As an educator, one of my goals is to help my students and colleagues to achieve autonomy in their education and to promote “the ethical formation of selves and history” (Freire, 1998, p. 23). In pursuing this goal, I endeavor to help teachers and students focus on the process and nature of their work and hopefully loan to it ‘coherence’. As Freire (1998) notes, we must create for our students and colleagues “the possibilities for the production and construction of knowledge" (p. 30). The portfolio approach as practiced through my recent career may on the surface seem a means of transferring knowledge. However, I will strive to demonstrate that rather than merely serve as a vehicle through which to disseminate my ideas, by putting my comments and ideas out in the world, I am providing a means through which my students and colleagues may take these ideas and examine them for what they are and then encourage them to reflect, and share their own autonomous thoughts. Through this process an epistemological curiosity may develop.
I also see the portfolio approach as a means of promoting the curiosity of others and myself in my community. It may be argued that to satisfy one small curiosity is to create a greater curiosity. A significant aspect of the portfolio as community tool is that it facilitates the exploration of each others’ work and ideas through community access to each other’s work. Such curiosity does have limits with regards to the privacy of others, but by placing our work in the realm of the community we are actively giving permission to others to view our work - with the expectation that the community treats this work with respect. As practitioners and educators, we must acknowledge, as Freire (1998) tells us, that the cornerstone of Education is human curiosity. It is this human curiosity, within its proper bounds of privacy and respect that can lead to the epistemological curiosity that marks the liberated student.
Principles of transformation
Friere (1998) tells us that to make a decision is to break with something that exists. That is, to decide something is to transform our situation. To pursue freedom is to be able to make decisions and take risks on the outcome of those decisions. The greater our ability to make informed decisions, the greater will be our freedom, whether academic or otherwise. The portfolio approach is a means through which practitioners can achieve greater freedom through allowing ourselves and our community the ability to make informed decisions that will have the best possible outcomes for all concerned.
Three Spheres of the Portfolio Approach
The approach is a large and multi-faceted set of activities and disciplines, that can be broken into three overlapping spheres of activity.
- The personal portfolio
- A lifelong learning tool
- Community of inquiry
- Social construction of knowledge
- Demonstrations of Competency
- Stakeholders and professionalism
Each sphere has clear and distinctive features that on their own could be sufficient to warrant pursuing such an approach to one’s work. Within each sphere there are elements that loan support to the other spheres. In combination, the overall collection of tools combines to produce a powerful way of being a practitioner. The potential of this research will be to explore how a portfolio approach to our lifelong learning can support our teaching and learning work in order to bring people closer together and support a community of inquiry.
In the following sections, each sphere will be represented through a different set of experiences as seen by myself, my students and a group of experienced primary school teachers.
From the introduction, one of the questions asked is, “How can our forms of practice engender collaborative partnerships where diverse voices, competing ideologies, and opposing traditions can all be heard and respected” (McNamee, 2004, p. 406)? Similarly, how can a portfolio approach to learning allow us to present ourselves to others in a manner which helps us to further develop our potential along lines that we want, rather than along lines that others may guess or press upon us?
How can a portfolio approach afford opportunities for practitioners to go among each other’s work find their own knowledge and new learning from that collection? Can it be argued that the use of a portfolio approach to one’s life allows us to control parts of our life that we do not know we are already sharing? What can people tell from our ‘data’? How can that gleaned knowledge help us, or help others to help us, or help us to help others? We are engaged in co-constructing our own self with those around us (Gergen, 2011). We are active in our own development.
This question provides a clear focus from which to start on a personal journey of practicing the portfolio approach for one's own learning. I will argue that one form of practice for practitioners will be to begin to put their ideas into an accessible format that can be viewed and shared by other people. This practice will enable the practitioner to begin to both actively and passively share their ideas more readily and easily with their community of inquiry and, almost as a by-product, and with little tampering, provide a showcase of competencies. This is the personal sphere of the portfolio approach and requires individual effort.
