Back to the Portfolio

In light of the Blogs at Penn State project I have been thinking and talking quite a bit about how that platform can be used as a digital publishing platform … much less a blog, but a way to enable personal content management. I’ve written about this before, but have some additional thoughts to share … these are new ideas I am working on so bear with me.

I’ve mentioned before how the Blogs at PSU work — a central service that allows individuals to publish into their personal webspace. We all get at least 500 MB here at PSU and getting more isn’t difficult. We have recently been working on rolling out Protected Personal space as well. What Protected Personal does is allow anyone at PSU to publish into a protected directory within their personal webspace. It has a really nice permissions toolset so I can easily restrict or expose content inside Protected to only the people I decide to. This is an important step for us on a whole bunch of levels, but I want to focus on how it might be used as part of a personal ePortfolio environment.

You can obviously put anything you want into Protected space — including the automatic publishing of a PSU Blog. The way I’d like to frame this revolves around the notion that I would set up a master blog in protected that would act as my personal repository — essentially a place for me to collect everything I do while a student at PSU. I would use categories and keywords to organize everything including day to day class notes, the creation of papers, the place I stuff pictures, and really anything else I create while at the University.

Now the process of creating a solid ePortfolio relies on a few important concepts — an ePortfolio needs to be reflective and it needs to be made up of artifacts related to my personal and academic goals. So imagine as a student you are given a checklist of objectives or goals you should work towards in a given field of study. You would then be asked to work through the creation of a balanced scorecard that would have your personal goals on it as well. It would give you a roadmap to follow as you collect evidence of your growth. As you move through the semesters the idea would be to put everything in the repository while categorizing things as they happen with an eye on your goals — maybe even use your goals as categories.

At any given interval it would then be easy to go into the protected repository and critically select the strongest pieces of evidence and post them to a public ePortfolio site — also published and managed via the Blogs at PSU. The idea being that as you move them into public view you spend time reflecting on the work and soliciting feedback from others via the comments. Faculty and administrators could utilize your evidence by direct linking in departmental assessment activities as well if necessary.

ePort Process

I think the keys here revolve around making a few changes not to the technology, but to the ways we work with students as they move through their academic careers. Sitting down with them as they enter a program and helping them establish their personal goals so that they balance them with the goals of their program — that is critical. Showing them how to collect as much evidence as they can, knowing full well that only a subset of the repository entries will ever see the light of day in their portfolios is also a fundamental shift in thinking. Imagine a protected respiratory that would hold an entire academic careers’ worth of intellectual development and learning evidence. All of it would be tagged, categorized, and ready for searching, selecting, and reflecting on. I see it as a potential opportunity to shift the way we ask students to think about their academic careers … what do you think?

15 thoughts on “Back to the Portfolio

  1. Cole,

    I think this is an excellent model. And I particularly like the idea of creating a list of goals, completely distinct from the technology, through which you will track your goals. Then the technology becomes a repository for this work. I also like the integration of a protected file/post repository for each student that has sophisticated permissions management. Any technical details on how this will integrate with MT and what applications you are using?

  2. here’s my favorite!
    stick it on a usb drive and you don’t even need personal webspace…

    of course, secure access from anywhere is ok, and a clear advantage.
    but, using it where there is no hole or pond where the i-net can be found is a disadvantage.

    alan.hecht has been playing around with this for a few years now.
    imho — its much less cumbersome than movable.type for a personal wiki.

  3. Protected space would seem to go a long way toward aligning blog tools with a personal content management system. I’d also be very intrigued by the contributions that tags could make to such a system. In selecting evidence of work or expertise, one can imagine that tags would facilitate the creation of a very specific portfolio from across academic and co-curricular domains. For example, culling artifacts related to collaborative projects or leadership (along with the associated reflective elements) might be enormously useful in applying for jobs in a team environment.

    The notion of easily publishing multiple portfolios from one central space is appealing as well and, assuming that the variety of blog templates is wide enough, it would seem to be possible to publish blogs that address disparate audiences.

