Cross-posted from the Digital Union blog.
A few weeks ago I facilitated a workshop on teaching with portfolios for Learning Technology. As much as we talk about the technology supporting e-portfolios, it’s good to step back and take stock of the pedagogical approaches behind them. Here are a few principles I think are central to portfolio pedagogy:
They can be process oriented. What we ultimately value about learning is less about students regurgitating all of the ‘facts’ they learned than helping them take up the processes of inquiry we want them to practice. Portfolios give you both a more complete picture of student’s learning and also an opportunity to structure assignments in a way that teaches students process.
They can create room for student self-representation and self-reflection. Portfolios can allow students to take comprehensive stock of what they’ve learned and come to new insights about their work. Furthermore, we want our students to learn how to think like professionals in our fields. Portfolios allow students to work out their identities as professionals and scholars. As they enter their professional, civic, and personal lives, this self-awareness is a crucial skill.
They can allow for flexible assessment. When we see a more comprehensive picture of students’ work, we can talk with our colleagues in a more informed way about what we really value about the work our students do. These conversations can be extremely valuable because you can discover unexpected areas of consensus and disagreement about program values and outcomes.
They can be directed toward multiple audiences and can contextualize student work in different ways. Portfolios can give us a framework for allowing students to present their work not just to us within the classroom, but to other audiences as well: their classmates, your colleagues in your department or program, professionals in their fields of interest, or others. Plus, they can bring in their work from outside the classroom as evidence of their learning, making crucial connections to their course of study.
Professor Tim Rhodus made an important point during the portfolio workshop that I’ve been thinking about since then: the classroom isn’t just a safe place for students to learn and practice “real world” activity; it is, in fact, part of the “real world”, as much as we and our students tend to imagine it as separate from it. Portfolios offer a number of ways to break down the false distinctions we make about what belongs in the classroom and outside it, and open up a number of opportunities to bring our teaching and learning into greater focus.
I’ve included a short bibliography below of scholarship on portfolios and assessment from the perspective of composition studies.
Bob Broad. What We Really Value: Beyond Rubrics in Teaching and Assessing Writing. Utah State University Press, 2003.
Pat Belanoff and Marcia Dickson, ed. Portfolios: Process and Product. Boynton/Cook, 1991.
Brian Huot. (Re)Articulating Writing Assessment for Teaching and Learning. Utah State University Press, 2002.
Kathleen Blake Yancey and Irwin Weiser, ed. Situating Portfolios: Four Perspectives. Utah State University Press, 1997.