The term e-portfolio is enjoying a lot of press these days in education, but I think sometimes there’s confusion over what exactly it means or what exactly is expected when people are told to start using e-portfolios in the classroom. The truth is it doesn’t mean just one thing. Portfolio has always been a term applied to a diverse set of purposes and practices. Adding the e makes it even more so.
Here are just a few ways we might think of e-portfolios as serving different purposes:
A Project Portfolio: Whether for a class project or a professional project, a portfolio might certainly be devoted to a single topic, such as a research project, an advocacy project, a public service project, an oral history project, or a literacy project. Even a reading response journal when put together as a blog, a Google Document, or a podcast feed becomes an e-portfolio.
A Class Portfolio: Students have been producing portfolios made up of the best of their work for a given class for many years now. Most teachers are probably familiar with the concept of the class portfolio, at least most teachers in skill based or artistic disciplines. When that portfolio is composed and submitted through electronic means, it becomes an e-portfolio.
A Student Career Portfolio: Some colleges now are tracking student progress throughout entire academic careers by having them maintain portfolios with artifacts posted from a variety of classes, reflecting their growth and their range of educational experiences over time. These portfolios then offer the students a solid web presence and a solid stance from which to apply for jobs or graduate schools upon completion of their degrees.
A Professional Portfolio: In an age when people Google names to find out if they are willing to hire a person on for even a short term contract, traditional CVs are hardly enough to be competitive on the job market. It’s absolutely vital that those seeking professional positions have a web presence that speaks well of them. Even those who are not on the job market need e-portfolios as networking tools.
An Artist’s Portfolio: Visual artists, writers, and musicians have long kept compilations of their work to share for professional purposes. Technological advances mean it is more important than ever that they have something on hand and online to demonstrate their skill levels.
We might think of other examples as well, but the point is the need for a portfolio might take any shape; therefore, the appearance of a portfolio might take any shape as well. For teachers, this means we serve our students best by exposing them to a variety of opportunities to think about the why and the how of an e-portfolio. They can’t approach this as simply learning steps in a process. They need to invest some thinking skills into figuring out how to match their purpose with their product.
This is, of course, not a new idea, but the fact that the available tools change so often does mean it is more important than ever that we help students see the tool as just a means to an end. The ability to envision what they need, why they need it, and how to make it happen is the part that matters.