Dr Mandia Mentis and Dr Wendy Holley-Boen work in the Institute of Education at Massey University in Aotearoa New Zealand. They have been using portfolios in their teaching for more than 20 years, appreciating the affordances that the pedagogy and technology have in terms of personalising the learning for their students and giving students the chance to bring in their authentic selves.
In this episode, Mandia and Wendy talk about the many benefits portfolios have for their learners and how they help their learners to make the most out of them.
Click through to the episode page for the transcript.
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Production: Catalyst IT
Host: Kristina Hoeppner
Artwork: Evonne Cheung
Music: The Mahara tune by Josh Woodward
Kristina Hoeppner 00:05
Welcome to 'Create. Share. Engage.' This is the podcast about portfolios for learning and more for educators, learning designers, and managers keen on integrating portfolios with their education and professional development practices. 'Create. Share. Engage.' is brought to you by the Mahara team at Catalyst IT. My name is Kristina Hoeppner, and I look forward to speaking with Dr Mandia Mentis and Dr Wendy Holley-Boen today.
Mandia is Associate Head of School of the Institute of Education and Associate Professor at Massey University in Aotearoa New Zealand. Her colleague Wendy is Senior Lecturer also in the Institute of Education. Both are passionate about specialist education and empowering their learners to succeed. It is lovely to speak with you today, Mandia and Wendy. Can you, to start us off, please tell us a little bit about yourself? What do you do, Mandia?
Mandia Mentis 01:05
Kia ora Kristina. It's lovely to be here. Ko Mandia Mentis tōku ingoa. Well, as you said, my name is Mandia Mentis. I work at the Institute of Education, Massey University. My background, I trained as a secondary teacher. I then went on and became an educational psychologist, I worked in the field as an educational psychologist for many years, and then moved into tertiary education first in the educational psychology programme, and currently more broadly across various professional programmes, but always in the learning support area. So I'm very passionate about issues of equity and diversity and inclusion, and part of my work has been including portfolios in all the work that we do. So over two decades long time fan of portfolios. Kia ora, Kristina.
Kristina Hoeppner 01:55
Kia ora, Mandia. That is definitely a very long career and lots of knowledge that we can gain from you and hear from you. Wendy, do you want to tell us a little bit about yourself?
Wendy Holley-Boen 02:06
Kia ora koutou. Ko Wendy ahau. My name is Wendy. I am originally from the U.S., and I trained as a school psychologist, and then worked as an educational psychologist and for the Ministry of Education in New Zealand prior to coming to Massey. I've worked with Mandia for about 20 years, Kristina, and I think we've worked with you for about 10 years. So this is a real pleasure. And at the moment, Mandia and I lead a large postgraduate programme for resource teachers, which is the only one of its kind in New Zealand, and it's about 400 experienced teachers a year.
Kristina Hoeppner 02:41
With these 400 teachers, do you then use portfolios or do you have other programmes that your employee portfolios as well?
Mandia Mentis 02:50
We do use portfolios across the specialist teaching programme for all the resource teachers, but have worked with other colleagues in other professional programmes for them to introduce it. So in the educational psychology programme, in the speech language therapy programme, and in teacher training in early intervention. So it's particularly useful for professional programmes where students are required to document their professional practice in ways that possibly are not, or lend themselves to different formats, rather than, say, a standard essay or something like that. So in professional programmes, we found it particularly useful and so have the other programmes.
Kristina Hoeppner 03:26
How did you get started using portfolios in your teaching? What was the spark?
Mandia Mentis 03:32
I think simply that we were looking for some way for students to document their authentic learning and to do it in individualised ways that it wasn't a one size fits all. So we were looking for ways that it could be multimedia, individualised, authentic, and provide evidence of their learning and their practice in ways that we could see the difference and diversity that was out there. So portfolios offered us that affordance.
Wendy Holley-Boen 04:01
Two of the things that are a real strong underpinning of our programme, the first is really personalising their learning. So we want them to bring personal to the professional. And you can do that so much more in a portfolio where you really can record yourself telling the story or you can gather evidence in ways that really allow you to bring who you are to what you do. And the other one is we emphasise voice and getting perspectives of people as part of their fieldwork in their practice. And so again, portfolios really enable them to do that authentically.
