3 Tips to Take ePortfolios to the Next Level

If we expect ePortfolios to be effective tools for measuring learning…

If we expect ePortfolios to enhance (or replace) a single numerical grade on a report card as a means of monitoring progress…

…then we must continue to research, iterate, and implement them with students. Here are 3 tips to take ePortfolios to the next level of effectiveness.

1. Show Before and After

Advisors should help students design demos that show before and after. Compare two or more pieces of work over time. Don’t just upload a picture or write unbroken paragraphs of endless text. Tell a story that visibly shows growth and learning. And do so effectively,…

2. Use Media & Technology
Want an excuse to experiment with unexpected and creative forms of technology? Here you go. Text and slides are B-O-R-I-N-G! Get a drone and create a video. Use a 3-D printer or laser cutter. Learn how to create your own virtual reality content. Make your ePortfolio compelling so people will flock to discover what you’re learning. ePortfolios are meant to be shared. Don’t bore us.

3. Cross Disciplinary Lines
ePortfolio demos may be tied directly and explicitly to learning outcomes. Yet, that does not mean they must only be outcomes from one academic discipline or subject. Authentic, real-world learning occurs across disciplinary lines. Create demos that blur the lines and reflect reality.

Remember, “the real value of an ePortfolio is in the reflection and learning that is documented therein, not just the collection of work.” Utilizing these 3 tips will lead to extended reflection at each stage of the process through the student-led conference and beyond.

Pre-Planning Recap: Day 2

day 2

Today was a robust, action-packed day #2 of pre-planning. Front-loading and launching the key initiatives for the upcoming semester, communicating the basic “housekeeping” items, duties + red binders (Thank you Mel), preparing for R & D teams (Thank you Angél), and getting CPR (re)-certified (Thank you Anne-Brown and Patsy). Here are the slide presentations for Advisory (Thank you Max and Tasha), Visible Thinking (Thank you Ann and Charles), and Eportfolios (Thank you Katie).

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Students Take the Lead – Spring 2016

Students Take the Lead – Spring 2016

On Wednesday, February 17, students took the lead for the second time this year with student led conferences. In the fall, students shared their goals with parents and teachers. This time, students ran the show from start to finish. Introducing parents and teachers to one another, the students showcased 5 demonstrations chosen from their e-portfolios.

IMG_8466 IMG_8469 IMG_8470 IMG_8473 IMG_8474 IMG_8482 IMG_8484 IMG_8486 IMG_8489 IMG_8490 Students take the lead


Students Want Access

dig medStudents Want Access

The past couple of mornings, I’ve received several unexpected student visitors to my office. My desk is covered in papers, my nose buried in a laptop while diligently working to accomplish a variety of projects, but thankfully I know when to put all of the ‘important stuff’ on hold. What’s more important than taking the time to listen and talk to a passionate and curious learner?

One student came in to show me the BB-8 robot he got for Christmas. He just walked right in, opened up the box, placed the robot on the floor, and showed me how he controlled it with his phone. Cool!

Another pair of students dropped by to ask if they could print a 3D printer using another 3D printer. They want to print a better printer so they can print drones that they can sell through the business they’ve created. What!? That’s the greatest thing I’ve ever heard. Their enthusiasm is so strong that they offered to pay for the part (our current printer is a hand-me-down from the Upper School and it gets jammed after 15 hours of printing – requiring constant replacement). When student engagement occurs naturally – don’t get in the way!

There is a student who is planning to strap a GoPro to his head and film a day in his life, then upload to his e-portfolio. I secured two different devices and he has been stopping the front office to prepare. We ordered a memory card yesterday. We discussed how teachers might use this same technology to capture their lessons for a) self reflection and professional learning or b) posting to their websites for students to review.

Brainstorming Tech Needs

Every year, we have the opportunity to propose a wish list of technology items to be used by students and teachers in our school. What a blessing! I am grateful that we can “say yes” to so many ideas. It seems only fitting to involve a wide range of stakeholders in the conversation as they are the primary users of any emerging technology we purchase. Today, I met with the Digital Media class, as well as a few other students. We brainstormed a great list of ideas.

dig med5dig med3 dig med4

dig med2

Students Invent Thumbprint Scanner Lockers
How a GoPro got my students excited to learn
The best 3D printers of 2016 – reviews
Oculus Rift

How might we give Middle School students greater access to emerging technology, opportunities to start their own businesses, and to make/create/design their wildest ideas?

