Why Digital Portfolios

This is a short video I made that helps educators think about why they might want to bring digital portfolios to their schools.

6 Crucial Elements to Consider When Developing Digital Portfolios

#1. Portfolios need to be in the hands of the student.  From my own experience, and from research that I have followed, one of the biggest determinants in portfolio success (read that as “authentically integrated into a student’s learning”) is the autonomy of the student to create and manage it.  When school’s institutionalize it too much it becomes “just another thing that schools make us do.”  In addition, it shouldn’t become another thing teachers need to run.  A big part of this revolves around making sure that students see and use portfolios beyond the classroom.  They begin to document, reflect upon and share the learning that is happening in all aspects of life.  When that is happening in an authentic way you know that portfolios have really taken hold.  How we support students to be more in control of the entire portfolio process?

#2.  The use of tools that allow for easy documentation, storage of artifacts, reflection, assessment and presentation is crucial. (including text, audio, video, photos, and a variety of digital documents).  Use of mobile technology is key here.  “In-the-moment” documentation makes for much easier ongoing reflection.   The tools that are chosen should also be intimately tied to the long term vision of portfolios (see #5).  In an increasingly digital educational landscape making sure the “back end” is in place and strong is crucial.  There are no silver bullet tools that do EVERYTHING well, but a school should thoughtfully consider what specific digital tools will be most effective.  That could also mean that the school chooses some of the technology and student chooses some (especially as students get older).  Technology should sink into the background for it to be really effective.  What are the resources that are needed to ensure the larger vision?

#3.  Students are taught how to use the tools and are supported in developing reflection skills and personalized organizational structures.  Kids might get the technology quickly but the development of reflection skills and the ability to organize and think deeply about the artifacts they choose takes real work on our part as educators.  While the portfolios should be in the hands of the students educators need to see themselves as critical resource to ensure their success.  What do students need to know to integrate portfolios into their lives and how do we support them?

#4.  Portfolios are seen as both a place for process AND product.    That means there are levels of documentation (the collection of artifacts), there are levels of reflection (both short term and long term. This included assessment from teachers) and there are levels of presentation (the outward facing aspect that is shared with peers, family, as well as prospective schools or employers).  The most vital part in this process, and the one that ensures that the real power of portfolios is realized, lies in the opportunity and ability of students to reflect upon their learning.  As John Dewey said “we don’t learn from experience we learn from reflecting on experience.”  When students, teachers and families can reflect on long term growth, the big patterns and understandings emerge.   What mechanism are set up across a school to ensure both of the these aspects of portfolios are considered?

#5.   There is a clear and thoughtful long term vision and strategy for the development and implementation of portfolios.  When only individual teachers support student development of portfolios it doesn’t tend to have long term impact as it isn’t integrated into a student’s way of learning across their learning environments.  Real success requires larger institutional support and direction.   How can we support the portfolios process from early age to adult life?

#6.  Families are included in the conversation from the start.   A well thought out and developed portfolio program has the power to transform the educational conversation as the real work of students can be seen, shared and talked about.  In my years of using digital portfolios with students I have witnessed the significant impact that these tools have in the ways that parents think about the work that their children are doing.  In many regards it fosters a real dialogue about the learning that is happening every day.  In addition portfolios that allow for documentation of work outside the classroom allows teachers to see the abilities and knowledge of students in a broader, deeper way.  How do we open up the conversation to encourage all stakeholders in a child’s education to be involved in the conversation about their learning?

Using the Annotate Feature to Provide Feedback

One of my favorite features in Evernote, when it comes to collaborating and providing feedback to students, is the annotate button.  When an artifact is shared it can then be annotated using the tools found in Skitch.  You can annotate any note as a PDF or photo which allows you to write and draw directly on the work itself.  Once you are done annotating Evernote creates a new note with the entire annotation, a break down of each annotation and the name of the person who gave the annotation.  It keeps the original notes title but adds Annotated to it so it is easy to see what work has been give feedback.  At the same time it keeps the original work so it doesn’t need to be redone after all the annotating.

