Thursday, February 26, 2004

Portfolios and Social Software

There's a lot to get your mind around when you start digging into this social software stuff. I've been lurking on the related conversations for a year or so, but haven't ever seen much reason to participate or apply it to my work. Now I'm seeing that it all could apply to the concept of student planning portfolios and I'm determined to figure it out.

Career Information Delivery Systems (CIDS) generally have portfolio components already, where students keep their resumes, assessment results, career interests and educational plans. They're locked away in proprietary systems not unlike learning management systems. Students might do a fair bit of work over the course of a year, then lose access to their collections, relying mostly on printed copies that they managed to keep intact.

This process tends to lack any real personal engagement because it doesn't encourage constant updating, reflection or connecting to other people. A completed portfolio is usually static, and doesn't convey much in the way of actual identity. It's a fairly dry profile, without personal voice, evidence of progression, or the connections of a network. Blogs could "flesh out" the rest of the identity. Stephen wrote in his Semantic Social Network article:
"Such efforts, however, do nothing to mask the fact that, in a social software system, there is nothing at the end except a short profile and, if we're lucky, some contributed comments. The richness and subtlety of a blog identity, mentioned above, is missing."
The same applies to static portfolios. Richness and subtlety would require true engagement, and my theory is that students won't engage in the process if their work isn't shared, compared, discusssed, modified and improved in collaboration with others. Stephen's conclusion nails it:
"What is true of learning organizations is true of online community in general. Content without community cannot achieve its full impact. Community without content is empty. It is only through the joining or fusing of these two levels that the full advantages of both worlds may be realized."
Rob made a comment along these lines in response to my informal survey of high school portfolios: "The learning portfolio as you show it is just a poor CV (resume). Being static, it has no meaning." Although it is evidence that some process was completed (a hoop jumped through), it does not necessarily reflect the identity of the person. Perhaps that's most valuable in the traditional portfolio format, designed primarily to show your work. I was interested in this multifaceted portfolio search in that realm.

So a successful career-planning portfolio would have to have a few elements:
  1. profile of the person's interests and other characteristics they want to share
  2. indication of their future plans and progress on related tasks or projects
  3. facility for regular written reflection
  4. place to store, link to and display artifacts
  5. simple mechanism for finding other people with similar interests and plans
  6. ability to communicate easily with friends or mentors and tracking those interactions
  7. online portability and exportability to other media
  8. mechanism to give user control over their identity and privacy
Although it sounds easy enough, it's interesting that existing blogging tools and social software don't do many of these things very well. Discussions across blogs can be very frustrating, and keeping track of many different people's opinions and topics can become a full-time job. Social software networks connect profiles well, but don't allow for much personal expression, and your personal information usually ends up locked up inside their systems.

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