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Going Public and Going Pro: The Power of Portfolios, Publishing & Personal Branding

     One of the quintessential elements of project-based learning is producing a PUBLIC PRODUCT. Having all of our students produce high quality public work, especially in the 21st century digital world and economy, is truly essential.
     First of all, it connects to other of our PBL Design Elements: (a) Authenticity - Having a Public Product makes it more real for students. Making learning real for students makes it authentic, (b) Critique & Revision: Having a Public Product also allows for greater feedback (students, teachers, professionals, experts, community members, employers) opportunities, and (c) Reflection: Having a Public Product allows more people to experience the work of our students, especially with the many digital and online opportunities (more on that later). Showcasing and exhibiting one’s work publicly allows for celebration, but also that necessary skills of being able to articulate and defend one’s learning.
     Secondly, going public also adds several learning benefits. They are:

* Students tend to buy-in to the work and take more ownership when they know that others will be seeing, critiquing and even assessing their work. 
* Students also walk away with tangible evidence and documentation of their work that can be part of their long-term and on-going work to be used by colleges, employers and others.
* Students not only learn from their work, but from the work of others when they see projects during all stages of design and when presented. This can apply to teachers as well.
* Students also have greater opportunity to network with more peers, professionals, experts, community members, teachers during all types of public product work.

     Going public begins, typically, with students sharing their products in presentations in class to their peers and teacher. However, that can be just the beginning. Here are three areas where we can stretch our students while preparing them for working and living in the 21st century:
     Traditionally, most of us associate portfolios with artists, writers and designers. In school, we have had watered down versions for years where students were asked to put their work in a folder that may or may not have been shared.
     Well, we are in a new era. Forget AP scores, weighted GPA’s and SAT scores. We are now in a portfolio world and economy. Remember, in a “Gig Economy,” where our students are going to have to continually contract work and pitch themselves to clients, our students need a lifetime portfolio where they digitally present and publish their work….and themselves.
     Let me introduce you to Beverly Pham - a recent graduate from the University of Southern California ( I don’t know Beverly personally, but one look at her website (digital portfolio) lets me know she’s a pro. This portfolio - video, reporting, graphic design and more - showcases her academic and professional work. All of our students are entering a post-secondary world where they are competing digitally and internationally in this global economy with the likes of Beverly Pham.
     All educators need to ask the questions:

* Are my students ready?
* Are they ready like Beverly is ready?
* Are they ready to compete head on with Beverly?
* How will others see and experience their work and skills?

     My guess is that Beverly didn’t necessarily learn all of these skills, as well as how to digitally feature and display them, from her high school curriculum. But she should have.
     Students, as well as educators, can house their portfolios at a number of free website building tools and applications. If the school is a GAFE site, many might use Google Sites that is part of their Google Applications. But there are literally dozens of free commercial sites (Wix, Weebly, ehost, Sitebuilder and many others). All of these have commercial upgrades, but are not required in order to have a fully-functioning site and portfolio.
     A student’s digital portfolio can house any number of things including, but not limited to presentations, writing, photos, videos, social media links, bios, resumes, testimonials and more.
     In addition to getting a site set-up as their ongoing portfolios, many are also encouraging all students to purchase a url or domain with their name. For a few dollars a year, we can all own some derivation of our name as a domain. Once a student has purchased a domain, they can point whatever free website building tool site to that url. In only bought mine ( a few years ago and wish I would have started earlier.
     There are lots of reasons why all of us should purchase a domain for our name. See more info here:

     It’s not enough to have a portfolio. We need to have students also become regular digital content creators.
     One of the best ways to have students create quality content is to have all them create their own blog as well. Again, they have many free blog applications (Wordpress, Blogger (Google Apps.), etc.. Like the website building applications, they have paid upgrades. But they are never necessary. Having a blog can serve many purposes. First, all students need to be writing and reflecting about their work. This provides opportunities for higher level thinking and as a means to document what we do. Second, blogs also allows us a means to share our story. All of us have a story, a journey if you will, that can now be shared with others in order to connect, collaborate, motivate, inspire and learn from one another. Finally, blogs also allow students and others to develop a positive and professional digital footprint and brand while pursuing areas of specialty and expertise.
     But in addition to blogging, one can become a content creator in other ways too. Think about students who produce videos starting their own YouTube channel. It’s creating a Flickr account for all of your photos.

     Many of us in the Ed Tech community have long been advocating for education to view Social Media as one of the new literacies. First, more and more colleges/universities, as well as employers, are looking at candidates’ social media profiles to make decisions about them. It can certainly be a problem if someone has lots of negative Social Media activity (profanity, racism, sexism, drugs and alcohol, sex). But I would argue that it’s also a problem if someone has no footprint whatsoever.
     What do any of us get when we Google our names? Once we separate ourselves from our various same name global colleagues, what can the world find out about us online? Using Social Media as a vehicle to showcase any and all of our professional or academic work can support this idea of developing a positive digital footprint and being globally competitive. Students inherently view Social Media as primarily social. It’s our job, as educators, to show them the true, exponential power of Social Media as the Four C’s (Collaboration, Communication, Creativity and Critical Thinking).
     One could argue that our social media activity is another form of our resume/portfolio. What if all students shared their best work on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and others? Indeed, not only would that be a hands-on way of developing digital literacy and citizenship, but also a way for people to drive other people to their work.
     We are rapidly moving towards defining student success and readiness by skill development and mastery. Our students need to have skills, but also be able to demonstrate and articulate them. Through digital portfolio development, digital publishing and personal branding, they can. 

(photos courtesy of Foter, Pixabay and others)


  1. Terrific piece Michael! Digital citizenship is a topic growing traction in our schools. I would like educators to consider digital contribution as part of a dig cit solution. You mentioned the lack of a digital footprint making a statement, I think it also leads to false security, as well as, a missing opportunity to cultivate something positive on the web. There is pride and craftsmanship that goes into creating and cultivating one's digital presence. In addition, digital fluency grows during the portfolio building, design thinking, reflection - portfolios are great for fostering metacognition.
    This post is the right information at the right time -thank you.


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