Portfolio vs. Dossier

In the background thinking/planning for our own “ePortfolios” project (man, I hate that “e”) we realized that many/most of the off-the-shelf portfolio packages were really just simple fill-in-the-blanks templates. Not really a portfolio, at all. Essentially a simple dossier. A collection of standardized data about a person, with no real creative input required or allowed.

A portfolio (e- or otherwise) is about as far from a simple templated dossier as I can imagine. Ok. Flying monkeys with laser guns on their heads would be farther, but you get the point. Portfolios are a process of creative expression. Of reflecting on what you’ve done, how you did it, and hopefully, where you’d like to go. Every person’s portfolio should be different. Different content, different presentation, different context. Things that a dossier just can’t capture. Dossiers are good for comparing batches of nearly-identical things, and helping to highlight differences between them. I imagine a hiring committee sitting at a big table with a stack of 500 of these templated dossiers, sorting them by some criterion to get to the Right Person To Hire.

That’s not really what a portfolio should be – it’s best used as a showcase for an individual. I picture the portfolio as being closer to the job interview than the resume. It’s a creative proxy for an individual, not a standardized data transmission vector.

So, when we were deep in development of Pachyderm, and tossing ideas around about how it could be used academically, the idea of a dynamic, interactive, person-centric portfolio management tool seemed pretty cool. It’s totally not what Pachyderm was initially designed or intended to do, but because it’s basically content-agnostic, it doesn’t care how you use it. And that’s pretty much what we need from an “ePortfolio” authoring tool.

I’m very interested to see how the first batch of students use it, and what they come up with. Should be interesting…

7 replies on “Portfolio vs. Dossier”

  1. Hi Guys
    My students (Randwick Campus, TAFE, Sydney, Australia) use Tripod to create ‘blogfolios’ to showcase their achievements to prospective employers. Access to software’s HTML code allows them to personalise their folio’s design. They also include their own audio and videos interviews to describe what they have achieved and the challenges they overcame. The use of multimedia in portfolios emphasises presentation and communication skills…employers seem to appreciate it.

  2. James, in our case there are also some privacy issues that need to be wrangled. Most of the student teachers’ portfolios will contain photographs that were taken in the classroom, and unless they’re very careful about how the photographs are taken (angles, composition, how much of the kids are shown, etc…) then they may not be able to use the portfolio off campus.

    Regardless, the software totally supports it – the website that is created is also provided as a .zip file download that can live on any webserver. It contains all metadata and media required to display the portfolio (or whatever they’ve created in Pachyderm). This .zip isn’t SCORM compliant (yet), but that’s on the roadmap for a future release. Then they’d theoretically be able to drop the packages into Moodle, Sakai, Blackbeard, WebCT, etc…

  3. Hi D’Arcy,
    I’ll be curious to hear how your portfolio project progresses. I think you’re dead on in recognizing that a portfolio should be something that, though easy to use, allows the person to create something that reflects the personality of their work and experience rather than being merely a collection of documents.

    So one of the questions I have is what happens when a student or instructor leaves the University which houses and serves the portfolio. Is the portfolio structured in a format that can be easily ported to any other web server? This may or may not be a concern for everyone, but I wonder if in the end the student or instructor isn’t better served by getting their own domain, learning a small bit of HTML, and putting their efforts up to their own site. I realize this isn’t very realistic, in that people need something very accessible, easy to use and easy to manage so like with most things it’s back to tradeoffs…..


  4. […] I can appreciate that point of view – it would work for me. I think it would work for Aaron’s students too. But how will it work for the students I teach in my school aged between 5 and 13? I’m a bit apprehensive about kids of that age being able to construct a portfolio of their own choice without a lot of guidance. Not saying it can’t work and work well at that but I think portfolios at that age range need a fair bit of structure and teacher guidance. And for teachers to do that well, they need to be familiar with the whole process. Educators need to develop and maintain their own professional e-portfolio. What that could look like is a whole new ballgame. Educators’ portfolios should be as individual as they are while a standardised format might be really helpful for younger students in the primary years. I found this decription of what a professional portfolio should look like from D’Arcy Norman to be particularly succinct. That’s not really what a portfolio should be – it’s best used as a showcase for an individual. I picture the portfolio as being closer to the job interview than the resume. It’s a creative proxy for an individual, not a standardized data transmission vector. […]

  5. […] I’ve been given the opportunity to reflect some more on the nature of portfolios, and on the differences between “portfolios” and “dossiers”. I last wrote about ePortfolios vs. dossiers last month. This morning I got to see a presentation on a Very Important Project that is building a “Teaching Dossier” system as part of its offerings. I’m not going to name the project, because the exact implementation is irrelevant – it’s the concept of the dossier that is off the mark. […]

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