Education portfolios (not just for MOOCs!)

I posted last week about a new website called Accredible. This site is building an online system for students in MOOCs (massive open online courses) to be able to add some substance to the certificates of accomplishment they receive when successfully completing such a course. Students can add in files of the work they have done for the course, final projects, videos of themselves discussing course material, etc.–essentially an online portfolio that describes the course and a student’s accomplishments in it. Accredible calls such a portfolio a “cert.”

I have been thinking back on my own past courses in college and in high school. For a few of them, I could easily create such a cert. For some, I have a final paper or final project I’m very proud of, which would be a perfect addition to a portfolio, for example. For other courses, I would currently struggle to find anything substantive to include in a cert: some exam grades, some notes, some papers–of varying quality. I probably couldn’t currently create even a quick video clip of myself discussing some thought-provoking topic from those courses.

I wonder if the following might be an increasingly reasonable way of judging the quality of a course or learning experience (and of the student’s performance in that learning experience): is the student able to produce something worthy of a portfolio? A deep, thoughtful final paper; an innovative final project; a video or transcript of an in-person or online dialogue about an interesting topics from the course with another student, teacher, or expert in that subject area (where the student showed great insight and posed important questions); some way of demonstrating that the student helped OTHERS learn about the course material; etc.

Consider two students:

  1. Got a 5 on AP Calculus BC. Got a 5 on AP Physics. Got an A in orchestra (and won an award last year).

  2. Got a 5 on AP Calculus BC. Got a 5 on AP Physics. Got an A in orchestra (and won an award last year). Also, used her knowledge of physics and calculus to create and analyze a circuit that would appealingly distort some vocals that she and her ensemble in orchestra class were recording as part of an original track they were creating. She included a digital copy of the recording as well as a written description of the project  in an online portfolio for those courses, which she submitted along with her application.

The following chain of events is plausible (and probably even desirable):

  • Students (rightly) realize that colleges would prefer to accept student 2 over student 1, so students all try to be more like student 2. They try to do lots more interesting and original work that utilizes learning from their classes. They LOVE it when courses automatically provide opportunities to do this kind of work. Innovative teachers love supporting this work, and jump on board.
  • Other students, notice that they are more likely to get accepted if they can demonstrate their understanding and engagement with their coursework in this kind of way –> so they do! This starts to become the norm in college admissions–students know they won’t be very successful without this.
  • Some students submit BAD portfolios: test scores, video clips of themselves reciting the math procedures their teachers taught them, copies of boring and uninspired papers, etc.
  • Schools start realizing that THEY play a role in the students’ ability to create quality work, and begin to structure their courses (and perspective) in such a way that is designed to help students create cool stuff, engage with the material, make connections between the different things they are learning (in and out of school), work together with other students/teachers/experts, and BE INNOVATIVE AND CREATIVE.
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5 Responses to Education portfolios (not just for MOOCs!)

  1. Ed says:

    Fascinating. Excited to see where education in general, and MOOCing in particular, will be 5, 10 years from now…


  2. Pingback: 5 Disruptive Education Trends - Social Innovation Minnesota | Social Innovation Minnesota

  3. Emily says:

    Thoughtful post, Zack; definitely worthwhile to consider what our students can and want to do with the material based on how we present it. I’d like to do portfolios with my class, and I think online would be the way to go. Here’s to making good work happen!


  4. dannyking says:

    Hey Zack, excellent post! It’s really wonderful to read you writing about our ideas at Accredible. I think that asking ‘will this course enable me to produce something of value as an end result’ is a very interesting way to evaluate courses (and learning, for that matter). I come from a computer science background, and I guess it’s very natural for me to judge my learning based on ‘what will I be able to build if I learn this technology?’ but as you point out the same mindset can be applied to anything.

    I was delighted when I read your chain of events. This is exactly the dream that we are working towards and why my co-founder (Alan) and I decided to dedicate our careers to education (and Accredible!). I’m also very interested in the motivational aspects of certs; if students start creating a cert for their courses (or any type of learning) from day one, rather than at the end of a course, they can build up a great body of work that they are proud of as they progress through it. Course work no longer becomes something you do to pass a test, but something to showcase and be proud of. Check out my cert on Statistics One from Coursera – I made beautiful notes because I wanted to showcase them

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts – looking forward to reading more!


  5. wgersen says:

    I’ve written several posts asserting that MOOCs are going to disrupt public education once they figure out a way to monetize them.. and the obvious method of monetizing is through some form of assessment… so… when is Pearson going to buy out this company 😉


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