I started this ePortfolio process for the first time this year with my Year 6 class. My belief was that it provided an engaging 21st century alternative to the old plastic folder. As the only teacher who did digital work I turned to my online PLN for some guidance. I began by researching many blogs, case studies and engaging in discussions with other educators on this journey. I discovered that their are many different opinions and ultimately like all teaching, it needs a purpose.
My purpose for developing ePortfolios in the classroom is to allow my students to engage and reflect on their own learning. The process of creating their ePortfolio's, talking about it, and visualising their learning achievements and progressions, makes them more aware of themselves as lifelong learners.
This blog post by Nick Rate has two graphs that really show what ePortfolio purpose and ownership in our primary school may look like. I think it shows nicely how ePortfolios should/do start as a showcase for student work in the lower years. As they progress through school it becomes a process to show learning, with goal setting, reflections and feedback. Accountability becomes increasingly important as they reach secondary school and onwards. To me this means that we as adults and professionals should be accountable for our own ePortfolios, are you?
I started out using a portion of our computer suite time, as everyone was on a computer. I created an example ePortfolio and taught / modelled the steps that took us to where we are now. I have used the old paper portfolios and my own judgement on the contents. Through my sharing and learning about ePortfolios from other educators and especially seeing their work, I realised there is a next step for me.
Our ePortfolios use a range of web 2.0 tools to add interest and engage in multiple modes of literacy. I am a visual person and so to are most of my students. They often find it easier to visualise their progress when they can see it on a chart. Students track their Literacy and Numeracy assessment scores as well as adding samples of their work. They add their goals and are beginning to add Key Competencies. They have scanned handwriting samples, a Maori, ICT skills, Topic and Sports, ICT pages.
We reflect on our learning in our blogs and have created a link to these on our home pages. I believe that ePortfolios in our digital world does not mean everything must be contained in one 'folder' or ePortfolio site. ePortfolios are the source but also a gateway to our works and reflections online.
What platform to use for your ePortfolios is a difficult choice. Their are many types such as http://myportfolio.ac.nz advocated by Nick Rate. It has a free trail period then you pay monthly. It seems to have many advantages, except for the paying bit. When so much is free it can be hard to get a school principal to part with money from a tight budget. Wiki's are a good option which I have been using for my personal Teaching and Learning ePortfolio and I have heard of Ultranet and KnowledgeNet used by other New Zealand schools. I still need to learn much more about the platforms available however it is no reason not to start the journey using free options like Sites and Wikis. A big issue for me with managed learning environments (MLE) like Ultranet and KnowledgeNet is that their environment is closed. See Ewan MacIntosh's blog: ePortfolios & Learning Management Systems: Setting our default to social, for more on this.
In the end I choose Google Apps Sites for my class as our school like many others had adopted Google Apps. Our school account of Google Apps provided a platform that allowed secure sites for our ePortfolios as well as transferability as the student moved through the school, or even if they left. In it's present form it is a bit limited and restrictive in allowing the user to change page layouts and add widgets.
Should teachers also be required to have ePortfolios too?
I followed discussions like these on Twitter and various blogs and they led me to ask that same question of myself. My answer is, yes! We are learners too and as part of our reflective thinking we should be using as a showcase of good work, a sharing resource for other teachers and place to grow as a professional. This is mine.
Done school wide it offers more possibilities for peer mentoring, moderation and stronger professional community conversations. Done country wide, who knows? Of course to compensate, we do need to let go many of the paperwork shackles that we seem attached to.
Some worthwhile reading on ePortfolios: