Not your father’s Portfolio

We were working with a writer on an article about ePortfolios to appear in Campus Technology (its here 11.2009). One of our examples to illustrate our thinking about ePortfolios was Margo Tamez’ El Calaboz Portfolio. Our writer got back with this:

“The editor for my article about eportfolios had a question about my coverage of Margo Tamez’s eportfolio usage. She had expressed concern that the eportfolio have a home beyond the duration of the court case. Does Washington State have any kind of official policy or practices specifically about the life of its student eportfolios? Is there any kind of guarantee that it will live on after the student has left the institution? Anything you can say about that?”

There is a short answer and a long answer to the question.

Short answer: WSU has no policy or procedure in place to delete a student’s SharePoint mySite (where Tamez portfolio is) after graduation, but after 12 months this site becomes read-only unless the graduate makes a specific request to have management access restored.

Long answer: The problem with the short answer is that it focuses on the technical survival of a specific thing at a specific URL. Thinking about a specific collection of artifacts in a specific system at the specific URL is too narrow a focus for our understanding of an ePortfolio.

At the risk of insulting the Campus Technology editor by paraphrasing a Oldsmobile ad, an ePortfolio ‘is not your father’s Portfolio,’ by which I mean that in our view an ePortfolio is not at all an electronic counterpart of the paper portfolio.

An electronic portfolio is both more durable and more tenuous than its paper predecessor. Its also more powerful. Its not a thing or a place, its a practice.

Googling Margo Tamez (she is lucky to have a fairly unique name)  illustrates that she built her electronic reputation in many places, that is, her ePortfolio is not in one place. Rather, it is the sum of artifacts imbedded in the contexts of the communities where she was working. This image is a Touchgraph (link to live Touchgraph) of a search for Margo. It shows her portfolio as a collection of the web 2.0 places she is working.

TouchGraph rendering of Google results for Margo Tamez

Due to the nature of the problem she was working on, Margo intentionally built her portfolio in a distributed fashion. Many of the key documents were emailed to a list of readers, where the body of the email served as description and context for the document. Her WSU ePortfolio was the recipient of a cc: of those emails. Other pieces of her work were created in wikis or as guest posts in blogs. She worked in her community, keeping the artifacts of her work (her ePortfolio) in the places that were best suited to them.

As part of our ePortfolio case study work, we interviewed Dennis Haarsager, now Senior Vice President for System Resources and Technology at National Public Radio, about blogging and building portfolios in public places. In our reflection we said:

“In our interview, Haarsager argued for the public lectures he gives on his chosen problem. The lecture is a showcase portfolio of Haarsager’s current, best thinking. The medium is mostly broadcast, but he feels it allows him to reach new audiences, and to get kinds of feedback about his ideas that he does not get in comments on his blog.

“Tamez is also creating showcase “mini-portfolios” in the form of printed fliers and media interviews. These productions may have some of the risk-related prestige that Tenner ascribes to printed books, while at the same time having the new audience-reaching and immediacy values that Haarsager associates with his lectures. In her learning portfolio, these mini-portfolios document where Tamez’ thinking was at points in her learning trajectory.”

Thus, our thinking is that ePortfolios are created as by-products of work, and are scattered across the venues and contexts in which the work is conducted. An ePortfolio is continually dissipating as systems storing the work go away, and continually growing as new work is added.

I have been struggling for awhile with the problem of describing a 21st century resume.  It too is not like its 20th century counterpart. In that 2007 post I did not yet fully recognize the obvious, which I’m coming to see here. My blog(s) and the other places I post online are my ePortfolio (and my resume).

Rather that focusing on the durability of an ePortfolio system or URL, the most important things we see about an ePortfolio (and ePortfolio as 21st century resume) are the abilities to:

  1. find your work when you need it for reflection or repurposing,
  2. establish that you are indeed the author (possibly under multiple identities) of the works you wish to claim, and
  3. leverage the Google Juice of your work so that it helps you be found by people who share your interests and can help you in your work.

The first of these requirements is most likely met with a hybrid of several Web 2.0 tools. It could be supplemented with a social bookmark service where you track yourself.

