Portfolio: A purposeful collection of students' work that illustrates efforts, progress, and achievement
I have been studying, writing, and speaking about electronic portfolios since 1991, and it seems that today a critical mass of institutions of higher education have begun advocating for their use in Teacher Education programs. Even NCATE (SITE 98) has advocated examining student electronic portfolios as one measure of whether students are meeting the content preparation standards. Over the last three conferences of the Society for Technology and Teacher Education (SITE), there have been at least 18 papers presented which focus on the use of electronic portfolios in Teacher Education or K-12 schools.
However, as I attend presentations at national and regional conferences, I see a lot of variations on the technologies used to develop electronic portfolios, but very little likage to the actual benchmarks that students are supposed to be demonstrating. As we move to more high stakes performance assessments for high school graduation, it will become more critical to have a flexible recordkeeping system that can track these demonstrations of competency in a variety of multimedia formats. Too many of the current examples of electronic portfolios, both "classroom-grown" and commercial, focus on the glitz and glamour of high tech multimedia; very few commercial programs provide the capability of directly linking students' digital portfolio artifacts to the standards for which they demonstrate achievement. The very definition of a portfolio noted above, implies a purpose, tied to progress and achievement...but of what? I propose that we need to begin focusing our attention less on the "electronic" and more on the "portfolio" -- the standards that our students need to demonstrate. Most states have adopted standards for both students, practicing teachers, and new teachers. These standards form an ideal framework for thinking about organizing an electronic portfolio.
I propose that a portfolio without standards is just a multimedia presentation or a fancy electronic resume or a digital scrapbook. There is a place for that type of format in classrooms or in employment searches, but a savvy administrator will look for evidence that the candidate meets the teaching standards that have been set for the district or state; a savvy teacher will look for evidence that a student's portfolio demonstrates achievement of at least one of the district/state/national standards. Without standards as the organizing basis for a portfolio, the collection becomes just that...a collection, haphazard and without structure; the purpose is lost in the noise, glitz and hype. High technology disconnected from a focus on curriculum standards will only exacerbate the lack of meaningful integration of technology into teaching and learning.