This is what it looks like after you have saved the annotated work.

        This is what it looks like after you have saved the annotated work.

You can also see the annotated work as a whole.

You can also see the annotated work as a whole.

Using Merge, Table of Contents and Presentation Options






Two really great tools that appear when you command click on multiple notes are merge and Create Table of Contents Note.  The first one allows you to merge several notes all into one note.  This is very useful when a student has created multiple artifacts on one topic over time and wants to bring them all together.  After you have chosen your notes to merge and clicked the button a new note will be created.   The individual notes will be placed in the trash.  If you want to have the merged note AND the individual notes, just go into the trash and restore the individual notes. 

When you press the Create Table of Contents Note button your selected notes will be linked together in a new note titled “Table of Contents” which you can rename.  This tool is helpful for presentations and if you want to have easy and quick access to all the notes you have made on a specific topic.  Below the table of contents you will see snapshots of the related notes.  Having access to these snapshots is helpful in reminding you of what is in each link, especially if you haven’t referred to the notes in some time.

If you are a Premium user you have access to the presentation mode which can be accessed in the upper corner of the display window.  This allows you or students to create basic presentation in an uncluttered way show just what is in each note.  This is great for student led conferences.

Getting ready for ISTE

In my new position this year as the Academic Technology Coordinator I have spent a lot less time focusing on portfolios as I did in the past. I have been helping other teachers, many who are using Evernote, so I am learning some really interesting things. I will be heading off to ISTE at the end of the month and wanted to make some tools available for other people who might be interested.

#1. I am really excited about using Postach.io in conjunction with Evernote. While I have linked this blog as well as others to my current account, Postach.io is a much more seamless and integrated tool as I can create a notebook for all my “published” notes that allow for a much more public facing, blog-like, presentation. It also affords the reader to add comments to work, something that I’ve wanted to see happen in Evernote for a long time but hasn’t come about.

#2. While working with teachers who have been using Evernote in their classrooms, it has become increasingly clear that using Evernote to create what I called “sheltered portfolios” just isn’t a great idea in the long run. (Sheltered accounts are those where a teachers makes a notebook for each child inside their own account). There are two main reasons. First, it really limits the amount of items you can upload. Even if you have a premium account, things can fill up quickly. Secondly, if you are having students access there accounts all at the same time, a lot of synching problems start to happen. Lastly, students don’t have access to the accounts from home and so they just can’t make them their own. All big issues.

#3. People often ask me about “examples” of student work. Here are two links to partial portfolios so you can see what a 9 year old and an 11 year old did with their portfolios. These were both portfolios from students who were new to my class. These are the kind of things you might expect to see kids doing in their first year(s) of use. (There isn’t a lot of reflection upon past years work).

A. An example of some of the work in a 9 year old’s e-portfolio: https://www.evernote.com/pub/robvannood/9yearoldsportfolio

B. An example of some of the work in an 11 year old’s e-portfolios: https://www.evernote.com/pub/robvannood/11yearoldsportfolio

#4. Some Generalized Evernote Information that will help you get started setting up portfolios in your classroom or school as well as a note called Taxonomy of Reflection, which we will be using during the workshop.

Presenting at ISTE


I’m very excited to have the chance to head to Atlanta Georgia at the end of June to speak at the 2014 ISTE  (International Society for Technology in Education) conference.  I will be presenting a workshop about the use of Evernote for Portfolios with a pedagogical twist.  I will link it to Bloom’s Taxonomy.  The title of my hour long presentation will be: Using Evernote and Bloom’s taxonomy to create dynamic e-portfolios.  Here is the description of the session I will be supporting:

In a world of ever increasing educational accountability and with a desire to reveal both the breadth and depth of student learning more teachers, schools and districts are turning to e-portfolios as a way to document, reflect upon and assess what is happening in the classroom every day.  However there are very few tools in the e-portfolio pantheon that are at the same time easy to use for students and teachers alike, have powerful capabilities to capture, document and share work in real time, connect seamlessly with an ever growing number of learning applications and are free or inexpensive for budget conscious schools.  The power of Evernote is that it achieves all of those requirements and does a lot more.  But having a great tool is not enough.  Educators need to understand how to use e-portfolios to support the entire learning process.  Having a strong understanding of how Bloom’s Taxonomy can be used to increase the effectiveness and learning capabilities of e-portfolios is essential. 

