Student Life | The independent newspaper of Washington University in St. Louis since 1878

University continues to press Portfolio to mixed reception

Michael Tabb | Student Life

If you haven’t heard of Portfolio, you’re not alone.

Administrators continue to push Portfolio despite significant apprehension by undergraduates over adopting the website instead of more established social networks that can promote their student groups.

Portfolio, a diary for individual students and a social network- and Google Docs-equivalent for student groups, went online this past fall after years of development.

But even after a campaign to promote the tool among freshmen, many are not aware of its existence and others rarely log on, leading many group leaders who have been told to use the website to doubt its value moving forward.

“I’m encouraging our webmaster to update our page, tell a little bit more about our activities, what we are doing,” junior Neha Kumar, president of the International Pre-Health Society, said, “but I’ve gotten a sense from the freshmen on our exec board that they don’t really have an idea of what Portfolio is, that [next year’s] freshmen probably won’t look at the page, so I want to make sure that it’s worthwhile before our webmaster spends time on it.”

Washington University has put significant energy into developing and marketing Portfolio, having Student Union move its group directory onto Portfolio and requiring each student group to register in order to participate in the activities fair. The First Year Center advertises Portfolio to incoming freshmen by placing the site on its move-in checklist. Resident advisors and Washington University Student Associates record “experiences” as a part of their training. The administration has also sent numerous all-student emails, hung posters in the Danforth University Center and tabled at Tuesday Tea @ 3.

The site was originally intended to help students by providing them with a record of activities and achievements, which they can refer back to when applying for jobs or internships. Anna Warbelow, Portfolio’s coordinator, says that academic and Career Center advisors have been pointing students toward Portfolio as well. The social networking aspect appeared by accident.

“It really was supposed to be just this place to record experiences,” Warbelow explained. “But, when we bought the product, we realized it can do a whole lot for group management. In a lot of ways, I think that the product does [group management] better than experience recording.”

Michael Tabb | Student Life
According to Warbelow, 4,395 students are members of one or more organizations in Portfolio, excluding the undergraduate class-year group in which all students are enrolled. 1,572 have registered an experience. But most students are not active members on Portfolio and are simply on the roster of their group’s Portfolio page.

“Honestly, I’ve never heard of Portfolio. I couldn’t tell you what it is,” freshman Max Yanowitz said.

His level of awareness was not uncommon. Student Life surveyed 91 students about their experiences with the site, and 56 said they had never used it. Most who had were student group leaders, and the main reason users cited for embracing the website was because someone had told them to.

Among those who were familiar with Portfolio, reviews were mixed.

One anonymous survey respondent wrote, “As a student group leader, I don’t really like it. At all. I think it may have attracted students to join clubs at the beginning of the year, but now I sometimes get requests from random students that have never gone to a single event/meeting.” Another said, “I literally only use it because I’m forced to use it to sign up for the Activities’ Fair.”

That isn’t to say that organizations have not found Portfolio useful. Synapse, the neuroscience club, uses Portfolio to take attendance at its meetings via card readers linked to the website. It also uses Portfolio to record the community service hours of its members.  Campus leadership organizations have also taken to using Portfolio, requiring participants and staff to record their experiences using the software. Alpha Epsilon Phi used Portfolio to conduct its most recent election. Junior Class Council uses Portfolio to keep minutes of its meetings as a part of its effort to go paperless.

Part of Portfolio’s draw lies in its Event Builder, which allows student organizers to access the forms they need as they build their events. In organizing this semester’s 5-kilometer race, Take Steps for Kids Running Project was able to get all its forms digitally, saving it the trouble of going to several University offices to get the forms required to hold a road race on campus.

Senior Brian Lebow, president of Take Steps For Kids, said that while Portfolio was beneficial, one problem with Event Builder is that he needed to submit the forms in a particular order, finishing each one before moving to the next. But the website didn’t store its forms in a convenient location, so every time he exited the website, he had to spend significant time finding them again, ultimately slowing down the process.

“It’s a better concept than we’ve had in the past. It just needs a little bit of fine-tuning with certain features,” Lebow said.

SU’s close connection with Portfolio is not positive for all student groups.

“It’s frustrating that only SU-approved groups can create Portfolio pages since there are many very active groups on campus that do not yet have SU recognition,” one anonymous survey-taker wrote.

“My group is not sponsored by SU,” another added. “When we tried to register for the activities fair the past two semesters, we had difficulties getting in because of Portfolio issues. We ended up getting a very small table, and it was annoying. I understand what you are trying to do with Portfolio, but I feel that it hurts small groups.”

Senior and SU president Matt Re believes that Portfolio’s capability to capture event attendance with ID card swipes is useful but said that card-reading’s true strength lies in its ability to link with data of attendees.

“WU-SLam, if they want to in the future, could swipe everyone’s ID card as they’re coming in, then send out an e-mail after the event saying, ‘Who’s your favorite performer?’” Re said as an example.

Barbara Braun, director of Student Technology Services, sees Portfolio’s potential to lie in its role as an archive for the memories of the student body.

“Dean [James] McLeod was always saying that students are known by their name and their story,” she said. “[Portfolio] is a way to capture your story.”

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Student Life | The independent newspaper of Washington University in St. Louis since 1878