Which Portfolio Tech to Use? (With a Philosophical Side Trip)

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A few weeks ago, I posted a link to a sample teaching portfolio created in Movable Type. My colleague Brett though asked that annoying instructional design question - What are the advantages and disadvantages of Movable Type? (i.e. Why is this the right tool?)

And I have to give the classic instructional design response - it depends on the audience.

Movable Type Audience & Advantages

I would recommend something like Movable Type for most people in the Teaching with Technology program who are instructors who want to show a basic competence with Web technologies, enough to post a professional looking Web site.

One reason our director Cole Camplese advocated Movable Type was because you can post content without knowing HTML tags. The inclusion of a portfolio template makes it easy to include the pages you need for a portfolio such as teaching philosophy, C.V., example pages and a page of links. The work did with portfolio expert Carla Zembal-Saul provided further insight.

Even better, students can port the content once they leave Penn State by copying HTML files onto a CD (now that I think about it, I'm not sure there's a quick way to export pages like there is for blog entries). This may be the time when users have to begin to understand the PASS directory system so they can copy the correct files.

The More Advanced Audience

Which does lead me to a limitation, which is that there is a limit in what you can customize in Movable Type without knowing HTML, CSS (and Javascript). If you really want your own template design in Movable Type, you need to input some CSS. The same is true for custom widgets or custom entry forms with Geo Tagging fields.

Actually this is true in almost all Web technologies including ANGEL, Drupal and Twitter. A little bit of HTML and scripting can unlock even more possibilities in ANGEL ranging from color coding to quizzes which unlock items after you obtain the minimal passing score.

So... If you are an instructor looking to branch into paid work as a Web professional, then I really believe that you need some understanding of HTML, CSS and how they tie together on a Web page. And so I would recommend hand-building a site with something like (ahem) Dreamweaver or even BBEdit/Notepad if you're a mega coder.

Who's Our Audience?

So this portfolio question is actually getting to the root of a common dilemma in instructional design. Instructional technology actually has the capability of designing sophisticated learning environments taking advantage of multiple learning theories...if you know enough Java.

The problem has been how to build tools so that an instructor who doesn't have the time learn code can still implement something worthwhile in the classroom, even with limited support. With better custom tools, we're finding that we can. The rapid rise in the use of Blogs (and ANGEL before) show that instructors will use tech if it's simple and effective.

But always, there's that limit of what can be done without knowing your tech well. More than a few instructors will cross the training boundary it if they can, but do they have enough support? We can provide Just-in-Time nuggets for some cases.

On the other hand, nothing can replace that first hands-on, in-depth HTML how-to. This is when I recommend ITS Training or something like Lynda.com (great 24-7 access). It's hard to hand-train every instructor, but I'm amazed at how many are actually willing to struggle alone with HTML and Flash Actionscript when they have to.

2 Comments

Brad Kozlek Author Profile Page said:

Hand coding a site with a text editor is a good learning exercise, but in the real world, building an actual site with just these tool is madness, and in most cases, this not what professionals do in the real world.

If we are interested in teaching web site building skills, learning how to customize a site within a framework of a content management system would be more valuable.

Like you allude to, learning a little skill in html/web can go a long way. In MT and most content management systems. Just copy and pasting word content with formatting into the web-based wysiwyg editor meets with strange or disastrous results.

Then there is questions of tech skills versus design skills. I know all about css and html, but I can't make a site would be pleasing to the eye.

ELIZABETH J PYATT Author Profile Page said:

I don't think I would recommend Notepad only (although some purists swear by it).

On the other hand, I think you see from my post, that there are professional level skills and non-professional skills and we're in the middle of negotiating what that means for Web publishing.

If you think of photography, an amateur like myself can just buy a "point and shoot" and click away and get acceptable results. You may learn some skills about framing , using the flash and lighting by trial and error.

But...if you want to learn photography at a professional level you will have to learn to use more sophisticated tools (e.g. multiple lenses, tripods, light meters...). If you happened to learn some of these skills, your results with the "point and shoot" will probably improve.

I do think Movable Type has a place for many students which is why I invested time composing step-by-step documentation. I want them to have the best possible results without having to take HTML 101.

But if I knew a grad student wanted to branch into professional Web development or educational technologist (vs. an instructor with a Web site) - I would recommend HTML 101. Until they start hiring more Indo-European specialists (or specialists on Icelandic sagas)...a lot more people will wanting a tech career than you might think.

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