Todd Siben By Todd Siben • April 12, 2013

Are You Right for Portfolio Assessment?

Attention writers, salespeople and creative types: I may have a method of earning college credit that fits your personality and skill set.

Students often ask, “Is portfolio assessment for me?” While I can answer that question, I want to turn that question around to help you determine, “Are you right for portfolio assessment?”

Portfolio assessment, a method of prior learning assessment (PLA), may be the most nontraditional method of earning credit, even at nontraditional institutions. It is different than earning credit via a credit-by-exam program. So, what makes someone a good candidate for portfolio assessment? 

Unsure if you're a good candidate for PLA? Take the PLA Self-Assessment, an  interactive online quiz, here and find out. 


Characteristics of a Good Portfolio Assessment Candidate

My response to that question is based on years of observation. I’ve probably reviewed in excess of 100,000 portfolios in my years at Thomas Edison State University, and as a result I have some thoughts about the characteristics of people who are the most successful with utilizing the University’s portfolio assessment process in earning college credit. These include:

  • Writers: The written word and narrative is a critical part of a portfolio assessment when breaking down and articulating the details of your college-level knowledge. This includes detailing the who, what, where, when and how you acquired the knowledge and applied it to a real-life setting and what documentation you can provide to support your narrative. Writers tend to find the PLA process to be within their grasp.
  • Savers: Portfolio assessment can be ideal for those who save everything. When you need a copy of a certificate you’ve earned, you know where to find it. It’s in the second drawer from the bottom in that old metal file cabinet hidden in the back of your attic, behind the old coat rack. Whether it’s in a shoebox in your garage or an old, musty box in your basement, you know where exactly where it is because you keep things like that for the day when you know you will need it!  And because of this, you will be able to document your accomplishments.
  • Paper Chasers: Portfolio assessment can be a good option for those who love the challenge of definitively proving a point by using documentation to make their case. If you can substantiate your claims of college-level knowledge by documenting evidence and incorporating that evidence into detailed report, you should excel at producing a strong PLA portfolio.
  • Law Enforcement Professionals: Portfolio assessment is typically a good match for people in law enforcement because they understand ANYTHING can be viewed as evidence as long as you can show how it helps prove your case. Training in writing detailed, descriptive reports also positions law enforcement professionals well for developing a PLA portfolio.
  • Confident People: Are you the person in your organization who is the in-house “expert” on something? It can be anything, from Microsoft Excel or digital photography to proofreading or project planning. Portfolio assessment can be a good option for people who have a body of knowledge that colleagues recognize and that can be equated to a college-level course.
  • Storytellers: At least a portion of the narrative you write in your portfolio assessment is a story about something you’ve done or experienced. A good storyteller does not leave out the details and can go through the events in order, select the truly salient information and tell it in a way that is captivating and informative.
  • Salespeople: You know this type. They are always selling something, whether it’s a new product or a new idea. Are you the determined type who expresses yourself well and persuades others to share your perspective? If so, portfolio assessment could be for you.
  • Creative Types: Portfolio assessment can be especially well-suited for those in the creative or performing arts because they have learned to archive their accomplishments (whether it is on film, video, CD, DVD, MP3 or in written reviews) and promote their recent projects. For example, artists can show their paintings (finished or not), actors and musicians can share reviews of their performances, playbills and recorded works.
  • Conceptualizers: If you can envision a relatively complex process from start to finish or are especially good at anticipating outcomes, you may be a good match for portfolio assessment and successfully structuring a PLA portfolio.
  • Parents of newborns: The month following a birth of a new baby (assuming the baby has settled into a schedule) may be a good time to tackle a portfolio assessment. This method of earning credit may be ideal for this chapter of your life because it allows you to work on the portfolio in five or ten minute intervals, especially when your time and attention are torn between your baby and course work.
  • People with Applied Skills: Although much of the information about portfolio assessment accentuates the college-level knowledge you possess, those who have concrete, real-world expertise in a specific subject area that can substantiate the knowledge are often successful with portfolio assessments.

So, do any of these characteristics sound familiar? If so, then perhaps there’s college credit already in your head that has yet to be documented and validated. 

Todd Siben

Written by Todd Siben

Todd Siben is the former assistant director of the Office of Prior Learning Assessment and has been with the University for 28 years in a variety of roles. He earned a master's degree from Teachers College of Columbia University and a bachelor's degree from Ramapo College. He is a tireless student advocate and passionate about providing students with the best opportunities for degree completion. He is an author and presenter on many topics related to prior learning assessment and degree completion for adults. He has had a long and successful career as an ice hockey coach and now prefers watching ice hockey (Go New York Rangers!) and playing the piano or guitar.

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