How to Make an E-Portfolio Using WordPress

WordPress is a great platform for the e-portfolio.  It is versatile and can be made to look very attractive.  It’s also easy to navigate and update.

There are basically two approaches to the WordPress Portfolio.  In a project portfolio or a class portfolio, you might insert all of your artifacts as posts, using categories and tags to organize them.  In that case, your last post, or the one that shows up at the top of the page, would be your portfolio introduction.

If you are making a professional or career portfolio, however, in which you might not have as many artifacts, you might consider putting your content in as pages with only one post serving as the portfolio introduction.

Of course, you could do a hybrid of the two.  Put your project artifacts in as posts and your CV, bio, and professional information in as pages.

WordPress gives you lots of options.  It’s a program you can make work for you.  It works much better, however, if you have a plan for what you want to accomplish and if you understand how to use the software to work with your plan.

Take a look at my e-portfolio produced in WordPress:  www.sgerald.net/portfolio

In it, the portfolio artifacts are all presented as pages.  There is only one post, and it serves as the portfolio introduction.

To make a portfolio like this, follow these steps:

1.  Set up a WordPress site.  You might do this by joining WordPress.com and creating a blog, or you might install WordPress via WordPress.org on your own server account as I did.
2. Upon first logging in to your site admin controls, go to settings and enter your site information.  You’ll want to give your portfolio a name, probably just your own name, and you’ll want delete the default tag line for the site that says “Just another WordPress blog.”  You might replace that with your own quote, or you might just delete it.
3.  Choose a theme.  Themes in WordPress control the site layout and design.  There are many possible themes to select, and in the WordPress.org version, you can even have a custom theme designed and installed.  Regardless of which version you are using, however, you choose a theme under “Appearance.”   When you select a theme, you’ll first be given a preview prompt.  From there, you click on the word “activate,” and your new theme is up and running.  My portfolio is done in a two-column theme, and I think the two-column layout is best for this type of site, but you can choose what works for you.
4. Go to “Pages” in your admin dashboard, click “Add New,” and start entering your information.  As you are working on the pages, it’s a good idea to hit “Save Draft” from time to time.  When you are finished with each page, hit “Publish.”
5. Go to “Posts” in your admin dashboard, click “Add New,” and write a portfolio introduction.  Just as you have done with the pages, save your post draft as you work on it, and click “Publish” when you are finished.

WordPress has lots of other capabilities, but these few steps are really all you need to do to create a professional portfolio.  With the right theme and the right content, you can create a very impressive portfolio in WordPress.

What’s the Point of an E-Portfolio?

If we are now living in a world in which “the MFA is the New MBA” as Daniel Pink has claimed, it’s inevitable that portfolios would come as part of the package.  Writers and artists have long been familiar with the concept of portfolio-based job searches.  Now that many, many employers from all areas are looking for people who can produce in a digital environment, the portfolio is a natural expectation.

An artist’s portfolio is a collection of that artist’s best work.  An e-portfolio is a collection of a person’s best work in electronic form.  E-portfolios come in many shapes and sizes.  They might be compiled for a class or a project, but the kind we are talking about is the professional portfolio, one that has been put together to show off the career accomplishments of an individual.

The professional e-portfolio is most often presented in the form of a website.  People have made them in PowerPoints and pdfs and all sorts of electronic formats, but the website is what most expect when the term e-portfolio comes into play.  Thus, we can start there in defining the e-portfolio.  It’s a website that showcases a person’s best work.

As with most definitions, this hardly tells the whole story.  Let’s look at some characteristics and goals:

1. The e-portfolio is comprised of a series of artifacts or items that serve to demonstrate a person’s skills, professional interests, and accomplishments.  Those artifacts might include writing, art or design work, presentations, and any number of other tangible products that can be loaded and linked digitally in order to serve as evidence of accomplishment.

2. The e-portfolio also includes facts about a person’s education and experience in the manner of a CV.  The business model and the artists’ model have merged in the new professional portfolio.  No matter how impressive your collection of presentations might be, you still need to provide the kind of factual information a company needs to know before hiring.