    One comment that resonates with me is the notion that students would be collecting more evidence than will eventually be deployed in a portfolio. To that end, the easier/faster something is to use, the more likely it might be that students get into the habit. The creative control and ease of updating that blogging tools offer could sway students on the fence about portfolios. I’d speculate that filling in a form is a less arduous task than learning to use HTML templates for most. The ability to publish without the need for locally installed software would be a plus as well.

    If I were a student, though, I’d be very interested in knowing about ownership and portability before I made the leap. In other words, can I take it with me? Or, more accurately can I continue to add to it after life at PSU? The answer would definitely influence how much energy I put into the repository.

  4. Gary … good thoughts. One of the reasons we selected MT as the publishing platform was for its ability to publish static pages into a directory. That gives us the ability to let students pull the whole directory and take it with them. One thing you bring up that I think is critical is the ability to maintain this thing after graduation. I know MT allows for full export. What we should explore is how this export could be used in partnership with SixApart’s TypePad service or with a commercial ISP that hosts MT. I could se it working very well, now we just have to test it.

    I am eager to test this whole scenario out with some real students … maybe a new pilot for the spring to look at how it all really works.

  5. I agree with Gary. I’ve never used my Web space for anything more than a development environment because I’ve been afraid that I couldn’t take it with me. An export is one option, but then it seems like any external permalinks to blog entries would be broken. I guess it could be expensive to keep hosting all those students’ files forever, but it would be a way to keep a hook in the alumni.

  6. i think there are many of us looking for the same thing — in a variety of contexts. personal content management (god, is that a geek phrase or what?); writing tools — collaborative, both in the contemporary social sense and in the sense of tying together snippets of one’s own writings/ideas over time; research or information management systems that enable tagging and retrospective searches (in my case) from 20 years of laboratory experiments across scores of students.

    i don’t think there is a single application (or approach) at this time. for me, i’ve found that things like stikkit work for my short-term projects/errands and reminders. anything that becomes a longer term project finds its way into my tiddlywiki (which i run as a single html file synched across a few computers and a usb drive).

    intermediate- to long-term stuff gets placed in a (more.or.less) secure lab e-notebook (for research) ANGEL (for teaching) and — i’m still working on something for personal long-term storage– some combination of imap and ical files.

    generally i like to focus on text-based apps — so, as software changes, my info is indeed portable. i’ve also become enamored of using rsync to make sure that all my info is up to date and synced across a few different disks and systems. (though i am testing this idea now).

    don’t know how much is useful on a windows box … but, all of the above work on my mac and, obviously, linux boxes.

  7. Cole,

    It seems to me that what you suggest has evolved through what we have learned looking at the early work around systems and applications related to e-portfolio and then comparing this to the applications and technologies that we and students use on a regular basis. I agree with you when you start to talk about e-portfolio be less about the product and more about the process (less prescriptive and more developmental advising I think is how this is described). New technologies and experience working with them is maturing which provides for new ways to network and connect.

    I think a challenge that is revealing itself is that we have rather sophisticated networking users (students) who are at a pre-professional stage in their lives. They have little or no sense of what it means to network and connect within the professional or academic field they have chosen – how could they? A checklist of goals or learning objectives I think is one mechanism that can be used powerfully, however, they imply that faculty think about their program’s curriculum in terms of evidence and experience as well as content that is taught. As you know, the Division of Student Affairs has been interested in the effectiveness of such a mechanism for a while now. However, for many programs this is a significant shift.

    One question that I ask to try to tease thinking in this direction is, having bought into the notion that the portfolio process is a beneficial exercise, “If you saw an exemplary e-portfolio of a student that had been in your program for one year, what would the portfolio contain? What would a exemplary student link to after two years? We know the courses they are probably taking, but beyond this, what should they be involved in? Checklists would help a student think about this…

    The next challenge is how should students articulate and share this experience? Here is where models and examples are the next mechanism that I think a program can deploy to help get at this. However, these are difficult to generate and point to if you are not involved in the process. The more examples we have to point to, the more information the pre-professional has to use to model their own behavior from.

