Helping Students Create Successful Portfolios
Students who have little experience creating electronic portfolios may need help and practice in the following skills:
Understanding what an e-portfolio is
Students may be interested to know that electronic portfolios have become popular in education as alternative forms of assessment. Providing richer information than exams or papers, portfolios offer students an opportunity to demonstrate what they know and are able to do using a broad range of evidence. They are often formal presentations of oneself as a learner.
You may want to define for students what an e-portfolio is and how it compares to other types of writing and online content. Specifically, discuss how the reflective writing in the e-portfolio compares to other writing done for the course or program. You may also want to address how the e-portfolio as a whole compares to other types of online content, such as blogs, social networking sites, and even email messages; when creating an e-portfolio for the first time, students often gravitate towards the personal and informal tone they use for other online content.
Students may be unfamiliar with the term "artifact" and may be unsure of what they should or could collect to include in a portfolio. Electronic portfolios allow students to include a wide range of digital objects—text documents, photos, images, audio files, video clips, or Web pages—as evidence of their learning. Encourage students to think broadly and creatively about the kinds of evidence that might best illustrate their skills, thinking, accomplishments, or interests. You might also design assignments that require students to generate different types of artifacts.
Selecting artifacts for a purpose
Artifacts form the base of any portfolio. Help students identify criteria for selecting artifacts related to the purpose of the portfolio. For example, do students wish to demonstrate their skills? Outline steps in a process? Illustrate a theme in their work? Which items from their collection are the best examples for their intended purpose? Help students think about how their selected artifacts might support—or detract from—the statement they want to make with their portfolio.
Writing about an artifact
Students may need to learn how to combine artifacts and commentary in an e-portfolio to craft an effective argument or statement about their learning. Essential to a successful portfolio is the ability to describe specific features of an artifact and explain how these features demonstrate achievement of learning goals or relate to the purpose of the portfolio as a whole. Consider sharing examples of effective reflection and providing other opportunities (outside the e-portfolio) for students to practice reflective writing. You may also wish to include questions or prompts in an example portfolio to scaffold the kind of thinking you want your students to develop.
Portfolios are tools for conversation; students should be able to tailor a portfolio to communicate with their intended audience(s). Provide opportunities for students to consider how, for instance, an instructor, peer, advisor, potential employer, or graduate school reviewer might respond to the artifacts and structure of their portfolio, the language and content of their reflections, and the look and feel (visual design) of the portfolio.
Developing Design Skills
Students will need basic design skills as they build their portfolio Web sites. Layout, navigation and the appropriate visual style for the intended audience and the purpose should be discussed early on in the planning stages. Offer students multiple examples of a 'look and feel' that would be appropriate for the message they want to convey. Accessibility should also be considered; for instance, green text on a red background may be difficult for some viewers to read. Backgrounds that are multicolored and busy can be distracting. For more information on design considerations, see UW-IT's Guide to Creating an Effective Web Site.
Understanding the qualities of successful portfolios
It is highly recommended that you provide multiple examples of successful portfolios for your students. If you are assigning an e-portfolio for the first time, you may not have examples of student work to share. In this case, it is useful to create an example yourself. Explicitly discuss the features and qualities that make your example portfolio(s) successful. This will help students understand the assignment as well as the criteria that will be used to evaluate their work.