Digital Portfolios: Why Do We Do Them?

Digital Portfolios are an interest of mine. A few years ago, Andy Krumm and I developed some templates to assist educators in creating digital portfolios that are aligned with their professional standards. These are called the Digital Portfolios Made Easy templates.
Since then, we have done workshops and lectures across the country about creating digital portfolios and how these templates can assist professionals in displaying their work.

The most interesting part of doing workshops on creating portfolios is discussing the motivation for creating a portfolio. The primary reason for creating a portfolio is “because my employer wants me to create a portfolio.” This is usually quickly followed with “they want to see if I fulfill all of the standards.” This last comment is usually filled with confusion and frustration with the idea that the portfolio needs to address multiple standards and criteria. In the case of the Iowa Teaching Standards, the educators need to address 8 standards which organize 42 criteria. This is daunting.

Typically, portfolio workshops that teach alignment with standards will provide the learners with a list of 42 criteria and a list of artifact samples. The educators are then asked to make a list of personal artifacts that will align with each of the criteria. I must admit that I have done this in the past and it is COMPLETELY BACKWARDS!!!

The emphasis of portfolio MUST be the artifacts, NOT the standards. We have been promoting this for 4 years but it suddenly dawned on me that we were not promoting that in our workshops. It MUST be about the portfolio creator NOT the evaluators.

We have coined two terms that explain different format (and mindsets) for creating portfolios, these terms are “Standards Indexed” and “Standards Referenced.

Standards Indexed: This is the typical format where a notebook (electronic or otherwise) is created with a tab for each standard. Printed copies of each artifact that addresses that standard are then inserted behind that tab and a person’s success in addressing a specific standard is defined by how thick that part of the notebook happens to be.

Standards Referenced: This format places the artifact (and its creator) at the center of the arena. The professional defines her/his area of specialty and then selects the artifacts that best exemplify that area of expertise. Each artifact is then analyzed as to which standards/criteria are addressed. Additional artifacts are then added to the portfolio to fulfill addressing the other standards/criteria.

As you can see, the Standards Referenced format for the portfolio is more professional-centered than the Standards Indexed.

I taught a digital portfolio workshop for Cedar Falls Community Schools here in Iowa. I introduced the portfolio as a way to “brag about yourself.” Realize what you do well and identify what you can use to show how well you do it. This approach gives a whole different perspective to creating portfolios.

I was amazed by the completely different attitude that the professionals in my class had about portfolios when completed the first class. I gave them a worksheet to begin thinking about their “Proud Points” and gave them the task to begin their search for personal artifacts. At the end of the class they were excited instead of intimidated about the prospect of creating a portfolio.

How should this portfolio be organized to fulfill the administration’s expectations as well as emphasizing a professional’s strengths? I will tell you in the next posting. 😉

What’s YOUR opinion?
Leave a comment and keep the discussion going.

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