Professor of Humanities at Yavapai College
Why create an e-portfolio? Not only is it not required, my understanding is that several years ago it was suggested and expressly rejected. Of course, I’ve only heard that second-hand, and since I myself was never told I couldn’t do it, I decided to go ahead for several reasons of my own.
Firstly, I’m no fan of printing reams of paper for any reason. My classes are almost entirely paperless, both in an effort to develop my students’ digital literacy skills and to make my own teaching as environmentally low-impact as possible. Well-organized electronic files are more easily accessible, shareable, reproducible, and stored than paper, and while I am no paragon of organization, I can find my electronic files much more easily than I can my paper ones. Electronic course documents mean students have 24/7 access to the information they need, whenever they need it, and “losing the syllabus” is no longer an excuse option for late or missing work. Electronic files for the General Education committee means my committee members get the documents they need as soon as I’m done with them, no extra copying and sending, no lost or forgotten pages. And having all my files available view Dropbox.com means I have what I need, when I need it, at home or in the office, to do my work. And, of course, the environmental and financial impact of reducing printing is not insignificant. So the idea of then translating 2 ½ years of electronic documents into an analog version seems quite odd. I’ve done it, of course in order to meet the college’s requirements, but I consider the physical copy of my portfolio as an adjunct to my real creation: my ongoing, online professional portfolio.
One of the charms of the online portfolio is that I had to learn so very much to create it. I know I have a reputation as a tech-savvy teacher, but really, I only know what I know, bits and pieces that I’ve taught myself, and I have very little understanding of computer science, coding or how the Internet works. But no matter, a characteristic of the Web 2.0 era is “on demand learning,” finding out what you need to know when you need to know it. And what better way to motivate learning about WordPress.org, personal websites and creating an online presence than by plunging in and creating possibly the most important document of my professional career? Wait, that doesn’t sound so good…. But, oh well, it’s too late to turn back now, and nothing motivates me like learning something new. I’ve googled, posted to online forums, taken the advice of strangers, given advice to friends, driven the TeLS staff to distraction, crashed my site, given up, tried again, trumpeted my triumphs, read books, reviewed others’ sites, attended conferences and complained to whoever would listen in the hallways in order to get this site going. And by doing that, it is MINE. I did this, and I’m very proud of it.
I realize as I think back over my struggles that the process by which this site came into being is also a model of what I want to encourage my students to do. I don’t have a lot of patience for a “tell me what I need to know” attitude. It is up to each individual to decide what it is he or she needs to know and to find a way to learn it. Oh, I’ll help, for sure! I love to help others learn, especially if they take me to places or ideas I’ve never considered myself. And I can make endless (and convincing) arguments for why the effort to learn seemingly “useless” topics in general education is vital for success. But I won’t simply provide facts and then administer tests to see who learned those facts best. Even if that were a viable teaching process in the humanities, I couldn’t do it. I’d get bored. I’d start to hate my “teaching” job and I wouldn’t have a lot of respect for students who would accept that as “learning.” Instead, I am currently developing the idea of the personal learning environment in all my classes, a way to encourage students to take responsibility for figuring out what they really want to know and how they can find it out. And I want them to develop their PLEs by going through what I did in putting together my e-portfolio, to take possession of their own knowledge because they tracked it down, played with it, messed it up and finally, pwned it.
I also wanted to create an online portfolio because it is a living site, endlessly updateable and changeable, as my own interests and activities change. Portfolios captured in three-ring binders make the rounds of administration, do their work to convince various and sundry that the creator is worthy of continuing contract status, and then they likely sit on a shelf somewhere. A select few might end up in the GIFT Center, or shared with colleagues working on their own portfolios. (Thanks, Jennie and Al!) But for the most part, they are done, collecting dust, at best a snapshot of a point in time. I, however, intend to regularly update my e-portfolio. Perhaps this is simply another manifestation of the extreme self centeredness that is sometimes laid at the feet of the digital native. It’s true that Web 2.0 tools have given us all the ability to present ourselves to an unprecedented audience, all over the world, and not everyone has used that ability wisely. But nevertheless, the tools are there, and we ignore them at our peril. As I tell my students, you WILL be googled. There is nothing you can do to stop a potential employer or a potential romantic interest from searching you on the Internet. But you can influence what that person finds. Which would you prefer, a carefully crafted portfolio of your best work or the pictures of you getting jiggy at a dorm party? And while my “getting jiggy” days were mercifully before the advent of cell phones and You Tube, that doesn’t relieve me of the responsibility of curating my own current online presence. I can share this portfolio with colleagues I meet at a conference, with fellow teachers and potential teachers curious about YC’s humanities program and with members of the community who ask “So what do you do up there at the college?” It is a dynamic, professional website devoted to the work and activities I deem most important, something that serves and will continue to serve as my online calling card to whoever comes looking.