Students Share Eportfolio Feedback

Students Share Eportfolio Feedback Students Share Eportfolio Feedback

5 Middle School students took advantage of an offer to spend time working with me to ‘crack the code’ on making eportfolios more engaging for students. We met last week for an initial ‘discovery’ conversation. Students freely shared their likes and dislikes. Some snippets are captured in the videos below. Also, this week, students connected with the president and founder of Digication to share their ideas and questions, as well as learn more about the purpose and design of the platform we use.
Students Share Eportfolio Feedback

Many exciting plans are unfolding for this group of volunteer students. Undoubtedly, their enthusiasm and ‘user’ feedback will continue to move the needle for eportfolios in positive direction for all learners.

What are your thoughts about eportfolios? What ideas and questions can you share?

Piloting Student Badges in Study Skills

Piloting Student Badges in Study Skills

Since launching ‘central station’ and the designs of our XLR8 summer grant in August (thank you Amy and Chrissy), Middle School faculty have earned over 100 badges. To ensure a successful roll out to students in the future, we are intentionally focusing on the faculty experiencing and understanding the power of badging. While a full scale badging launch for students is still beyond the trees, today we piloted a small scale experiment with students in study skills.

Designed by the Academic Resource team including Samantha Flowers, Ann Plumer, and Kelli Bynum, it is exciting to introduce the Scribe and Taskmaster badges for students!
Piloting Student Badges in Study Skills Piloting Student Badges in Study Skills


The students showed great enthusiasm as we discussed how learning is measured, comparing grades and badges, as well as covering the 6 elements of badge design. They had fantastic ideas for what physical form the badges might take, particularly recommending locker magnets that could be displayed for visitors, tours, and all passersby.

What do you think of these two new badges? Can you imagine these criteria displayed and discussed in a student led conference through the students’ eportfolios?

Learning Transcends School

Learning Transcends School

Learning Transcends School

Do you believe learning happens only at school? Probably not.

Yet somehow, we act like it’s true. It’s like the matrix – a kind of false sense of reality. It’s similar to “God is experienced only at church.” Hogwash. God is everywhere. And learning happens everywhere, too.

For years, we have conditioned them that learning occurs in specific subjects, in specific rooms, at specific times, in specific desks. If there isn’t a grade attached to it, they may not be interested. Such conditioning limits the possibilities of learning and metacognition.

This week, we challenged students to discuss and upload examples of “learning outside the school.” It was more difficult than you might imagine.

Students met with their Conference Mentors and were asked to answer the following questions and upload at least one image, drawing, video etc, in their eportfolios/blogs…

– Describe something significant you have learned in your life “outside” of school.

– What do you like to do when you are not school? What activities, interests, and topics are most motivated to learn more about?

– Outside of school, what is something you are proud of?

– If school was abolished completely, what would you do all day? How would you spend your time?

What have you learned “outside of school?” How do adults continue to learn without the structure of “school” after “school” is completed?

Overcoming Obstacles to ePortfolios

Overcoming Obstacles to ePortfolios

This morning’s faculty meeting saw teachers paired up with Middle School Digital Media students. Our goal was learn from students and ‘crack the code’ on how to use eportfolios more effectively. We followed up on last week’s meeting (vertical process standards/formative assessment/eportfolio demo) and last week’s conference mentor discussions (how students can take greater ownership of their learning through eportfolios).

Today’s Faculty Meeting Agenda

Essential Questions:
Based on student feedback, how can we ‘crack the code’ for how to use eportfolios more effectively both ‘for learning’ (formative/workspace) and ‘of learning’ (summative/showcase)?

Desired Outcomes:
Students and faculty collaborate to discover students’ ideas around iterating eportfolios.

Learning Opportunities:

  • Chip shares feedback from Conference Mentor meetings (~5 mins)
  • Students from Digital Media show their eportfolios to MS faculty members (~10 mins)
  • Faculty members interview students regarding eportfolios (~15 mins)
  • Faculty member partners affinity map post-it notes on small whiteboards (~3 mins)
  • Faculty member partners transfer post-it notes from each small group onto five Z-racks (~10 mins)
  • Each group shares insight with the faculty as they transfer post-it notes to Z-rack
  • Ticket Out the Door – Remember two weeks ago in vertical teams – Based on the information you now know from the students, how might you iterate what you designed for your formative assessment/eportfolio piece related to a specific vertical process standard/learning outcome?


