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A Web Portfolio Makes You Digital in a Wired World

Ann Leer’s Masters of the Wired World (1999) is a blockbuster compilation chronicling the global information society as exalted by today’s most compel- ling information science gurus. In his web design lesson, Being Digital in the Wired World, MIT Media Lab Director, Nicholas Negroponte wrote that:  Being digital has three physiological effects on the shape of our world. It decentralizes, flattens, and makes things bigger and smaller at the same time.


Because bits have no size, shape, or color, we tend not to consider them in any morphical sense. However, just as lifts have changed the shape of buildings, and cars have changed the shape of cities, bits will change the shape of organizations-be they companies, nations, or social struc- tures. As medium, tool, and skill that “makes you digital”, Web portfolios exemplify Professor Negroponte’s statement on the three physiological effects being digital has on our world. Web portfolios and their integration into the appear- ance and voice of the new millennium knowledge worker are decentralizing the structure of organizations that have had traditional roots based on prescribed, time honored standards, untarnished by the evil pitfalls and obstacles of technology and new media.


One such institution is the K-12 education system. This system now institutes a teacher portfolio requirement. That portfolio requirement was previously built on using traditional media to create a two dimensional portfolio web design tutorial. Now, the movement in education is to document learning and illustrate vocational expertise by having teachers create Web portfolios, rather than print portfolios that are used for assessment, reflection, and validation. Teachers now have to become digital. How will they do it? Web portfolios are the answer. For the teacher, the Web portfolio will as Negroponte says decentralize, flatten, and make things bigger and smaller at the same time. One of the things he is referring to is reach and proximity for effective communication. This is seen in the ability of teachers to communicate with potential schools anywhere in the world and show off their talents, a viable reach to a big community.


At the same time, locally, the Web portfolio will be used a barometer for the value of some ones abilities as a teacher who has progressed with professional development and is actively pursuing lifelong learning. As well, on the local or small scale, the Web portfolio is also a student portfolio that will provide a communication platform for others, eventually; students will spawn their own Web portfolio and begin to continue progression into a mature knowledge worker in the global information society. It may be true that a visually strong, content rich Web portfolio may help increase perceived knowledge worker value, thus building the competitive edge of someone in the information society.


The overall appearance presented by the Web portfolio may persuade a user and viewer over someone with more experience and a less than attractive or grounded Web portfolio. This may become an important factor in computer mediated human communication processes invoked by Web portfolios. Just as nonverbal communication factors such as appearance play a part in roles and behaviors portrayed by people in societal scenarios — symbolic interaction, human computer interaction with regard to Web portfo- lios may be seen as an important factor in the communication interaction between the user and the Web portfolio author. This connection occurs through the content, structure, and usability of the Web portfolio. The Web portfolios out in the global information society will find a new frontier of communities to gather in and then disperse.


Communities will be physical and digital, but will have common connection and common platform through the use of the Web portfolio. Yahoo Groups are an example of a community based portfolio system. People join groups that share common interests, fetishes, ideas, or things.


Each member of the group creates an identity and then shares limited content which is posted to a template design within a controlled environment that creates a mini-narrative about each member’s feelings on the group’s masthead topic. Web portfolios at grand scale will have similar induction into major Internet group depositories, except for the limited content and template design. The loss of appearance is very evident in Yahoo Groups and other similar environments. The creativity factor is low due to the limits and therefore the group environment is starving for content.


Chatting and photo exchange may be the most popular activities, but the real reflections and persuasive style that is shown in the unfiltered Web portfolio cannot be matched be online communities, they can only coexist, as the digital communities do with the physical communities. Again, Nicolas Negroponte (1999) describes the transformation this way: “It is hard to imagine that our highly structured and centralist world will morph into a planet full of loosely connected physical and digital communities, but it will” (Leer, 1999, p. 390). One of the most important evolutions of on line groups that will emerge will be the central use Web portfolios to communicat e, appear, and persuade other group members and people outside of the small group that makes up a niche Web portfolio community.


The communities will not discriminate. Everyone in the knowledge worker realm will have a Web portfolio. Eventually anyone who works will have a Web portfolio. Mechanics, doctors, lawyers, retail sales- people, and CEOs will all have Web portfolios in the future. And they will all congregate in communities that will loosely fit together to make a global information society. This statement is based upon Negroponte's ideas that “in the digital world, neighborhoods cease to be places, and become groups that evolve from shared interests” (Leer, 1999, p. 390). What this means is that this new form of localism found in the digital world will be shared and enhanced by the Web portfolio due to the abilities of the knowledge worker to get a portfolio up on the Web quickly and easily.


Templates and Web portfolio space are available for free, but the persuasion factors that are negatively affected are too vital to allow the appearance of the author to tolerate it — maybe. Who wants pop up windows jumping out every few minutes on their Web portfolio — and have no control over it? This type of annoying feature found on free or very cheap commercial Web portfolio sites does not persuade the user that a connection should be made in a work for hire situation or any situation.


The speed and efficiency that one can develop and publish a Web portfolio becomes a critical skill in the knowledge age. So as the knowledge worker evolves and his or her skills flourish, so will the Web portfolio and the communities that will evolve based on shared interests. In the future, groups of Web portfolios will be seen within varying contexts. But just the fact that you became digital by creating a Web portfolio to initiate work for hire or social identity communications, means that you become part of the group that looks at Web portfolios as highly important — the global information society. In which, you will establish an identity and maintain an appearance using a Web portfolio as you morph into digital existence and prominence in the wired world.


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