a portfolio-ish thing

“…>a portfolio-ish thing…” That’s language used by my colleague, Tom Woodward, in a great post (not page) on The Tao of Posts. I highly recommend reading it… IF YOU’RE A GEEK! No, actually, it’s an important post; Tom has shown me the light with respect to post-driven development in WordPress.

Whereas Tom wrote more about the mechanics and technical aspects, I will focus a bit more on the conceptual parts of the discussions we’ve been having around ePortfolios digital portfolios… portfolio-ish things.

One of the key components of VCU’s new Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) is the idea of “digital engagement;” we will be working with students to be contributors for a networked world. How that plays out, exactly, will emerge over the coming days, months and years. One aspect of digital engagement that we are exploring right away, though, is ePortfolios digital portfolios… portfolio-ish things.

What we call these portfolio-ish things matters, greatly. The following Twitter exchange between Bryan Alexander and Derek Bruff makes one point that has been raised in conversations about portfolio-ish things involving, at least, me, Tom Woodward, Gardner Campbell, and Molly Ransone.


2014-08-01 21_15_33-Twitter _ derekbruff_ @BryanAlexander _eportfolio_ ...

There *is* something old-sounding about the term “ePortfolio.” It’s also not consistent with what we’re trying to dream up; it’s too limiting. I have made the point that, generally, I like the word “portfolio.” Artists, musicians, designers, all have portfolios; they are, essentially, collections of the best work of the artist/musician/designer/etc. But, that’s also all they are – collections. That’s part of what Tom’s describing in his post. Typically, and I’m guilty of perpetuating this thinking, portfolios are a collection of pages that collect artifacts. They’re “just” websites. The pages themselves aren’t particularly fluid, and content on a page isn’t particularly fluid. And, fluidity is key; it’s what gives rise to many possibilities for developing portfolio-ish things on a web-development platform such as WordPress. I believe fluidity is part of why Jim Groom and his merry band in DTLT at UMW are flirting with Known (see Jim’s comments on Tom’s post).

Fluidity is important, in part, because it allows for more than just curation. In the various conversations I’ve had about portfolio-ish things in recent weeks and months, I believe we’ve settled on at least the following key characteristics of a portfolio-ish thing.

NARRATION – at its heart, a portfolio-ish thing should be a space where students narrate their work and progress throughout their academic career, from courses to programs. Students would regularly add to the ongoing story of their learning journey.

CURATION – notwithstanding what I wrote above, there still ought to be a curatorial function to this. There is still a place in a portfolio-ish thing for students to curate their own artifacts of learning, and, perhaps, to curate other artifacts that have contributed to their learning. Imagine, as part of a portfolio-ish thing, students documenting their associative trails through the learning experience, including, but not limited to, a Diigo account, a Zotero account, a Pinterest board, a GoodReads account, etc. This would be a pretty incredible set of data around the artifacts a student brought to bear on her learning journey.

CONNECTION – the portfolio-ish thing should foster and reflect connections the student is making. Those connections would be, multiple, but would certainly include connections to people and ideas outside of the course. That’s at the heart of connected learning for a networked world. Connections would also be between ideas within and across a program of study, which leads to a non-orthogonal characteristic..

INTEGRATION – this is the trickiest part, but possibly the most important. Narration is fairly simple and straightforward, as is curating learning artifacts. It’s also fairly easy to imagine what that looks like, together, as part of a portfolio-ish thing. But, for a portfolio-ish thing to truly take advantage of the affordances of the modern Web, it should foster and reflect “integrative thinking.” Here’s how Lane Wallace wrote about integrative thinking in The Atlantic.

It’s about thinking in flexible, integrative, and multidisciplinary ways, across many fields and types of knowledge. It’s about being able to synthesize and integrate different perspectives and models; of understanding and taking into account different human, cultural and economic needs, desires, values, and factors and, from all that, glimpsing a new way forward that nobody else managed to see. And while it’s absolutely true that core knowledge in various disciplines is an important piece of that process, a number of educators are beginning to realize that the problem isn’t a need for greater focus on math and science. It’s a need for better integration among all subject areas, and a need to foster the kind of “integrative” thinking required to make good use of all that knowledge.

How does what a student learns in a general education course get reflected and/or applied in a course for their major? And, how would this be represented in a portfolio-ish thing. This will take the most serious thinking, I believe.

The fluidity of the content in the portfolio-ish thing is what will afford connection and integration. How that happens and what that looks like, is to TBD, though.

Also, TBD is what we’d call these things. “Portfolio-ish things” probably won’t fly. 🙂

Any ideas?

2 thoughts on “a portfolio-ish thing”

  1. A comment adding to your discussion of integrative thinking. One thing that I think is missing is: If a portfolio is a showcase for one’s thinking, then one’s thinking should be visible (explicit rather than implicit). It’s one thing to take a picture, write a poem or solve a problem; it’s another thing for an outsider to see my thinking (and thinking moves) that inform and give life/meaning to the “product” being showcased. Moreover, two what extent can I see (am I aware of) my own thinking not only in the “products” I showcase, but in the reasons for my choices.

    For example, although I agree with Wallace’s discussion above, I see hints of an antiquated teaching and learning paradigm (given the small quote to be fair) where one is charged with solving given problems. Part of thinking flexibly is consciously and systematically seeking out alternatives. Moreover, there is something to be said for identifying problems and then working through them. After all, the act of graduate compositions (e.g. dissertation and thesis) is to show how fluent one was able to find a hole in the scholarship, and begin to fill it.

    So, I’d like to see the “portfolio-ish thing” capture one’s ability to explore and identify problems pointing to important habits of mind like intellectual curiosity, perseverance, playfulness, flexibility and discipline. What would that look like? Making ‘meta’ concrete!

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