Called teaching dossiers in Canada, teaching portfolios have been in use there for over 20 years. As of 1990, it was estimated that approximately 10 U.S. institutions of higher education were using or experimenting with teaching portfolios. Seven years later, as many as 1000 U.S. institutions appeared to have incorporated teaching portfolios into the promotion and tenure process or were preparing to do so in some capacity. (Seldin, 1997)
Teaching Portfolio: What is it?
The teacher's portfolio has become a largely functional concept - changing in nature depending on the use to which it is to be applied. (Teaching Resource Center, Univ. Tenn. at Chattanooga, 1997). However, in all cases it is a compilation of information about a faculty member's work, compiled by that faculty member. It is invariably a description of a professor's teaching strengths and accomplishments, a compilation of materials which "collectively suggest the scope and quality of a professor's teaching performance" (Seldin, 1997).
Although always selective, teaching portfolios are often more comprehensive than a simple presentation of instructional accomplishments. Many portfolios also provide a means for self-reflection. Instructors may critique their work - evaluating the effectiveness of instructional activities or interactions with students or colleagues. (Doolittle, 1994).
Why a portfolio?
The reasons for maintaining a teaching portfolio are myriad, but can be loosely grouped into those that promote better teaching and those that document teaching achievement:
Promote better teaching
- Self-evaluation, Self-reflection and Improvement
The very process of collecting and sifting through documents and materials relevant to a professor's teaching, enhances awareness and leads to reflection on teaching goals, teacher-student relationships, effectiveness of teaching strategies, and the consideration of alternative methods of teaching and teaching assessment (e.g. Teaching Resource Center, Univ. of Tenn. at Chattanooga, 1997 and also CETaL, Univ. of Texas at El Paso).
- Promote professional dialogue about teaching and growth toward an active teaching community.
Keeping a portfolio and encouraging others to do so creates an environment where discussion of teaching practices becomes the norm. Mentoring and peer evaluations are facilitated. (e.g. ETU, University of Western Australia, 2000)
- Stimulate research on teaching.
- Share expertise and experience.
The portfolio may be used as a way of gathering and conveying information for the purpose of mentoring younger faculty, providing teaching tips about a specific course for new or part-time faculty, or leaving a written legacy within a department so that future generations of instructors who will be taking over the professor's courses will have the benefit of years of thinking and experience. (e.g. Seldin, 1997)
- Planning for faculty development.
In an environment where several or many professors are keeping teachers' portfolios, dialogue about teaching tends to stimulate interest in faculty development and the generation of ideas for faculty development activities from those who would benefit from those activities. (e.g. Teaching Resource Center, Univ. of Tenn. at Chattanooga, 1997)
Document Teaching Achievement:
- Document how a professor's teaching has evolved over time
- Provide evidence of teaching effectiveness to be used in applications for awards, grants, appointments, tenure, promotion or consultancies.
- Demonstrate educational skills, growth and range.
A teaching portfolio can help demonstrate knowledge and understanding of teaching and learning theory and the use of this knowledge in the classroom.
- Provide evidence of work quality.
Should the quality of a professor's teaching be challenged, the portfolio could be invaluable in providing an effective defense. (e.g. ETU, UWA, 2000)
Contents of a portfolio
The contents of a teaching portfolio are often highly individualized and are typically determined in large part by the projected use of the portfolio. In institutions where teaching portfolios are an important component of the collection of materials used for promotion and tenure decisions, certain types of information are often required and, frequently, a fairly rigid format may be requested in order to save time for P & T committee members. Three examples of categories used in a typical teaching portfolio are:
- The Center for Teaching Excellence at Iowa State University, (2002) recommends inclusion of seven classes of information.
- Others (e.g. Boileau, 1993; and Seldin & Assoc., 1993) recommend using 3 categories of material.
- Still others (e.g. Murray, 1995) have advocated six categories of information.