The Virtual Studio: Strategies for Integrating E-Learning Portfolios at an Art and Design School


This presentation will discuss the development and implementation of an electronic learning portfolio (e-LP) we call “Workspace”. Our goal is to create a process-oriented platform where students reflect, curate, perform inquiry and make connections between individual course work and broader themes in their own learning and development. Using an e-LP to build reflective practices of learning is a well-established approach within text-based, liberal arts programs, but has few precedents in art and design education. This presentation aligns with the conference theme, "Teaching Making/Making Teaching", as it explores the ways in which our visually based “making” becomes part of reflective learning.


In this presentation, we will share methods we have developed to build reflective practice including writing prompts, directives for archiving studio process, and the use of digital tools like tagging and image curating. We will discuss initial case studies that assess the quality of reflection on the e-LP, considering the depth of content, links between course themes and projects, and evidence of student introspection. We will also have a broad discussion, with our fellow attendees, about the potential successes and challenges of using this kind of tool in an art and design context.


This presentation will discuss our work at Parsons School of Design to develop and implementing an electronic learning portfolio (e-LP- workspace). Student portfolios are typically used in schools of art and design to visually present final and best works. In contrast to this tradition, we have developed an online tool that is not meant to function like a traditional portfolio, instead, it is a process-oriented container, a place where students document their thinking and learning as they develop ideas. Our goal is to use this tool to facilitate internally facing reflective practices, as opposed to externally facing presentations. The introduction of the learning portfolio is part of an effort to foreground the thinking embedded in the design process.

Workspace has 4 emphases, or points of entry, that guide students and faculty in the effective adaptation of this tool. The first is the idea of inquiry, students are asked to make thoughtful observations and formulate forward-looking questions related to their own research projects ‐ How might decisions made in this project predict future learning or coursework I might want to do. The second is curation, students are asked to tell a story with the presentation and sequencing words and images ‐ How might my arrangement of images guide a viewer to see my design process. The third is reflection, students are asked to use Workspace to consider their own learning methods and results ‐ What part of this project had the steepest learning curve for me. And the last is Intra/ Extra Curricular Connections, where students use Workspace to build connections across courses and experiences and develop personal agency ‐ How does the work I did in my summer job help me understand the choices I make in my thesis work.

In the three years since launch, we have been pleased by the student success in using the tool as a digital sketchbook and a virtual studio visit for their faculty. In the words of a Parson's First Year student, "Critique is where I learn what other people think about my work. Workspace is where I learn what I think about my work." Through prompted reflection in Workspace students across Parsons are contemplating their own creative process and design approaches. Many faculty have found it an invaluable way to support reflective learning. Some have felt our approach to a “portfolio” counter-intuitive to the tradition of showing students’ best, most polished work. Instrumentally it is difficult to manage as we try to build accountability around a tool that follows students across their undergraduate experience, but must “land” in specific courses. In this presentation we will discuss the project as a whole, inclusive of the successes, challenges and all the interesting hurdles in between.