Types of E-Portfolios

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.

Using Visual CV to Create E-Portfolios

VisualCV is perhaps the easiest way to approach e-portfolios.  You only have to sign up for a free online account.  The program guides you through the steps of creating a CV, and in case you need a little extra help, the site provides its own tutorials.

See Brian Stroka’s VisualCV.  He was my student last semester, and he created this for our class. You can see that he has turned an online resume into a portfolio site by adding pictures and writing samples.  He now has this online presence potential employers can peruse.  And if all he needs is a resume after all, he can download that part of his portfolio as a pdf file to print out.  It’s really a perfect system.

VisualCV provides fewer design choices as a portfolio platform than a blogging system like WordPress might.  Still, the result is simple, clean, attractive, and professional.  It’s a wonderful tool for students and professionals alike.

Video Portfolios

I ran across a  nicely done video cv from a teacher.  That sent me off on a YouTube investigation.  It seems there’s quite a trend toward video portfolios now, particularly among welders from the UK.

I’m not sure a video portfolio is as useful to me as a website in terms of efficiently sharing information, but they certainly have a cool factor.

Cool Tech Tool: Visual CV

Visual CV is a must for job seekers.   It’s an online resume building tool that provides space for uploading portfolio artifacts and gives custom options for publishing the portfolio as a website.  CVs can be saved or  emailed as pdfs.  This is a must more robust tool than resume templates or wizards in word processing programs, and it produces a fine looking document.  It’s an easy answer for teachers and students covering job search units, and it’s an easy answer to portfolio building.  NCTE recommends electronic portfolios for all students, and indeed they will need them on the job market.  This is a great way for a student to set up a web presence to impress potential employers and potential graduate schools alike.

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.