    Lately, the dilemma regarding the dichotomy between the use of the internet by faculty and how this technology is embraced by undergraduate populations has become more obvious to me. Is it fair to assess the effectiveness of these new technologies when led by lean experience? Would it be overgeneralizing to state that it would be rare for one group have posted comments or added to a wiki, whereas this is what the other group does all day?

    There is much of development work to do. It would be unfortunate if a new wave of communication couldn’t find ways to involve our most experienced professionals.

  8. I like the model – now you need to add inputs and outputs so all can envision operationalizing it. In addition to classroom artifacts, there are MANY things happening at PSU outside the classroom that directly impact students in positive ways that should be reflected in an ePort. For example, my daughter worked with Girl Scouts on a small project recently. It was arranged by the Discover House she is part of. How many students think to include these sorts of things in their ePort?

    That’s one concern I have. We need to educate students here, but we also need to build ties to units across PSU that involve students in positive, life building ways. And if we can somehow automate building the artifacts to include in their ePort, so much the better. Imagine if you could complete a PSU-sponsored community event and have a way to puch a few buttons, push the details into your ePort, add your reflective piece, and publish it! This is an input example.

    Another area I’d like to see is customized publishing “sets.” By that I mean a way to pick a subset of artifacts from the entire set, then publish them out for a specific audience. Like tailoring your resume to match the job specs. Maybe this already exists? This is an output example.

  9. I think this does encapsulate the rationale for both public and private areas. I think it’s a good model for instructors/educational technologists who are interested in mentoring students in negotiating public vs. private access.

    We had an interesting discussion on using MT as a portfolio managment system. One of the more interesting discussion points was how do we help students disseminate the right information to potential employers, but not necessarily the entire public. For instance, a student would definitely want some artifacts on display, and even a public resume, but not necessarily one with their personal phone number and address.

    Even “public documents” like a resume may need to come in multiple versions. It’s a subtle nuance that makes me realize how tricky building an online presence can be.

  10. Maybe we should give Open Source Portfolio a serious look in terms of supporting ePortfolios. While we have really good “pieces” for IT enabling portfolios, as Elizabeth, Brett, and Glenn noted, we need something to disseminate the documents/artifacts/evidence in user controlled ways to different types of constituents (faculty, potential employers, even parents).

    P.S. Cole — you need to change your e-mail validator on this form so it supports ” “s in e-mail addresses.

  11. Collect, select, reflect is old school. It was progressive thinking about 10-12 years ago, but times have changed and I think you’ve managed to capture that in your post. Through their Penn State education and experiences, our students are joining a professional community of practice. At the onset, they typically have very little sense of the fundamental ideas that drive their field or how to engage in professional discourse. For instance, the education majors I work with come to us thinking that preparing for instruction equates to writing a lesson plan. To professional educators, however, preparing for instruction involves attending to a constellation of considerations – everything from understanding the subject matter you are teaching and where students may encounter difficulty with it, to creating inviting and engaging learning environments. So the question becomes, how can we help induct students into the professional culture of their field?

    If I am understanding you correctly, this is where your notion of a programmatic checklist of objectives and goals comes into play. While I tend to cringe at the mention of checklists (another story for another time), I think providing students with a framework for monitoring their own development and progress in their chosen field is important. When this activity is balanced against personal goals, my sense is you have a powerful approach to support learning. Wouldn’t it be amazing to have students question what their unique contribution to the profession might be? How will they challenge the norms, which necessarily requires understanding them, and how might they change the field?

    Your vision of a publishing platform to mediate this process is compelling. Publishing to learn. Public scholarship as you describe it would allow students to “try on” fundamental ideas from their community of practice and engage in discourse that brings together more and less experienced others around artifacts. Over time, students move from peripheral participants to more central players in their professional community.

    Crafting a professional digital identity. Blogs at PSU holds many possibilities. The option of keeping some aspects of your repository and portfolio private is the safety net needed to move forward. In addition, you have scratched the surface of resolving another major barrier – the inherent tension between engaging in portfolio development to support student learning versus program accountability purposes. Exciting ideas! Count me in for the pilot.

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