Having a conversation with teachers and administrators, I asked how many of them still had “paper portfolios”. Surprisingly, it was over half of the room, and many of them had developed it in university, updating it only when job opportunities arose. I remember actually having a paper portfolio and applying for jobs, and hating the process of dusting off a binder, adding a ton of great information into it, only to walk into an interview and have the person hiring not even look at it. It was extremely frustrating as I had put a lot of work into it, only to have it ignored, and I never really understood why.
And then I became a principal.
When I would look at applicants for interviews and have a limited amount of time to talk with them and interact, the thought of flipping through a binder with them sitting in the room in front of me, seemed a little ludicrous. I wanted to spend as much time getting to know them as possible. At the end of the interview, sometimes they would offer to leave the portfolio with me to peruse at my leisure and they would either come back to pick it up or I would have to mail it (does anyone go to the post office anymore?). I might have been the exception in my process a few years ago, but this is becoming more of the norm now, not only in education, but all aspects. A portfolio could be great for the process of an interview, but shouldn’t the things you do help you get the interview in the first place? Sending mass binders out to potential employers doesn’t make much sense.
I believe it is time (it has been for awhile) to ditch the paper portfolio and move it online. Here are some reasons below.
1. The Google Factor – We talk to students a lot about developing their digital footprint, yet how often do we help them build this footprint in schools? A digital portfolio is hugely beneficial to this type of work as it helps you to create your own online presence and shares the great work that you, or your students are doing. The nice thing about a digital portfolio is that it is also not limited to text, but can be anything that you can see or create. If I want to be a photographer, animator, actor, athlete, or anything else, digital can help share that information and make it accessible to others. A portfolio that is able to bring together all of these different elements into one space will make your “footprint” that much better and easier to find.
2. Searching and Organization - My own blog is a “portfolio” of my work (if you want to see how it is set up, check out this video) that I have been working on for over four years, in a constant and continuous basis. That is a lot of information over time, but with thoughtful “tagging” and “categorizing”, I am able to google myself and find my own work. For example, if I want to find any time that I referenced “Daniel Pink”, I simply do a search for his name om my blog and voila! Even using something as simple as “Command + F” (“Control + F” on Windows) can help me find a word instantly on amy page. This is much easier than flipping through pages in a binder.
3. Anywhere, any place, any time access - If you were to have a paper portfolio and I asked to see it while you did not have it in hand, how would you get it to me? If you ask my for my portfolio, I would simply give you the URL to my website and peruse away. This was the nice thing about applicants that had an online portfolio to share with me. It was accessible before, during, and after an interview and at my convenience. In a world where there is always a shortage of time, accessibility at a time of your convenience is important.
4. Creating opportunities instead of looking for them – In a market where jobs are scarce and a university degree guarantees nothing, the competition for positions is tough. With a online portfolio, especially one that continuously invites people to look at it (every time I write a blog post and you read it, you are looking at my portfolio), you have the ability to have opportunities come to you, instead of the other way around. I know many people that have simply shared the work that they have always done on their online portfolio, and then were asked to speak at conferences or consult with schools, simply because their work was visible. Simply sharing your work is not enough to create those opportunities, but you will never know what is the one thing that you share that someone else will deem valuable to their organization and call in your expertise.
5. Continuous learning – One of the most powerful things I have found by doing an online portfolio is the growth in my own learning that I have done by sharing. By simply knowing that other people will see what I write or share, I put a lot more thought into what I am doing. I also find tremendous value in the comments and conversation that is started from some of the things that I share; they push my learning. If we are to look at online portfolios as both a way to “showcase” and “learn”, they are hugely beneficial to our growth.
Although I have listed several reasons why an online portfolio is beneficial (and I am sure I could list a lot more), many educators are happy where they are in their career, and would argue that there is no need for them to have an online portfolio themselves as they will never apply for another job. My belief is that if we are truly doing what is best for kids, we have to learn how to do it ourselves to help our students in the future. Wayne Gretzky once said, “A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.” We need to look ahead for our kids sake.
Another question that I get is, “Well what if no one googles me? Then I have done all of this work for nothing.” To be honest, if you get not one single opportunity from an online portfolio and only went deep into your own learning, isn’t that still a pretty good thing? The other suggestion I would make is that when you submit a resume, right at the top of it share the following:
“For more information, please refer to my portfolio located at…”.
This ensures that you lead people to the great work that you have already done.
In my view, there is a difference between a “digital” and “online” portfolio. An online portfolio is usually digital, but it is not necessarily the other way around. There are many benefits to both professionals and students to share our work in an open way. As Chris Lehmann has said before, “it is no longer enough to do powerful work if no one sees it”.
Where can I see your powerful work?
If you are interested in some help for Online Portfolios, here are some links: