Creating an electronic portfolio of your academic work for tenure or promotion may be the best approach -- but only if it feels authentic to you, write Paula Dagnon and Karen Hoelscher.
In our recent essay, "Old Dog, New Tricks," we advised against the use of technology to create an electronic promotion portfolio if the decision to do so was based on trends and the glitz and glamor of fancy features that could dazzle an audience.
Drawing from personal experience, we described the benefits and considerations of making the decision to create a paper or an electronic portfolio that best represents one’s teaching, scholarship and service in academe. We suggested that the medium chosen by the applicant should reflect one’s work in the most authentic context possible, which is most likely its original format.
To continue that thread and to address the critics' responses to our essay, we hope to provide a convincing argument that the work of creating an electronic portfolio requires great mental discipline and rigor; it is serious work with potentially robust, value-added results perhaps unattainable via paper.
While arguably not as high-stakes as a tenure review, there is no doubt that a post-tenure review carries serious consequences because of the possible opportunity for merit pay and the prestige of successful completion, as well as the potential for negative action in the case of an unsatisfactory review.
Given that both the process of compiling one's materials and the process of reviewing materials require serious thought and work, some people wonder: does the medium chosen (paper or electronic) somehow indicate an entertainment level for the reviewers -- paper portfolios being the most serious reflecting rigorous work, and multimedia portfolios serving as charitable entertainment for the reviewers?
We think not. Regardless of paper or digital submission, applicants must work to create an opportunity for their reviewers to establish a sense of connection to -- and understanding of -- their work. However, should multimedia be chosen, it’s important to consider how the process of developing the visual digital story of one's work may involve equal, if not more, rigor in the presentation of materials than a paper portfolio.
While exploring resources for this article, we came across the entertainment technology graduate program at Carnegie Mellon University. In this program, graduate students study at the intersection of fine arts and computer science with the goal of informing, inspiring and affecting an audience. In a program designed around the goal of informing and affecting an audience, a depth of understanding about a visual story must be ascertained.
For instance, while viewing a PowerPoint slide about semiotics, one might realize at the most basic level how a text-based portfolio might convey a very different message and affect than a digital, multimedia portfolio. Indeed, “In prose, a rose can simply be a rose or it can be modified or confused with similar words or sounds.” In other words, in reading the word “rose,” “you may think of the rose bush in your parents [sic] backyard, or maybe a dried rose comes to mind from a loved ones [sic] funeral or the fresh rose you gave a lover" (Vituccio, slide 29).
Further contemplation of “The Visual Story” lecture leads us to consider how in the digital portfolio, symbols frequently demonstrate one’s work. But, if the symbol does not communicate the appropriate message, the content is lost. As Rushdie states, “The reader of a page invents the image. The reader of a film does not” (as cited by Vituccio, slide 40).
Again, this leads to the thought, “digital stories take serious time and consideration because the reader is simply interpreting, instead of inventing, the image provided.” If we’re tallying points for the rigorous nature of a digital portfolio, add a point.
Continuing the exploration of the Visual Story curriculum, we’re struck by a definition of composition. While avid technology users, we maintain a mental set when thinking about composition. In prototypical thinking, our minds find definitions stored in memory that include writing and rhetoric. Yet, the following definition of composition caused pause for reflection about the process of creating a digital portfolio; composition is “An arrangement of the parts of a work, so as to form a unified harmonious whole” (Vituccio, slide 6).
Thus when coordinating text, images, audio, video and other media, the ultimate arrangement must be harmonious and this takes work. Alas, another point for rigor.
Old Dogs Learn New Tricks
Because the main outcome of a post-tenure review is to persuade reviewers that an applicant has indeed met the requirements of the university, college and department, an applicant must think about how to create a positive connection with a reviewer.
However, aside from engaging in a rigorous process for self-reflection and personal gain in the creation of a digital portfolio, as teachers of pre-service educators, we constantly think about lifelong learning and modeling best practices.
Simply by making it through graduate school, we have learned, at a minimum, to be competent in writing. Why not, then, model for our students and continue with our learning by acquiring new literacies, instead of simply advising our students about their need to engage in lifelong learning and reflection?
The U.S. Department of Education’s National Education Technology Plan asserts, “Technology-based learning and assessment systems will be pivotal in improving student learning and generating data that can be used to continuously improve the education system at all levels. Technology will help us execute collaborative teaching strategies combined with professional learning that better prepare and enhance educators' competencies and expertise over the course of their careers” (Office of Educational Technology).
Why not start learning these technological skills now, so that we can better impact our students’ learning? And, perhaps, we will learn more about what good “educational technology” is along the way. Moreover, in colleges of education, we discuss authentic assessments, and routinely assign our students the task of putting together a digital portfolio.
Should we expect these tasks of our students if we have not stepped up to the challenge ourselves?
In a final reflection regarding the rigor of establishing a connection with reviewers through digital materials, we can’t help but wonder if the same perception would be had about entertaining audiences if we were to create an e-book.
Would the word “book” be enough to invoke a nostalgic sense of rigor in authoring materials despite the fact that this medium allows for movies to be played in text, galleries of photos displayed instead of one image, interactive objects, animations, dynamic 3D images, and other multi-touch features where material comes alive?
Maybe then the “old dogs” will overlook the “entertainment” technology and see the power of a multitouch book that brings to life one’s work and establishes a connection with them.
What do you think?
Paula Dagnon is an assistant professor of education at Western Washington University, in Bellingham, Wash. Karen Hoelscher is professor of education at Western Washington.
- Is an electronic tenure portfolio right for you? (essay)
- Essay on collaboration between faculty colleagues in creating an electronic post-tenure review
- A smooth ride to producing your digital tenure portfolio (essay)
- Compiling a Teaching Portfolio: An Introduction
- The Disappointment of Portfolio-Based Teaching
- Imaginative Transcripts
- Doing E-Portfolios Right
- Pulse podcast explores use of ePortfolios in higher education
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