University of Washington: Students Showcase Achievements Online

After 18 months of research and collaboration with student interest groups, career counselors, and academic leaders, the University of Washington (UW) launched the Catalyst Portfolio Tool—an electronic archive of work produced by students—in September 2002.

Web Publishing Made Easy
The Catalyst Portfolio Tool uses UW network and storage infrastructure and allows students to compile any electronic files of their work. Using nothing more than a Web browser, students can save and organize papers, pictures, audio clips or any other documents they produce. The beta release has a temporary storage quota of 10MB per student, but by the end of January, it will increase to 250MB to 500MB per student. Unless students exceed this quota, no limits will be placed on the size and type of the files. A system is also being built to allow students to store large streaming media files in another university archive without using their quota.

"They get to keep everything they've done on campus in an online environment where they can access it quickly. They can do all of this without knowing anything about Web publishing," explains Mark Farrelly, coordinator of the Portfolio Tool project at the UW office of Educational Partnerships & Learning Technologies. Templates and style sheets are provided to format and customize each portfolio, and students can re-organize and align their learning artifacts however they like, so that each portfolio they publish is unique.

If students need help, technical assistance is provided in a couple of different ways. Student helpdesk employees have been trained in each of the largest student computer labs on campus to provide face-to-face support. Materials, including online help and documentation (developed by four student employees and one editor) are also available. In addition, students can contact the developers of the Portfolio tool by e-mail or telephone (four software developers and one student helper are available for e-mail help).

Showing What You Know
Farrelly says the new portfolios are a reaction to the need to provide better ways to show achievement. Increasing competition in everything from top-paying jobs to entrance in exclusive schools is putting the emphasis on physical demonstrations of what you know. Grade-point averages and test scores, while still important, are being complemented by concepts like the final project and the work portfolio. "I think this is certainly a way for students to tell you, ‘These are my skills,' instead of the increasingly less-meaningful grades," Farrelly explains.

Because the Catalyst Portfolio Tool is not tied to any particular program of study at the university, any instructor can use the tool to offer assignments designed to go into the portfolios, and to give students feedback online. Once compiled, students will be able to show off their portfolios to anyone in the world with a connection to the Internet. Each portfolio (there are no limitations to the number of portfolios a student wishes to publish) has a unique URL, and by the end of January a password-protection option will be added.

Enrolled students gain access to the Portfolio Tool with a system-wide login called a UWNetID, which provides access to other UW tools and services, such as e-mail and Web publishing. The IDs are active for six months after graduation. After that time, alumni can enroll in the MyUW.net program that allows them to keep all of their services, including the Portfolio, as long as they pay a nominal monthly fee. If students choose not to continue with their subscription to MyUW.net, they can use the Portfolio tool at any time to download all of their published portfolios and collections of learning artifacts.

Instant Results
The Catalyst Portfolio Tool is the latest Web-based tool from the Catalyst Initiative, an effort to improve teaching and learning at the UW through the use of technology. The Catalyst Initiative relies on in-house staff, student workers, and existing UW infrastructure to develop Web tools, without outside vendors or proprietary software. Developing the Portfolio in-house permitted focus groups—made up of students, faculty, and administrators—to provide immediate feedback so that their needs would be met, allowing for instant implementation on campus.

One example of instant implementation of the Portfolio Tool is the Freshman Interest Group (FIG) program. FIGs are clusters of 20 to 25 freshman who enroll in the same classes and attend a general orientation class once a week, to help them negotiate life on campus of the UW. As part of the FIG program, the online system is providing more than 80 percent of the freshman class with the ability to reflect on their education and progress through their university experience. Currently, there are 3,200 FIG students using the Portfolio Tool to reflect on seven topic areas: transitioning from high school, embracing diversity, academic planning, working with faculty, social issues, an intellectual excursion, and an arts excursion.

"This will be a nice tool for students to think about their learning, their career path, and to get a better sense of what they did at the University of Washington," notes Farrelly.

For more information on Catalyst, visit http://catalyst.washington.edu/ or contact Mark Farrelly at mfarrell@u.washington.edu or Tom Lewis at tomlewis@u.washinton.edu. Farrelly is the outreach coordinator and Lewis is the director of the Ed-Tech Development Group for the Office of Educational Partnerships & Learning Technologies.

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