In life there are those key make-or-break moments that, if bridged correctly, take us to the next important phase in life. The transition from primary school to secondary school is one such moment. And from secondary school to higher learning is another. Then there’s arguably the most important one of all, the bridge from post-secondary to career.
At any point along this journey, if any one of these bridges is not crossed properly (or at all), the ramifications for the remainder of a person’s life are staggering given the realities of life in the 21st Century.
And yet very little is done to prepare or assist the vast majority of Americans who make these transitions. A student is given a certificate or a diploma, the appropriate paperwork is filled out, and she is off to the next phase of her life.
Despite advances in technology, very little about what is known about a student follows that person through each transition. While transcripts will move with a student across each bridge, very little else will. Examples of student work, insights into the ways in which any given student learns best, and important measures of how students engage or work collaboratively or solve problems simply are not passed from teacher to teacher, institution to institution, or institution to employer.
This is a huge disservice, not only to students themselves but to faculty, institutions and employers. Insight into how a student scores on tests is simply not enough information – at least not any more. Whether a student tests well or not is increasingly irrelevant to how a student uses what she or he has learned in real-world situations. The degree to which students are able to demonstrate an ability to deconstruct problems, source necessary information, and put that information to practical use is of far greater importance in our 21stCentury world. As is evidence of critical thinking, collaboration, entrepreneurialism and inventiveness.
All of this is an argument for portfolios—as part of the learning process and as a way for students to cross each critical bridge in their lives, bringing with them all the diverse, holistic evidence of their readiness for the next big set of challenges.
Portfolios used in classroom settings enable a new pedagogy that is focused on blended learning; the use of multimedia in instruction and student work; flipped classroom constructs; and project-based learning. Portfolios also encourage reflection, collaboration, iteration, and engagement with faculty and fellow students.
At Pathbrite, we’ve invented a way for teachers to create 21st Century ways to move standard lesson plans and syllabi into a construct we call Learning Maps. A course can be composed of a series of Learning Maps, each of which have their own set of activities. Maps and activities can be associated with a standard set of rubrics or learning outcome statements.
As students navigate these learning maps and complete each activity, they’re applying what they’re learning in the real world and bringing the application of that learning back in the form of digital artifacts. As activities are completed, the student’s course portfolio is being built out.
Feedback on individual artifacts or a whole portfolio is provided by faculty and / or fellow students in real time. Faculty also score artifacts and the entire portfolio along the way. At the end of an academic term, both the student and the institution have a powerful set of evidence about what that student learned and accomplished in the course, which goes well beyond a bubble test.
As students then begin to prepare to cross that last bridge from post-secondary education to career, they are able to curate from among all their curricular, co-curricular and extra-curricular activities, in addition to work experience they may have gained, to create customized portfolios for use in applying to internships or jobs. Employers are then better able to evaluate job readiness and an individual’s fit to available opportunities based on a whole set of variables that are most relevant to their needs (i.e., not grades).
We must arm our students with the right resources to cross each of life’s critical bridges. Moreover, faculty, institutions and employers must have the fullest possible picture of the human being they will be working with in order to set up the best possible conditions for success. Portfolios for classrooms and careers do just that.