Here are the post-it notes captured by teachers when interviewing students…

What I like Most…
– different from everyone else
– allowed to express learning
– everyone can see work and what we’re proud of
– better than last year (google sites), easier and more simple to figure out
– tabs arranged by classes (disciplines) vs. mindsets (2x)
– we can choose what to put
– choice
– teacher driven, but students given choice
– don’t have to get on the Google site – no searching
– helps us study for tests/quizzes
– ability to customize and autonomy
– Digital Media class really helps with ePortfolio
– future value: resume, look back at accomplishments, US can use to preview students

New Ideas to Consider
– besides Google, film, video, picture, prezi, padlet
– paper for Grandma
– add friends?
– add something I’m proud of
– would prefer to be told to upload – easy and don’t have to think about it
– use for admissions (submit when you are applying?)
– show students who are applying to MVPS
– extra points would make them upload for fun
– use QR codes
– podcasts

How to Improve
– use eportfolio as assessment – student doesn’t know how
– not motivated, don’t want to add imperfect
– benefit of reflecting? – maybe more explanation
– reflecting not fun, but sometimes necessary
– students don’t want to show off work that is bad or poor grade
– sharing study guides on eportfolio may make it more useful for students
– merge quizlet study concepts w/eportfolio
– outside of showcasing, no real use
– choosing what to upload
– pictures was easy to upload, document not so much
– more freedom on stuff to upload
– don’t like this year’s eportfolio – it’s confusing and more steps (than google sites)

Don’t Understand Yet
– adding papers and modules are confusing
– multi-step, don’t know 1/2
– easier
– how to videos help
– can see it more in high school, but not now
– if we had a class on it, we should be able to do a lot more, outside of uploading – we can’t do a whole lot
– kinda cool, but more relevant in high school

Obstacle 1: Lack of clear purpose
– why do we have to publish everything?
– Church?
– don’t know what to add for outside MVPS
– don’t do much on computer outside MVPS
– fun? expressing self
– feel like I can try something harder b/c I was successful here
– feel proud to know I can do this – Scratch
– outside of showcasing students, don’t use it for anything else
– like that it allows you to be creative but other than showcasing, no use
– students feel it is more useful for high school students b/c they can use for college applications, etc. but NOT useful in middle school
– display best work
– technology not working well. publish stuff then it says unpublished
– do you put rough draft? – no – it is ‘show off’ but could
– Google docs eportfolio was much easier
– things were not uploading when they showed it to us

Obstacle 2: Audience Too Small
– like/want to see everyone’s eportfolio
– they’d be more motivated if more people (like US students) could see
– who is audience?
– do teachers look at this? any audience?
– unsure of audience
– don’t want to upload what they did poorly
– who to see? parent, grandparent, know you better/unique views
– audience: teachers, Mr. Houston, Deans

Obstacle 3: Too Many Tech Steps
– challenging uploading for subjects that are paper-back
– refresh button hits
– improve rich text video
– tabs, I don’t get subtitles
– it broke down, buttons missing, no publish button
– tech issues (a la video), don’t like unguided reflection
– not easy to operate, reflections remain problematic
– have to publish each inc pg – annoying!
– hard to make lots of edits in many tabs b/c
– want to publish it all at once
– easy to use
– don’t know how to save from studio 7 – no picture
– process uploading isn’t bad, BUT it’s hard uploading videos
– the use of outside emails to MVPS email gets tedious
– no internet when we went to show eportfolio
– MVPS restricted youtube, need video platform that can see
– can create more than 1
– didn’t know about “outside mvps”
– add a module: hard to interpret, text, picture, etc.

Obstacle 4: Too School-Centered
– don’t want to load bad grades
– don’t like teacher determining uploads
– not in favor of wider reach
– want to upload a presentation over a lab
– more creative, more color
– teachers tell you what to do
– only posting things that are mandatory
– big question about an END OF THE YEAR reflection – they don’t want to do that
– like Digication
– don’t want to show it to college necessarily
– one wants best work
– want control over it
– is it apps for 5th graders to have it? vs. high school? vs. 8th grade?

– a lot of checking the box
– rough draft 1, shiny 2
– don’t want to post “boring” things
– people don’t think the process is interesting to look at
– looking at a picture of a lab is boring
– do not like reflecting. think it is boring and unhelpful
– grades would motivate them to put more effort in
– matters: Shows everything & you can go back and see what you’ve done
– want final product, not ‘blueprint’
– Grammar rough draft included
– takes up advisory when they want to study
– favorite types of media: google pres and a game
– why matters: to show teachers improvements, likes, enjoyments
– interactions: comments would be ok
– customization, uses mindsets, likes organization
– it’s boring
– more fun formatting
– how you felt when showing eportfolio: nervous
– reorganize categories
– upload what she wants, restricted
– purpose: simply organize work??

How to make it better?
– 7th grade feels students are afraid that they will have to do another BIG REFLECTION for eportfolio like last year – didn’t like it.
– They want an opportunity to be rewarded for eportfolio use


Hacking ePortfolios

Hacking ePortfolios

(cue sudden, startling music)
There’s been an awakening. Have you felt it?

Our school launched eportfolios a few years ago. Feedback from students and teachers confirms we have not yet cracked the code on how to use them effectively. Why not?

