Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Digital Portfolios: where to start? Part 2

Digitalportfolios: Key #2: teacher inspiration

In Digital Portfolios: Where to Start Part #1, I shared that the most important way to motivate students to embrace their digital portfolio is for their teachers to have a digital portfolio themselves.  In fact, I make the case that the one requiring students to maintain a digital portfolio must not only have a place that they share their learning online, but be able to give stories of how it has made a difference.  This allows teachers to not only model the process of keeping a portfolio, but illustrate reasons why keeping a digital portfolio matters.

While, the first thing to do is take a long hard consideration about managing your own digital portfolio, the second also requires some reflection.  As with the first, it is not always self-evident, but when you take part in this key, you'll see why it really matters:

Key #2: Get inspired: take a look at what others are doing

Jumping into a portfolio system without looking at what other educators are doing ignores the tremendous resources out there.  All too often, the cart is loaded before one takes a look at the paddock of horses.  It is crucial to take a look at what students are sharing and how they are sharing it.  Here I will show just a few examples.  There is no order to these links and it is definitely not an exhaustive list: simply a place to start.  Click on the titles to see these portfolios in action.

Daniel Boyle's Honors History Site

Dan Boyle, a Humanities teacher at Triton Regional High School, decided to have his students build web pages over blogs.  He shared this with me on Who needs a digital portfolio?:

I love how he uses a padlet to display student avatars that lead to the students' twitter feeds and web sites.  The students' sites have a running blog plus multiple classroom links to a variety of shares utilizing a plethora of apps.  Videos, Pixton comic strips, mind maps are just a few of the ways students show their learning.  A look at Dan Boyle's students' portfolios will definitely expand your mind as to the possibilities out there.


Here I am using Freshgrade to capture a student's project

As a teacher interested in giving students opportunities to share learning and make connections, I have kept a connection with Freshgrade since 2012.  Freshgrade is a platform that helps teachers capture evidence of learning in the moment.  Whether it is text, pictures, audio, or video, the captured evidence is uploaded to a student's portfolio where students and parents can easily access it at any moment.   The platform has been evolving over time.   Now with parent and student apps available, I have been able to use Freshgrade as as Learning Management System, keeping a connection with students, sharing assignments with them, and giving feedback.  For those looking for a way to share class activity in moment of learning, Freshgrade is definitely something to check out.

What's going on in Mr. Solarz' Class?

The Padlet that leads visitors to the Paul Solarz's student portfolios

When you visit Paul Solarz's Weebly page (, you find connections to all his students' portfolios over several years.  Once again, a padlet is used to make getting to each portfolio easy.  What a great idea to use a class picture to share the links to each portfolio.  Here we find student created speaking avatars called Vokis, field trip and science fair Youtube and GoAnimate videos, podcasts and more.  Paul has been called a digital portfolio guru and is definitely one to follow when embarking on portfolios.

Guitars and Fireflies

Jodie Deinhammer shared with me her students' portfolios from 2014-2015 year as I made a call out over twitter.  She uses a Google blogspot platform to lead to students' sites.  Once again, these portfolios share a bevvy of different online technologies that students can use to share learning.  As I looked through them I was drawn in by the excellent use of picture links to share post content.  As I clicked on Ariel's, I was inspired by her Smore flyer sharing learning about healthy brains, her analysis of the white and gold dress, and her piktochart infographics.  As one goes deeper into this portal, you can see thoughtful posts, effective use of media, and excellent citations.

High Tech High Digital Portfolios

Immediately, it is obvious that High Tech High's Media Arts ePortfolios seem completely integrated into the fabric of learning.  Not only do you see easy access to the student portfolios from this portal, but you can see the teacher portfolios right there.  You can feel the importance placed on digital portfolios right from the get go.  This Google site is a portal to students' sites ( again) that allow the students to embed downloadable documents, powerpoints, videos and pictures in each post.  Navigating through the portfolios felt like travelling through a Wiki as project challenges and students projects all seem connected.  It feels like teacher and student alike work at developing this learning portal together sharing their learning alongside each other.

Ms. Lirenman's Learners

Karen Lirenman on blogging in the early primary classroom

Karen Lirenman has been a longtime proponent of student blogging and shares her student's public portfolios using the platform.  She tells how her students' digital portfolios help her students connect with the world in this video.  What I love about Karen's students' blogs is that I can see the conversation taking place between student and teacher as she comments on the students' thoughts.  If you thought that primary students were too young to maintain digital portfolios, think again.

Riverside Secondary Edublogs

At Riverside, we use an platform for our students' digital portfolios.  The above link is a flipboard magazine of some of my students' Science and Technology 11 blogs.  While you won't find many online technologies used (our Canadian privacy laws keep me hesitant from having my students sign up for these), you might find that we work hard to encourage students to personalize their portfolio, share honest reflections and visit and comment on each others' posts.

And the list of excellent student portfolios could go on. . .

In putting together this post, my horizons were definitely broadened.  It was wonderful to see how students embrace their portfolios, making them their storehouse of learning.  I was impressed with the endeavours to have teacher and student learning alongside each other.  I was amazed at the number of educational apps out there to help students share and connect.  I haven't even scratched the surface of sharing the possibilities out there so please comment and share more examples of the amazing things students can do with their digital portfolios.