3. The e-portfolio often includes biographical information that goes beyond what would have ever been included in the traditional CV.  Your portfolio site is an introduction to you, to the whole you, not just pieces of you.  Of course the biographical information should remain professional enough so as not to be an embarrassment, but it should also be personable.  It should make people think they might want to have you around.

4. The design of the e-portfolio is nearly as important as the content.  It should be easy to navigate and aesthetically appealing.  It should show some personality without being overly funky, flashy, or distracting.  It needs to be interesting yet professional in both style and content.

The e-portfolio is the new CV.  Everyone hoping to establish a professional career needs one.  But what if you already have a job and aren’t looking for another?  Why would a well-established teacher need an e-portfolio?

As it turns out, there are several good reasons:

1. Networking.  The e-portfolio is not only the new CV; it’s also the new business card.  If you want people you meet at workshops, conferences, and random Barnes & Noble encounters to remember who you are and what you do, point them to your portfolio.

2. PR.  Faculty portfolios make schools look good.  They provide a way to showcase what the faculty do best.  They give people a reason to support the school.  They also help keep administrators and other powers that be informed on what the faculty really do.

3. Modeling.  No, not that kind of modeling.  Put photos of yourself on you portfolio site if you want, but glamor shots probably won’t help your professional image.  Portfolios from teachers as models of what students should accomplish in portfolios are extremely important, however.  Maybe you aren’t ever going to look for a job, but presumably your students will.  Help them create the professional image they need to project by showing them how it’s done.

4. Professional development.  Portfolios are in themselves acts of professional development, but they are also places to catalog PD.  Keeping your e-portfolio current is the best way to have evidence on the spot of how current your scholarship, specialized training, community involvement, and other instances of professional development are.  If someone wants to nominate you for a teaching award, for example, it can be done without much trouble when all of your professional information is readily available through your portfolio site.   You never know how the portfolio might pay off.

About ten years ago we were told at work that all instructors needed a “web presence.”  Somewhere along the way that buzzword morphed into “web-centered classroom,” and still we struggled to go about this.  In the first phase, we all made static html pages from a template.  This was awkward, not terribly attractive, and only a few people ever updated the pages.

In the next phase, we moved everything into Blackboard.  Day classes and online classes alike had their own course shells.  This somewhat responded to the call for “web-centered classrooms,” depending of course on what was done with those course shells.  At the same time, however, it took away some of the great things about individual faculty pages–like having a way for prospective students to look up prospective teachers.

Available technologies have come a long way since those first html templates, and we’d be fools not to take advantage of that fact.  Attractive, effective e-portfolios can now be created and updated much easier than those simple static pages.  You don’t have to purchase software or set up ftp accounts.  WordPress, Google Sites, VisualCV, and many other platforms can be used for free.

I’ll write about how to make e-portfolios with some of those particular tools in another article.  For now, think about creating an e-portfolio if you don’t already have one.  You need one, whether you know it or not.  And take a look at my portfolio for just one idea of what they can do.

Arts + Tech + Content Areas = Education in the Digital Age

Arts integration is a big term these days at the Mississippi Arts Commission.  Of course it would be.  Bringing the arts into all walks of life is their reason for existence.  They’ve particularly stepped up efforts recently, though, with whole schools programs and other efforts to bring arts techniques into content area instruction.  My school, JCJC, is part of these efforts.  We’re working on an arts integration grant project to create a cross-disciplinary website and offer training to instructors on arts-based instruction.

Why is the MAC pushing arts integration even at the college level?

For several reasons really.  One is a belief that the arts have the power to transform lives.  Art can inspire in ways that nothing else can, and inspired minds are open to learning.

Another is the devaluing of arts classes in the schools.  We’re bound and determined to teach our aesthetics wherever we can find students.

Perhaps the most important reason, however, is the belief that the arts have the power to help people and cultures survive and even thrive in the digital age.

We’ve heard a great deal lately about Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat, and its conclusion that in a flat-world economy it takes a creative edge to succeed.  The MAC has picked Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind as the basis for its whole schools concept.  Other books like Born Digital and Grown Up Digital address the “digital natives” and how their lifestyles, thinking patterns, and professional realities are starkly different from previous generations by virtue of technological saturation.