Hacking eporfolios

Lack of clear purpose
Middle School kids don’t have to be coaxed into seeing the relevance of Instagram or Snapchat. It’s social. It’s about them. It’s a way to share and be ‘in the know.’ In fact, not being part of it leads to a desperate feeling of being on the outside. The purpose of eportfolios has the potential to be similarly compelling, but not the way we’ve currently designed it.

From a school’s point of view, eportfolios have multiple purposes. In my opinion, there are two primary reasons to use them: workspace and showcase. Workspace means the portfolio is a tool to increase learning (and reflection of learning). Showcase means it is a way to measure learning (an additional gauge beyond grades). One is formative. The other is summative. Students could care less about either.

To increase student engagement with eportfolios, we must find ways to incorporate more of the elements they love about Instagram and other things on which they obsessively focus. Can teachers somehow ‘jedi mind trick’ them into wanting to use eportfolios for workspaces and showcases? From a student’s perspective, what is the purpose of an eportfolio? And why should they care?

Too school centered
Students have goals and teachers have goals. And never the twain shall meet? Let the students decide what to upload, at least to jumpstart the conversation and active use of eportfolios. They will be more likely to accept some of the learning outcome/learning measure stuff teachers want them to do if we first listen and accept what they care about posting. And show them how to do it in ways they haven’t imagined.
Hacking eportfoliosAudience too small
After all the labor spent, who sees a student’s work? No one really. The teacher may see it, but the teacher sees the student’s work every day. What’s so special about that? Current settings keep the work private. The world has no access. What if we could expand the audience? Like a true blog, the appeal is the potential for the entire globe to have access (at least those with internet access). How can we enable students to see one another’s eportfolios? Let students from other divisions or schools view and comment. External experts or experts in residence could mentor specific students on their posts, providing valuable feedback unique to their field. Pair up with students in another city, state, or country and share out. Create a mini convention like the old social science fair. Invite guests, parents, community members, and others to view, ask questions in person, and give feedback.
Hacking eportfoliosToo many tech steps
Students want it to be easy. So do teachers. Makes sense. Recently, I spoke with a student who explained, “In order to upload a picture to my eportfolio, I have to have my phone, but we’re not supposed to have these. Then, I can’t upload the photo directly to my eportfolio, so I have to email it to myself, but we’re not allowed to receive outside emails (school settings prevent this as a way to protect kids), so I have to login to my personal email (also not allowed during school hours), then upload it to google drive, log back into my school account, and finally upload the picture into my Digication eportfolio. But I don’t like the way it looks, it’s so 2006.”

I was exhausted just listening. I can truly empathize with how they feel. I attempted to download the WordPress app to my phone so I could experiment with instantly uploading my own photos and posts remotely. After an hour or so, and many attempts to retrieve my forgotten password, I was still unsuccessful. It’s more hassle than it’s worth. Who has time to spend trying to figure all of this stuff out?

If we want eportfolios to happen, we have to simplify the steps. We’re trying to make water flow uphill.

What is the purpose of an eportfolio? And why should they care?

How do we make eportfolios more student centered? How do we balance student centered and school centered approaches to eportfolios?

How many ways can we expand the audience for students to showcase their learning, not just their best products?

How can we simplify the steps necessary to uploading demonstrations? What platform(s) are best for middle schoolers? upper schoolers? educators?

Learning Through Reflection
Sample ePortfolios
ePortfolio Boot Camp
Using Google Photos

Student Feedback on ePortfolios

Student Feedback on ePortfolios

Today, students met with their conference mentors to read an article and discuss how to make e-portfolios more relevant for students. Many students do not see the need or value in this practice yet. I led a conversation with about 30 students and loved hearing their thoughts, ideas, complaints, and obstacles because I believe so fully in the power and relevance of e-portfolios as a tool for learning. There is a large gap and disconnect between our vision and the current reality of this initiative. I am totally stoked by this feedback and the conversations students are having. After all, the goal is to engage students and get them to feel a greater sense of ownership of their learning. Read the feedback and share your ideas for how to overcome some of these obstacles. It’s time to take the feedback and iterate…

more student feedback on post-it notes…

I think we should be able to chose the form that we use. e-portfolio, website, blog, etc.
don’t get the point, no one sees it, we don’t really want to use it
give a reason to make e-portfolios
I think that e-portfolios can be easier and more well explained
not really worth it. if teachers want our work so bad they should upload our work to a specific folder
I think we could make it better by not making the students post often
I really do not know, just don’t make them so urgent? I do not know.
We can make it better by get a reward for posting things.
We do not need it as middle schoolers. Do not enjoy it.
Have a goal or a meaning of why we do thing.
Showcase them more. Put them to use more.
Make it easier to navigate
If MVPS needs it to get people to come to MVPS, then why don’t they do it themselves. There’s no point for students to do this when MVPS uses it themselves, not us. Do it yourself.