Today I attended a terrific session on electronic portfolios, which helped me see what kinds of obstacles we'll need to overcome as we move toward a portfolio-based system of program assessment. The session included lots of hands-on exploration of many different examples of portfolio systems, so the content of the session was great, but (you knew there would be a "but") the environment was not conducive to learning and the portfolio samples highlighted the difficulty of balancing creativity and functionality.
The room was dark and hot, so that those inclined toward sleepiness had to work to keep the eyeballs focused on the screen and the ears focused on the facilitators, who could not be heard over the sound of several fans. The computer screens stood a little higher than I'm accustomed to, so the only way I could read the text on the screens was to lean my head back so my eyes hit the right spot on the bifocals. And then some of the pages were so busy with distracting backgrounds and decorative fonts that they were practically unreadable. It's heartening to see students take so much care in the design and presentation of their portfolios, but if the page is so full of bells and whistles that the text is unreadable, then what's the point?
Sometime this summer I'll put together a proposal for a new one-hour lab course for beginning English majors, a course on research methods and portfolio development, and I'll have to find a model for successful portfolios. Today's facilitators tell me it's important to let the students be creative, and I concur, but is it necessary to sacrifice functionality to creativity? I hope our experiment will result in something more satisfying than portfolios that cannot be read on screens that cannot be seen. If not, we'll go back to the drawing board.