Document The Learning Journey Through Digital Portfolios

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By Emily MacLean

As students develop through the school year, they develop and refine their skills and practice by setting new goals, creating action plans and engaging with actionable items as a means to work towards achieving their goals while reflecting throughout the process. An e­portfolio is one way of documenting and reflecting on a student’s learning journey in a meaningful and authentic way. It serves as a place for students to highlight and reflect on pieces of selected work, which can be shared with parents, teachers and peers. The structure of e­portfolios can vary depending on the age of students, goals of the school and individual choice.

Questions to Consider

When beginning the process towards implementing e­portfolios, teachers and administrators should reflect on a number of questions prior to rolling them out.

  • What is the purpose of the e­portfolio?
  • What will it look like?
  • Who has ownership of the e­portfolio?
  • Who is the audience it will be shared with?
  • How will it work?
  • What are the roles of various stakeholders?
  • What opportunities are there for reflection with the e­portfolios?

These questions help to clarify how, why and when e­portfolios will be used in the classroom for all stakeholders involved.

What is the purpose of the e­portfolio?

Defining the goal of the e­portfolio is key for all of the stakeholders. Some e­portfolios may be more focused on the process of learning (snapshots of learning throughout the experience), product focused (finished pieces of work) or even a combination of both. Some schools may focus more on only student­selected pieces or they may mandate teacher­selected pieces or, again, somewhere along the continuum. To summarise one approach a school might take, an e­portfolio may be a process journal to reflect on the journey of learning through student­selected pieces of work with reflections, with input and guidance from their teachers.

What will it look like?

What e­portfolios look like in schools depends on a variety of factors varying from device type, platform choice and age level. The experience of creating e­portfolios is very different for students who have a laptop or an iPad.

There a number of different platforms available to create student e­portfolios. Whether using Easy Blogger Jr, Seesaw, Managebac or Google Sites, it is important for schools to consider their existing systems and how the implementation of e­Portfolios may work within these systems.

One concern schools often have with the development of e­portfolios is that they must be consistent throughout the school: if one year group uses one application, all must use the same. While this is true to a certain extent, it is more appropriate to ensure that the choice of platform is appropriate for the age of the students. This could mean that it may be better for younger students to use iPads and a blogging application using pictures, videos and audio reflections, while junior students transition to a more sophisticated platform to incorporate a wider range of multimedia selections, written reflections and a more comprehensive scope of all learning of subjects, concepts and skills. Regardless of what a school uses to create its e­portfolios, it is most important that it works for the needs of the learning community.

Who has ownership of the e­portfolio?

It is key to define ownership as it implicates the buy­in and enthusiasm towards developing the e­portfolio. Ideally, the owner of the e­portfolio is the student. The e­portfolio is created by the student for the purpose of reflecting, goal setting and sharing his learning with others. While others (parents, teachers, peers, administration) are all stakeholders in the e­portfolio process and support the student through the process, the student should have ultimate control over what, when and how his learning is demonstrated to his audience.

Who is the audience?

Identifying who will see and interact with the e­portfolios further creates a defined purpose for students. The e­portfolios should be a source of information to inform teaching practice. It is beneficial for teachers to confer with their students and their e­portfolio to gain greater insight into their work and reflection. This also allows for coaching of students on the refinement of their goals and planning for next steps.

Students may share their portfolio with other students in class and across year groups. This promotes sharing of learning both vertically and horizontally. Peer assessment/feedback is an important part of the process, allowing students to learn how to give and receive constructive feedback from others, while learning from the work of others.

Students connect their learning with home by sharing with family members and making connections beyond the classroom. Parents can review the portfolio with their child at the end of each unit and discuss their learning and growth over the course of the unit. Many platforms allow parents to subscribe to updates where they receive instant feedback when new entries are added, further adding to timely conversations to connect the learning. Parents should engage with the opportunity to ignite discussion with their child and comment on their work.

How will it work?

The logistics of implementation can often make or break the success of any new implementation process. Having a discussion with teachers about how to facilitate implementation in the classroom invites teachers to explore strategies with one another. How many devices do you have? Will this be a once a week task or ongoing as appropriate when students want to add? What requirements do you have for students with their reflections? How will you monitor student progress, entries and conferring? How much time a week do you need to allocate with your planning? All of these questions help to foresee potential areas that would break the flow of implementation. By visualising the plan in advance, teachers are able to plan for successful implementation.

What are the roles of various stakeholders?

As a school, identifying the stakeholders and their role allows for each stakeholder to have a greater understanding of how they can positively impact the process of e­portfolio implementation and reflections. Once the stakeholders and their role have been identified, actionable items of how they may achieve their role helps to develop transparency amongst stakeholders.

The role of the student may be to create and maintain an e­portfolio throughout the academic year as a way to reflect on his learning and share his growth. By unpacking this role, the student will have a better understanding of how to select pieces, how many pieces should be included throughout the reflection process (as a minimum), how he should reflect and how he will share with others.

There should be role clarity for all teachers who support the student with their e­portfolio: the homeroom teacher, the single subject teacher, the English as a second language teacher, educational support teaching assistants and learning support teachers. Each of these roles play a crucial part in the overall student experience. Where appropriate, the role of the education technology coach should be outlined in how they will support both teachers and students as they navigate the digital portfolio process to ensure implementation does not fully fall on either the homeroom teacher or the education technology coach. Rather, support should be shared by all.

As part of the sharing phase of the process, parents and peers become stakeholders. Parents need to be taught how to engage and interact with digital work, as it may not be a familiar concept or area of comfort. Providing parents with the educational tools to engage with the portfolio and engage in conversations with their child allows for deeper reflections and conversations with their child. Similarly, peers need to understand how to construct their peer feedback to be meaningful and effective without being critical. This is a life skill that can support students beyond the portfolio.

Finally, a shared understanding of the technical aspects of the portfolios needs to be decided. If present, it will likely be the IT department. However, where these departments do not exist at a school level, it may fall to the homeroom teacher or an administrator. To reduce frustrations, the responsibility of creating the templates and deploying them to students, as well as technical problem solving, need to have a stakeholder identified for this role.

What opportunities are there for reflection?

As students contribute work to their digital portfolio, they have the opportunity to reflect on any of their work samples, noticing their strengths and areas of growth. They may reflect on how they have demonstrated the learner profile attributes, attitudes and transdisciplinary skills through the selected work samples and their actions at school. Students may reflect on how they have developed throughout the year, as well as between years.

Age­appropriate reflection strategies are key to developing successful reflections. Younger students may wish to reflect through audio, videos, photographs and limited written text, whereas older students may focus on written reflection more. By allowing for choice in how reflections are documented, individual needs shine through with student reflections.

Focusing on the Importance of Students

Regardless of how the school or the teacher defines these questions, the focus of the e­portfolio should always come back to the students, their learning experiences and growth. The digital portfolio demonstrates a snapshot of a student’s learning over the course of the year and time within a school. As students progress through the year groups, the portfolio evolves with them, allowing for further reflections between years and not just within a year level. When the e­portfolio is designed with students and their learning as central to the process, e­portfolios can add valuable reflection, documented evidence of learning and a platform for sharing growth, challenges and successes of students as a means of supporting their continual learning journey.

Emily MacLean is an international educator working at Chatsworth International School in Singapore as the education technology coach. She is a Google for Education Certified Innovator (GUR14), a Google for Education Certified Trainer and an Apple Distinguished Educator (Class of 2015). She enthusiastically supports teachers across the primary school to effectively integrate education technology into the classroom. She is currently completing her Masters of Education (Information Technologies) from Charles Sturt University.

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