We hear constantly that teaching methods need to change to adjust to this flat-world, right-brained, socially networked reality, but everyone struggles to figure out what that really means.  If it’s true as Daniel Pink claims that “The MFA is the new MBA,” then making arts integration part of our adjustments to the digital age is essential.  We know that much.

What does arts integration really mean then?

Arts integration means that content areas–history, science, literature, social science, math, and so on–use arts techniques–singing, composing, drawing, acting, writing, creating, and so on–as part of their teaching methods.   The idea being that art both inspires and instructs.  It turns learning into an active process.  It gives students both emotional and intellectual motivation to invest in the learning, which means the information is more likely to stick with them longterm.

What does any of this arts integration stuff really have to do with technology?

For one, we have to teach ’em where we find ’em, and these days we find ’em plugged in to iPods, Internet, gaming, and any number of highly technological activities.  If we ask a student with a multimedia mindset to sit still for hour after hour all day long of 20th century lecture-model classrooms, we’ve already lost them.  Not only that, we’ve failed to prepare them for the futures they face.  

Yes, they need to know content.  Yes, they need to learn to think their way through concepts.  Yes, the basics of reading, writing, math, and so on are more important than how well they can navigate a technology that will be obsolete in a couple of years.  However, it is equally important that we understand the differences in the way information is processed now and the way it was processed when most of us were students.

 Most of us carry around the answer to any question we might have in our pockets.  Students know this even if we don’t.  With a web-enabled phone, you are only seconds away from any fact you might need nearly any time or any place.  That makes memorization somewhat redundant.   What students need instead is the ability to adapt to new situations in a constantly changing world.

They need the vocabulary to navigate new systems.  They need to know how to make connections between disparate pieces of information in order to form reasonable conclusions.  They need to be willing to try new things, and they need to be capable of making something out of new information.  This part is important.  They need to not only be able to endure a constant bombardment of new developments; they need to be willing and able to conquer new developments.  They need to be able to create their own ideas and products in constantly changing workplace environments.  

In other words, they need imagination.  They need what art can teach them.  And they need the lessons of art in the framework of every other subject they are taught.  Imagination is not just for the weird people who take graphics design and poetry.  It’s for everyone.  If we don’t understand that, and we aren’t offering it to our students in math, history, science, and every other subject, then we haven’t given them anything they couldn’t get from Google in less time than it takes them to walk from the Coke machines to our classrooms.

That’s what arts integration is about.  It’s a challenge to ourselves to provide the kind of learning experience Google can’t.

Category + Tag = Digital Taxonomy

I’ll never win awards for organization.  My talents lie elsewhere.  I do, however, appreciate that organization has its merits.  It is, in fact, essential if  you are engaging in any of the more creative pursuits that more likely hold my interest, whether that means writing a poem or creating a website.  Even with blogging software that makes everything easy, organization is important.  The good news is organization is also easy via blogging software if you just understand the purpose of the tag.

If you’ve never done so, go now to www.wordle.org to get a feel for the tag cloud.  Any document can be uploaded there to generate a tag cloud, which is a visual representation of the words used in that document and the number of times any given word is used.  The larger the tag the more often that word appears.  Wordle is a fun way to find out how repetitive you’ve been or what you’ve really emphasized in a piece of your own writing, but it also illustrates what tag clouds can do and how they have become the new taxonomy, the new way of organizing knowledge.

Once you understand that tags are meant as records of how often a term has been used, then you can understand how to apply them to your web design.  When you tag a post on a blog, you are creating a way for the site visitor to navigate to that item long after it has fallen off the main page.   Clicking on a tag item in the sidebar will pull up all of the posts that have been tagged with that item.

Categories in WordPress function in the same way.  When you create and use categories, you turn your blog into a navigable site.   Remember that.  It’s important.   If you want to provide information that is not transitory on a blog, you have to label it in a way that leads people to it.

If categories and tags do the same thing, why do we need both?  Ah, I’m so glad someone asked.  The answer is simple.  Every taxonomy needs its hierarchy.

