Getting Your Class Started with Digital Portfolios

2014-10-08 12.32.33I am a lifelong learner and have been a professional educator for over 20 years. Along my educational journey, I have seen many ideas come and go, but I remain focused on teaching students the skills they need to become successful members of society and to develop their own love of learning.

3 years ago I took the leap and began to use student blogging to incorporate digital portfolios into my classes. In addition to a blog page, students share projects, investigations, and a bit about themselves. The sites allow my students to catalog their educational journey and provide opportunities to

  • Demonstrate mastery of content.
  • Reflect on the process of learning.
  • Develop 21st century skills – empathy, communication, critical thinking, creativity.
  • Build an ideal resource for a resume and college applications.

Here are three questions to ask yourself as you embark on this new path.

1. How do I start?
Taking the first step can be the hardest so encourage yourself, and your students, to start small. I suggest beginning with a class portfolio to share the learning in your classroom once every week or two. This will help students see the progress of their learning and encourage conversations while building your own publishing skills. You can have individual students or small groups decide what to add to the portfolio and design posts. Then, once you and your students are ready, move on to having each student create their own digital portfolio.

2. Where should the portfolios be hosted?
Determine which tool is best suited to support your goals. If your school uses Google Apps for Education, you can develop incredible portfolios using Google Drive, Google Sites and Blogger. Some benefits to Google Apps for Education are the privacy settings. You can decide to keep the portfolios private, invite a specific audience to view them, or connect them directly with the worldwide audience. The ability for students to collaborate through Google is unrivaled. I use Blogger to host our class blog and students are guest bloggers who share their experiences in the class. I include the links to each of my student’s portfolios on our class blog so they’re all connected in one place. You can check out our AP Bio Rockstars site.

When I first decided to dive into digital portfolios, I debated between allowing students to choose their platform or requiring a specific platform. In the end, I chose to use WordPress as our student platform  because of it’s reputation as a professional platform. Since making this choice, other website/blog creators have come on the scene such asWeebly and Wix. There are also digital portfolio apps like Three Ring,PathBrite, and Seesaw. I work with high school juniors and seniors and I want their portfolios to be presented to a wide, authentic audience so they use WordPress to develop a complete website. I have become familiar with WordPress and have stayed with one platform to help coordinate my own workflow. Having students use the same platform means they can support one another as they learn to navigate and populate their site. I do not have to be the only expert in site design! I also direct the overall organization of the sites so that no matter what theme they choose, each site has a similar layout so that they are easy for everyone to navigate.

3. How to manage the portfolios?
I am sure you have thought about the amount of work and organization it could take to manage all of these portfolios. The following strategies have worked for me to make the workflow a bit easier.

  • Google Forms to the rescue!
    Each student fills out a Submission Form that collects their name, title of the assignment, and link to the actual post. The spreadsheet allows me keep track of submissions and click on each link to assess their work.
  • Crowdsource the feedback!
    Share the spreadsheet of links with the class allows for peer review. Students work at a higher level when they are sharing with peers and they have the opportunity to reflect on their own work and learn from their peers. Use Formal Commenters that students must acquire. These are individuals outside our school population who commit to reviewing each assignment and posting a comment to the site.
  • Recruit a co-pilot!
    Mine is the incredible Erin Kahn, whose support and creativity have sustained me on the journey. Find a colleague at your school or in your district. Connect with an educator through Twitter to collaborate with and keep you on track. Find inspiring blog posts to read to keep you fueled along the way.

Taking the risk to develop digital portfolios with my students has been a transformative experience. Each post is an opportunity to demonstrate mastery and showcase creativity. My students know they are communicating with an authentic audience. They work to develop their voice as they share their ideas. The best part is that student work is no longer submitted only to me for my assessment and their work does not disappear by being stuffed in a backpack or thrown in the recycle bin. Each student has the road map of their learning journey to take with them as they continue into college and beyond.

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