(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?
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.
Audience 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.
Too 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?