Healthy Assessment as learning diet: Using digital portfolios and professional discussion

What was the activity?

We developed and implemented an assessment diet for a postgraduate ‘Workshop for Open Educational Practitioners’ module during its first iteration on 2020/21. Our assessment approach consisted of the design of a portfolio-based project combined with a professional discussion.

We used active discursive participatory learning strategies and tactics together with digital process and product portfolios throughout the module to facilitate and scaffold the students’ learning process. This fostered ongoing peer-to-peer learning, assessment as learning or learning through assessment (Yan and Yang, 2022). Dialogic and iterative feedback was followed by a final examination in the form of a professional discussion. This examination was not a ‘bolt-on’, but rather the final milestone of the assessment process and a celebration of students’ achievements and their projects. Therefore, the professional discussion was an opportunity for tutors and students as their open education peers to come together in a collegial and democratic space and engage in a critical dialogue that helped students feel relaxed and positive about their work and the future impact of their projects, something that often doesn’t happen during a formal examination. The conversation aimed at addressing not only the outcome but reflections about the process, engagement with others’ to see if and how they have taken their peers’ feedback on board, and also, review the potential and impact of the project in the near future.  

About the module and the curriculum design

The module is part of the MA in Open Educational Leadership at Nova Gorica University in Slovenia, which is currently offered remotely to a global cohort.      The diverse group of students work in a range of professional settings with a commitment to making a difference to their local communities and more widely to fulfil their social mission. 

The module specification was approved before we were involved in the programme. However, we had the creative freedom to interpret the module specification, design and implement learning and teaching activities as well as create an assessment to achieve the learning outcomes, maximise learning and provide choice to students, something we felt was really important. 

The module, including the assessment, was designed around students’ aspirations, plans and open education project ideas. A scaffold of support via a series of live self-paced and peer-supported activities using networked technologies helped them to create their own recipe for success. During the live-sessions students had multiple opportunities to work on their own and with their peers on specific tasks that helped them develop their project in response to what was discussed and explored in each session. This helped them link theory to practice and directly apply it to their projects. The value of this type of activity was very welcome and had a positive impact on how the projects grew and came to fruition as well as how active engagement throughout the course was sustained with no hesitation to contribute and learn with and from their peers. For example, in the session where we focused on “Designing a project” we shared a range of design approaches which students had to consider and identify a suitable approach that could be adapted in their project. They shared thoughts about their initial decision with their peers, engaged in a critical dialogue and then furthered their thinking to make an informed decision that enabled the project to move forward. For example, the group evaluated the clarity and quality of their projects, they identified gaps and potential problems in the design and implementation phases and also, addressed issues such as clarity of the instructions and different elements and resources of the project. They used some of the ingredients shared during the module and further explorations driven by their curiosity, imagination, initiative and expertise. All these provided a smorgasbord of practical, theoretical learning and development opportunities (Nerantzi and Atenas, accepted). 

This strategy enabled the bringing together of the facilitators’ individual and collective expertise and experiences to explore and create a learning landscape. The assessment diet demonstrated to what extent students met the learning outcomes and also engaged them in a meaningful set of activities to evidenced this. These presented opportunities for students to do something that would be of value to them and their professional context, not only to gain academic credits but to transform the assessment into something that had a life beyond the module boundaries (Nerantzi and Atenas, 2021).  

How did it impact students?

