Thursday 25 June 2015

Introducing the portfolio genre to first-timers from under-resourced schools and homes

Written for educators in minimally resourced environments that are interested in teaching novices about the role of digital portfolios; particularly to help justify tertiary education access to visual creative disciplines and bridging courses.

Although online portfolios are increasingly used to secure educational and vocational opportunities, anecdotal evidence from South African secondary schools suggests that electronic learning portfolio (e-portfolio) production is rarely taught. The costly infrastructures required to support e-portfolio syllabi most likely restrict these those schools with high levels of economic and cultural capital. 

Although such schools may readily support young people's participation in visual arts and/or design subjects, such facilities support a mere one percent of young South Africans. Ninety nine percent do not have formal opportunities to study; visual art, graphic design and/or computer studies. The vast majority of young people are thus excluded from formal opportunities for developing digital or analog portfolios and self-presentations related to their creative productions.

However, it is possible for educators at minimally resourced sites to expose students to three important portfolio uses, namely:
  1. applications for select tertiary disciplines (in particular; architecture, design, fine art and media production);
  2. supporting access to bridging courses (such as the Cape Peninsula University of Technology's or Michaelis' School of Fine Art's portfolio workshops);
  3. and for creative professionals' and amateurs' digital self-presentation, curation and sharing practices.
I covered these using specific examples in a two hour lesson with Creative Code students at Ikamva Youth's Makhaza computer lab in Khayelitsha last year. Associate Professor Marion Walton had invited me to speak at her educational outreach project, which introduces dedicated teenagers to computer coding. Marion's lessons aim to make coding and visual design more accessible through youth media, gaming and mobile phones. She asked me to do a short introductory workshop that introduced newcomers to the portfolio genre's use, particularly in education.

Like most Capetonian teenagers, her volunteers have never formally been exposed to portfolios. I chose to start with its use in professions delivering visual creative work. To orient learners, I first provided an overview of the types of careers in which portfolios are important. I took students through the Wanna Have a Designer Future? design careers booklet by the Cape Craft and Design Institute. These volunteers were shown a typical art student's analogue portfolio, before being introduced to how visual creatives specialising in different genres use Carbonmade to present themselves and their creative work. In discussing important differences between online portfolio services for visual creatives, Deviantart and Behance were briefly introduced. The former offers additional social networking functionality, while the latter is integrated with Adobe's varied software subscriptions. 

Portfolios may also be very important outside visual creative domains; I showed a Cape Times headline concerning my father, Professor Noakes', recommendation that eating animal organs is better for impoverished children than sugary, high-carbohydrate alternatives. As an academic whose scientific contribution spanned over forty years, I showed how his research contributions to sports medicine and science (in Challenging Beliefs) ranged across many media formats (video, articles, publication lists and other resources). To further buttress his reputation online, it was helpful that a consolidated resource be created with links to the Prof's varied intellectual contributions.  

Each learner then completed a brief self-reflection on portfolios questionnaire, which aimed to stimulate individual reflection on what they had just learnt and catalyse contemplation on applying this knowledge in developing one portfolio, or perhaps more. These might range from; hobby showcases to school and co-curricular portfolios intended to support tertiary study and workplace applications. 

I hoped that using an open approach focused on the resources that teenagers access in school and outside it could encourage this audience to appreciate that showcase portfolios are worth pursuing for sharing one's vocational and/or leisure interests. Feedback from these students suggested they had many. I trust that they will leverage their emergent coding, design and photographic skills for creating portfolios that serve the important uses introduced by the workshop.

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