You can set categories and tags to mean anything you want them to mean on your own site, but if you think of categories as major headings and tags as more specific topics, you’ll be doing yourself a favor.  If you are using a blogging platform as a class site, think of categories as units and tags as the items covered in that unit.

Categories and tags both organize information, but they are not visually the same.  Categories appear in the sidebar in list form.  They appear in a uniform list.  Tags appear in a cloud in which some words are larger than others.  The size of the term in the cloud indicated how often that tag has been used or how many items it will point to when clicked.   This creates its own kind of heirarchy, and when used in conjunction with categories in which the site designer has deliberately selected the primary headings under which information is organized, tags can make the site extremely functional.  At the risk of harping, this is how a transitory site becomes a navigable site.

Why WordPress?

This site is run on WordPress, and it was chosen for very particular reasons.  WordPress is blogging software, which means it is easy to update and maintain.  It’s a whole lot more than that, though.  It can be used to create any kind of website you want.

When I first started blogging in 2005 on Blogger, I would have given very different explanations of what blogging software was capable of than I would give now.  That’s because a whole lot has changed in four years.  Blogs have generally been by definition organized chronologically with the most recent posts showing up first and everything else showing up in reverse chronological order from there.  That’s still true, but what’s also true is that WordPress and other blogging platforms have since developed the capacity to create navigable websites.  This is huge.

It’s huge, and it’s worth discussion.   A blog that’s only organized chronologically is a temporal creation.  It only matters if it is updated often because few site visitors will browse through a calendar until they stumble across information pertinant to their own interests.   The addition of pages, categories, and tags to the blog site, however, give it enormous navigable potential.   And ease of navigation means that people can find and use information no matter how recent it is.  It means more than the most recent posts matter.  Everything on the site is content that can be easily accessed within a couple of clicks.

I’ll talk more about that in another post, but for now I want to get back to the idea that WordPress can be used to make any kind of website.  It’s also free.  These are important considerations for teachers.

You can use WordPress for class blogs, certainly.  You can also use it for student or teacher portfolio sites or for class information sites.  Create a kind of class textbook out of it by using categories as unit headings.   Or consider using it like a wiki for group projects.  By setting up pages with multiple authors, this is easily accomplished.

The keyword is versatility.  It can be used for anything, and it is very user friendly.  You don’t have to know code to customize it.  You just have to be able to follow directions.

WordPress is available in three versions that I know of.

One you will find at www.wordpress.com.  This is a free site where anyone can register.  Your WordPress creation is then hosted there.  This is a good option for teachers and students because no installation is required.  You just register and start building your blog, page, site, group project, or whatever.  There are lots of themes to choose from in order to customize the appearance, and many of the themes allow for adding sidebar widgets or small chunks of html.  You can’t create your own themes or do a lot to edit the css there, though.  It’s a WordPress for beginners site, but sometimes that’s all you need to make a powerful site.

The other most commonly used version of WordPress, and the one running this site, is the downloadable version at WordPress.org.   This one requires that you have your own hosting service.   It’s good if you want more control over your site’s appearance and functionality, or if you want to play with code in order to make your own theme or tweak some of the hundreds of free themes available to download and install.  You don’t have to know how to manipulate css to use this version, but you do need either a degree of tech savvy or some tech support.  It does have to be installed on a server, and any theme used for site design also has to be installed.  Still, it’s great for teachers in schools that do have available server space and tech support.

Last, there is WordPress MU or multi-user.  This is for large sites and web developers.  The difference in it and the other downloadable version of WordPress is that many blogs can be created from a single installation of MU, whereas only one per installation can be created from regular old WordPress.  I don’t know how much more complicated it is to install because I haven’t tried it, but it would be the solution for a school that wanted to go campus-wide with blogs and individual websites.  It might even be the solution for a teacher who wanted to assign class blogs.  However, without good tech support, most teachers would probably be better off just sending students to www.wordpress.com to register for their own free sites.

In a nutshell, WordPress is easy, versatile, and powerful.  Anyone can learn to make something from it.  Only a little savvy can make it much more functional for multiple purposes.  And developers or coders can make it do anything they want.

I count myself in the “little savvy” camp.  I’ve tried just about every blogging platform out there, and WordPress is without question my favorite.