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.