ePortfolios: A Pocket Full of Ambition

The terms electronic portfolio, ePortfolio, and Web portfolio are increasingly being heard around universities teaching graphics and the companies that supply them with technology. The labels are being applied to Web-based personal portfolios, program accreditation portfolios, and student certification portfolios, among others. Naturally, with all these terms, some confusion has resulted about the definition of an electronic portfolio. Pocket portfolios are just what their name implies: portfolios recorded on digital media, that can be carried in a pocket.

Traditionally, graphic artists have submitted a text resume citing graphic projects they have completed in school or for previous employers. They then carry a large portfolio full of printed or original samples of their work to interviews. But with the advent of electronic publishing and digital imaging, another approach has become necessary. Many of the products of the "new media" simply can't be placed in a traditional portfolio. They require a computer for viewing. It has now become necessary to allow the interviewer to interact with the graphics projects.

Because the new media are digital, it makes sense to produce a portfolio that includes traditional hand-drawn images, a resume, and digital interactive multimedia. In addition to being digital, much of the new media are in video form, which emphasizes the fact that the new portfolio must have the ability to properly showcase this format. If the portfolio is produced in a manner that can be displayed on a computer screen, a true representation of the artist's work, both still and moving, can be distributed to perspective employers.

Everything discussed so far could be handled with a Web-based portfolio. However, Web sites are limited by the quality of images they can portray. Usually, Web sites are constructed to limit the screen size to 800 x 600 pixels—sophisticated graphics projects normally have a much higher resolution than this—therefore, prospective employees still need to carry prints of projects to interviews.

Web portfolios also pose problems with long-term storage. The Web site must be stored on a server that will maintain the site for extended time. Universities, at this point, loathe the thought of providing this service for graduates. The storage capacity for large numbers of graduates in graphics is staggering. This raises a slew of management questions for administrators: How long should graduate Web sites be maintained? Would graduates have access after a preset time if they pay a hosting fee? What about security of the data? Would students have access to update their sites? Because the university is hosting the site, is it responsible for certifying the quality of the student's work, even after they graduate?

Pocket Portfolio Process
Most of these problems were eliminated with a process adopted by the Technical Graphics faculty at Southeast Missouri State University. The pocket portfolio was chosen in 2000 as the format of choice for graduates of the Technical Graphics program. The process of building this portfolio begins during the students' very first graphics class at the university. Students are assigned projects that can eventually be included in their pocket portfolio. These projects are created with Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Chief Architect, and AutoCAD, and range from notepads and tri-fold brochures to CD covers. Many of the projects are produced through a traditional print media such as the offset press or digital duplicator. Others, like a house plan, are created with digital media, in this case, Chief Architect, with prints of the projects submitted for evaluation.

Subsequent classes expand on the introduction to refine students' skills with these and other software packages. Digital Imaging and Editing students capture images digitally by camera, scanner, and via the Internet. These images are modified and other images are created with Photoshop. More advanced classes add to the students' expertise with software, such as 3D Studio Max, SolidWorks, Architectural Desktop, Chief Architect, Illustrator, Dreamweaver, Front Page, Fireworks, Director, Flash, Premier, and Corel Draw.

Materials produced by students throughout their studies are kept in their pocket portfolio. These files are stored on a department server and on CDs, DVDs, and Zip disks. Many of the first projects are replaced as more sophisticated examples are produced in upper-level classes. The quality of student work was found to increase when the introductory level class placed an emphasis on traditional production methods. Students then create projects with the limitations of the eventual production equipment in mind, and create images that are more easily reproducible.

The software of choice for producing a pocket portfolio is Macromedia's Director. Director is capable of creating interactive movies that include images, text, AVIs, and animations. Images from other software packages are imported for presentation in the final portfolio.

During a capstone course, the students refine a Flash introduction to their portfolio created during a multimedia class. This introduction concludes with an interface design that allows the viewer to navigate through the student's content, whcih can be supplemented with work a student has created outside of class.

Talent Showcase
The output format of choice has been the business card CD. However, this shape limits the amount of data students can include as it has a capacity of 55MB. However, a feature of Director allows the viewer to connect to a Web portfolio where a movie can be viewed in its entirety.

If students choose, they can record their portfolios on small round (pocket) CDs, standard CDs, or DVDs. If they choose one of the larger capacity formats, the entire volume of their work can be included. At Southeast Missouri State University, the DVD format is becoming increasingly popular with the students.

Students also design custom labels for their pocket portfolio. This imparts a professional look to the portfolio, displaying some of the student's design ability, and is intended to grab a perspective employer's attention.

Some advantages of the pocket portfolio include the ability to be revised easily, convenient storage of digital images, security, and low cost. Business card CDs and pocket CDs are approximately $.50 each, while DVDs are dropping in cost dramatically. DVD-Rs currently cost under $1.00 each.

As students gain experience and maturity in their graphics abilities, they build an ever-expanding body of work. By using a pocket portfolio they have full access to their earlier materials and can update their portfolio to reflect recent work. This also eliminates the problem of data security of a Web portfolio.

While the pocket portfolio is a relatively new requirement for graduates of the Technical Graphics program, they have received great reviews. The students like the ability to include their entire portfolio in a format that is convenient to carry and distribute to potential employers. It also allows them the opportunity to showcase their abilities with new technologies, as well as their creativity in more traditional media.

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