Thursday, 21 June 2012

What is a Virtual Portfolio?

In my previous couple of posts I have been considering from an academic point of view exactly what a portfolio is and what is required of a portfolio for sound design.  In doing so it has started to become obvious that one of the things that is unique to creating portfolios for this area is the diverse range of content that is required.

Another area for consideration is although this maybe an academic portfolio it is for an art based discipline where it is important that the content can be showcased as a professional portfolio for the sector, such as a showreel.  This may not actually be that different to any other discipline, but being an art it is important that the aesthetics are showed off appropriately via the portfolios medium itself.  How is the best way to showcase a sounds that have been designed?  The normal way is to show them in-situ in the final content.  Although this does immediately show the context for the sound it may not necessarily be the best way to show some of the aesthetics of the sounds created.

Something else that I have considered is that not all content naturally lends itself to representation in a portfolio.  For example, if I were a sculpture of stone then my artistic medium would be blocks of stone.  This being the case then a paper or digital portfolio would contain virtual representations of the sculptures rather than the sculptures themselves.  This is the same for certain aspects of sound design, where the mediun is sound.  For example, if a sound is created with a synthesizer the artefact is the patch itself that makes that sound.  Although the patch file itself could be uploaded, assuming it's a soft synthesizer of cause, it will not mean a lot as it can't be played.  Therefore, a virtual representations, such as audio files or samples will need to be included.  This will also allow appropriate delivery content to show off the aesthetics of the artefact.  In this case the portfolio become a virtual portfolio of the actual output artefacts.  Hence it is a virtual portfolio.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Sound Design Portfolios

In my last post I tried to clearly define what a portfolio is and its purpose.  Having done this it is now time to start considering what this means for a sound design context. A sound design portfolio is not that different really to any other portfolio, except that many, although not all, of the artefacts will have a high media content.  This is likely to be different to other more academic disciplines, where the content range maybe less diverse.  For example, a sound design portfolio might contain elements of the following different types of media: audio recordings and tracks, samples, MIDI files, FX libraries, DAW projects, synthesizer patches, FX chains, videos, photos, FX and track list, scores, scripts, showreels, animations, sound installations etc.  As can be seen this is an extremely diverse range and some of these may not naturally lend themselves to digital delivery.

As well as considering the different artefact types that are likely to be required in a sound design portfolio, it is also worth considering what is required from both the student and the tutor perspectives.  In doing this I am very much thinking about my students and me as their tutor, but if you think I've missed anything then please let me know.

Sound Design Students

My undergraduate Music & Audio Technology students start developing a Sound Design Portfolio in their first year and continue through their studies.  However, in the first year this is what it is required:
  • Planning what sounds need to be created to meet the brief and consideration of how the individual sounds will work together in the final content 
  • Log individual sound elements, complete with providing an inspiration for the sound created and details of how it was made and produced
    • Audio tracks, MIDI, patches, samples
  • Final content showing how the individual sound elements have been integrated together to create a final piece
    • DAW Projects, track lists and/or FX lists, final mixdown  
  • Formal report giving precise details of how one of the individual sounds was created and exactly how it was integrated into the final content
  • Provide a mechanism for students to reflect on what has been achieved
  • Allow additional media content to be retained
    • Images, videos, scores, scripts    
The portfolio should provide space for all of these individual elements to be formulated and developed over a period of time - like a true "workspace".

Tutor Requirements

As a tutor of sound design these are the elements that would be expected of a sound design portfolio:
  • Able to upload or embed different documents or media
  • Provide storage for work in progress
  • Allow formative feedback, ideally at corresponding points in the audio content
  • Support for networking and conversation between both students and tutors
  • Ability to keep some parts private and make others public
  • Provide wider networking between to students and the "outside" world
  • Give confidential summative feedback and final grade
  • Allow the work to be showcased to the wider world when completed

Having given this a bit of thought, for me the key to effectively using a portfolio as a "workspace" is providing the students a space to "develop".  This takes time so an important part of a portfolio assessment process is engaging students so they use the portfolio over an extended period of time.  As well as giving them time, they need stimulus to develop.  It seems that this will come from three areas:
  1. Student based reflection
  2. Formative feedback from the tutor
  3. Collaboration between students and the wider world
Any portfolio system must provide a mechanism to foster all three of these area.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

What is a Portfolio?

I am currently about to start work on a "virtual portfolio" system that will be used for students to develop a sound design portfolio.  Before beginning work on the detail of this project I think it is worth clearly defining "What is a Portfolio?"  The normal academic reply to this question is something along the lines of...
"A portfolio is a purposeful collection of student work that exhibits the student's efforts,progress, and achievements in one or more areas. The collection must include student participation in selecting contents, the criteria for selection, the criteria for judging merit, and evidence of student self-reflection." (Paulson 1991) 
Although this gives a very vigorous interpretation of the academic requirements, it does not consider the wider ramifications from creating a portfolio.  Therefore, it is worth asking the question "What is the purpose of a Portfolio?"  There are two main academic goals for a portfolio: one is as a "workspace" where students can develop their content and the other is a "showcase" where the students can present their work (Barrett 2011).  When considered from the students perspective the workspace is very much about the process, whereas the showcase is the presentation of the product.  However, from an academic point of view the portfolio offers a mechanism for assessment of the student's efforts.  When considering the process this will be about formative assessment, while the product can be used for summative assessment.  This means that the audience for the portfolio as a workspace is largely internal and the audience for the showcase will mainly be external.  It is this external view that carries wider ramifications for the portfolio, beyond just being an academic exercise and it is hoped that the portfolio will become a life-long exercise.

So what are the key elements of a portfolio?  First, it is a repository for holding work. This is a given, based on where the very word comes from (french for page carrier).  Next, it should contain elements of the following to meet the definition above and the academic requirements (Becta 2007, JISC 2008).
  • Planning and setting goals
  • Capturing and storing evidence
  • Collaboration
  • Giving and receiving feedback (formative)
  • Reflections
  • Presenting to an audience
  • Networking and building a reputation
It is also important when planning portfolio work to have a clear target output for the portfolio.  This means identify a specific target audience for the portfolio and tailor the presentation specifically for them.

Next I shall consider exactly what is required for a portfolio in Sound Design.

Paulson, F.L. Paulson, P.R. and Meyer, CA. (1991, February). What Makes a Portfolio a Portfolio? Educational Leadership, pp. 60-63.

Barrett, H. (2010). Balancing the Two Faces of ePortfolios. Educação, Formação & Tecnologias, 3(1), 6-14.

Becta (2007), Impact study of e-portfolios on learning,

JISC (2008), Effective Practice with e-Portfolios: Supporting 21st century learning,