LinkedIn or a printed resume gives a simple, bloodless recitation of names, dates, and places.
But when you walk into an office you get a rich, three-dimensional sense of someone as a person and professional: where they’ve been and where they’re headed. There’s framed diplomas and awards, photos of babies and dogs, maybe a “brag wall” featuring grip and grins with various luminaries. Current projects are represented by sketches, blueprints, pasteups, piles of files, or Post-its. There may be inspirational quotes, a mood board, law books, scholarly journals, or well-thumbed business tomes. In a pinch you could probably make a hiring decision based on a detailed inspection of someone’s cube.
Pathbrite, a one-year-old startup, aims to re-create that feeling of being in someone’s office. It’s a simple and intuitive site for creating portfolios. To show me how it works, founder Heather Hiles pulls up her own page. It’s got her CV and diploma, a family photo of her with her single mom, and visual highlights from a 20-year career in K-12 through adult education, including position papers written for Gavin Newsom as the San Francisco school board commissioner, press coverage, and photos with Barack and Michelle Obama, being honored as the founder of SF Works, a job training program that helped 5,000 women get off welfare.
Pathbrite integrates all kinds of media, from diplomas and Khan Academy badges to official ACT test scores to video, audio, and photos, with written commentary. It’s shareable and updatable from anywhere. None of this is particularly groundbreaking in the world of web apps, but it is in the world of education apps–and that was the big problem, says Hiles.
“I learned about e-portfolios three years ago,” she says. “They have been proven through longitudinal studies to improve course passing rates, writing, and metacognition, by continuously prompting people to reflect and curate their accomplishments. When I saw this technology, I thought, why don’t we have portfolios in higher ed? Well, the top 10 e-portfolio products for education all sucked. They were kludgy and boring. So we decided we were going to make a Web 2.0 e-portfolio.” Hiles, a lifelong social entrepreneur, taught herself enough code to hack together the alpha product.
After launching a year ago at South by Southwest, Pathbrite went after the higher education market, but started getting besieged by requests from K-12 schools. They currently have 100 schools using the product ranging from Stanford, their first customer, to high-needs charter schools in California.
Starting this April, Tina Seelig, renowned professor of creativity at the Stanford d.school, as well as professors from Stanford’s engineering and education departments, will be creating courses using their new web-based tool, Pathbrite for Educators.
“By exposing our product in the classroom first, teachers and students can engage together over the profiles students are building–what are you learning? Let me give you some guidance. Over time they can build to a capstone that shows what you got out of this degree program or class.”
Eighty percent of teens use social networking sites, and half are on them at least once a day. What if some of all that time they dedicate to building profiles, carefully curating their online lives, could be building toward developing a passion and purpose?
“What I get jazzed about is putting the best technology in the hands of underserved people,” Hiles says. “When Latonya from Richmond High who usually gets shit for instruction can be benchmarking herself against people from Stanford, and learning what it takes to be a reporter for Fast Company–it’s visual and tangible for her. She can see it and go to it. “
It was the classroom experience that led Pathbrite to develop Pathbrite for Educators. The tool makes it easier than ever to teach a project-based course by creating a template with rubrics and assignments for students to populate with their own projects. Teachers can provide synchronized feedback while a course is live.
“We want to capture the hearts and minds of students at every age and be the tool they want to use for the rest of their lives,” Hiles says. “What you need to do to be fully self-actualized is tell your own story.”
[Image: Flickr user Tsuzuking24]