Some thoughts on ‘portfolios’

Some random thoughts…

At application, for the MA as well as thousands of other art courses around the world, students are required to submit a portfolio of work. This is usually a collection of past practice that reflects the students specialisms and abilities. The term ‘portfolio’ is also increasingly used elsewhere: we describe people as having ‘portfolio careers‘ when they drift from one role to another and acquire a range of unconnected skills and experiences; students are required to submit ‘portfolios’ at the end of modules during their studies.

The ‘portfolios’ that students are required to submit for assessment are very different to the portfolio that they must present when they apply for a course. The most significant different is perhaps that the portfolios for assessment are not just collections of work, but rather, records of an investigation that has taken place during the module. This investigation typically yields practical outcomes, but is represented in the portfolio in a variety of forms, including supporting research and development. The term ‘portfolio’ is used here to encourage students to consider the importance of every aspect of their project planning and development, not just the outcome that results at the end of the module.

Universities may, therefore, seem to use the term ‘portfolio’ in contradicting ways, with different expectations each time. This can be confusing for students who have entered the course on the strength of a portfolio of previous work, and have developed an understanding of a portfolio as a collection of final outcomes. It is the responsibility of tutors to enable students to expand their understanding of the portfolio into something that is, more broadly, a collection of a evidence in a variety of forms. It is this approach, that considers the importance of evidence, that leads to the student’s growth during his or her studies. By gathering, reflecting upon, and presenting evidence of a process, the student becomes more reflexive practitioner, and this generally results in more innovative outcomes.

This broader definition of ‘portfolio’ focuses on the value of variety: varied experiences, varied forms of communication, thinking inside and outside of the box. It should not demonstrate the same skill over and over again, but rather, it should show flexibility and an ability to consider a problem from a variety of perspectives. At MA level in particular, students are encouraged not to rely on their existing skills, but rather, to expand and to experiment; to take risks with new things, and to develop all aspects of their creative process.

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