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Digital Portfolios: where to start? Part 1

#digitalportfolios : Key #1 for student motivation

In Who needs a Digital Portfolio, commenter Kristine Hodgins asked about first steps for creating a digital portfolio.  A great question.  I answered, but I thought the question merited more reflection.  Where does a teacher start when inspired to have students build digital portfolios (ePortfolios)? What are the next steps once the passion hits? You might be expecting me to start with: choosing a platform, getting admin on board, or informing parents. These are early steps.  But I think there are three things that really should come first.  I'll call them keys.

You might be surprised.  These keys may be steps that you hadn't really thought of.  They are, however, crucial in answering the question: Where to start?  In order to give each of these keys some focus, I will give each a post.  This first one of the three, I believe, is the most important and often the most overlooked:

Key #1: Develop your own digital portfolio

From a student on eportfolios:

In terms of promotion the problem is the people trying to explain it have probably never used it so in a way they have no clue what they are talking about, basically. To put it frankly – after listening to them you would be like, Okay so you as an outsider who never even used it is telling us we should do this because it is the best thing since sliced bread but you have never used it – you can’t find someone who did use it – you don’t have enough information to tell us how to use it – and now you’re telling us use it and we’ll grade you on it – this kind of makes it hard for students to accept or appreciate it.
- Tosh D. et al. (2005)

David Tosh, Tracy Penny Light, Kele Fleming, and Jeff Haywood, from universities in both Canada and the UK, did a study called Engagement with Electronic Portfolios: Challenges from the Student Perspective as they introduced ePorfolios to university students.  They mention that most studies on portfolios look at the effectiveness of the portfolio from the teacher's perspective.  This was a unique study in that its focus was the students' experience.  The results were extremely telling and should be read by anyone planning to introduce digital portfolios to their students.

One message that came through loud and clear in their study was that the students had a hard time embracing a digital portfolio when they felt their teachers hadn't.  It was like students were saying: "if a digital portfolio is so important, then why don't you have one?  It can't be that important if the person who is asking me to do it doesn't even need it."  This screams hypocrisy to our students and has a huge impact on student acceptance.  Tosh further comments:

If students do not accept the e-portfolio as a holistic means with which to document their learning in different contexts and, more importantly, agree or wish to use the e-portfolio as an integral part of their educational experience, then the potential impact the e-portfolio could have on learning will not be realised. - Tosh D. et al. (2005)

The Tosh D. et al. (2005) article covers a range of important ePortfolio elements: buy-in, motivation, assessment and e-portfolio technology but their "bottom line is that students need to know why their knowledge is important."  Not only do we need to share our examples of digital portfolios, we need to share stories of how our portfolios made a difference for us.  How are our digital portfolios important to us?  How can a student's portfolio be important to them?

I learned about the Tosh study from Dwayne Harapniuk (It's about Learning: creating significant learning environments). He had used my blog as an example of an educator ePortfolio.  This lead me to read his blog post.  The post is full of ePortfolio examples including ones from Teachers and Principals.  Mr. Harapniuk's ePortfolio is an excellent example of an educator modeling an online portfolio.  This he has been doing since the late 90's.  He also is a firm believer that the educator asking students to maintain a portfolio, should have one to share.  This perspective is painfully clear in the title of his post: Show Me Yours and I Will Show You Mine - Eportfolio Examples

More than acceptance, the digital portfolio requires "embrace-ment".  Motivation is the crux of the matter.  I mention to educators in a post called PBL:Q and A that:

One's soul must be mined.  Mining is dangerous; but how else can the gems be found.  I like to think that the best learning is better caught than taught and this mining leads to a better person facilitating the learning.  Added to that, the students need to see their teacher as a risk-taker.  If teachers can put themselves out there, the students will be all the more willing to do the same. - Robinson S. (2013)

In this post, I was referring to teacher as chief risk taker in Project-based Learning.  But even more-so, this applies to the digital portfolio.

- One's soul must be mined (see what I mean in Kim Ondrik's blog (here)
- Passion for the digital portfolio is better caught than taught.
- The teacher must be the chief risk-taker as we ask students to put themselves out there in this digital world

I came into our school library the other day and my principal Anthony Ciolfitto (whose wonderfully thoughtful educational blog is here by the way) came up to me with a smile and pitched me an idea.

"How about we make this corner area here in the library a collaboration zone.  We paint this wall with whiteboard paint and add a digital projector facing this wall here."

"For teachers or students?" I asked.

"For both.  What a great area for students to come to and work on group projects together.  But also, what a great way to let our students see us teachers collaborating.  We can model what we are asking our students to do right here."

Amazing.  Imagine teachers in the school library working alongside the students--pitching ideas to each other, brainstorming, planning.  Imagine students nearby--watching, listening, catching the idea that we are all learners.

We can model what we are asking our students to do right here.

It works with a collaboration area, with project-based learning, and with digital portfolios.  The students need to see it in action, not from a distance, but from nearby.  From their teacher.


Tosh, D., Light, T., Fleming, K., and Haywood, J. (2005). Engagement with Electronic Portfolios: Challenges from the Student PerspectiveCanadian Journal Of Learning And Technology / La Revue Canadienne De L’Apprentissage Et De La Technologie, 31(3). Retrieved from Aug. 3, 2015

Robinson, S. (2013) PBL: Q and A. On the side of technology. Retrieved from Aug. 3, 2015