In the quest to find more authentic ways of measuring students’ progress than high stakes tests, many progressive educators use portfolios.

Many in education believe portfolios, compilations of student work, are the most appropriate method for documenting and assessing hands-on, project-based learning. The new federal Every Student Succeeds Act includes portfolios on its list of acceptable school assessment methods.

This week, educators are gathering in Pittsburgh to explore the potential of the method at the Open Portfolio Workshop, hosted by Maker Ed, in partnership with Remake Learning and IDeATe at Carnegie Mellon University.

Physical and digital portfolios are important steps in rethinking how we “capture” student learning, according to Maker Ed, a nonprofit maker education organization. But they’re not the end of the road, the group believes.

Learners achieve best when their learning is reinforced in, and connected across, multiple settings.

The scientists and educators at Maker Ed think the current portfolio systems don’t live up to their potential, largely due to a “general lack of openness.” Portfolios and their contents are often isolated at a school, inaccessible when the student produces something in an extra-curricular program, and lost forever when the student graduates.

And that lack of openness is missing the point of creating a portfolio in the first place, they say.

“We know that learners achieve best when their learning is reinforced in, and connected across, multiple settings,” write Indiana University scholars Christian McKay, Anna Keune, and Kylie Pepper, and Maker Ed staff members Stephanie Chang and Lisa Regalla in a research brief.

Embracing the theory of connected learning, Maker Ed has proposed a new way to create and share portfolios. Through The Open Portfolio Project, Maker Ed works to develop a portfolio system that is seamlessly integrated among learning settings, is shareable, and is accessible across all digital devices. Such a system would use a platform that doubles as a social network where learners and educators could share resources and creations. Admissions officers, employers, artists, producers, and the curious could stumble on anyone’s portfolio.

There are parallels between open portfolios and open badges, digital representations of a skill or achievement (think Boy Scout badges). Both approaches attempt to document formal and informal learning, on a platform that students and adults in their communities can access from home, school, or work.

Open portfolios offer novel opportunities for creativity and design

This week’s free Open Portfolio Workshop gives educators the chance to roll up their sleeves and share ideas about the use of open portfolios for learning and assessment. The event focuses on the role of portfolios in college and career pathways. The “open” part is meant to ensure that portfolios will be viewable by college admissions officers or hiring managers down the line. Especially for those students who don’t excel in traditional learning settings—or for those who have simply worked on a cool personal project at home or at the library—an open portfolio can capture more of their informal learning, showing it off to the people who want to know about it.

Portfolios, according to Maker Ed, aren’t just good venues for showcasing student work after the fact. The process of creating a portfolio has value itself—the process of “reflecting on one’s work, curating what’s most appropriate for the intended audience, and designing an artifact to articulate that evolution of learning and making.”

Open portfolios allow students to experiment with presentation, digital media, and narrative, write the Indiana University and Maker Ed authors. These collections are not merely digital versions of file drawers or art galleries, but novel opportunities for creativity and design—to show the personality and intelligence of the creators in new and engaging ways.