I love my Dad’s old army green filing cabinet. It’s a tank of memories. Thanks to Dad’s steady curating, I have my own little portfolio that marks moments and achievements from the moment I first held a pencil. I open it from time to time, a casual wandering backwards in time. It’s nothing fancy, but there are all kinds of narratives contained in that old filing cabinet. They tell stories of my journey as a learner.
My little folder of treasures is valuable to me, but I would guess I’m its only audience. It’s also spotty. There are bits and pieces that patch together a story, to be sure, but there are stretches of inconsistency. My filing cabinet portfolio is filled with mostly products or marks or records of achievements, though there are also everyday snapshots of writing and thank you notes and letters to Grandma.
While I’m glad for the memories and the narrative told in the pages of this portfolio, today we have the opportunity to create something far more powerful with our students. Digital portfolios are an incredible response to the challenge of helping students establish a positive digital identity. There are countless examples of the long-term destruction caused by poor decisions made online. Mistakes made online have a permanence that can affect a person’s reputation, candidacy for jobs and admission into university. A well-curated digital portfolio that spans a person’s educational journey has the potential to just the opposite, establishing a positive online presence for students.
Digital portfolios are authentic examples of student-owned learning. They also have the potential to transform the practice of learning and assessment in the classroom. In the end, the conversation around student learning starts with the learner, rather than the evaluator: a powerful shift. Vicky Davis (@coolcatteacher) identifies two types of portfolios: the “showcase” model, and the second, the “process” model. The showcase approach is positivist in nature, emphasizing the final products created by students, while the process approach stems from constructivism, highlighting the process of student learning. The showcase model is a portfolio for learning, while the process model is a portfolio as learning. Holly Clark adds a third approach, the “hybrid” model. True to its name, the hybrid emphasizes a blend of both the learner’s product and process.
Digital portfolios have the potential to build key skills such as reflection and metacognition of both the learning process and the final product. George Couros explains that portfolios make a student’s learning visible, but can also document the journey of learning from others. Portfolios can curate and critique the bits and pieces gathered from what is learned online from others. This dimension adds another layer of richness to the narrative shared in a digital portfolio, sharing a student’s growth as a creator and a critical thinker over time. Couros also shares how portfolios give students an opportunity not only to collect “stuff” online, but develop their own personal voice over time.
There are a handful of essentials to remember when creating digital portfolios with students. Couros points to the importance of student ownership of portfolios. Where is the portfolio hosted? Will it continue to be accessible to students for years to come? Student portfolios should be owned by students. Clark, in a second article on “The How (and Why) It’s Time to Create Student Portfolios”, mentions the possibility of students returning to archived work from earlier years, remixing and recreating. The longevity of the portfolio’s online presence must be prioritized for students to have the opportunity to work with previously created works. In Davis’ “11 Essentials for Excellent Portfolios”, she also emphasizes the importance of an audience for students creating portfolios.
There are many options for getting started with digital portfolios in your classroom. Evernote or OneNote are great options for curating learning from others, while blogging sites such as Edublogs or Kidblog are excellent choices for using blogs as a space for hosting digital portfolios. ThreeRing and Class Seesaw (it’s free and so user-friendly!) are also easy-to-use platforms for creating portfolios.
I have attempted digital portfolios in past years, but I can see why the attempts haven’t lived up to the potential of portfolios described by Couros, Davis and Clark. For starters, we lacked an audience. While we had a great platform on Edublogs, I was not permitted to share the blogs without a password. This made it difficult to expand the audience and thus, the feedback my students could receive. With access to a wider audience, I believe levels of investment would have been higher. Another challenge was that their blogs, and portfolios, only lasted while they were in my class. To experience the true potential of digital portfolios, I think it would need to be a system-wide approach with consistency from school to school and classroom to classroom.
I have been blogging for almost a dozen years now, and I love that I have now left a trail of reflections and memories online. From my very first days of life in China to sharing my journey as a teacher in Hong Kong, I can easily turn back the pages on many chapters of my life because of these portfolio-like blogs. Blogs are places of learning and reflection! While my blogs are hosted in a couple different locations, each is still accessible. I would love to see if I could gather all of my writing in one place. I also have a long trail of my work as a teacher, evidenced in my classroom blogs and my professional blog. These archives of planning, learning and showcasing of student work are useful to me on a daily basis!
I’ve also thought it was valuable to create a narrative of student learning, but until ECI832, I hadn’t considered the important role of the portfolio in helping to build a student’s digital identity. Creating a platform for my students to have online portfolios is one goal I will take with me from this class!
Do your students have digital portfolios? If so, which platform do you use, and why? What are some of the challenges you have experienced using portfolios?