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by Michael Niehoff
National Faculty

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June 14, 2017
Going Public and Going Pro: The Power of Portfolios, Publishing & Personal Branding

by Michael Niehoff
National Faculty

One of the Gold Standard PBL’s Essential Project Design Elements is “Public Product.” Having all of our students produce high quality public work, especially in the 21st century digital world and economy, is truly essential.

Going public in PBL begins, typically, with students sharing their products in presentations in class to their peers and teacher, and perhaps parents and other students and staff at a school. Presentations to outside experts and authentic audiences comes next. However, that should be just the beginning. Here are three areas where we can stretch our students while preparing them for working and living in the 21st century:

The Portfolio 2.0
Traditionally, most of us associate portfolios with artists, writers and designers. In school, we have had watered down versions for years where students were asked to put their work in a folder that may or may not have been shared.

Well, we are in a new era. Forget AP scores, weighted GPA’s and SAT scores. We are now in a portfolio world and economy. Remember, in a “Gig Economy,” where our students are going to have to continually contract work and pitch themselves to clients, our students need a lifetime portfolio where they digitally present and publish their work….and themselves.

Let me introduce you to Beverly Pham - a student at the University of Southern California ( I don’t know Beverly personally, but one look at her website (digital portfolio) lets me know she’s a pro. This portfolio - video, reporting, graphic design and more - showcases her academic and professional work. All of our students are entering a post-secondary world where they are competing digitally and internationally in this global economy with the likes of Beverly Pham.

All educators need to ask the questions:

Are my students ready?
Are they ready like Beverly is ready?
Are they ready to compete head on with Beverly?
How will others see and experience their work and skills?

My guess is that Beverly didn’t necessarily learn all of these skills, as well as how to digitally feature and display them, from her high school curriculum. But she should have.


Students, as well as educators, can house their portfolios at a number of free website building tools and applications. If the school is a GAFE site, many might use Google Sites that is part of their Google Applications. But there are literally dozens of free commercial sites (Wix, Weebly, ehost, Sitebuilder and many others). All of these have commercial upgrades, but are not required in order to have a fully-functioning site and portfolio.

A student’s digital portfolio can house any number of things—much of which could come from their project work—including but not limited to presentations, writing, photos, videos, social media links, bios, resumes, testimonials and more.

In addition to getting a site set-up as their ongoing portfolios, many are also encouraging all students to purchase a url or domain with their name. For a few dollars a year, we can all own some derivation of our name as a domain. Once a student has purchased a domain, they can point whatever free website building tool site to that url. I only bought mine a few years ago and wish I would have started earlier (

There are lots of reasons why all of us should purchase a domain for our name. See more info here:

Publish or Perish
It’s not enough to have a portfolio. We need to have students also become regular digital content creators.

One of the best ways to have students create quality content is to have all them create their own blog as well. Again, they have many free blog applications (Wordpress, Blogger (Google Apps.), etc. Like the website building applications, they have paid upgrades. But they are never necessary. Having a blog can serve many purposes. First, all students need to be writing and reflecting about their work. This provides opportunities for higher level thinking and as a means to document what we do. Second, blogs also allows us a means to share our story. All of us have a story, a journey if you will, that can now be shared with others in order to connect, collaborate, motivate, inspire and learn from one another. Finally, blogs also allow students and others to develop a positive and professional digital footprint and brand while pursuing areas of specialty and expertise.

But in addition to blogging, one can become a content creator in other ways too. Think about students who produce videos starting their own YouTube channel. It’s creating a Flickr account for all of your photos.

Personal Branding (Social Media)
Some of us in education have long been advocating for education to view Social Media as one of the new literacies. First, more and more colleges/universities, as well as employers, are looking at candidates’ social media profiles to make decisions about them. It can certainly be a problem if someone has lots of negative Social Media activity (profanity, racism, sexism, drugs and alcohol, sex). But I would argue that it’s also a problem if someone has no footprint whatsoever.

What do any of us get when we Google our names? Once we separate ourselves from our various same name global colleagues, what can the world find out about us online? Using Social Media as a vehicle to showcase any and all of our professional or academic work can support this idea of developing a positive digital footprint and being globally competitive. Students inherently view Social Media as primarily social. It’s our job, as educators, to show them the true, exponential power of Social Media as the Four C’s (Collaboration, Communication, Creativity and Critical Thinking).

One could argue that our social media activity is another form of our resume/portfolio. What if all students shared their best work on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and others? Indeed, not only would that be a hands-on way of developing digital literacy and citizenship, but also a way for people to drive other people to their work.

We are rapidly moving towards defining student success and readiness by skill development and mastery. Our students need to have skills, but also be able to demonstrate and articulate them. Through digital portfolio development, digital publishing and personal branding, they can.


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