Blog Post

What to Include in a Digital Portfolio?

This past weekend, I participated in the NCPH Roundtable "Teaching Sustainability in Digital Los Angeles." First of all, I found the discussion that followed to be incredibly energizing. We discussed the ways LA lends itself to digital history, barriers to enacting digital projects, strategies used by K-12 teachers, and methods for addressing varying levels of digital literacy in the classroom. We asked the audience what types of questions would be most useful to discuss as we moved beyond the conference. One question posed regarded the organization of digital portfolios and it is to this inquiry that I'd like to turn.

In my paper "Teaching Sustainable Digital History," I discussed the use of digital publishing to create teaching portfolios. I suggested that digital portfolios offer one strategy for making our projects sustainable because they allow us to curate and reflect on our own pedagogical practice. Media-rich publishing opens the door to new ways of creating teaching portfolios and for my own I’ve used Scalar, an open-source platform for born-digital scholarship. I like Scalar because it allows me to create different paths under the larger umbrella of pedagogy. If you'd like you can create your own, free, Scalar account here

My own digital portfolio mirrors that of a traditional teaching portfolio in many ways. It includes a teaching philosophy, diversity statement, copies of sample syllabus, and examples of course exercises. I've also included copies of materials I might not normally include in a hard-bound portfolio, such as photos, assessment of public history projects I've been involved with, and copies of digital media projects including video clips. As an authoring platform for born-digital work, Scalar is especially suited to the former cause. Plus, because it allows the viewer to follow various paths, I did not need to edit the amount of materials I included. The viewer her/himself could make that decision. 

I'd be curious to hear what other folks have included in their portfolios or what they think should or should not be included. And for those assessing portfolios, what would you like to see included?



A few years ago I helped coordinate a Kellogg - and later Ford Foundation - project in Somerville High School where kids created an interdisciplinary, multi-year digital portfolio that reflected the metrics developed by Arnold Packer, then at Johns Hopkins, and reviewed by Mica Pollock, then at Harvard. We used Packer's eight fields - which he had derived from his leadership of SCANS (Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills, of the Department of Labor in 1992). Somerville High School continues to use the system, now four years later, to help students build on their strengths, and to give teachers feedback on what students find most useful in the curriculum. The eight skill areas are Responsibility, Teamwork, Listening, Acquiring and Evaluating Information, Interpreting Information, Creativity, Negotiation, and Working with Diversity. Several very strong conclusions emerged from our year's pilot study.

First, students did not feel shy about critically grading themselves or each other, nor did they inflate their strengths or ignore their weaknesses. Instead, they used the initial assessment, at the beginning of the term, to build teams and to compensate for weaknesses by helping each other. This was actually a big surprise, given the competition of testing and grades, but reflected the transparency of the skills themselves. There's no benefit to inflating your listening skills among peers, for just one example, and much to be gained by somebody long on creativity working in a team with somebody who's strong on responsibility. They knew that from experience; their teachers often did not know as much.

Second, students - and teachers - recognized that a strength could grow stronger by using it, and that strengths helped compensate for weaknesses. That's not normal in schools, where there is often a sense that a demonstrated skill doesn't need more demonstration, and that a weakness is a failure. In the context of these ePortfolios, weaknesses were opportunities for growth, and strengths were resources for other people: Very, very different from traditional teaching and almost polar opposite to testing.

Finally, students, teachers, parents, and the school itself recognized the portfolios were superb tools for college or job preparation. The high school is unusual in that it integrates Voc Tech with academic subjects, and in that integration the ePortfolios allowed multimedia evidence of skills, skill growth, and of collaborative productivity.


I love this project. Really amazing. In the NCPH panel, I presented with a high school teacher working in South LA. I was struck by the really innovative digital projects they were engaging (geocoding, qr codes, etc) and your post builds on my sneaking suspicion that K-12 teachers are way ahead in integrating digital projects into their curriculum. I wonder how college educators could help build on these already existing efforts?