Getting Started with Digital Portfolios

Front page of one of our digital portfolios

The front page of one student’s digital portfolio.

This year I’m piloting digital portfolios with my M2 (grade 6) class. I noticed last year that there wasn’t a lot of communication between the Learning Support program and parents. There aren’t really grades, and there’s the occasional email, but more often than not, no work goes home. Most of the work that parents do see are the results scaffolding and specialized graphic organizers, and other supplements and complements to classroom instruction. Last year, in my first year in the position, with the help of my principal we added more transparency by creating learning plans for students that contained goals for the skills that would be addressed during the school year (I know, for those of you in public schools this is SOP, but it something that seems to be slowly becoming a part of international schools). I thought this was great, but I wanted to do more. Then I got connected to Matt Renwick through Twitter and his blog, and started reading his book Digital Student Portfolios. I decided to create digital portfolios that were primarily designed to show growth, but that could be used to showcase certain pieces of work or activities that students were particularly proud of. I wanted to use digital portfolios as an opportunity to create a dialogue with students and parents about growth, and to continue to build a culture of self-reflection for learning in my classroom.

The first challenge I faced was finding the right platform to use to create the digital portfolios. My school has a pretty strict “no use of 13 and over programs and apps by students under 13” policy, so Evernote, the platform Matt discusses in his book, was out. The school’s Tech Integrator and I discussed  Google Sites, Blogger (both part of our school’s Google Apps for Education subscription) or Weebly. I ended up dismissing Blogger because I wouldn’t be able to house several blogs on the same page, and I knew that teaching students how to effectively use tags would take a while. After making two sample portfolios, one in Weebly and one in Google Sites, I decided that Weebly would work best for my purposes and be easiest for the students to use.  So far, I would recommend this as a platform.

Benefits

  • Weebly is really easy to use. It’s uses a drag and drop system to add pictures, buttons, URLs, and HTML code. I even taught my students how to embed Google Docs in their Weebly blogs (something I had thought would be easier with Google Sites).
  • Not having the easy-embed function from Google Sites led to a mini-lesson on HTML, which the students seemed to enjoy.
  • The school’s educator account provides some measure of privacy and security for students. Their sites are password protected.
  • If students forget passwords, etc they are all managed by our Instructional Technology department.
  • It’s easy for students to personalize and make their own.
  • It’s easy to share with parents and for them to navigate.
  • Creating individual blogs for each goal allows us easily see progress on individual goals, and the most recent activity (that, I hope, represents the students’ current progress toward the goal) is at the top of the page.
  • The blog format allows me, their classroom teachers, their parents, and, if they choose, their peers, to comment on the work that they share and ask questions about it.

Drawbacks

  • Weebly is extremely customizable, which is a good thing. I want students to take ownership of their portfolios I had to get through a few classes of students playing around with the design of their website, which was OK, but often what they thought of as a “good design” made their message difficult to understand. I think the next time I do this, I need to spend a bit more time on the front end integrating instruction on how design can influence the audience’s ability to understand our message, maybe using specific websites (possibly even my own) as examples.
  • Although there is a way for the student and I to be co-owners of a Weebly site, the Tech Integrator and I haven’t been able to make it work yet. This is something that would have been much easier with Google Sites or with Blogger, but I think the ease of use more than makes up for this.
  • The one blog per goal set up makes it more difficult to use tags to see connections between assignments and activities that match up to multiple goals.
  • Next year, I need to do a better job reviewing the difference between personal online communication and professional online communication (particularly editing one’s work before posting it online–see the spelling error above).

Overall, I have been completely blown away by all the things that I could do with a digital portfolio that I wouldn’t have been able to do with a traditional portfolio. I had just assumed that a digital portfolio would be a substitution for a physical portfolio or it would be an augmentation, adding some functional improvement, but not significantly different from the physical version. I am, however, starting to see that digital portfolios are really modifications of traditional portfolios, allowing my students, their parents, and me to do things that weren’t possible with the original paper format. I’m excited to continue our work and I’ll keep you updated as I keep working with the students on building their portfolios.

Have you used digital portfolios? What have been your successes? Learning experiences?

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  1. Planning for Student Centered IEP Meetings - Samantha Mosher - June 2, 2015

    […] toward having students self-reflect more and take more responsibility for their own learning when I tried out digital portfolios with my M2 students this year. For me, the logical next step was to have students do a final […]

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