Background

Teaching portfolios have become an essential and valuable component of Higher Education worldwide. They are directly linked to the core business of an academic, namely teaching and learning. Portfolios are fundamentally a tool to assist you in reflecting on your teaching and your students’ learning. They help you to track your professional learning as a teacher over the course of your career, examining your successes and failures, the lessons you have learnt, and the teaching goals you would still like to achieve. Portfolios also make it possible for you to revisit your beliefs about teaching and the values you associate with it, grounding your teaching in your context and in your students’ learning contexts. Portfolios ask of you to explore the educational literature that underpins your approach to teaching, in the process validating your classroom practice.

 

At SU portfolios have become mandatory for promotion applications, teaching excellence awards, job applications, and, in some faculties, performance appraisals.

 

Regarding the theoretical underpinning of the portfolio concept, there is a growing interest in researching one’s own teaching practice as part of a larger movement called “the scholarship of teaching and learning”(SoTL). This movement began with Ernest Boyer’s reconsideration of scholarship and the varied duties of academics. According to Boyer (1990), scholarship means: “stepping back from one’s investigation, looking for connections, building bridges between theory and practice, and communicating one’s knowledge effectively…” Teaching portfolios were thus developed as ways university teachers could “step back” and “look for connections”. Shulman (1988, 1993) expanded on these ideas, emphasising that scholarship takes place in a community of scholars. Like research, teaching needs to be made “community property” by opening it up for peer review in the disciplinary communities that are central to academic identities and work (Quinlan 2018:1-2).

 

The essence of portfolios is captured by Shulman (1988:36):

“Portfolios are messy to construct, cumbersome to store, difficult to score, and vulnerable to misinterpretation. But in ways that no other assessment method can, portfolios provide a connection to the contexts and personal histories that characterize real teaching and make it possible to document the unfolding of both teaching and learning over time.”