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Portfolios

The plain ol’ resume just doesn’t cut it anymore. Nor does the transcript. And nor — please take note here, few remaining fans of standardized testing — do most of our federally-mandated practices of assessment. It’s hard to know what skills students (as students and as potential employees) really possess by looking at these papers, grades, and scores.

For a long time, folks have argued that portfolios could provide viable alternatives to all of that, showcasing our knowledge, skills, experiences, goals, and growth. Demonstrate what you can do by… well… doing it. And then in the case of a Web-based portfolio, provide your teacher or the HR department with a link.

But portfolios — digital and otherwise — have faced a number of obstances to adoption: They’re not necessarily that easy to assemble, particularly if you’re pulling in data and artifacts from multiple sources in various formats. And despite their being digital, portfolios aren’t always easy to share — and if you can share them, the default is often “public.”

And finally, and perhaps most importantly, many digital portfolio tools aren’t designed to follow you from institution from institution. (If you’re a user of Google Apps who’s changed schools or jobs, for example, you probably know the frustrations of having to share all your documents with another email cccount so you can transfer ownership of your stuff to you.)

Indeed, much like transcripts and testing, portfolios too often reflect the needs of the institution over the needs of the individual. As such, there’s that pesky question that we need to ask time and again when it comes to any (ed-)tech tool: who owns your personal data? Who owns your portfolio? Ideally, the answer here is “you do.” You have a domain of your own — see the well-named A Domain Of One’s Own project at University of Mary Washington as an exemplar.

Pathbrite

But there’s also a startup (no surprise) taking on these challenges too. Pathbrite offers digital portfolios and says that it’s focused on serving individuals’ needs, rather than just institutions’. That means that, ideally, portfolios should be able to extend from kindergarten through lifelong learning; they should be able to capture the “informal” and the “formal” and pull material into one place; and they should allow users to control at a very granular level with whom portfolios are shared.

“We must own our own data,” says Pathbrite CEO Heather Hiles, who says that the inability to take your materials with you is one of the main challenges that we face — not just in collecting and showcasing our learning data, but in all aspects of the social Web.

The Pathbrite portfolios can pull in professional and educational data (or whatever sorts of materials you choose to link) from sources like LinkedIn, Google Docs, Facebook, YouTube, Vimeo, and regular websites. You can also pull in your badges from Khan Academy, with support for Mozilla’s badge infrastructure coming soon. The company has also recently taken investment from ACT. The tool is being piloted at Stanford, among other institutions, and gives students there an opportunity to pull in their official transcripts and opt to share those with advisors or potential employers as they deem fit.

Me, I remain a fan of the approach of UWM: giving students a domain of their own, rather than having to rely on any third party service, and working with them to build their portfolios while on campus and make them portable when they graduate. That being said, I do think that the ease-of-use of Pathbrite — in terms of the services it taps into and the templates it offers — might make it a great tool for others to explore.

(Pathbrite is one of the three startup finalists at this week’s Education Nation Innovation Challenge. The other two are NoRedInk, which I covered here, and ReadImagine.)

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Audrey Watters


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