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Portfolio Assignments

In the DartWrite program, students own and control their own portfolio spaces. We expect students to pursue goals we can't fully anticipate, and we know that student creativity with design and content will lead them to exciting and unexpected places.

But there's still a place at Dartmouth for formal assignments that engage with digital portfolios. Faculty can help students extract more from their courses by integrating parts of their teaching and advising with portfolios. Doing so can give students the time and support they need to do the important work of integrating and reflecting on learning experiences.

To that end, this page outlines a few broad assignment archetypes for integrating portfolios into coursework. Further down the page, find considerations for integrating portfolios with the College learning management system, Canvas, and handling site visibility/privacy concerns.

Three kinds of digital portfolio assignments:

Digital portfolios are adaptable tools that extend beyond the boundaries of a single course. We know that faculty meet their course objectives or advising goals in creative and diverse ways. That healthy diversity is impossible to fully predict. Still, we think most portfolio-based assignments fall into three broad categories: reflection, curation, and integrated composition.

1. Reflection

We have good reason to believe that reflection is one of the most powerful learning tools available. When our students reflect on what they learn, they create what educational research has called "deliberate effortful abstractions" of their knowledge, making that knowledge more accessible in future contexts (1).

To harness the power of reflection, faculty often prompt reflection in their classes, formally or informally. Here are just a few ways you might see reflection showing up in dialog with the portfolios:

  • Holistic course reflection; often assigned at the end of term, course learning reflections ask students to sum up the term's labor and identify key principles or values they want to retain for future use.
  • Process log; usually created around major projects, particularly in the planning or review phases, process logs invite students to record their strategies and game plans, making it possible to step outside of the stresses of the moment to notice patterns across time.
  • About me; typically something that students will want to update periodically, an "About Me" page gives students a chance to craft and revise their identities as students, making connections that reach beyond the boundaries of classes, major or minors, and Dartmouth itself.
  • Learning journal; often an informal or semi-structured practice, learning journals invite students to frequently record their experience, often in preparation for class discussions or a later, holistic course reflection project.

2. Curation

Building a portfolio involves choosing what to include, what experiential artifacts to post, embed, link, or describe in the space. Curating a portfolio means making some conscious choices about how to configure those and frame the artifacts that are included.

Faculty can encourage curation by inviting students to make meaningful choices about what artifacts to post and how to frame them. Here are a few ways faculty can consider adopting portfolio curation as part of a course project:

  • Abstracts; if an abstract isn't a required part of a project, creating one can be an valuable exercise in audience and genre awareness. Faculty can ask students to link to or embed a project file and write an abstract to accompany it. Doing so can help students consciously practice adapting their style and voice, reflect on the meanings and purposes of their projects, and practice an important academic genre.
  • Summary for new audiences; much like an abstract, a project summary can be a way to practice adapting to audience and genre. Faculty can foster this work by asking students to see their projects through others' eyes, composing an entry-point for an audience that wasn't originally central to the project.
  • Project integrations; curation often extends beyond the boundaries of a single project, showing connections between projects or situations. In asking students to integrate projects, articulating connections and differences between them, faculty help students create more robust and holistic frameworks to account for their college experiences.

3. Integrated composition (or remediation)

When digital portfolios are customizable websites with adaptable publicity settings, they offer new affordances to students and faculty. Integrated compositions harness those portfolios by requiring students to create projects that evoke or explore conventions in digital media. Here are just a few examples:

  • Digital essays; digital essays - the genre of writing that has emerged with the digitization of formerly print magazines and the evolution of new-media journalism - use the conventions of educated online writing, perhaps explicitly modeling assignments on examples from digital magazines. In asking students to write within the online setting, using web publishing tools, faculty invite students to evoke online audiences and make decisions about form and content based on the relationship between purpose, audience, and medium.
  • Blog posts; like digital essays, blog posts evoke the forms of public, digital media that students encounter in their daily lives. Typically more informal and exploratory then digital essays, blog posts offer students a chance to try on different voices, generate new ideas about course materials, and build connections across posts.
  • Course magazine; a practice of collective curation, a course magazine invites students to reflect on their work as a community, make choices about how to articulate the relationships between their projects and how to present that collective work to audiences outside the classroom.
  • Remediation; a well-established assignment type in digital rhetoric, remediations ask students to transform a completed project for a new medium and new audience, fostering greater audience and genre awareness along the way. A faculty member might, for example, ask students to take a thoroughly researched essay and use its conclusions, evidence, and claims to build a website aimed at a popular audience.
  • Multimodal projects; of course websites can coordinate sound, image, and text in intricate ways. Multimodal projects require students to practice this work by integrating multiple kinds of media.

Canvas & WordPress

Portfolio sites give faculty access to teaching resources not available on Canvas. Composing a website, students can see and explore connections to the media they encounter every day. They can explore and practice multimedia composing in a format that feels authentic. And they can ask students to make more explicit connections between the class they are in and the rest of their college experience.

Because of the nature of the two systems, treating the WordPress portfolio like Canvas is a mistake. Students ought to have control over who sees constructive feedback that you provide, for example. And the built-in tracking tools in Canvas (which, among other things, note whether or not an assignment is late or incomplete) aren't available in our WordPress platform, called Journeys.

For projects that are composed and published on the portfolio sites, our recommendation is to keep grading and the tracking of assignment completion in Canvas.

For graded assignments that are completed in the portfolio, consider requiring students to submit something to Canvas so that you can provide grading or constructive feedback through that platform. Doing so preserves the timing of the submission and allows you to track your class conveniently. Simply ask set the Canvas assignment to accept a URL only and instruct students to submit the URL of the page or post they create to fulfill the assignment.

Site visibility and privacy

Portfolio-based assignments come in many shapes and sizes. Some require a public audience to promote learning. Others might ask for personal reflection best kept private. To help students navigate these waters, we recommend the following:

Let students dictate the visibility settings for deep reflections

For assignments that ask students to reflect deeply on their learning, consider allowing students to determine how public or private the page or post containing the reflection is. There are a couple of ways for students to make those reflections visible to you, but not to the rest of the Dartmouth community:

  • They can make a page or post "password protected" and share the password with you as a comment on their assignment submission.
  • They can set their site visibility to allow access only registered users of their site; if the student then adds you as a reader in the WordPress "Users" interface, you will be able to see a published page or post on the site.

Ensure students understand the basics of site visibility

Students should understand who can see their sites. Visiting the site visibility settings (Dashboard > Settings > Reading) lays out the choices available to students. If you're having trouble understanding those choices or would like to ask that a DartWrite representative visit your class to work with students on that issue and other WordPress topics, email us at dartwrite@Dartmouth.edu.


(1): Perkins, David & Salomon, Gavriel. (1999). Transfer Of Learning. 11.