Mandia Mentis 04:30
I think also that portfolios enable us to extend learning into practice so we're very keen in our programmes to blend learning into their ongoing practice in the field. So the portfolios, they take with them. So they can evidence the learning, but it moves into their practice then, so it's lifelong, lifewide. Many of our students then use the portfolio for their accreditation as repositories for all of their documents so they can use it as a way to collect and collate the resources that they need for ongoing practice. And then in some instances, we've used it very much for networking. So they've been in groups, and they can share jointly their resources. So you know, their learning, their practice, their collating and sharing of resources and in networking with each other. It has the affordances for all of that. So it makes it much more than just assignments. It's really a form that enables lifelong learning and practice.
Kristina Hoeppner 05:31
It also sounds like your students really take you up on that invitation to not just create the portfolio for a specific task or assignment, but also keep it afterwards. Do you talk to them about these possibilities of keeping a lifelong and lifewide portfolio already from the start or does that come throughout their career at Massey?
Mandia Mentis 05:54
We do signal at the beginning of their journey that we would like them to see their learning as part of their ongoing practice so that learning doesn't stop when they leave university. It's just the beginning of their journey of learning, and it carries on into their practice. And so we use portfolios as a way to enable them to document that.
We do signal at the beginning that this is a tool that enables us to enact that notion of what learning and practice is that there are two sides of the same coin, and they're ongoing. We've used metaphors of the portfolio as being kind of like your art gallery, where you will store things and constantly curated and narrate it. So they're constantly doing that from when they begin with us, and then hopefully they're curating and narrating once they leave. So yeah, we do signal it from the start.
Wendy Holley-Boen 06:44
And I think we've also designed all of the activities to lend themselves to that. So for instance, when they do their professional philosophy, then that makes sense two years later, when they apply for a new job to send a link to their ePortfolio as part of their application. So then they come back to us and they really see the value and why we wanted this to be a lifelong, lifewide repository for them.
Kristina Hoeppner 07:08
Mandia, you mentioned the art gallery, and of course, the graphic that you're referring to I'll put a link to it into the episode notes so that people can see it. We took that from being inspired by how you introduce portfolios to your students at Massey University. You use the museum metaphor for it. Do you want to tell our listeners a little bit about how you introduce portfolios to students then to bring that concept of reflecting and working with portfolios closer to them? Because of course, we often hear that students don't know how to reflect or how to give feedback, but you want to help with that entire process of portfolios by employing your metaphor.
Mandia Mentis 07:50
I think that the metaphor was really useful for us to explain all the affordances of MyPortfolio. So we were very anti using a template, which I know some programmes do use. We would rather explain to students, what is the back-end or what is the functionality or what is the affordances of this tool so that they could make it their own. So in order to do that, we didn't want to take a very technical route; we tried to use a metaphor and the metaphor of the museum or the art gallery, where they are the curators of their own learning.
So each artefact, which is an evidence of their learning, they can put into their portfolio in different ways. They can have a video, they can have an audio, they can have a series of photographs, and then they would curate them or put a narration around them, which indicates why it's important to them, how it links to the literature that they reading about it, how they reflecting on it, how they've used it as an application in their fieldwork, what value it has, how they're going to carry on using it. So the metaphor of the art gallery or the museum was to give them the various tools and the functionality. Where do they store their artefacts? How do they integrate over them? What are the different tools' means? So we found it to be very useful.
But having said that, Kristina, it was very important for us maybe five or so years ago. We are finding that students are coming to us far more digitally literate, and in order to provide that metaphor takes a much shorter time. They kind of get the technologies right away. And they are much more keen to just play with the tools and have fun, rather than to follow any kind of formula for that. So we are needing that metaphor less and less, although it has been very useful for us.
Wendy Holley-Boen 09:33
There has also been some really nice jokes that have come through. So Mandia always talks about storing everything in the basement, and really labelling it well. So that your Picasso's you can find later or your Monet's etc. Because we do have more information than we can ever find again, but we've had a manager come to us and say, "Why are they talking about the wine cellar?"
