course.

For assistance in writing one's course portfolio, you may wish to review several excellent resources, including William Cerbin's (1994) “The course portfolio as a tool for continuous improvement of teaching and learning” and others displayed on the web site. Participants in this project will be contributing to an important conversation between faculty and administrators as to how the art and science of teaching can be studied, recognized, and valorized.

How Will the Course Portfolio be Reviewed?

Each portfolio will have a preliminary review to ensure that it meets the minimum standards of the project. If these standards are met, the portfolio will be sent out for review by a specialist in the discipline and a specialist in teaching/learning strategies. Results of the reviews, which remain confidential, will be returned to the faculty member submitting the portfolio. The faculty member will then have the opportunity to revise and resubmit the portfolio for electronic publication on the project web site. Portfolios exemplifying the scholarship of teaching will be officially registered on the project web site.

What Are the Submission Guidelines?

The portfolio review process involves several stages. The first stage of review will be done by the PBL-PR editor and a faculty member at Samford from the same discipline or a closely related one. After the course portfolio author makes revisions based on this formative feedback, the portfolio will be submitted for formal peer review by both content and PBL instructional design experts. For this phase, four print copies must be submitted, two of which should include no reference to your identity. Depending upon the reviewers' comments, further revision may be necessary. The final portfolio will then be considered for publication in Samford's course portfolio peer registry. If accepted, the portfolio will need to be submitted electronically.

Specific criteria to fulfill in developing and submitting a course portfolio include:

  1. Two print copies of the completed portfolio must be received by the Center for Problem–based Learning, Samford University, 800 Lakeshore Drive, Birmingham, AL 35229-7020, by the date specified.
  2. Portfolios should be double-spaced, except in places where usage requires or permits single spacing (e.g., footnotes).
  3. Paragraphs should be indented, but no additional space (i.e., beyond the normal double-spacing) should be inserted between paragraphs.
  4. Margins should be set as follows:
    1. Side margins: 1½ inches on the left and 1 inch on the right.
    2. Right margin should be unjustified.
    3. Top and bottom margins: 1 inch.
  5. Every page must be assigned a page number. The page number should be placed at the top right.
  6. Times New Roman, 12 point, is the preferred typeface and size.
  7. Under no circumstance should legibility be sacrificed in order to pack more text into the document.
  8. Scholars may follow the accepted documentation style of their discipline (e.g., APA, MLA, and Chicago Manual of Style).
  9. Course portfolios should be no more than twenty (20) pages, double-spaced, including all appendixes and attachments. References to course materials, student products, evaluation instruments, etc., should be made by providing a web site address where these materials may be obtained. Portfolios which exceed the page limit will be returned.
  10. If accepted for publication, the final submission must include a 3.5” diskette with a Microsoft Word file (version 6.0 or higher). The electronic submission must be exactly the same file that generated the printed text.

What Are the Important Dates to Remember?

If you wish to participate in the fourth round of the project, please refer to the calendar below for important dates and relevant events.

Reflective Practice and Problem–based Learning Course Portfolio
September 200230Fourth-round portfolio applications due
January 200331Fourth-round portfolios due at Center for PBL,
Samford University
April 200330Fourth-round authors send two copies of
portfolios to Center for PBL, Samford University
May 200330Fourth-round portfolios have completed
Samford review. Letters of acceptance/
rejection sent
June 200330Fourth-round revisions due (four copies)
November 20031Fourth-round exemplary portfolios to be
published on the project web site

Is There a Step-by-Step Guide to Preparing the Portfolio?

Yes. Use the guidelines listed below to complete your portfolio. Be sure to include all of the information requested, and in the same order. Being knowledgeable as to the context of your course will be extremely helpful to the peer reviewers.

Part I: Introductory Information

A. Institutional

1. Name of college/university: ____________________________________

2. Total enrollment: ____________________________________________

3. Is the university public or private? _______________________________

4. Carnegie classification: _______________________________________

(Refer to

B. Individual

1. Your school (Arts and Sciences, Business, etc.): ___________________

2. Your department/division: _____________________________________

3. Your faculty rank:____________________________________________

4. Highest degree earned: _______________________________________

5. Number of years teaching at the college level: _____________________

6. Awards received for excellence in teaching: _______________________

C. Course

1. Course name (e.g., Molecular Biology): __________________________

2. Course abbreviation and number (e.g., BIOL 3399): ________________

3. Number of semester/quarter (circle one) credit hours: _______________

4. Catalog description: _________________________________________ __________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________

5. Number of students typically taught in this course: __________________

6. In what year do students typically enroll in this course: freshman, sophomore, junior, senior, or graduate? (circle one)

7. This course is best described as (select one):

a. required general education course

b. elective general education course

c. required course for majors

d. elective course for majors

e. pre-professional course for various majors

f. other (please specify): _____________________________________

D. Problem–based learning

1. What percentage of this course uses PBL? _______________________

2. How long have you been teaching the course using PBL? ___________

3. Is the course designated as PBL in any official way (e.g., school catalog)?


Part II: Course Design

A. Rationale

The rationale should be a brief statement of your reasons for using PBL in teaching the course the way you do. This corresponds to the “thesis” or “argument” section of a research paper. Use this as a guide in writing the portfolio and cite scholarly, professional, and content references.

B. Reflective essay on course content

Use this section to focus on those aspects of the course content that you chose based upon scholarly research and personal judgment. If you have taught this course repeatedly, you may choose to describe the evolution of the course as you grew in your understanding of the course and the discipline. It is not necessary to address the standard information typically included in this course (e.g., that you teach “Enlightenment” in your Western Civilization course).

C. Reflective essay on instructional practice

Good teaching should be guided by an understanding of student learning needs and should utilize appropriate instructional practices. Discuss the methods of instruction you use, why you chose PBL in addition to other particular method(s), and how they relate to your course goals. Similar to content issues, you may wish to discuss the evolution of your teaching methods over time.

D. PBL context and application

State specifically how PBL is used in your course. Consider including the nature of the problem(s) you have selected, the manner in which you facilitate the problems in class, the use of student groups for problem solving, and the outcome of the PBL activities.

Part III: Student Understanding

A. Evidence of students achieving the learning objectives

In this section, you need to include an example (or examples) of student products created in your course. Some examples to consider are descriptions of a student's performance or a summary of group responses to a particular PBL stimulus, etc. Along with the example(s), please provide a context for this example. Was it exceptional work or typical of what all students produced? What directions were given to guide student performance? What interaction did students have with faculty, tutors, or other students during the process? You may wish to include a web address where further evidence may be examined, if possible.

B. Reflection on the evidence of student learning

How does the example(s) provided confirm (or refute) the validity of the approach being used? What standards of judgment were used to evaluate student work? How successful have students been in meeting the learning objectives? What are the limitations of this evidence? As a result of this analysis, what might be changed (or has been changed) to improve student performance? Has the student outcome information been used to modify the course design?

Part IV: Reflective Summary of the Course

The synopsis of your course portfolio should briefly review the purpose of the portfolio and the outcomes of your study. This section should be written so that it could be read independently of the overall portfolio.


Boyer, E. L. (1990). Scholarship reconsidered: Priorities of the professoriate. Princeton, NJ: Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

Cerbin, W. (1994). The course portfolio as a tool for continuous improvement of teaching and learning. Journal of Excellence in College Teaching, 5, 95–105.

Hutchings, P., & Shulman, L. S. (1999). The scholarship of teaching: New elaborations, new developments. Change, 31, 10–15.