e-portfolios and skaters (or, X-folios)

by danielagins

This week’s grad class reflection asked us to think about what should be included in e-portfolios. Naturally, I arrived at that destination in a roundabout way. Please note: this is NOT supposed to be a polished post (breaking the rules, I know) but at least it is published. My goal is to publish more, for myself, instead of getting caught up in writing the elusive perfect post. Here goes:

Whenever I have thought of portfolios in the past, I have always thought of showcases for exemplary work. Shine time, so to speak. The problem with shine time is that, well, it is bogus. We don’t shine all the time. Not everything we do is exemplary. Portfolios shouldn’t be cherry picked examples of what you are able to do on certain days when the stars align. Portfolios should showcase failures along side the successes. Think of it as a skate video (any skaters?). For those not in the know, skate videos are similar to portfolios in many ways. Skaters use these highly polished videos to showcase themselves in hopes of acquiring and retaining sponsors (much like we have spoken of portfolios as a means of acquiring a job). Frequently the more polished the video, the better received it is. These videos not only showcase the skater’s ability to do a variety of tricks, but the music selection, the editing, and even the banter in between sets give the audience a sense of who this skater really is (or who they want us to believe they are, and perception is reality, right??) The same holds true for our portfolios. We select items that essentially put out the brand we are looking to create for ourselves. What we include tells the story we want to tell. Here is the difference: skaters often include the not so pretty bail clips. They show the mess ups. Do we show ours? Why not? What are we afraid of? Let’s continue this line of thinking for a moment. I believe that the mess-ups in skate videos, while perhaps serving to increase the “wow” factor in a visceral sense, also highlight how hard it is to do what they do. It takes practice and fortitude and a whole heap of other inspirational character traits typically seen on posters in your vice-principal’s office. Perhaps they want us to see how hard it is? Perhaps the kid who sees his favorite skater mess up over and over and then finally nail the trickwill be encouraged in his own attempts to improve. Why don’t we do this for our students professionally? Why are we stuck on the “teacher must be infallible” mode? Wouldn’t it be more empowering to our students if they saw some vulnerability in us? Wouldn’t perspective employers want to know how we plan on fixing mess-ups? No matter how well you interview, no employer is naive enough to believe they are hiring Superman (← a joke in light of today’s Oprah fiasco. If you don’t know, Google it). You are human, and therefore imperfect, and you will be imperfect on the job. How you deal with the imperfections says more about you as a professional than how well you cherry pick your best clips.