Student benefits from Portfolios include:

  • Good scaffolds provide needed guidance and minimize student frustration (and therefore failure).
  • Students feel motivated by being allowed a measure of freedom to choose their own artifacts, based on their keenest interests.
  • Also, bringing artifacts of their keenest interests into their portfolios connects the content of the course to their personal lives.
  • Students begin to take ownership of their own learning in ways that they never do when cramming for final exams.
  • Critical analysis, problem-solving and decision-making skills are developed, as students must make choices about which artifacts to include. Portfolios also give opportunity for creativity.
  • Meta-cognitive thinking is developed, as students reflect on their separate artifacts, and what makes them contribute to a cohesive whole.

What is a Portfolio?

Students are directed to collect and curate a selection of their term work, according to guidelines set down by the Instructor. A portfolio is not simply a collection of artifacts - it is a curation - i.e. for each artifact they choose, students must provide a rationale for why they included it, and they must also submit an over-arching explanation of how the whole portfolio ties together as a whole that reflects the major learning goals of the course. With these curations of artifacts, your instructional goal is to achieve a fine balance of structure (see: scaffolds), provided by you the Instructor, with student choice and independence.

Depending on the discipline, the guidelines set down and the kinds of student artifacts will vary greatly (see Resources, below).

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  • Set down guidelines and the sequence of artifact due dates clearly at the very start of the term, so that the Portfolios are created in sync with the unfolding content, and not crammed in at the last minute. (Ideally, these expectations are the focus of Day 1,while discussing the Syllabus).
  • Tie the expected artifacts to your major course goals. For example, if research skills are a key goal, an annotated bibliography would be a good artifact to be included, along with a small collection of scholarly articles with accompanying student reviews. If media literacy is a goal, then a collection of media artifacts with accompanying student analysis and criticism would be a good artifact. If an important theory within your discipline is a key goal, then items that apply and illustrate that theory being active in the real world, would be a good artifact to include.
  • Model good artifacts.Take some class time to do this. Show the exemplary artifact and the explanation of why it is included in its portfolio; have the students comment on what makes the artifact and the rationale good. By the same process, counter-model poor artifacts. Have the students take notes of this commentary and use their notes as a guide to their own artifact selection/curation.
  • Celebrate the artifacts as they come in throughout the semester. Take class time to use exemplary student artifacts (Getting permission won’t be hard!) to illustrate your course content. The students-created illustrations of the course content will impact far more than any illustrations you could provide through a traditional lecture. (If this reminds you of Tom Sawyer and the fence, then rejoice and be glad!)

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For more information

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