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.

4 thoughts on “How Not to Do Portfolios”

  1. I wholeheartedly agree with you. The experience you described is what my undergrad teaching portfolio was like. And, on top of the experiences you described, I was also told that 1) I should also have a paper copy because internet access isn't guaranteed in an interview and 2) No one wants to read a paper portfolio that is 300 pages long.

    So, basically my portfolio was useless.

    Now that I am starting my Masters of Instructional Technology we are given the requirements for what will go into our portfolio in our first class, we are asked to design our own field experiences, and we are asked to make a plan form the very beginning of our program. Therefore, when we get to the end we had meaningful experiences that we did get to choose, that grow with us as we learn.

    I think this makes it more of a goal-setting process than a retrospective.

    P.S. One of your recommended books is Image Grammar. My undergrad program adviser was Harry Noden, and I always thought the way he taught image grammar was a great idea that he implemented in a way that made it contrived. Do your students like it?

    1. You know, I think they did like Image Grammar. I think they took to it, and some of them came back and told me later they thought of the brush strokes when they wrote. I admit it is a little more middle school than high school, though.

      Where are you doing your master's? It sounds good.

      My experience was the reverse of yours in undergrad. We just made a paper portfolio because it was 1997, but we had so much ownership and choice. I actually did take it to interviews early on. I sure wish I still had it, but I have no idea what I did with it. For that reason alone, I wish it were online in the cloud somewhere. I have lost so much stuff. I'm one of those folks that is so grateful for the cloud because I stick things up there, and I don't lose them anymore. I can also share them more easily.

      1. Dana, I enjoy your blog and I was interested in this portfolio post. I am designing dual enrollment classes and using the e-portfolio format for my students to post their work. I don't want it to be just a place for posting work, but this still a big part of it. I hope that the type of assignments will give the students the opportunity to portray who they are as students and citizens. check it out – would love feedback:

      2. I'm at the University of Akron.

        And I whole heatedly agree with you about cloud storage. I was a very avid user of Dropbox for a long time and now that Google switched their docs to a "Drive" and you can have the folder on your desktop like Dropbox I like it a lot. However, you can't do the public files to link to, so I'm still using both.

        I also teach my students to use both Google and Dropbox to combat the fact that they are ALWAYS leaving their documents at home. It's a great lesson in responsibility because they don't see being responsible for digital work in the same way they see physical paper homework.

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