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?

2 responses to “6 Crucial Elements to Consider When Developing Digital Portfolios

  1. #1 is exactly why I balk at beginning digital portfolios for my Pre-K students. The tech team gets very excited about it as a school wide effort, but my wee students need to be able to hold the book in their hands, turning the pages at their own pace.

    • You are exactly correct here. Kids in pre-school shouldn’t have to be “controlling” or running their own portfolios, but they CAN be thinking about the things that are important for them and the things that they want to remember. I started a portfolio for my daughter when she was in kindergarten and I was the manager of her account. However, she was able to think about artifacts that she wanted to remember and by using Evernote we were able to photograph her drawings and record her voice talking about it. Because it is in a portfolio that she can now control, she can go back and look at the things we put in there and reflect on it. It is SOOO cute to be able to hear her young voice talking about her first writing. iPads can do a lot to make the documentation process a creative one for young kids. Thanks for sharing.

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