Thing 35: Student Digital Portfolios

When I was in graduate school for my Library Science degree, one of my last tasks was to create a digital portfolio filled with work I completed for the different standards to show that I had addressed all of those standards. At the time, there were very few options so I chose Google Sites. Please be kind as I haven’t updated this site since 2009 and I had to follow a very specific formula but if you’d like to check it out, here you go: Deborah S. McHugh’s Portfolio.

It was interesting to read that people have different ideas of what should make up a portfolio — only best work, all student work, only assessments, etc… What I would like to see in a portfolio is a collection of as much of the student’s work as possible so that you can see growth along the way but you might also catch where a student is struggling or where they are excelling or even a skill they have mastered and don’t need any more instruction. A student’s portfolio should also include work from all areas of the school including music, art, P.E., and the library since significant learning also takes place in these area of a school.

The thought of the need for students to being able to comment on work from their classmates never even occurred to me. Students today are very social in nature and allowing them time to read and comment on other student’s work can provide many hidden benefits: increases their reading and writing time but if implemented correctly requires students to use their critical thinking skills. How you ask? By teaching students that when they are providing a comment on another student’s work it needs to be more than ‘I love this!’ or ‘Great job’ but more along the lines of ‘I love how you used evidence from the text to support your answer’. This is a skill that is assessed on the standardized tests and this would be a great way for students to get practical experience using it.

In “The power of digital student portfolios” by Matt Renwick, the author mentions that we need to redefine data. There is so much more to student learning than a score on a test. Since I work in an elementary school, I have long believed that students should be given different methods to show their learning including verbal responses and/or videotaped responses. I have found that many of my students can provide the correct answer verbally but when I ask them to write the answer or pick a response via multiple choice, the students often pick the wrong answer. When I have raised this point with different teachers, I always get the same response, “They need to be able to write the answer.” But no one has been able to provide a good reason why this is the only truth. Providing students with a platform to record themselves is a great way to differentiate especially with shy or struggling students.

One of my first grade teachers is using Seesaw with her students and is having great success with it. But she is the one who is doing most of the uploading and hasn’t really taught the students how to access it and add their own work. My district is looking into ways to integrate technology and digital portfolios is one of the platforms they are exploring. The free version of Seesaw is adequate but it does require the teacher to share their password or provide the student logins to other teachers. Also, at the end of the year, a students work can’t be transferred to the next year which is a distinct disadvantage of the free version. Although the paid version is a little pricey, I believe the benefits are worth it: access to usage statistics, a central access point, and portfolios are transferable. In a district that desperately needs to increase parent engagement, Seesaw provides a simple way for parents to be involved.

Because of the cost to upgrade Seesaw, another option that the district is considering is Google Drive. The biggest advantage Google Drive provides is that the students already have an account and for the most part, know how to log in and access it. It also is easy to organize the documents into different folders and uploading different types of documents is also relatively painless for even the youngest student. Folders can be shared with parents if they have an email address. One of the biggest disadvantages, and I could be wrong, is that it is difficult for students to comment on the works of other students in the class. Each student would need to create a group and would have to share everything with this group. Also in my district, students are given a new email address when they begin middle school so unless the tech department transfers the Drive when they create the new email, then the student loses all of their work from elementary school. Although I like the simplicity that Google Drive presents, I don’t think it is the correct solution as it really only meant as a place to store documents.

Many of the options that I explored all have the same problem: no way to transfer work when the student moves or changes grade levels. Google Sites would be a good option but it won’t work at the elementary level because you must be 13 years or older to use it.

One problem that I don’t know the solution to is how to convince all teachers in the building that students need a digital portfolio. Many teachers are struggling to keep up with everyday tasks and adding one more thing to their plate might put them over the edge. Many of the different programs are easy to use but there is always a learning curve and unless they are required to use it, I think many teachers would choose not to use it despite the advantages that a digital portfolio can provide to them.

I think school librarians should help provide basic training to students on how to use a digital portfolio but I don’t think it should be done in isolation. Depending upon the platform used, the librarian is the logical choice to be the point person on creating the classrooms and transferring files/students as needed.

The world of education is changing and we need to find new ways to get our students involved in their own learning. Digital portfolios are an elegant, simple solution that I hope more of my teachers embrace in the coming years.