Digital Portolios #1

I’ve decided to blog a series of articles on re-inventing a ‘digital portfolios‘ in the context of the NETs for technology and 21st Century High Schools. This follows a session I attended at NECC on Digital Portfolios.

I felt that the way in which students and teachers need to represent themselves during several years cannot be adequately achieved using this methodology alone. Though before read/write web – this was not possible at all.

A quick Google Search for ‘digital portfolios’ demonstrates that not much has changed in a decade. Again, it brings me back to the ideas that teachers have about ‘what is an ICT’. Going by Google alone, you’d be convinced that what you will find about ‘digital portfolios’ is indeed ‘state of the art’. With more effort, you can find writings that look deeper into assessment.

So how do these two established discourses relate to the read/write web in Classroom2.0?

Students today are active in the read/write web, and posting images and text about themselves using the interwebs and mobile phones without giving a second thought to the long term representations that they are making. This activity is largely disconnected from their academic endeavors in digital publishing – for assessment.

In this first post, I want to explore the existing characteristics of what many educators call a ‘digital portfolio’.

Excluding Web2.0 – Digital or electronic portfolios were considered to be selective and purposeful collections of student work.

Portfolios were selective records of learning, growth and change on the part of the student. They provided meaningful documentation of students’ abilities (in a formal learning context). Portfolios provided information to students, parents, teachers, and members of the community about what students have learned or are able to do – as a result of largely classroom activities.

They represented a learning history of sorts. Portfolios bring together curriculum, instruction and assessment. Through the use of portfolios teachers and students could develop a shared understanding of what constitutes quality work. The ethos behind digital portfolios seems entirely valid when applied to the read/write classroom. So lets move onto the characteristics.

The main characteristics of a portfolio included:

*  Student-centered
* Active learning
* Student responsibility
* Available to the community (school, parents, etc.)
* Showcase of work
* Reflective

Typically, these portfolios selected work based on the context of who was going to look at them. For example, if the audience was a college admissions board, then then it may well contain elements that would not be used for a job application.

What they don’t do, is accurately reflect the students growth as a learner, as the assessments taken over time are not included in the end product – or are dis-jointed so do not give an accurate reflection of their academic and social development.

For example : A student is given a task to create a 10 page power point reflecting their work in Digital Photography over their 120 hour course in 9th and 10th grade. How does this reflect their learning?

To me it mearly demonstrates the ‘end’ or ‘peak’ of the student’s mastery of the subject – and has a prescribed – pathway that suits the teacher, standards and assessment tools.

Compare this to Joseph Saad – a student with an interest in 3D Digital production, though not studying it in his ‘standards’. Joseph decided to blog about his progress. In this ‘portfolio’ reflective writing, self-assessment, end product, and mutli-literacies are abundent. How do we assess this work? Do we need to? and who is assessing it? – I suggest ‘everyone’ who Joseph ever connects with. Even after 3/4 years at University, he will be able to show that this was his ‘hello world’ moment. A moment he choose – not some requirement in order to graduate.

These portfolios, were largely a collection of MS Office type ‘products’, perhaps some work in Macromedia (Adobe) and perhaps some scans or digital photos.
The method of transmission was a CD-Rom, small (html) website or Adobe Acrobat document.

The portfolio was a very selective and targeted form of communication between the author and a very limited audience.

Assessment of a digital portfolio was a process by which teachers created a rubric that contained ‘outcomes’ or ‘standards’. This was largely an off-line activity and like most teacher generated material – consisted of a mark and a comment. The on-going growth of the student was not viewable, like many assessments, it was all about the ‘end’ product. What did the student select as appropriate to meet the purpose and outcome/standard.

In some instances, online tools were created to allow teachers to cross reference student portfolios to standards – using rubrics. The intention is to allow teachers to ‘grade’ students using some rudimentary hyperlinked pages to things such as digital photos, scans and perhaps quicktime movies. The student however was not an integral part of this assessment and record keeping.

The work that went into the portfolio – samples of student work, information to put the work in context, a reflection on the work using a process – collect, select, reflect.

It was therefore a ‘skill’ for the student to select an appropriate ‘sub-set’ of work to any given future context. This portfolio is made from the following elements

* Expectations (Proficiencies) – What should a student be able to do, what purpose does the portfolio serve.
* Entries – what are the most appropriate elements to add to the portfolio
* Review Process – Who is the audience, how do we review individual entries, how do we review the portfolio as a whole
* School structures – how do we make this happen, when can we use technology (a subset of the question)

When adding 21st Century Learning skills, we try to apply a new set of ‘skills’ to the evidence being created in the portfolio. To my mind, this application is prone to being subjective. How can element “A” display ‘collaboration’ for example. The student reflection was also subjective – and occurs at the end of the process.

Indeed, even ‘contructavist’ approaches to learning, still required the student to produce a selective set of artifacts that fit inside a rubric of not only ‘standards or outcomes’ but meshed with the ’21st Century Skills’.

The portfolio was a result of ‘mastery’ skills – a student needed to master a set of publishing skills to represent themselves which in itself presents a problem, as it favours ‘visual thinkers’ – which is only one of the multiple intelligences.

Enter the read/write ubiquitous printing press where it is easy to publish and share information anytime, all the time.

This smashes the selective and targeted nature of ‘digital portfolios’ – as the personally generated stuff (MySpace, Bebo et al,) may well conflict or even be more substantial that the school generated stuff.

Surely, the school and the person should be one thing. As Will Richardson says, if no one is teaching our kids how to present themselves on MySpace, then we cannot be shocked by what they do”

So this leads me to think that the current notion of a ‘digital portfolio’ is fundamentally floored, as it assumes that students only create digital work in the walled garden of their school. There are some great examples that we can model to our students – even on, dare I say it, MySpace.

Already I have more questions that the ‘google’ searches answer;

  • What happens when the audience is everyone and the work in the portfolio is everything?
  • What happens when the students have MySpace, Facebook, Bebo accounts and students no longer distinguish between school and out of school digital representation of themselves – via Google?
  • What happens when colleges and employers can Google the student and the student can no longer be as ‘selective’ about their content or their audience?
  • What happens when teachers comment on student’s work online, and everyone can read it?
  • What happens when students comment on each others work online?
  • What if the students chooses to represent themselves using an avatar in a virtual world?
  • How does a student who is a level 60 WoW player best illustrate their tenacity for co-operation, problem solving and communication online?
  • What if a student creates a blog about their passion which is not going to meet a ‘standard’ – How do we support them, if indeed we support them at all?

The idea of a ‘digital portfolio’ being a static, selective and limited communication piece is a very limited idea to me – where the communication was predicated by an understanding of who sees what and when.

I used to be and Art Director, so endlessly carried around a portfolio of my latest ad campaigns and typographic renderings. This was a very targeted communication. I knew who would be looking at it, and what the goal was in doing so. I could be very selective in both the audience and the content.

Much of the information I’ve found online about ‘digital portfolios’ is mid 90’s to now, and still presents the development of a portfolio as I’ve outlined.

What I am going to try and explore in a series of posts is how we can best represent student development, when to share, when to assess, how to assess and what communication tools best illustrate that a student is a progressive learner over a sustained period of time.

2 thoughts on “Digital Portolios #1

  1. Hi Dean

    I’m looking forward to reading your series on digital portfolios, as I have a keen interest in e-portfolios, as they are becoming very popular in all educational sectors.

    How beneficial do you think a digital portfolio is to your PBL?

    Do you have your own digital portfolio?

    Your post also helped me discover a few new digital portfolio / e-portfolio links :).

    Allison Miller

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