Student Web Portfolios
Kristin Koptiuch, Associate Professor of Anthropology
New College of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences, Arizona State University at the West Campus, Phoenix, Arizona
WHAT ARE THEY? In essence, a student web portfolio is a digital documentation of a student’s coursework creatively presented in digital media format.
As I have adapted them for my undergraduate, content-based, interdisciplinary social science courses, a web portfolio is a student’s compilation of assignments that tells the story their developing knowledge, communicative skills, and analytical abilities. Web portfolios take traditional paper portfolios "to the next level." A tangible instructional product, the web portfolio adds an exciting dimension to student learning, and meaningfully integrates technology skills into subject matter learning. Production of a web portfolio enhances student motivation to do their best work, and the satisfying results enable students to appraise and appreciate their own—and each other’s—accomplishments. Best of all, electronic portfolios launch student ideas to a worldwide web audience beyond the classroom and instill the excitement of contributing to research-based knowledge about their local/global community. Portfolios thereby make students responsible for effectively communicating their ideas, understandings, original research, and creative projects to a broad audience.
Instructional Integration. Web portfolios supplement instruction and serve as an effective learning assessment tool for both student and instructor. Because its content represents a compilation of class assignments, the web portfolio is neatly integrated into the course curriculum. As students prepare their portfolio they have an opportunity to take a second look at their written assignments. Awareness that the portfolios will be web accessible motivates students to revise and improve assignments in response to instructor’s comments and to integrate what they learned subsequently from classmates’ work and their own progressing knowledge of course material. Web portfolios thereby encourage students to synthesize their own course learning experience as they collect their assignments, design their portfolio, reflect on—and relish!—their own accomplishments. This integrative process also makes web portfolios all the more sensitive as tools for instructor assessment of student learning.
My Experience Using Web Porfolios. I first developed a web portfolio assignment as an experiment in my Spring 2002 course Learning From South Phoenix (ASB 442, ETH 394, GCU 361, SBS 460, SOC 332), a fieldwork-based, interdisciplinary urban studies course. Using Microsoft FrontPage and Adobe Photoshop Elements, students designed and produced their own web portfolios to document results of their original urban field research projects. Web-based portfolios marvelously enabled students to creatively incorporate their own written text, photos, images, maps, and Internet links in ways that by comparison made conventional hard-copy papers fall flat. This turned out to be such a stimulating aspect of instruction and learning, and yielded such an astonishing array of creative and informative web pages produced by my first 40 students, that I have made web portfolios an integral part of this course ever since. I also incorporated them into other interdisciplinary social sciences courses at ASU: Migration & Culture, Global Cities, Ethnographic Field Lab, and used them to great effect in three courses when I taught on the Semester at Sea in fall 2006 (Global Cities, Migration & Culture, Field Methods).
Content Comes First. I emphasize that these are content-based courses, not technology or multimedia arts courses. As an anthropologist teaching social science courses, I have been careful not to allow the technology to take precedence over student learning of course content. Interdisciplinary social science concepts, methods, critical analysis and understandings of the particular course topics remain the chief learning objectives. In this regard I have found it important to allay any student anxiety about computer technology as well as to deter excessive techno zeal at expense of content. I do so by first reminding students of the primacy of content-based learning outcomes as reflected in the grading system built primarily on content-based assignments. Yet our experience also shows that portfolios are best fully integrated into the curriculum from start to finish. Portfolio expectations can be clearly outlined in the syllabus and any additional instruction accompanying individual assignments so that students understand their importance for delivering and communicating subject matter learning. Designating a specific percentage of the grade for the completed web portfolio both awards credit to student efforts here and clarifies that the portfolio is one assignment among several, with its own weight clearly stipulated (this varies according to course goals). Web portfolios thus partner technology with subject matter for a stimulating learning experience with unique web-accessible results.
Tech Time. It is important to dedicate class time for a web instruction workshop as well as computer lab time to complete the portfolio at the conclusion of the course. I discourage students from working on their web pages outside of the delimited dedicated class time, primarily in order to get across the message that producing the technology plays second fiddle to the quality of the work they prepare for their portfolio. I am sure that this results in web pages more basic than students could produce if given lots more time and tech instruction. However my intention here is to weight the balance more towards the quality of written work and the research that it’s based on, than on dazzling web pages. Nonetheless, the portfolios do often turn out quite dazzling!
Instructor as Webmaster. I serve as course Webmaster as well as instructor. I have designed, produced, and maintained the homebase web pages that make the student portfolios accessible online. Because images enliven portfolio web pages, I also maintain a photo gallery for each course, making accessible to all students whatever photos class members take during field research, class fieldtrips, guest speakers, in-class presentations, etc. It must be acknowledged that this Webmaster role does take considerable effort. In addition to mastering the subject area and classroom instructional skills, the instructor must develop expertise adequate for the critically important role of maintaining the course web site. I am a bit of a technophile, so I’ve enjoyed this effort and find the tangible results to be worth the burden of time that it does take. Invariably though, I’ve got more good ideas of how I’d like to arrange the course web site than time to carry them out. And I’ve maxed out by incorporating web portfolios into just two of my courses.
Portfolio Strategies. As I improve my Webmaster skills my homebase pages become more complex, and I hope more effective. I continually develop new strategies for drawing audience interest to the students’ portfolios and for creating synergies by linking together student work on different projects.
- I obtained adequate server space to keep the web portfolios posted online after the course ends. Access to previous students’ work gives a new class the opportunity to examine and learn from their colleagues’ web portfolios, to model the strengths in the quality of written work and effectiveness of web design.
- Registration of an Internet domain name with a mnemonic dot-com URL address makes for a simpler dissemination of a course or project site (I use godaddy.com for inexpensive domain registration; for example southphoenixweb.com more succinctly links viewers to the university server than would its actual address).
- I have designed launch pages that cut across individual student portfolios and link specific project types together in an accessible format, imagining that general web audiences are likely to be more interested in specific themes or projects than in the collected works of individuals unknown to them (for example crossingthevalley.com).
- This strategy plays to my collaborative pedagogy as well. I encourage students to conceive of their portfolios as individual contributions to a greater collaborative class project. When linked together, the synergies yield a whole picture that reverberates beyond any single student’s achievement, telling the story of our student-centered, collective class learning experience.
- As students become increasingly tech savvy there is plenty of room to grow. Instructors with greater digital media expertise could endlessly adapt the web portfolio format to include projects involving advanced multimedia skills, such as digital ethnography, audio interviews, hypermedia texts, Flash animation, etc. Our web pages at first were pretty much what students call "old school," but as free online web developers improved, they became more professional looking (favorite platform: Jimdo.com)
Is It Worth the Effort? YES! Students’ occasional frustration with technology, software applications, and web design is more than compensated by their delight at succeeding in enhancing their computer literacy skills and in the tangible product that is the result of their efforts. The web portfolio showcases a student’s accomplishments in the course, accomodates reflexive learning assessment, and is especially satisfying for highlighting their original research and writing as unique contributions to a collaborative research adventure.
Check out how we did it! And then take a look at our web portfolios!
© 2005 Koptiuch. An earlier
version of this site was first developed for a presentation at
the campus Teaching
& Technology Fair 2004.
Last revised 6/07.
Contact me for further consultation firstname.lastname@example.org