How Not to Do Portfolios

I haven’t successfully implemented portfolios in my own classroom yet, but after attending a SocialEdCon discussion about e-portfolios here at ISTE, I started thinking about the e-portfolio I created as a final graduation requirement for grad school. It was all wrong, and that’s why I feel no sense of pride or ownership over it. Our college technology programs should be leading the way in creating e-portfolios as they send instructional technologists out into education. Teachers are like everyone else. They need models of good practices in their own education so they can implement those practices in their classrooms. So what was wrong with my portfolio?

I understand that my degree program uses the portfolio to address the Knowledge Base of Instructional Technology standards developed by AECT, but rather than make these domains a part of students’ thinking throughout the degree program, the domains were introduced at the very end of the program, and I felt like I had to retrofit my learning to match the domains. If the domains are so critical, and our learning has been informed by the domains, then I should have been guided by my instructors as I completed the courses to think about how what I was learning fit the domains, and I should have been coached to think about pieces I wanted to include in the portfolio that would reflect my learning in each domain. A portfolio should show learning in progress, and it should not be something students just work on at the end. Saving a portfolio until the end makes it difficult for students to think about and reflect on their learning. I did it because I am a writer and a natural reflector. I just do that. But what about students who need a little help reflecting on their learning? This kind of a portfolio is a wasted opportunity for those students.

I didn’t have a lot of choice. I had to include certain items, sometimes things I wouldn’t have chosen to reflect my learning, because I had stringent criteria. I’m not saying you shouldn’t have criteria for portfolios, but give students choices about how to meet that criteria. As it is, I did manage to sneak in some items that I didn’t even create for school, particularly to fit the development domain, but it would have been nice if I had been offered multiple learning opportunities for other domains. For example, the only item I could really include in my management domain that demonstrated planning, monitoring, and controlling an instructional design project was a time log I kept for my final project and report, and this was a problem that my instructors knew about because they flat out told me to just use the time log for that particular domain. I want choices! I’m not particularly proud of a time log. I’m not sure what it shows about my learning aside from the fact that I can keep track of my hours and create a table in Word. Choice is such an essential part of a portfolio. Giving students ownership over their learning and choices about what they use to demonstrate that learning in a portfolio is critical.

Finally, I didn’t have a lot of choice about the format. I was told I was going to design a website (using Dreamweaver, if I wanted) with a navigation system. I could make it look however I wanted (within my ability to use Dreamweaver or code HTML), but it had to look a certain way. I wouldn’t have been allowed to use a wiki or blog. It had to be a web page I could save and upload to the system my school used to collect assignments. I couldn’t just send a link to a site hosted elsewhere, though there was no restriction against putting the portfolio elsewhere online also, so I did.

You know what? I understand now why I hated that portfolio, even though I usually love that kind of reflection and curation. It was all wrong. That’s not the way to put together a true portfolio of learning. It felt more like a checklist of items so the instructors could say yes, they met the required instructional technology standards. But you know what? They really didn’t meet those standards if they were not introduced to students until the end, and the students themselves didn’t even know what they were or were not thinking for themselves about how to meet them. For a group of folks who say they value instructional design, the way they implemented portfolio learning borders on criminal.

No wonder I dislike my portfolio so much. It’s not much of a reflection of me or my learning. It feels very impersonal, and sometimes when I look at, I don’t even feel like it’s something I created.

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Seven Years of Blogging

It seems fitting somehow that my blog turns seven years old as I am currently attending my first ever ISTE conference. I am also starting a new job 1,000 miles away from the place where I have lived and worked for the entire time I have written this blog. I started this blog because I thought I had something to say about education, and I was impressed with what I was seeing in the edublogosphere (which was much smaller at that time). I didn’t try to analyze what I would focus on or what my audience would be. I just decided I would write about the things that interested me, and if they also interested others, so much the better. I still think that was a smart move because even when months go by without a post on this blog, I know that I am writing here still because I want to share something, not because of any expectation I set for myself. I have seen so many good bloggers quit over the years, and I think that they are partly crushed by unrealistic expectations:

  • They feel pressure to build a huge audience really quickly. I know how it feels to think no one is reading your posts. You don’t see comments. It feels like an echo chamber. But over the years, I have heard from lurkers who might never leave a comment but still get something out of what I post. There are a lot of bloggers with wider audiences, and there are all kinds of reasons for that, but I feel blessed to have a supportive readership.
  • They feel they need to focus on one thing. It’s true that niche blogs seem to do well—just a focus on math or technology or educational policy. But I think sometimes folks put themselves in the position of feeling like they can’t comment on other things because their audience expects them to write about one subject only. It’s your blog, and you should explore topics that interest you.
  • They set up a posting schedule and/or feel they must write every day. Write when the spirit moves you, I say. If you force yourself to write every day or to write according to a posting schedule, you are going to wind up treating your blog as work instead of your own reflective space. I am guilty of this, too. I have a posting schedule set up in my calendar. I was worried about how little I was posting, not realizing that part of my silence was due to some real unhappiness on the job. I determined that a posting schedule would solve my problems. I couldn’t follow it. I started feeling guilty, and I worried no one would stick with my blog. It didn’t turn out to be true, and putting that pressure on myself only made me want to blog less. Blogging when I want to about what I want to made me love my blog again.

This conference has been amazing so far, and I am sure that once I have had time to think, decompress, and reflect, I will have plenty of posts about it.

Image via Martin Thomas

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The End of a Long Chapter

For the last eight years of my teaching career, more than half my career and 1/5 of my life, I have been on the faculty of the Weber School in Atlanta, GA. Today was my last day, and it felt very strange to walk out the door and make my way across that lawn to my bus stop for the last time. I don’t think I expected to burst into tears, but even though I have mixed feelings about leaving, I know it was a completely normal and understandable reaction. I have colleagues at that school that I love very much. They are warm, intelligent educators who made me a better teacher. I will miss them so much. We have shared lessons and laughs. We have commiserated over shared workplace frustrations. We have grown together. I can’t imagine I won’t see them again, and I truly hope that they will manage to visit me or that I will manage to visit them. I take some comfort in that in today’s digital age, I can keep up with them a little more easily than I might have done ten or fifteen years ago. In that way, I hardly feel like I am leaving. I can’t begin to thank them for all they have done for me and meant to me over the years.

At the beginning of July, I will begin working at Worcester Academy in Worcester, MA. I am already excited about the new colleagues I have and will meet and the new experiences I will have. It’s a great adventure, and though moving 1,000 miles away is daunting, I am excited, and I’m beginning to feel almost ready. I will be heading to ISTE with new colleagues prior to joining the faculty, which is another experience I look forward to.

Though it saddens me to turn the page on the chapter of my life at Weber and say goodbye to beloved friends and colleagues as well as a state I’ve lived in (with the exception of two short sojourns in VA and NC) for the last 20 years, I am excited to see what the next chapter has in store.

photo by: A6U571N

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