Teaching and Learning Forum 98 [ Contents ]

Teaching portfolios: A threat or a promise?

Martijntje M. Kulski
Teaching Learning Group
Curtin University of Technology
Academic staff in Australian universities are increasingly required to produce teaching portfolios, for applications related to appointment, promotion or confirmation of tenure. Following a North American trend, teaching portfolio schemes are being implemented in a number of Australian universities, as university administrators respond to changing times in the higher education sector, and seek ways to provide reward and recognition for quality teaching. However, the implementation of portfolio programs in an Australian context raises issues with regard to the purpose (formative vs summative), the process (portfolio development) and products (portfolio document) of these programs. There appears to be considerable variation emerging between universities with regard to the purpose and procedure for portfolio development, as well as the requirements for the portfolio document in scope and style. This dilemma session will focus on the pros and cons of teaching portfolio schemes, and provides a forum for exchanging views on models for the use of teaching portfolios in Western Australian universities.

Background

As universities respond to changing times in the Australian higher education sector, there is a growing interest in the development of institutional policies and practices which aim to improve the quality and status of university teaching. One such practice is the use of portfolios of teaching which are developed by academic staff to demonstrate their achievements in teaching and to make a case for the quality of their teaching, in the context of formative and summative evaluations. Ramsden, et al. (1995) in their review of existing practices for the recognition of teaching in Australian universities, found that 10 of the 32 institutions surveyed used teaching portfolios as a source of evidence about the quality of teaching in their university. This trend towards the implementation of teaching portfolio programs in Australian universities follows similar moves in the United States, where there has been a large scale project initiated by the American Association for Higher Education on the implementation of portfolio programs into many universities for the improvement of teaching. (Anderson, 1993)

At Curtin University a project to develop models for the use of teaching portfolios is in progress. The project extends previous work on portfolios at Curtin, (Kulski, 1997) in exploring the use of portfolios as a means of demonstrating the quality of teaching and as a basis for rewarding quality teaching across the University. The findings from these projects, and work in progress in other universities (Anderson, 1993: Gibbs, 1995) serve to highlight a number of 'dilemmas' related to the use of portfolios.

What is a teaching portfolio?

One of the problems associated with the concept of teaching portfolios, is that they can mean different things to different people, and this creates the potential for confusion, both in the literature and amongst staff when portfolios are discussed. Thus, Wolf (1991) describes portfolios as
a structured collection of evidence of a teacher's best work that is selective, reflective, and collaborative, and demonstrates a teacher's accomplishments over time and across a variety of contexts
This definition concurs with the notion of a portfolio as a collection of materials or examples of teaching practices, and is an approach also advocated by others. For example, Edgerton et. al. (1991) have reproduced a list of 49 possible items for inclusion in a teaching portfolio developed by the Canadian Association of University Teachers (Shore, 1986). The items are organised under the headings of "The Products of Good Teaching". "Material from Oneself" and "Information from Others" and a number of other guides to portfolio development suggest including items which encompass this range of materials (e.g. O'Neil & Wright, 1995; Seldin, 1991)

This is in contrast with other descriptions of portfolios. For example, "At Griffith University a teaching portfolio is a short, coherent analysis or account of teaching which is derived from a larger collection of material referred to as a personal archive. .....The teaching portfolio is a document of no more than five pages in length." (GIHE, 1996). Similarly, Ramsden et. al. (1995, p.175) take the view that "The kind of portfolio we are proposing is not a lengthy document, but a carefully selected account of reflection on a sample of one's performance as a teacher....The portfolio is a reflective synopsis.....A maximum length of four pages might be desirable." In these descriptions, there appears to be a move towards the view that a teaching portfolio is a summary statement based on and perhaps drawing from, materials and documentation of one's teaching, and in this respect the terminology can lead to misunderstandings.

So what is a teaching portfolio? In the broadest sense, the teaching portfolio is a container into which many different ideas can be poured. Rather than settle on any fixed view of what the 'it' is, we hope that campuses will explore many images of what portfolios might be (Edgerton et. al 1991; p4).
Whilst this flexibility may be useful to some extent in enabling universities to develop their own prototypes of portfolios in the context of their institutional priorities and planning, the debate on teaching portfolios will be hampered unless we are clear at the outset what 'it' is we are discussing,

In this session participants will be encouraged to exchange ideas and views of what teaching portfolios should or could be, and to consider the issues and implications for academic staff of portfolio programs in their universities. To structure this debate the following questions are raised:

Purpose of teaching portfolio schemes

Process of portfolio development

Teaching portfolio document

Conclusion

Although there is an increasing use of teaching portfolios for the appraisal and improvement of university teaching, there are clearly a number of issues that still need to be resolved. A continuing and vigorous debate on these issues, particularly by academic staff who will be most effected by portfolio programs, may assist in resolving these dilemmas.

References

Anderson, E. (ed.) (1993). Campus Use of the Teaching Portfolio. Washington, DC. American Association for Higher Education.

Edgerton, R., Hutchings, P. & Quinlan, K. (1991). The Teaching Portfolio: Capturing the Scholarship in Teaching. Washington, D.C. American Association for Higher Education.

Gibbs, G. (1995). How can promoting excellent teachers promote excellent teaching? Innovations in Education and Training International, 32(1), 74-84.

GIHE (1996). Teaching Portfolios: Guidelines for Academic Staff. Queensland, Griffith Institute for Higher Education.

Kulski, M. M. (1997). Learning through teaching portfolios?: Some observations from the coal-face. In Pospisil, R. and Willcoxson, L. (Eds), Learning Through Teaching, p182-186. Proceedings of the 6th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, Murdoch University, February 1997. Perth: Murdoch University.
http://cleo.murdoch.edu.au/asu/pubs/tlf/tlf97/kuls182.html

O'Neil, C. & Wright, A. (1995). Recording Teaching Accomplishment: A Dalhousie Guide to the Teaching Dossier. 5th Ed. Nova Scotia: Office of Instructional Development and Technology, Dalhousie University.

Shore, B. M., et. al. (1986). The Teaching Dossier: A Guide to Its Preparation and Use. Rev. ed. Montreal: Canadian Association of University Teachers.

Wolf, K. P. (1991). Teaching Portfolios: Synthesis of Research and Annotated Bibliography. San Francisco: Far West Lab. for Educational Research and Development.

Please cite as: Kulski, M. M. (1998). Teaching portfolios: A threat or a promise? In Black, B. and Stanley, N. (Eds), Teaching and Learning in Changing Times, 156-159. Proceedings of the 7th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, The University of Western Australia, February 1998. Perth: http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf1998/kulski.html


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