All Smiles with Heather Hiles

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero

Heather Hiles CEO of PathbriteThere’s been a fair amount of press covering Heather Hiles and Pathbrite — the savvy CEO of the digital portfolio technology company. After all, she’s been in the education sector for over twenty years, she was Executive Director of Silicon Valley Social Venture Fund, she’s been a Commissioner of the San Francisco Unified School District, and now she’s raised more than $4 million for San Francisco-based Pathbrite, which recently announced a partnership with Pearson eCollege and their LearningStudio to reach more than nine million students each year (thus the recent coverage). Here we talk with Heather directly for a few moments and ask her what a digital portfolio company is, a little bit more about her formative experiences and where she thinks the future of learning may be headed.

Victor: Why’d you create Pathbrite?

Heather: Because I wanted to help millions of learners – of all ages – around the world to become self-actualized and realize their own educational and professional goals. I believe Pathbrite portfolios are the mechanism for doing so.

Victor: What’s in the name?

Pathbrite logoHeather: Pathbrite Portfolios help illuminate each individuals’ unique past and future paths of achievement, knowledge, experience and growth.

Victor: What is it? Who created it?

Heather: Pathbrite is a SaaS-based, portable portfolio platform. It enables learners of all ages to collect, reflect upon, curate and showcase all of the digital evidence and content of what they have created and achieved.   

Victor: What does it do? What are the benefits?

Pathbrite image1Heather: Pathbrite provides a repository that allows users to own all of the data and artifacts that they place into the application, and always have access to it for free. Pathbrite portfolios improve course passage rates, writing proficiencies, critical thinking and meta-cognition. Pathbrite allows users to showcase their knowledge, achievements and reflections to teachers, counselors, parents, mentors, admissions offices and employers.  Our goal is for Pathbrite to help users analyze knowledge graph data within their accounts to help teachers and educators optimize future outcomes.

Victor: How is it unique from other similar products and services? What companies do you see as in the same market?  

Heather: Creative Portfolios:  / Dribbble / Behance
Pathbrite provides users with a beautiful user-interface that is an experience and knowledge-oriented portfolio platform, built for all ages of learners, rather than just creatives.

Traditional ePortfolios: TaskStream / Digication / Epsilin
Pathbrite is learner-focused rather than institution-oriented. Pathbrite applies cutting-edge multi-platform technologies and UI design to improve the experience for all stakeholders.

Victor: When was it developed? Could you talk about its development history?

Heather: Pathbrite was founded in January 2012, launched March 2012 and introduced its platform for schools, educators and students in June 2012. Pathbrite was rebuilt after our alpha product, rrripple, was validated in the marketplace.

Victor: Where did it originate? Where can you get it now?

Heather: Our beta schools sites include Stanford University and Leadership Public Schools in Oakland, Calif. You can go to and create a portfolio account free of charge. Educators can create courses and grant access to student for a low fee.

Victor: How much does it cost? What are the options?

Heather: As I mentioned, our Basic portfolio account will always be free. Pathbrite for Educators that allows teachers to attach assignments, portfolios exemplars, create templates and score student work. To access Courses each student pays $10 for one academic year and to rights to an unlimited number of Courses at their institution.

Victor: What are some examples of it in action?

Heather: Stanford University is currently using Pathbrite along with its new iStanford for iPad application. The app allows Stanford students to use multimedia to showcase and communicate experiences, make connections across formal and informal contexts outside the classroom, and promote personal ownership and responsibility for their ‘learning career’ while at the university or when applying to employment opportunities.

Victor: Who is it particularly tailored for? Who is it not for?

Heather: Pathbrite is tailored for digital native students who need a platform to curate their online lives along with evidence of their learning and achievements. It’s also tailored for educators who are looking for an alternative form of student assessment that engages students and improves learning outcomes. Pathbrite is not for users committed to the old guard institutional education technology used for reporting test scores and student tracking.

Victor: What are your thoughts on education these days?

Heather: Too much education is doing the same old stuff. Too much Education Technology is teaching specific hard skills. Not enough data is helping people learn better. Not enough student owned data is in the hands of the student and/or parents.

Victor: What sort of formative experiences in your own education helped to inform your approach to creating Pathbrite?

Heather: I am a very independent thinker. At UC Berkeley, I had a multi-disciplinary major and got to define my own education inside. I began taking classes from departments ranging from geography, to economics, to statistics to political science. Outside of the classroom I experienced a summer semester abroad in Nigeria and got experience in the classroom in my after-school job tutoring K-3rd graders.

Victor: How does Pathbrite address some of your concerns about education?

Heather: We encourage and facilitate learners to define, own and master their own education, learning experiences and knowledge. We also expose them to things they didn’t know about themselves. We provide teachers, counselors and mentors more holistic and complete insights in the students learning styles and passions.

Victor: What is your outlook on the future of education?

Heather: I am hopeful. We can start by doing more innovative BIG PICTURE work.

Victor: Got any funny stories?

Heather: In our one-big-room office in San Francisco, we have a brown leather punching bag hanging that one of my angel investors gave me to release stress [smiles].

Victor: What else can you tell educators and other leaders in and around education about the value of Pathbrite?

Heather: Pathbrite is a continuation of my 25-year long career working to help learners of all ages achieve their educational and professional goals. I’ll never stop as long as I’m alive. As Pathbrite spreads across academic institutions throughout the country, I look forward to seeing educators achieve this very same goal in their careers.


  1. I find that the Pathrbite user experience, process, and openess to all sources of evidence of achievement, sets their eportfolio apart, for the better, from all other eportfolio products.

  2. You might have asked about that relationship with ePearson. Concurrent with this (apparently) open system, which has got to have all sorts of confidentiality constraints she also does not mention, the ePearson “ePortfolio” for teachers has led to a massive rebellion – at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, and in New York and other key jurisdictions. She may pass off her approach as an excellent alternative to standardized tests (and, in fact, it is) but she’s now a part of the largest vendor of the most expensive, distracting, and least valid testing system in the nation. It would be … interesting … to see how she puts those initiatives together. From the outside, it appears only that Pearson wants to create – or, rather, validate – a monopoly, and then to raise fees and income for its bosses and investors once that monopoly is established across both testing and anti-testing platforms.
    It would also be … decent if not breakthrough journalism for you to contrast open systems like or wiki or any of several others with proprietary programs like Pathbrite and it’s competitors. What is the return on the consumer’s investment when an open system offers the adaptability to tailor formats to school, student, career, and college needs. Finally, how many colleges and high schools use this, and how different is their use? The Pathbrite site has some examples, but they don’t vary a great deal in format or approach in spite of the apparent open system their tutorial describes.

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