On the PCHE course, a major component of the assessment is the portfolio. We have to maintain this portfolio throughout the course, and include reflections on our learning and teaching experiences, along with anything else we feel is relevant, such as clippings from articles and planning materials from sessions we’ve taught. At the end of the course, we all submit our portfolios and then the external examiner selects a few (partly at random, but to cover a decent cross-section of the course demographic) to make sure that the overall standard is good.

I keep my portfolio in digital form, using Circus Ponies Notebook on my laptop. This works very well for me, as I can type prose considerably quicker than I can write with pen and paper, so I’m able to keep up with my thoughts better. It also means that I can include movies and audio clips: for example, I have done a couple of supervision sessions with other people on the course and recorded the debrief session rather than taking notes. There are still a few physical bits of paper that I have too, primarily handouts from course workshops, but almost all of it is digital.

Files by S. C. Asher, Flickr

"Files" by S. C. Asher, Flickr

Now, I fully understand the reasoning behind having everyone submit their portfolio on the same day, even if only 3 or 4 will actually be checked by the examiner. If only those requested by the examiner were submitted, how could the examiner know that the rest had even produced a portfolio?

What I struggle to understand is this: why do I have to print off 100+ pages of A4 that may never leave the folder I submit them in? I’m going to have to put the multimedia bits on a CD anyway, so why can’t I submit the whole thing on CD. I could export it both as HTML for screen reading and as a PDF for the examiner to print and read offline if she prefers. All the links between sections would be preserved for easy browsing. I could even submit it by email (albeit quite a large one) and do away with having to submit a physical artifact at all. With a digital copy of the digital original, there’s nothing to stop the examiner from perusing it in whatever way she sees fit.

I’m not sure why it is that it’s done in this way: most likely it made sense when the course was first set up. I am sure, though, that it’s time to update this policy. In my ideal world, there would probably be a central e-portfolio system for us to use, but given the very personal nature of the PCHE portfolio this would probably need to be optional, since for some people the advantages of a physical portfolio outweight the disadvantages. However, even being allowed to submit the portfolio on CD would be a start.

Do you assess your learners using a portfolio? Is it a physical or digital artifact, or somewhere in between? Leave your comments below.