On Teaching Dossiers

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.

There has been a lot of effort into producing systems to facilitate the authoring and publishing of Teaching Dossiers - what appear to be a variation on the traditional CV, but with different headings and fields that get filled in. Essentially an online Word document template with some supporting documentation. It's billed as a great way to document teaching philosophy, practices, successes, and history. Well, yeah. In the same way that Word can do that, too.

The system I saw this morning was literally a set of online forms that eventually spit out a single html file (no images, some links to external stuff though). No personal creativity - just fill in page after page of forms, and it will distill that info into a web page.

It just hit me that the process is just so, well, uninteresting - you get a web page, sure, and you've followed some guidelines about what to document and what to write about. But that's no more than "Save as .html" It's not even useful as an interchange format - if it was magically talking with various institutional systems, it might be cool, but it's a proprietary silo of data, generating a simple web page. They could have just as easily created a Word template to do the same thing, and might have wound up with a better result. Or, a Dreamweaver template, or iWeb, or...

It's also pedagogically uninteresting. It tells nothing of yourself as an individual. You can fill in a form on a web page. Goody. Now, can you communicate? Can you tell the story of your teaching (and learning)? Can you show video clips? Photos? It's impossible for an individual's personality to be captured through this process.

The dossier may have a place in an old-school paper-pushing regime, but we're in a different century now, and the documentation of what we do (and how we do it) needs to reflect that. A simple text-only web page can't possibly capture the various activities and media types.

The presentation I saw completely validated the approach we're taking with our "ePortfolio" pilot project, where we're essentially handing the students and professors a set of flexible tools (Drupal and Pachyderm) that will let them do what they want. There are no constraints or rigid boxes to fill in. Heck, Pachyderm doesn't even have the concept of "ePortfolio" in the software - it's being used because it's a freeform generic authoring environment. And Drupal is being used because of the fluid nature of users and communities. Put the two together, and you have the antithesis of a "Teaching Dossier".

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