ePortfolio follow-up


I thought I would post a follow-up to my last post about eportfolios, which focused more on what I thought about ePortfolios as a medium for showing what we know and how I think they can best be done.  In the world we live in today, we need to consider the resources we draw upon to teach our students.  With very little effort, and maybe just a bit of thought, most teachers can find a media rich resource to use in class.  But how do we document the effective use of such rich resources if we are completing paper based portfolios?

The easiest way is to ditch the paper and go with an electronic portfolio or ePortfolio.  ePortfolios can take many forms, from non-linear PowerPoints to simple Web pages to full fledge Web 2.0 wikis, blogs, or even social networks.  The main thing to keep in mind is that the person creating the ePortfolio chooses the platform that works best for them, not their administrator or next door teacher.  Finding the right platform can be a little overwhelming, but here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Pick a platform that represents your work the best.
  • Pick a platform that doesn’t require a significant time commitment to learn the basics of “how” to use the software.  Some time investment will be required, but it shouldn’t be so much that you don’t have time for anything else.
  • Think about the type of media you will be using.  If you have video, but no way to embed said video you might want to find a different platform.
  • If you don’t know what platform will work for you, ask for help.  Talk to your administrator, the teachers in your hallway, or even ask for help on Twitter or Facebook.  Many people have been where you are and can help show you the way out.

What I like about ePortfolios, and really paper portfolios, is how easy it is to reflect on the “artifact.”  In most Web 2.0 platforms we have today, there are comment features for nearly everything associated with the software being used.  Whether it be a blog, wiki, podcast, etc., there is almost always some way to make a comment.  This easy access allows us to not only reflect on what we are doing and teaching, but it also allows others to comment on our work and provide feedback.  The power is in the feedback, not the process.  We are often blinded when we look at our own work, so it helps when someone we trust or even someone we haven’t built a trust with, takes a look at our work.

While this post focused more on teachers and ePortfolios, I think they are a great idea for students as well.  If I were teaching a class, I would have all students create an ePortfolio where they could submit their assignments for the course.  I would also have them share the URLs for the ePortfolios with other students in the class, and even other students, teachers, or experts in the state, nation, and world.  Give students the means and platform to speak from and to receive feedback from the rest of the world.  While you may be a very accomplished and educated teacher, receiving feedback from others may make more of an impact on your students’ education than you ever can.  And that’s okay.

Here are some platform ideas for creating ePortfolios.  Note: this is not a how-to perse or an exhaustive list, but rather a list of possibilities.

  • Blog
  • Wiki
  • Web Page
  • Social Networking site: Ning, Facebook Page
  • Podcasts
  • PowerPoint
  • Moodle
  • BlackBoard

ePortfolios: What’s the point?

frustrated man

The other day I came across an article in my Twitter feed about ePortfolios and how they can be done using Google Sites (for the life of me I can’t find it anymore).  I immediately thought of how many of the teachers I used to work with loathed the inevitable process they would have to go through every three years.  Their biggest complaint was that regardless of what they did, they would need to change maybe one or two things and that was it.  There was little formative feedback for them to improve their practice.  What’s more, some teachers didn’t want to receive feedback of any kind, because they were happy with how they were teaching.  I can only assume (yes, I know, very dangerous) this is the process many schools go through, but I fail to see the benefit of doing so.  This leads me to ask, does the platform a teacher submits their portfolio through really make much of a difference?  Isn’t it what’s inside the portfolio that matters most?  Wouldn’t it be more useful to spend time discussing with teachers how to reflect on their practice and how to improve their teaching, rather than on changing the way they submit evidence of the teaching?

I have had some experiences with portfolios and eportfolios in my previous position as a technology director for a K12 school district.  I was the person calling for more electronic portfolios, even though an electronic portfolio doesn’t get to the heart of what makes a good teacher good.  I did what many have done before me and countless more will continue to do after me, I taught the how without putting in a context for why we should be doing this.  I assumed that it was inherently good to do an eportfolio because it was new and used technology.  While since then I feel as I have grown to be able to say we need to talk about what good teaching looks like and how we can make teaching and education stronger as a whole, I feel, and fear, many have not.

An eportfolio may be the new way of showing how well we teach (I actually think it is due to the types of media that we can and do use in the classroom), but it is the same busy work only in a different platform.  The attitudes many feel are the same and the results are almost assuredly the same.  I think reflection is the most important thing an educator can do, because it makes us think.  It makes us think about what we do everyday and whether or not we are making a difference.  However, too many people don’t reflect and we find ourselves looking for ways to improve a broken system (RTTT, Superman, etc.).  I think having the large, overarching conversations at the state or the national level is important, but maybe it’s time we take some time to think about what we are doing so we can figure out where we need to go.

It all starts with reflection.  Take some time, whether it be every day, week, or month, and think about what you’ve been doing.  Have you been making a difference?