We observed students’ progress as the module unfolded and reflected on the engagement and outputs of students’ work. All students enthusiastically and fully participated in the module, managed to successfully complete the assessment progressively and produce a project that met the learning outcomes. Students felt highly motivated from the outset and throughout. The projects reveal that they were indeed authentic and students plan to implement these in their professional settings. The authenticity of the project was evident as they linked to the students’ professional context and real life issues they had identified that needed to be resolved. This was their driving force for developing their project and positive contribution to their local and professional communities. For example, one of the students is professionally involved in the Newcomers project of European Horizon 2020. As part of the module, they developed a project around sustainability to support the New Clean Energy Communities in Europe (Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 7). Another student from Nigeria developed a series of Open Educational Resources (OER) in Yoruba, a language of Western Africa, to raise awareness of OER and advocate for their wider use. This was another important project that recognised the current dominance of OER in the English language and creators from the Global North and links to SDG 4 Education. Some of the students had already started preparing for the implementation of their projects during the module which illustrates the authenticity not only of the assessment task but also how it was experienced by students increasing the lifespan of the assessment beyond the module boundaries and potentially contributing to changes for the wider good with social responsibility as their compass.

The assessment strategy used seemed to fully engage and immerse students with learning while working seamlessly towards the assessment from the outset. Its meaningfulness resulted from learning by doing as students applied their learning directly to the projects they were working on and saw them develop and grow as the course progressed. The theoretical and practical scaffold and support that was provided created a space for exploration, inquiry and peer exchange that fed into the individual projects. The Newcomer community project as well as the Yoruba language OER mentioned earlier evidence this. As a result, the projects grew through peer and tutor interaction and their own commitment to their project. Students worked on authentic open education projects aligned to specific Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that will have a social impact on their local communities and more widely. 

Any advice for others?

We think our recipe will be of interest to colleagues teaching postgraduate and undergraduate courses in other disciplines and professional areas. The use of authentic assessment in the form of a digital process and product portfolio was driven by individual students who had the choice to select specific live projects and would lead towards implementation. Combining this with a professional discussion can make a real difference to how students engage with their own learning and assessment. Moreover, it can increase their appetite to engage even deeper than expected as their work could live on beyond the boundaries of the module and be implemented in real life to make a difference to others. 

Communicating the value of the portfolio-based learning and assessment approach clearly from the outset will be important to get buy-in from the students. Furthermore, it is important to create a support scaffold that boosts peer-to-peer interaction and self-responsibility. Also, it should harness the potential of external professional networks and communities. 

While we developed this assessment recipe for postgraduate settings within an Education course, it  could be adapted to suit further disciplinary areas and be used in undergraduate courses as well to increase ownership and motivation of students in their own learning, connect with their peers and engage them in a deep and meaningful way.

Other contextual details

Students on this MA in Open Educational Leadership programme are professionals and open educators who are committed to making a difference to their local and global communities. They are keen to develop a deeper, critical and creative understanding and knowledge of how they can utilise open pedagogies to bring about social change in their respective professional areas, often aligned to SDGs, using open education practices, open educational resources and community approaches. 


Nerantzi, C. and Atenas, J. (forthcoming) ‘Doing what it says on the tin online: The workshop module for open education practitioners’, in: SEDA Special – Teaching and Assessing Online Practical Courses

Nerantzi, C. and Atenas, J. (2021) Workshopping creatively online’, in Creative explorations and practices during the pandemic, in: Creative Academic Magazine, Issue 20. Available at: (Accessed 23 June 2022)

Yan, Z. and Yang, L. (2022) Assessment as learning: Maximising opportunities for student learning and achievement. Oxon: Routledge.



  • Dr. Chrissi Nerantzi

    Dr Chrissi Nerantzi is a Reader in Academic CPD in the University Teaching Academy at Manchester Metropolitan University and an Adjunct Professor in Pedagogy at the University of Nova Gorica. Her interests are around open, creative and collaborative pedagogies.

  • Dr Javiera Atenas

    Dr Javiera Atenas is a Senior Lecturer in Learning and Teaching Enhancementat at the University of Suffolk and an Adjunct Professor of Pedagogy at the University of Nova Gorica. Her interests are around open education policies, critical data literacy and academic development.

How to cite

Nerantzi, C. and Atenas, J. (2022) Healthy Assessment as learning diet: Using digital portfolios and professional discussion. Teaching Insights, Available at: (Accessed: 21 September 2023)

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Posted in Edition 2, Recipes for Success