Mandia Mentis 09:53
Our art gallery has a wine cellar now.
Kristina Hoeppner 09:55
[Laughter] You've just mentioned a manager. So I assume a student used their portfolio to apply for a teaching job?
Mandia Mentis 10:02
We have students who use it as part of their CVs. And I think that that's the nice part of the functionality. And again, the metaphor of the art gallery or the museum is useful because once you've stored all of your artefacts in the basement or in the wine cellar [laughter], then you map them into different portfolios. So you only ever have to put it down in the basement once and bring it up and showcase it in different portfolios. And I think that Mahara is particularly good for that, that it enables you to have different portfolios. So that if you did want to use some of your artefacts for your CV, you are able to do them, if you want to bring up some of your artefacts to share as resources in a PD session that you're doing, you can do that. Or if you want to use the same artefacts in a different portfolio, which is for your assignment, you can do that. And then enabling people to come in and see your gallery or museum.
So I think, yes, they do use similar artefacts for different purposes, and certainly CVs, job interviews, resource sharing, professional development, as well as assignments. And I think that's the beauty of it is that all of the information, all of the artefacts are stored down below, and you can just bring them back into different portfolios as and when you need them. And then the other wonderful functionality is you can let people into the gallery by giving them a link, or you can close that link. And I think that functionality is really useful, and the metaphor of the art gallery enabled us to explain that to students.
Kristina Hoeppner 11:29
I also think it helps with digital ethics because Mandia, you mentioned earlier that you're working quite a bit in the area of diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging, and in the AAEEBL Digital Ethics Task Force, we also include decolonisation as part of that entire concept because then when you decide who shall have access to your portfolio, you just have more control over who sees what you have done, you can really be very critical of your work, make a reflection that might also talk about things that didn't go so well, but things that you might not really necessarily want to share it entirely publicly online.
Wendy Holley-Boen 12:09
I think to in terms of equitable, we have a real emphasis a kaupapa in our course, of knowledge only been so useful as the difference it's making to the community. And so we really wanted to use ePlatforms that allow you to sit next to that teacher in the classroom, and the teacher says, 'I wish I knew more about literacy.' And you've got this entire curation around literacy or decolonisation or belonging, right there at your fingertips, and then you can share it in the moment to lift others. So that's one of the other main ways that they're using the ePortfolios.
Kristina Hoeppner 12:43
So that kind of takes us to the next question that I wanted to ask you. Mainly, you've mentioned that your students use portfolios for many different purposes. So they use it for class assignments, but also for more lifelong purposes, like employability portfolios for their own potential even teacher registration at some point, and with both of you having worked with portfolios for so many years, and yes, I've known you now for a little over a decade already in that area, which is fantastic to always having been able to follow you. What trends have you observed in portfolio work over the years in your areas that you'd like to share?
Mandia Mentis 13:22
I think I touched on it earlier, Kristina, is that digital literacy has increased. So there's a much bigger uptake. I think, possibly in the past, there was some resistance both from faculty, both from the institution, as well as from the students around using ePortfolios. There was a lot of fear around this being, as you say, some of the ethical issues, although Mahara has never or ePortfolios, the one that we use, allows us to enable people to access it or not. But I think that there was some concerns around what that might look like if we weren't asking students to do an essay [laughter].
So the shifts over time have been people are far more open, accepting, and enthusiastic about it across the board. There's not so much sell that we have to give. There's just enthusiasm and uptake. And I think from the point of view of students, just their digital literacy has increased so that they are more game to try, you know, videos, embed the videos, try more of the bells and whistles, put on skins and so on. So yeah, I think those for me have been big shifts.
Wendy Holley-Boen 14:25
As a practical example, so one of the things we have is a year long practicum that's really self directed by experienced teachers. And so they craft a practicum, and then over the year, they need to collect evidence of the impact they're having, the difference they're making for themselves as well as the children, the families, the communities.
