Why do we create Portfolios?

It is without a doubt that many of us at DePaul, regardless of where we may be in our college experience, have had the e-portfolio assignment. As an undergraduate student, I hated the e-portfolio. I kept asking myself, “Why do I have to do this? What is the benefit of engaging in this assignment?”

Now as a graduate student in Writing, Rhetoric, and Discourse, I have the pleasure of learning about the pedagogy of the e-portfolio. There is, in fact, a point to the e-portfolio assignment we might not ever be aware of as it gets assigned. And it may not even be the fault of your professor that the point isn’t inherently clear. The purpose has been lost in much of the proliferation of the e-portfolio as a form of assessment. But how it came to be is actually quite an interesting process.

Historically, writing studies stemmed from a literacy crisis. As a result, standardization became how many people started testing students’ skills and knowledge. However, growing concern revolved around the idea of reliability of these assessments: were these assessments authentic or reliable tests of a student’s ability to write? The portfolio was the response to this question.

Many consider portfolios to be an excellent response because portfolios allow a curated and diverse representation of a student’s ability to write while also allowing the documentation of the writing process. The writing process is really multilayered and has way more to it than the final draft. A student’s ability to engage in that process from pre-writing to final draft allows the student to develop as a writer while also developing a self awareness necessarily for future success in writing assignments. Therefore, the purpose of most portfolios isn’t primarily assessment on the professors end, but rather a way to showcase student writing developed from the first assignment to the portfolio assignment. It allows a more big-picture view of a given student’s writing process.

Of course, there is still the question of whether a portfolio is the best assessment option. Right now, the consensus seems to be that yes, it is. It is the only option that affords the instructor and the student agency over the writing assessment they have to engage in.

If you’re interested in reading more about portfolios as assessment tools, some great reads on this topic include: Elbow and Belanoff’s Reflection on an Explosion¬†and Kimball’s Computer’s and Composition. Both really engage composition studies goals with the portfolio assignment.

And of course, share your e-Portfolio experiences in the comments below! (Horror and success stories equally welcome and entertaining.)