Exploring the Potential of Digital Portfolios
A MiddleWeb Blog
This “progress” monitoring involves collecting and collating lots of artifacts. Every other year, during our summative evaluation cycle, we have to turn in a binder of materials that shows how our work has aligned to four main strands of our state’s expectations of teachers.
This year, I am moving away from the overstuffed three-ring binders and into the realm of a digital content management. Both my professional learning goal and my student learning goals center on developing and piloting a system of digital writing portfolios for myself and for my sixth graders.
I have done quite a bit of exploration this year, trying to gather a rationale for moving into digital archiving of work and finding ways to make this happen in as manageable a process as possible.
Student portfolios with shelf life
As I write this post, my students have been writing and reflecting all year in their Google Apps for Education accounts. They have nearly 25 pieces of writing to consider, and we still have poetry and argumentative writing to get to before the school year ends in mid-June.
From this array of writing, they will be choosing five pieces from which to build a digital portfolio website, complete with reflections. This will be shared not just with me, but also with family and (this is where I am most intrigued) with teachers in the middle school and high school in years to come.
You see, while they are starting a digital portfolio this year with me, my larger aim is to have them collect work for the next six years through middle and high school, so that when they graduate, they’ll have an amazingly rich archive of writing and learning over time – all within their Google accounts – which they can then export upon graduation and take with them as they move into college or life beyond high school. (I’ll be writing more about this phase of the project in my next Working Draft post.)
For now, I want to share my own process of researching the ins and outs of digital portfolios, how I’m developing one for myself as teacher, and what I’m learning about both the potential and the pitfalls of using Google Sites as the platform for collecting digital work.
The genesis of my search
Many years ago, I did another pilot program with digital portfolios. Sort of. This was before our school had wireless access to the Internet. With only a handful of desktop computers, we tinkered with using Powerpoint as a place for students to share writing. One slide would feature writing. The next slide would be reflection. We burned the slideshows on CD discs, and sent them home.
Even then, I had a glimpse of the potential power of students’ gathering some of their writing, reflecting on what they had done, and tracking their own progress over time. Not just in the months that I was their teacher. But beyond their time with me, too.
That pilot didn’t go very far, but it did plant a seed. Powerpoint wasn’t a very effective tool for what I was trying to do. This was before the era of ubiquitous flash drives, and “cloud computing” was an unknown technology term. Moving files off the computers was difficult and not very effective. Plus, more than half of our families did not have regular access to computers.
Times have changed, of course, and now many of the high hurdles from those days are long gone. It’s a perfect time to leap back in. In particular, our school district’s push into Google Apps for Education makes the transition to digital portfolios easier – and using Google Apps to build out a reflective site for writing makes the most sense, for now anyway.
That said, Google Sites, the website builder in Google Apps, is rather clunky to use. Luckily, I came across a template that I adapted for our use that I think will work.
I have spent much of the year doing my research on digital portfolios. You can find many of the links and resources that I have found useful, including some reflective blog posts, at this Diigo Bookmarking Outliner I set up for myself.
As always, I knew I had to try to build my own digital portfolio as an experiment. So I looked back to my time last summer with the Making Learning Connected MOOC, and used the idea of a digital portfolio as a way to document my own learning through the six Make Cycles of the CLMOOC. The result? Fair, I’d say, but not great. But it provided me with a first step forward. Go to my CLMOOC Digital Portfolio.
Creating a digital professional portfolio
This spring I began building my professional portfolio, with the blessing of my principal. I have been collecting screenshots and evidence and artifacts into a folder, all year long, and I’m grateful I was organized early on. My archive made the construction of the portfolio, using a template via Google Sites, easier.
I am pretty satisfied with how this teaching portfolio came out, and there is room for my principal to leave comments in each section. I won’t make this portfolio public, due to the student work examples it contains, but you can get a glimpse of it here.
In the coming weeks, I will be guiding my students into Google Sites, using the portfolio template as a means and my own portfolio as a model. They will be collating some of their favorite pieces of writing this year, from poems to interactive fiction to audio stories to comics to essays and more. In a follow-up post in June, I’ll let you know how it goes for me. See you then.