I think in the past, they might have stuck more to narratives and sort of essays and espousing what they were doing out in the communities. But as Mandia says, they're so much more confident with having a play and using multimedia that now they really will go out there and take a video of the parents talking about the difference that their involvement has made or film their PLD [Professional Learning and Development] session and upload the PDF and the PowerPoint. And so they're really bringing these authentic examples that they might not have in the past just because they're comfortable and committed, I guess, to having really authentic work.
Kristina Hoeppner 15:21
With that you also teach your students quite a bit about how to deal with that video content that they need to get permission from the parents or their children, right?
Mandia Mentis 15:30
Yeah, there is a strong ethics component. The students we deal with are experienced teachers already. So they do understand informed consent and so on, but there's a strong ethical component. They need informed consent sheets for everything that they do share. Just in terms of them being more digitally aware and competent, we used to have on MyPortfolio, a portfolio around 'How to' where we gave 'How to' videos of all the technical tools and bells and whistles. And that isn't, while it's there, and it's useful, it isn't needed as much as we needed it in the beginning. Students are just more able and wanting to play.
Kristina Hoeppner 16:07
I think the one thing we do need to update in those instructions is to rename the basement into your wine cellar.
Wendy Holley-Boen and Mandia Mentis 16:16
[Laughter] That's far more fun.
Kristina Hoeppner 16:17
One final question before we get to the quick answer round for you is that you work with a lot of different portfolios with lots of different students. And since you mentioned all your students are already teachers, you also work with mature students quite a bit. So is there currently anything in the portfolio practice or in the technology that you use that you would like to be able to do with portfolios, but just can't do fully?
Mandia Mentis 16:46
I think that the one area we'd always like to see improvements is to make it more socially constructive to enable those conversations to happen. Not sure that I know how but that is sort of a want is that where can we share those conversations and have the dialogue? So it's really useful individually to showcase their work and to use as a workspace and to have as a repository, and while we do have group portfolios, it's really just how can we have forums or more conversations or more interactions on an ePortfolio platform? So yeah, that's a challenge. I don't know the answer to it, but that's what we really would like [laughter].
Wendy Holley-Boen 17:26
And they have been really good at figuring out workarounds. So as Mandia says, she talks about it quite a lot as a workspace and a showcase, and in terms of the workspace, they will record the Zoom, and then put that in there, they will link to Google Docs or Padlets, where they're co-constructing in other spaces and then including it, but we'd love if that could all sit in the one stop shop of a group portfolio.
Kristina Hoeppner 17:49
That is certainly something that would be fantastic to workshop with you and your students at some point to figure out what could that look like, where are the commonalities. And for me, the portfolio has always been more of an aggregator rather than having the possibility of doing everything in the platform simply because there are so many fantastic tools out there that would do it so much better since they are dedicated for a particular purpose, but still giving us the opportunity to bring all of those things into that one space so that when you have somebody viewing the portfolio, they don't have to go off to 10 or 20 different links, but see everything on a page or within a collection that they can navigate through.
Mandia Mentis 18:32
Yeah, that will be awesome. Yeah.
Kristina Hoeppner 18:35
Now to our quick answer round, and I'll ask the question and ask Mandia to answer first and then followed by Wendy. Which words do we use to describe portfolio work?
Mandia Mentis 18:47
I would use 'learn'. For me that's lifelong, lifewide, livedeep learning. So 'learn' is my one word. 'Design' I like, too, because it's universal design. So it's multiple means to represent information, and it's individualised in that way. And then my third word would be 'collaborate' because it is a way to network and connect and develop a community of practice. So learn design, collaborate.
Kristina Hoeppner 19:12
Thank you and Wendy?
Wendy Holley-Boen 19:14
My three words would be authentic, personalised, and agentic.
Kristina Hoeppner 19:19
May I ask what you mean by agentic?
Wendy Holley-Boen 19:21
I think the studiers that we have, especially in our postgraduate programme, really can think about what is the story they want to tell? So for instance, when they're pulling together a year long journey of growth and impact, we don't want them thinking about how will that look in an essay and working back from that. We want them thinking about 'What's the story I want to tell?' And then 'What are all the affordances, blue skies that I can use to tell that story?' So they really are figuring out what languages to include, how the skins can reflect their cultural heritage or their communities, that sort of thing. So really making it their own.
