Foliotek Blog

New Foundation

Just as a house built on prime real estate needs to be remodeled once in a while to make improvements and keep up with the visual aesthetics of the time, so do software applications. At Foliotek, we take pride in working with educators to build and promote project based learning, and have been doing so for almost 15 years. During that time, Foliotek’s products have gone through two major visual (skin) changes, the latest of which has lasted for over seven years. This is quite an accomplishment considering most web based applications are visually re-made every two years.

As we reflect on the foundational structure used to build Foliotek’s last skin, it is clear that focusing on visual simplicity, clean lines, and whitespace allowed Foliotek to thrive in an otherwise changing environment. Recognizing that success, we began planning for the next re-skinning of the application. We wanted to maintain those previous, successful elements while laying the foundation for implementing new technological enhancements that have come to the market over the past few years.

The overall objective for a new skin on Foliotek was to adhere to clean, simple design principles and not drastically alter any current system functionality. This re-skin project will give moderate improvement to the current visual state of Foliotek. Although, more importantly, it will lay the technological groundwork for future functional changes that could dramatically improve how users interact with the application. We have already analyzed user interaction with Foliotek in a variety of ways and have learned about certain processes that could benefit from a retooling. However, before we can begin to make larger alterations to application functionality, we need to build a new visual infrastructure that could better accommodate these improvements. This meant the re-skinning of every page of the application. Hence, Foliotek’s new foundation.

Below are some images of what the new skin will look like. Take the time to thumb through them and give us your feedback.


ePortfolios Made Easy

At Foliotek, we have been eating, sleeping, and dreaming about eportfolios for more than ten years. During that time, we have seen the dynamics that surround eportfolio pedagogy evolve. This has been a natural result of more people hearing about and experiencing the benefits the eportfolio affords. Both the process of building an eportfolio and the end product are very powerful tools for learning and showcasing knowledge, skills, and competencies. From high stakes assessment for industry credentialing, to the college-to-career transition, eportfolios are a versatile and powerful tool. Obviously, the process of evolution involves change; and change is a predominant theme in how eportfolios have been, and are now being, used. However, one thing has remained consistent: ePortfolios are not easy to build.

Well, that is about to change. Welcome the new addition, Foliotek Projects, as we like to refer to them, baby eportfolios (ohh… look at them, aren’t they so cute).

This week we have introduced a new feature into the Foliotek platform, a foundational concept that will be the driving force in our future development. Projects are a new way for a person to quickly create content upon which they can reflect and showcase for any purpose. Let me elaborate.

Simple ePortfolio Project 03Simple ePortfolio Project 02Simple ePortfolio Project 01
One of the greatest challenges of eportfolio practice is what I refer to as “blank page paralysis.” Meaning, I’m looking at this blank page, what do I put on it? With the introduction of projects, there is no more blank page paralysis. Instead of the overwhelming task of filling an entire eportfolio, you simply work on one project at a time. We all have projects we have done that demonstrate our skills, knowledge, and competencies. Projects, in Foliotek, allow you to take those discrete data points, neatly package them, and present them in a visibly appealing way. This allows you to focus on the meta aspects of your project and baby step your way into the development of your complete eportfolio content.

Why be overwhelmed with the entire process of building an extensive eportfolio, when all you need to do is focus on one thing at a time.

Foliotek projects are going to allow you to give concentrated effort on easily gathering and presenting the artifacts as they pertain to an individual piece of work. Projects will allow you to connect your work with skills and competencies as well as write descriptive reflections related to your journey. Ultimately, projects will be used in assessments, for collaborative work, and shared privately and/or publicly. With* each project you add, the richer your eportfolio becomes*; only you don’t have to stare at a blank page and figure out what to write. Focusing on one thing at a time will allow that work to naturally occur.

Geoff on g+

Turn the Tables

Cognitive bias — do you know what that is?  It happens to be another superficial, behavioral, psychological effect that we all fall prey to. Cognitive bias put simply is this, if your first impression of something is ‘x’ then you will inadvertently look for evidence that supports your first impression. Why?  Because as humans, we don’t like to be wrong.

Let me frame this in relation to your eportfolio. If you share your eportfolio with a potential employer and they quickly form a positive opinion from your first page, as they take the time to read through the rest of your eportfolio, they are going to be looking for evidence to support their first impression. Put another way, if they like what they see, then they’ll work hard to try to find evidence that backs up what they initially believed to be true.

This is a powerful behavioral effect that can help leapfrog you to the front of the employer’s short list of potential hires. Think about it. If the first page of your eportfolio is simple, clean, and effective at communicating the most relevant information, that potential employer is going to quickly form a positive opinion of you. Then, instead of looking for reasons not to bring you in for an interview, they are going to be looking for all the reasons to bring you in for an interview.

Hiring managers today, as they look through resumes and eportfolios, aren’t looking for reasons to include people, they are looking for reasons to exclude people. But with the right first impression, cognitive bias is going to turn the tables in your favor. All of a sudden, because of your eportfolio’s well-organized, visually-stimulating design, that hiring manager is working to keep you on the list instead of looking to exclude you.

