Vicki Suter

Discovering the power of good questions

Does a garden work as a metaphor for how and why a portfolio matters?

Metaphors are such important things – they tell a rich story with meaning we couldn’t convey any other way.

So, I’ve been working away at a metaphor that reflects my understanding about what matters about a portfolio. At 3:30 AM I gave up and got out of bed – I woke up thinking about portfolio metaphors, and how metaphors like archive and museum weren’t working for me and why. I need the following attributes for a successful metaphor-that the metaphor reflects making, doing, sharing, consuming, digesting, being. A common characteristic of these is that they are actions. Metaphors that are focused on things aren’t active enough for me. An artifact represents learning that has occurred and will occur, but the meaning is carried in the learner, not in a static artifact. The powerful artifacts are those have potential, that are alive with the possibility for understanding and learning more. Perhaps they are also representations of an event, but even then, when we revisit them, we are re-creating *and* extending learning and meaning-making in the act of engagement. For me, the closest metaphor for what matters about a portfolio is a metaphor of a space, designed not only for containing  things but also for doing.

A good example of this (not exactly what I’m suggesting, just to explain further) is gardening, cooking and eating. The garden is a space where potential and energy is captured and contained – in, for example, a green pepper. I’ve made the bed, and planted the plant, which, from my work and from the sun, soil, and environment with which I have interacted (and actually, am one part of), creates food. A green pepper could be considered an artifact, and the meaning of the artifact is in what I have done to create it, and what its potential is for further action. I take the green pepper into the kitchen, which is a space designed for more making and doing. There are things there – tools and other ingredients (which may also be things that I have made – like a rich broth, for example). The potatoes are there, the spoons and forks and knives are there, the stove is there. And maybe I make a soup with the green pepper and other ingredients (artifacts). The soup is not meaningful in and of itself – the meaning, again, is in what has occurred (I cooked it, ideally in collaboration with others),and its potential use – we’re going to eat (consume) it. And, since eating is really, in its most healthy form, a social activity (we “share a meal”), there are other people who sit down to the meal, and consume it together, and add additional meaning to the event, which becomes, in its own way, a small celebration of all that we’ve done up to that point, to create that activity (and someone takes a picture of us all sitting at the table – another artifact). This metaphor has all of the attributes I need – making, doing, sharing, consuming, digesting, being. And another very important attribute – pleasure.

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This entry was posted on April 6, 2013 by in ePortfolios, Learning, Technology and tagged , .
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