Kristina Hoeppner 20:01
Wonderful, thank you. Now what tip do you have for learning designers or instructors like you who create portfolio activities, Mandia?
Mandia Mentis 20:10
Yeah, I would say just allow your students or the authors of the portfolio to individualise them because it just enables that creativity and that real learning and that authenticity to come through. So I would advocate not to template laughter]. I would advocate to teach how to, and then you get so much more back. You get really rich, real relevant portfolios. So my tip would be to just allow them, teach the skills, teach the how to, and then you'll just get really valuable individualised portfolios back.
Kristina Hoeppner 20:44
Wendy Holley-Boen 20:45
I'll add on to that with a really specific example. So in a programme with 400 studiers, we have 1,000 assignments that come in at the same time of year. And we've always grappled with this tension of making it easier for the marking team to get in there and do the assessment or making it easier for the student to tell their story. And Mandia and I always fall quite firmly on 'let the students make it their own,' and then we behind the scenes, we'll figure out how to find what it is we need to find for the assessment. So I guess that would be is get alongside the studiers, find out how they want to do it, and really trust them to do it in the ways that works for them, and then figure out the processes behind the scenes in a secondary way to make it work for the teaching team.
Kristina Hoeppner 21:31
So really have that focus on the learners rather than how can we quickly and easily assess a task then. Our last question: What advice do you have for the portfolio authors, Mandia?
Mandia Mentis 21:44
My advice to them would be to play. Make it yours, you know, have fun [laughter]. Once we've given them the tools of how to do it, make learning theirs and really, you know, use the affordances of this technology to be proud of their product that they're creating, and it's theirs, and they own it, and it'll be part of demonstrating who they are and what they bring to the learning. So just to play and have fun and, you know, use the affordances and learn the soft skills as well as the hard skills. They are learning lots of transferable skills when they're creating portfolios alongside of demonstrating their real learning and their real practice. So you know, play, have fun, experiment.
Kristina Hoeppner 22:20
Kia ora and Wendy?
Wendy Holley-Boen 22:21
I'm thinking back to when I was a student and I actually used Mahara for my PhD. And I think I would say 'Use it little and often, like, every single day.' I had my RSS feed in there. So I was hearing from my thought leaders, articles that were recently being published, Twitter conversations, webinars coming up. I was having all of that. So I could kind of start my day, not on Facebook, but in my portfolio. And then I had my supervisors in there. So I was able to have some of the conversations. I could record my supervision.
So I really tailored it to what I needed, and then it was my daily go to rather than sort of being out there doing the work and then the night before things are due [laughter] figuring out how to best curate and pull it together. So really, just yeah, figure out what works for you, but then do it all the time.
Kristina Hoeppner 23:12
Wonderful. Thank you so much for these tips and also your words and and also your words of encouragement for instructors, learning designers, and learners alike, to play, to experiment, to be themselves, to be authentic, and also to be consistent in the practice.
Thank you, Wendy and Mandia, for sharing your thinking around portfolios today. For me, it's been really wonderful to have had the chance to learn from you now over the last decade, today in this conversation, and I also look forward to continuing to learn from you over the next few years.
Wendy Holley-Boen 23:52
Mandia Mentis 23:52
Wendy Holley-Boen 23:53
Right back at you, Kristina. Thank you very much.
Kristina Hoeppner 23:56
Now over to our listeners. What do you want to try in your own portfolio practice?
This was 'Create. Share. Engage.' with Dr Mandia Mentis and Dr Wendy Holley-Boen. Head to our website podcast.mahara.org where you can find links and the transcript for this episode. This podcast is produced by Catalyst IT, and I'm your host, Kristina Hoeppner, project lead and product manager of the portfolio platform Mahara.
Our next episode will air in two weeks. I hope you'll listen again and tell a colleague about our podcast so they can subscribe. Until then, create, share, and engage.