I like the idea and the concept of a portfolio because the genre and the expectations seem to me to be loaded with possibilities: they emphasize both process and product; they are flexible and contingent, based on the audience; they can, under the right circumstances, serve both learning and assessment goals, which is really a rare thing; and they can be multimodal in their composition and presentation.
And for teachers interested in seeing how students represent their emerging identities as students, as writers, and as people, the portfolio is a fascinating genre.
You could say the same things about the academic essay. But what really intrigues me about portfolio pedagogies is how people outside of our program and department are also interested in them, in ways that are not always true of the academic essay. For example, I have found that helping to develop and sustain a culture of mutual support around portfolios not just promotes, but requires the active participation of people in a range of disciplines and institutional responsibilities. For example, I have met and worked with people -- students, faculty, staff, administrators -- in the School for New Learning, Education, Faculty Instructional Technology Services, Information Services, the campus Library, the Vincentian Mission Fellows Program, the Career Center, Teaching Commons, Art, and Academic Affairs. All in the just the first year of using Digication at DePaul.
In almost every case, I return to WRD and my own First Year Writing classes with new insights, different perspectives, and a growing dependence on -- and desire for -- collective expertise. One of my goals for 2011-12 is to help share these productive support systems with colleagues in FYW and WRD.
What I wish I knew -- looking back now -- when I first started using Digication:
I wish I had paid more attention to the modularity of the page-design process. I knew it was there, and that you can add text, videos, images, etc. as part of a Digication page, but I did not explore it fully enough for myself beforehand, and I wonder if I gave students a well-rounded introduction to the possibilities.
What strategies would I recommend to colleagues?
I would spend some time on the concept of reflection. Many students are so wired for performing, for delivering "what the teacher is looking for" and for playing it safe, that sometimes portfolios can be barren document dumps. I would encourage students to be reflective in the sense that their First Year Writing Portfolio is just a brief snapshot in time, but with it, they can ask some timely questions about where they are as writers.
I would discourage them "proving" that they did well in the course, which generates a kind of enforced and predictable performativity.
For me, the ideal portfolio process centers on two iterative prompts:
- What did I do?
- How is it significant?
Trust students to figure things out.