The second challenge, proving that the work is “yours” is probably done by making a claim to a corpus of works rather than to a single piece, and by making an appeal to a community and context in which the work was done. (Unlike Catherine Howell‘s thought (ca 2005)  that “universities have a role in ‘authenticating’ individuals [and endowing]… them with certain attributes,” we think an ePortfolio world that enables community-based learning and community-based credentials breaks those assumptions about the university, see a recent piece for AAC&U.)

The third requirement is met by working in public and working in venues where your community of practice will likely congregate and then linking from those contexts to works you created in other contexts that contribute to the conversation.

This third point can be illustrated if you Google me (Nils Peterson). You will discover that there are two people using that name with different career trajectories.  Nils Peterson the Poet is in the Bay Area and worked at San Jose State. His identify is authenticated by a variety of news stories (that is, a community of other writers know that he is who he claims and they are in agreement in their accounts of him).

I claim to be other Nils Peterson who is (currently) prominent in Google, the Nils Peterson who publishes in Campus Technology as well the author here, and the blogger at  I have made a consistent effort to create user identities using Nils+Peterson in many systems and to link from one system to another. This strengthens my claim to be the Nils Peterson who is saying all those things. I don’t depend on my employer or the universities that educated me to substantiate my claims, but I do depend on the corroboration of the communities in which I work.

But, the claim is circumstantial, like solving a jig saw puzzle by inferring which pieces fit together. Following the notions of Helen Barrett, and because I work online in public, my ePortfolio (and resume) is a life lifelong and life wide  web of the works Google associates with me, where ever they exist.

8 Responses

  1. […] collaborative blogging away from the WSU brand where this post which summarizes much of that work, Not your father’s Portfolio, can be […]

  2. […] of the things we learned at CTLT was that a learner’s portfolio needs to deliberately build “Google Juice” around its problem to attract a community of […]

  3. […] Posts From Student Feedback to University AccreditationBeyond The UniversityNot your father's PortfolioUpdate on Harvesting […]

  4. […] Feedback to University AccreditationGetting started with transformative assessment university-wideNot your father's PortfolioBack@U DML Competition MockupHarvesting feedback on a course […]

  5. Margo Tamez blogged a reply to Ray Tolley’s post (the latter is linked as another comment to this post).

    I note a few things:
    First, Tamez discovered our conversation about her when her “parallel universe ‘self’ intercepted my touchgraph while cruising my google alerts.”

    Second, she responded quickly
    Timeline. Peterson edits this blog post to add TouchGraph 1:32p EST (which would have begun triggering the Google Alert) and posts in AAEEBL discussion 1:51p EST. Tolley replies to Peterson in AAEEBL at 4:30p EST (having already posted to his blog). Tamez replies in her blog at 5:41p EST.

    The above is notable because of this comment she makes in the post, that I think pertains to the gap between my and Tolley’s comments.

    “I’m few beats late to the conversation [where ‘beats’ is measured in hours not days (NP)]. I would advise anyone who is seriously committed to the larger structural uses of E-portfolios by contemporary students– who by the way do not view the college classroom as their most significant ‘center’ of knowledge and tool acquisition, (providing one is inclined to view the technology and control over the production as the domain of liberatory education)–,to examine their assumptions about knowledge and power and the political will of the Indigenous peoples.”

    I would generalize Tamez’ perspective about Indigenous Peoples in the above comment to recognize the developing world which is rapidly gaining Internet access and is positioned to learn how to self-organize and self-educate in the ways Tamez aludes. Another way to represent this conversation is about locus of control. We have a diagram comparing institutional-centric vs Community-based learning. I think Tamez is in the latter camp.

  6. Ray Tolley posted this reply to some of the ideas here.

    I think one of the conversations that is implied by our different perspectives is about ePortfolio for a specific showcase purpose, vs, as Tolley says, reputation, or ePortfolio as a Personal Learning Environment (PLE) which will be inherently messier than a showcase.

  7. Jessica Mullen posted this though about real name and personal brand.

  8. […] Sept 28, 2009] I just some feedback to a writer working on a story about ePortfolios. It got me thinking that for me my several blogs […]

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