E-portfolios, which can be created in many different ways -- from simple blogging platforms to specifically designed software and services -- can help transition students from academia to different jobs and roles in the workplace. It's this ability to trace a user's evolution from academic to professional and beyond that led Safiya Noble, a professor at the University of Illinois, to choose Pathbrite as a learning and representation tool for her students.
Noble teaches classes focused on digital technology. She is also an advocate for the use of digital technology in education and has always used some type of electronic environment in which students can reflect and share and discuss their thoughts.
The University of Illinois does offer some e-portfolio options to its students. The problem, Noble said, is that that many such systems are behind the university firewall, and therefore can't be used after a student graduates. "One of the things that I was frustrated by was that there were so many rich discussions that students were sharing [on university e-portfolio platforms]," said Noble. "After they had finished the class, they could not come into the class space and use those [tools] again. Students would say, 'I could really see how I could use those things on the job,' but they wouldn't have access because the tools were behind the university firewall."
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Many of Noble's colleagues make use of blogging platforms, and her students share ideas and collaborate on Facebook, among other social networks. Noble considered these and other options as e-portfolio platforms, but they all fell short of her and her students' needs for one reason or another.
Noble had been following Heather Hiles, the founder and CEO of Pathbrite and a noted education thought leader, and saw that the Pathbrite platform was developing in a way that was aligned with Noble's ideas about the capabilities an e-portfolio should provide.
Notably, said Noble, the Pathbrite look and feel is clean and sophisticated, to the level that today's tech-savvy students have come to expect. "Students are used to beautifully designed spaces online," she said. "They know what looks good and what will be an aesthetically pleasing representation of themselves. Pathbrite is clean, it's beautiful, it's easy to navigate and looks great across a variety of devices -- the iPhone, tablet, what have you. If you're using a touchscreen, you can move through it with finesse."
Because e-portfolios are not widely used across all majors at the university at this point, Noble is working with students to get them to understand the value of portfolios that can follow them not only through their college years but through their professional lives as well. She said she emphasizes how e-portfolios can be used to showcase best work and as evidence of progress. "I had to start doing some work with students to get them to understand the value of portfolios, especially in terms of seeing how far they have come."
Christopher Gray, Pathbrite's chief product officer, told InformationWeek Education that one of the benefits of e-portfolios -- no matter what environment they're being used in -- is their ability to represent a continuum of work so that different elements and experiences along that continuum can be connected. In addition, because e-portfolios are usually stored in the cloud, users -- and those who want to connect with them or assess their work -- can access them anytime and anywhere.
Pathbrite integrates with online learning sites such as Kahn Academy, enabling users to pull in badges earned there. Noble said her students also integrate discussions and sharing from Facebook, expanding interesting discussions going on to those who aren't on Facebook. "Students have Facebook groups, but not everyone in the class was on Facebook," she said. "I could see how students could use these portfolios, and I saw they could pull everything into Pathbrite so they didn't have to invest themselves so personally on Facebook if they didn't choose to."
Noble said one thing she would like to see in future versions of Pathbrite is the ability to integrate more seamlessly with learning management systems such as Blackboard.
Noble started using Pathbrite with her students in the spring of 2012, and now that she has seen the power of portfolios she's looking forward to gauging the benefits of the system when used from the beginning of freshman year all the way through graduation and beyond. "I want my classes to help get students ready for their first and second and third careers," she said, "and not just be a box that they check off."
Follow Deb Donston-Miller on Twitter at @debdonston.