Category Archives: digital portfolios

7 Important Questions Before Implementing Digital Portfolios

Image from Bill Ferriter at:

Image from Bill Ferriter (@plugusin)

Digital portfolios are something that are really starting to take off in schools.  There are different software programs that will make “portfolios” easy to share, yet do we truly embrace the power that a digital portfolio can bring into our schools?  Since it is “digital”, we need to go beyond a portfolio that only represents one year of learning, but can show the progression over time.

Here are some questions for you to consider as you look into the process.

  1. Is this a learning portfolio, showcase portfolio, or combination of both? – Does this show the student’s progression over time (learning), or just the best stuff (showcase).  There are huge benefits to both for learning and opportunities over time.  A combination of both in my opinion is best.
  2. Who owns the learning? – Is this a portfolio that only shows “school” work, or does the student have the opportunity to display what they are passionate about, or is it simply for items to be displayed based on what the teacher wants?  Is it a combination of both?  If the student feels no ownership over the process and product, the results will not be as powerful as if they do.
  3. How will it be exported after the process? – For starters, see the question above.  Secondly, if there is no plan to ensure that students have the opportunity to put all of this learning into their own space eventually, you are missing another opportunity that digital provides.
  4. How will you make the audience eventually go global? – A lot of parents and educators are worried about the work of a student getting “out there” (for various reasons), but if the portfolio is only available upon request, we are taking a very “paper” mentality, to a “digital” platform.  This does not meant the whole world has to see everything from the beginning, or the student needs to share it with the world if they do not want to, but the progression plan to share it with the world should be there.  Will the audience  be limited long term?
  5. What brings people to the portfolio? – Is there any mechanism that brings people to the portfolio other than telling people to come? Simple things like email help to build an audience.  Is the portfolio more likely to be seen and more valuable to the learning if it goes to people, other than people coming to the portfolio?
  6. What impact will this have on the learner’s digital footprint?Will Richardson suggests that by the time kids graduate grade 12, you should be able to google them and find good stuff about them (see image at the top of the post). Does the portfolio help in this endeavour when every student we work with now will be googled for jobs, university, or a myriad of other things.
  7. What about next year and other classes? – This is a HUGE question.  If the portfolio only lasts for one year, then you are missing a great opportunity. What professional learning is in place for teachers to support a connection of learning over time for the students?  What will the students work look like over time and how will they be able to google or search for their own learning?  If the plan is not in place to grow this over time, we lose so much from the process.

If these questions aren’t considered, I am wondering if we are just doing a digital version of “school”, or rethinking the opportunities digital now provides for learning in school?  This is more than just thinking about the software, but thinking about the potential of what this process can bring to our students and ourselves.

Telling a Story Beyond Grades

“Grades do not tell the story of a child.”

Most educators, parents, and human beings would agree with this statement.  Yet how are we helping change this narrative, and encouraging and empowering students to tell their own story?

The beautiful thing about this time in the world is that it is becoming so much easier to make this happen, but it is also becoming more important.

In 2011, I read this post on Forbes titled, “5 Reasons Why Your Online Presence Will Replace Your Resume in 10 years“,  and here is a snippet from the article:

By claiming your web presence, you’re protected from other people, with the same name, claiming it before you. You also gain control over how you’re perceived online, and thus what employers find out about you when they conduct their search.

So here we are, five years later, and are we recognizing and embracing this opportunity for our students?

This just isn’t employers though either.  Post-secondary institutions are now paying more attention.  In 2013, this article, “They Loved Your G.P.A. Then They Saw Your Tweets“, was posted on the New York Times website.  But is the focus of the article and in what we share in school more about what not to do?

In an effort to help high school students avoid self-sabotage online, guidance counselors are tutoring them in scrubbing their digital identities. At Brookline High School in Massachusetts, juniors are taught to delete alcohol-related posts or photographs and to create socially acceptable email addresses…Likewise, high school students seem to be growing more shrewd, changing their searchable names on Facebook or untagging themselves in pictures to obscure their digital footprints during the college admission process.

As one college student told me, their advice from their professor was to “do nothing dumb online so they won’t lose a job.” I asked, “why don’t they encourage you to share awesome stuff so you can get one?”

Many schools are looking at ways that they can embrace different types of “portfolio” programs, yet many of them are hidden from anyone other than the school community and parents at home.  They do nothing in helping with developing a child’s digital footprint, and become in some ways a “digital dump”. This is why I am such a big advocate of using blogs as digital portfolios, knowing that they are not limited in mediums, but can prove to be useful after a child’s time in school, while helping to build a positive footprint, while also being easily transferable.

No employer is asking to see a student’s Edmodo account.  It may be useful for school (and I have seen teachers use this in classes for so many awesome things), but is it helping kids after?  This is an extremely important question.  Many of these sites are in some ways like using “training wheels” for a digital footprint, yet what opportunities are being provided long term?

We should never allow our children to be reduced to a letter or number, yet we need to ensure that we help them along the way. I think it is important that we understand some students would not want to post things online, and this is something that needs to be taken into account, but we should at least be guiding them and helping them understand the opportunities that exist.

(This image is from an old post below…hopefully it give some ideas of where to start.)

Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 6.05.42 PM

The Power of the Process

Attachment-1 (3)

I spent the day working with educators who are developing their own learning portfolios, before we embark on a journey of students going through the same process.  I truly believe that why digital portfolios have failed in so many places is that we are encouraging educators to teach them without learning how to do them first.  This, to me, is the equivalent of someone teaching math who has never learned math.  Though this process might be slower and not have students going through the process as quickly, it is the idea of going slow to move fast.  The depth of this project can be much deeper if educators think of the process from the point of the view of a learner, not the teacher.  Not only do these “blog-portfolios” help with educators understand the process through the viewpoint of a learner, it also helps in the following ways:

  1. Consistent focus on their own teaching and learning practices.
  2. Understanding how to develop their own digital footprint.
  3. Possibly creating future opportunities for teachers to write and present.
  4. Shared practices that help elevate teaching as a whole.

As we talked about this process, we discussed the idea of both “learning” and “showcase” portfolios. A “showcase” focuses on your “best stuff”, where learning shows growth over time.  I often find the notion of a learning portfolio is one that people struggle with because the growth in a year might be harder to see, so I showed them, what in my opinion, is part of the potential of a learning portfolio.  This link, “Artist Shows His Progression From 2 Years Old To 28“, displays the power of what you can see when you capture learning over time.  Check out the samples of work overtime:

Age 2

Age 2


Age 5

Age 5

Age 10

Age 10

Age 28

Age 28

(Check out the entire article to show the growth over time.)

Now the picture at 28 is quite amazing, but when you see it compared to where the same artist was earlier, it becomes much more powerful.  Yet this powerful learning journey has often been stored in our head, or been shown mostly in the form of numbers.

Showing growth over time helps us appreciate not only where learners are at, but where they have come from, which is something that we need to put more of an emphasis on in education.

“Who owns the learning?” #DigitalPortfolios

Today, very little of the work we give students in school provides them with a sense that they are making a contribution to anything other than their own educational progress toward graduation.

In Alan November’s 2012 book titled, “Who Owns the Learning?“, he states the following:

Today, very little of the work we give students in school provides them with a sense that they are making a contribution to anything other than their own educational progress toward graduation. Indeed, once the grade is recorded, a huge amount of student work is thrown away. It has no more value. Now that we have powerful, easy-to-use design tools and a capacity for worldwide publishing, we have an opportunity to restore the dignity and integrity of a work ethic with redefining the role of the learner as a contributor to the learning culture.

This thinking was evident in my development of our digital portfolio project. As more and more educational technology companies try to break into the “portfolio” market, they seem to be more concerned with where the data is stored, then the students actually having access to keep their information.  Both should be considerations, but we often are more concerned on how we report to parents than we are about students developing and contributing learning that we have ownership over.

As we thought about helping staff feel safe with students putting their thoughts out there, while also ensuring students would have ownership over their learning, we decided to go with a blogging platform (specifically Edublogs but this will work for any WordPress hosted domain).  I have written extensively on the use of blogs as digital portfolios (please feel free to click to learn more about this process), but one of the considerations I haven’t share was how students would be able to take everything they have done in this space and create their own domain at any point, either during of after their time in learning.

What the hope of the project is a student will be able to share their learning their entire time in school, so you can see them (and they can see themselves) develop over time.  At the end of their time with their portfolio in school, they can go into their blog and do the following.

  1. Go to your WordPress Dashboard.
  2. Under “Tools”, select “Export”. It will then download an XML file.
  3. Open your own domain.
  4. Go to the WordPress Dashboard and under “Tools”, select “Import”.
  5. Upload the XML file.
  6. Done.

The point of this post is not to “sell” you on Edublogs or WordPress, but more focused on a few questions:

  1. How do you create a space where if something goes wrong educators feel comfortable that they have “control” and can intervene if necessary?
  2. Are you “digital portfolios” something that are created simply for school, or something more meaningful that the world could have access to see if the student chooses?
  3. Is the process of moving from one space to another, something simple enough and can be done by the students themselves?

As you move forward with your own projects, these are questions we should be asking to be proactive, not have students create years of work, only to delete or have under the control of the school.  If that is the case, the learning was never theirs in the first place.

Curation as Portfolio Activity

I have really been focusing on the notion of “digital portfolios” and how they can be utilized in a different way than your standard portfolio.  I have also had a constant focus on the NCTE Definition of 21st Century Literacies, which are the following:

  • Develop proficiency and fluency with the tools of technology;
  • Build intentional cross-cultural connections and relationships with others so to pose and solve problems collaboratively and strengthen independent thought;
  • Design and share information for global communities to meet a variety of purposes;
  • Manage, analyze, and synthesize multiple streams of simultaneous information;
  • Create, critique, analyze, and evaluate multimedia texts;
  • Attend to the ethical responsibilities required by these complex environments.

The one focus that I am going to discuss (explicitly) in terms of a digital portfolio is “create, critique, analyze, and evaluate multimedia texts.”  

For example, I want a student to find a video or source that they believe is a good resource for learning. They then may embed a YouTube video into their blog and decide and list the criteria on why the video is powerful, and how it has helped them from learning.  It is not necessarily “original” material from the student, but it is showing their learning process and why it is valuable.

The added bonus of having this done in a digital portfolio, not only is the ability to show the process of learning, but it is also the curation of resources that a student could actually have access to at a later date. Since this blog is a portfolio of my own learning, if I want to look up anything that I have written on “educational leadership”, I can simply find this through the search tool of my blog, or even by google searching “George Couros Educational Leadership“, to find my own information (while also building my own digital footprint).  Imagine a student finding a video that they found valuable on “probability” and being able to find within their own resources, easily, the same video years later.  If we have students doing this in a “scrapbook” or notebook, years later those resources will be lost or inaccessible.

When we look at portfolios, it should not be simply sharing our own work, but curating, critiquing, and analyzing the information that others share as well.