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


  1. SAQA ID 101869, NQF Level 5, 240 CREDITS OCCUPATIONAL CERTIFICATE: PROJECT MANAGER The purpose of this qualification is to prepare a learner to operate as a Project Manager. A Project Manager applies knowledge of project management to achieve project objectives in a specific field of application.