Gergen (2009) asks the question,
“How could collaborative activities among teachers for example be used to enhance the relational process within classrooms, or between classrooms and the world outside? (p. 269).
In order to participate in a community, the practitioner must be willing to share their ideas and be prepared to both explain them, and quite often change them. In the process of epistemological curiosity, the practitioner can employ tools that allow him to better explain ideas, hold those ideas and examine them before putting them out into the world. This is the point where the personal sphere of the portfolio approach overlaps with the community sphere.
As years’ worth of students have told this practitioner, “I am doing it in my head”. This is certainly possible, but these same students have never been able to demonstrate how to access those ideas that are in their heads. With 21st century tools, practitioners can now be much more efficient in sharing those ideas with their community and stakeholders.
Other questions that we will explore are, How do we create a sense of community among practitioners who may come from a wide range of backgrounds (Cleveland-Innes & Garrison, 2010)? Conversely, Gergen (2001) asks, “What are the pragmatic potentials of the forms of life to which students are exposed in our schools” (p. 121)?
The question that links the community sphere to the competency sphere is, how can we work with educators and students to allow them to determine their own voice without abandoning the institutional voice that comes from learning outcomes and program outcomes? Or, in other words, how can the use of a portfolio approach allow principals and mentors work with faculty and mentees to direct and guide development and meet institutional needs while preserving the voice and individuality of the participants?
Hase and Davis (2002) note that there is a general assumption that people will have a better working life if they are able to, or allowed to be “deliberately and systematically involved in their future” (Perspectives and Theoretical Frameworks, para. 8).
As one principal in ther Sharjah school system, who is intimately acquainted with the portfolio approach noted to her faculty, “Do you think I waited until now to see what you were doing?” (Principal Fatima).
A portfolio approach can contribute to apprenticeships by offering glimpses of tasks that are “representative of authentic skills” (Dennen & Burner, 2008, p. 426) through the artful demonstrations of competency to be found on the practitioners’ portfolios.
Leslie (2012) has also explored the idea of a ‘program’ portfolio comprised of the collected portfolios of the faculty and the students. Many colleges routinely require some form of ‘course assessment file’ for assessing the performance of the program or the entire college. These statistics generally include the work performed by the students, the notes and resources used by the students or provided by the faculty. From personal experience, the compilation of these types of files can be extremely time consuming. When considering the experience of the Ramaqia group, they spend much of their free time simply compiling these documents and trying to put them into a presentable format. To paraphrase Principal Fatima, these documents are almost useless and detract from the teachers’ ability to create innovative new means of teaching and learning with their students. They are compelled to spend more time presenting the work that they have done than they initially did on the work itself.
Cleveland-Innes, M. F., & Garrison, D. R. (2010). (eds) An Introduction to Distance Education. New York: Routledge.
Dennen, V. P., & Burner, K. J. (2008). The cognitive apprenticeship model in educational practice. In D. S. Jonassen (Ed.), Handbook of research on educational communications and technology (pp. 425-440). Routledge.
Friere, P. (1998). Pedogogy of Freedom. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield.
Gergen, K. (2011). Relation Being: A Brief Introduction. Journal of Constructivist Psychology , 24 (4), 280-282.
Gergen, K. (2009). Relational Being. New York: Oxford University Press.
Gergen, K. (2001). Social Construction in Context. London: SAGE Publications Ltd. (UK).
Hase, S., & Davis, L. (2002). Workplace Learning: What's the rate of Return? Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association. New Orleans: AERA.
Leslie, P. (2012). Portfolio Approach to Learning: Application with Educational Technology Students. In S. Dowling (Ed.), Opening Up Learning (Vol. 1, pp. 153-162). Abu Dhabi: HCT Press.
McNamee, S. (2004). Imagine Chicago: a methodology for cultivating community social construction in practice. Journal Of Community & Applied Social Psychology , 14 (5), 406-409.