 Participants in this session will learn how they can use Evernote to document, reflect upon, share and assess student learning.  They will learn how to view e-portfolio use through the lens of remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating and creating (Bloom’s Taxonomy).  They will learn how to access all the tools inside of Evernote as well as use external hardware to both create their own portfolios and help support the development of portfolios for their students.  Participants will leave the session with an understanding of how to go about setting up a classroom or school based e-portfolios system as well as with the skills to use Evernote to begin creating, and supporting their students in the creation of, high quality e-portfolios that begin to reveal the learning of the whole student.   

If you plan to come to ISTE 2014 please come find me.

The Power of Documentation

Screen_Shot_2013-11-08_at_8.38.46_AM-2A note from a teacher’s documentation in Evernote

Its been over 6 months since I last posted here and in the interim I have taken on a new position.  As the Academic Technology Coordinator at Catlin Gabel School I have the privilege to help oversee the implementation of all sorts of technologies into classrooms pre-K to seniors.  It’s a rare opportunity work at a school that has a very strong technical support team coupled with a desire to develop a thoughtful and cutting edge vision for technologies of all types.

Of course, I continue to develop ways to squeeze in Evernote into the work I do.  I don’t have to be heavy-handed about it (I don’t want to be that way any way) as there are so many staff members who are interested in its possibilities.  With so many great new features (including presentation mode, speech to text mode on the mac, and the deeper integration of Skitch and Penultimate)  the power of using Evernote in the classroom is constantly expanding.  I will cover some of those changes in future posts (I hope in the near future that is) but today I wanted to hit on a topic that I feel has particular power and significance for teaching and learning: documentation.

Last year, as I worked at a Reggio Emilia inspired elementary school I came to appreciate the power of really watching and listening to children.  The role of documentation at Opal demonstrated what we can learn as educators when we really slow down and listen to children.   I am still a strong advocate for having students develop and control their own portfolios, but documentation, with a tool like Evernote, provides us a great opportunity to see and hear more deeply what is going on in the minds and hearts of our students.  Having a separate notebook for each student within a teacher’s Evernote account makes this possible.  The great thing about Evernote is that at the end of the year the teacher can download any and all notes they made that should be uploaded into a students personal portfolio. This year I have supported many teachers in doing just that.  They download a series of student notebooks onto their computers, put them on a thumb drive, and either upload them into individual student accounts or into the accounts of the new teachers. It works brilliantly.

In the photo above you will notice one image and short contextual documentation of what a teacher here at Catlin saw happening with a kindergartener in her class.  There is a strong image showing what is happening, a short explanation to give context, and the actual words of the child.  While this photo and text was part of a series of pictures in one note about this particular project, you can begin to see how even just this single example can begin to paint a picture of what is going on with the child.  This note was then shared with parents, providing an insight into the life of their child at school.

Of course this kind of documentation takes time but the beauty of it is that it doesn’t have to happen all the time to be powerful.  It is the beginning of November and the series of notes that are part of this context (the child working in the studio working with paper) are the first sharing of this portfolio work.  But because the series of notes (there are a total of 4 notes in this paper making series) are so thoughtful they reveal so much about what is going on for this child.

In the photo below you can see the teacher revealing the results of further paper exploration and some thoughts from the  child about what might be explored next.  All of this documentation was done quickly with Evernote and then shared with parents and colleagues.

Screen Shot 2013-11-08 at 9.08.59 AM