Remember, design matters. It matters because we formulate opinions in a ridiculously short amount of time and our eyes are the fastest way we can digest information. Well, actually they are second to our olfactory senses, but eportfolios don’t smell. So take special care to consider what your eportfolio looks like and you’ll have all of those superficial, behavioral, psychological effects working in your favor.

Geoff on g+

First Impressions

Do you think visual first impressions don’t matter? Do you feel the content *of your eportfolio is *more important than the initial, instinctive reaction to the visual aesthetics?  Well, I’m sorry to say, you’re wrong. Research shows that people draw a positive or negative impression of your eportfolio within the first 50 milliseconds. Add to that the “Halo Effect“ I discussed in my last post, and you have the potential for someone to think you are amazing, or a loser, faster than you can blink.

So what does this mean for the design of your eportfolio?  It means it better look good.  And the primary method to make a beautiful visual eportfolio wrapper is — simplicity.  If people are able to make an instinctive conclusion about who you are based on their first 50 millisecond reaction to your eportfolio, then what they see needs to be simple and draw them in.  Here is what I suggest.

You’ve heard the term K.I.S.S. before (Keep It Simple Stupid).  That’s precisely what the first page of your eportfolio should be.  If you get the first page right, then you have a chance of keeping their attention and feeding them the information you want to them read in the rest of your eportfolio. This is tied to “Cognitive Bias“. More on that in the coming weeks. So, let’s look at some tips for optimizing your first page for 50 millisecond success.

  • Keep the text of the page to a minimum
    If you are in love with words and feel they are your primary means of expression, then fill the rest of your eportfolio with words. The first page should be paired down to the bare essentials. Maybe 250 words or less.
  • Structure your text
    People are able to absorb information better when it is placed in a hierarchy of some kind. Use short bullet points, if necessary, and bold the words that help people digest the content as quickly as possible.
  • *You like pictures? Then pick your favorite one and don’t add any more. *
    The use of an eye catching image is a very powerful way to grab the audience’s attention. But be careful to choose an image that fits in with your design; you certainly don’t want that primary image competing with the other important elements on your main page.
  • Layout matters.
    People read from left to right, top to bottom. Often times it is in the shape of an ‘F’. Make sure the most important attention grabber is in the top left corner of the screen.
  • *Organization is very important. *
    Think carefully about the content you are displaying and organize it in a way that helps the user consume it. Don’t force them to figure out what you are trying to say, your content should draw them in without forcing them to understand your unique way of thinking.

50 milliseconds is crazy fast. If you are using your eportfolio as a supplement to your resume, or as your resume itself, then spend the time to ensure the first page of your eportfolio is perfect. If it is, then that potential employer is going to like what they see, read more, and believe you are better than the rest of the candidates. Good luck.

Geoff on g+

Why Design Matters

So, does design really matter? Is it worth a few extra hours to think carefully about the visual aspects of the content you publish online? Maybe. Let’s take a look at what basic behavioral psychology has taught us about superficial tendencies related to a visual stimulus.

Maybe you remember Psych 101 back in college? I certainly do. My professor, Mr. Krull (not a full professor yet, hence no ‘Dr.’, that’s another story entirely), was an exceptional teacher; a bit of a rarity at an academic institution where so much emphasis is placed on “publish or perish”. Because Mr. Krull was such an amazing teacher, I can clearly remember our discussion of the “Halo Effect“. It is one of the rare gems I actually pulled from my $60,000 education; possibly because it simply made sense (something I’ve always thought about behavioral psychology).

The “Halo Effect“ is this: if you find something attractive about someone, you will naturally attribute other unsubstantiated positive attributes to that person. So, for example, if you find someone at a party attractive, then you might also think they are respectable and generous; even though you have no evidence from which to draw that conclusion. Because they are attractive, you simply assume they are respectable and generous. It’s a bit depressing to think that our natural state is so superficial. But, instead of dwelling on the negative, why don’t we flip it and make it a positive.

Lets look at how you can make this not so “warm and fuzzy” fact apply to your online content (eportfolio). Take a moment and reflect on it. How does the information in your eportfolio look? Is it well organized, visually appealing, even attractive? Is it possible that Halo Effect principles also apply to the online, visual representation of you in your eportfolio? If you took the time to present your information well, wouldn’t the audience absorbing that information draw conclusions about you that you never presented in your artifacts? Now, giving consideration to the Halo Effect, isn’t it possible that those viewing your content could decide, because they find your content attractive, that you have many other positive characteristics that aren’t overtly demonstrated in your eportfolio? Yes, of course, it’s completely possible. Because of this superficial tendency, if your eportfolio is presented well, the audience viewing it will draw unsubstantiated conclusions about you. Wouldn’t you want those to be positive unsubstantiated conclusions?

Taking the time to visually improve how you are representing yourself online, will pay dividends in the future. The Halo Effect is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the powerful effects of visually stimulating artifacts. There is more research on this topic than you can shake your finger at, so sit tight – there’s more to come!

Geoff on g+