Educational Portfolio Program Development

Portfolios have more utility in conjunction with higher-order learning.

I have been designing reflective student portfolio programs since 1996, beginning with the Kalamazoo College Portfolio – which was, to our knowledge, the first required reflective electronic undergraduate portfolio in the US. I have since consulted with dozens of colleges and universities about starting their own portfolio programs.

Description of the Project

“Portfolio” is a defined differently by nearly every person who uses it. There are three main types of student portfolios:

  • Assessment Portfolios are collections of student work, and their primary purpose is to grade the student on their performance on course objectives. These are usually shared with course instructors.
  • Reflective Portfolios ask students to analyze their own actions, competence, thoughts, and feelings. They are usually shared with a small group of people, such as instructors, advisors, or peer facilitators.
  • Self-Presentation Portfolios are polished works targeted at an external audience, often with the hopes of helping a student get a job. These are seen as a detailed supplement to a resume and may contain examples of work.

Many portfolios incorporate elements of each of the types described above – but the most effective portfolio programs focus heavily in one or two areas. It’s just too hard to do everything well.

Importance and Impact of Project or Work

Portfolios have been a “hot item” in education for more than two decades. They have great potential to impact student learning, critical thinking skills, and confidence, but a significant amount of instructor and administrative effort is required to reap substantial benefits. There are times when portfolios are not appropriate – fore example, a portfolio is overkill for the assessment of straightforward, knowledge-level understanding. You don’t need a portfolio to tell you if a student has mastered algebra or has memorized vocabulary words.

My professional stance is that a bad portfolio program is worse than no portfolio at all, because it can waste precious time and cause significant frustration if it is perceived as a complex series of “hoops to jump through.” However, a well-designed portfolio program can have a transformative impact on student learning and confidence. With the depth and breadth of my experience, I am able to help academic programs:

  • clarify their needs, goals, and specific outcomes for a portfolio program;
  • decide which – if any – type of portfolio will meet their goals within their specific circumstances;
  • develop the program, including faculty and student buy-in and training materials.

Related Link

U Michigan Dental Hygiene Degree Completion Portfolio

Published by Emily

I'm an instructional designer and gardener based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Free moments find me in my garden or the forest, hugging trees and all that jazz.

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