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Home » Developing and Facilitating Leadership » Innovate, Engage, Learn: Student Online Educational Portfolios

Innovate, Engage, Learn: Student Online Educational Portfolios

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If we teach today as we taught yesterday, we rob our children of tomorrow. – John Dewey

Reflection upon one’s own learning and practice is vital to growth. As a teacher, I learned very early in my career that reflecting upon all aspects of my practice was important to increasing my professional competency. Despite knowing this, my practice of reflection was sporadic at best due to the daily rigors of the job… until recently. After hearing @gcouros talk about his portfolio The Principal of Change as being the most meaningful learning he has ever done, I was inspired to create my own blog as a tool of learning and reflection. Although very early in the process, this journey thus far has been incredible. Not only am I deliberately and intentionally reflecting on my practice, I am thoroughly enjoying the process; consequently, it is making me a better school administrator and educator. I am learning more about my strengths and how to improve them, as well as my areas for growth. So if this works for me and helps me learn, why wouldn’t it work for students?

Providing opportunity for students to create their own online educational portfolios/blogfolios has many benefits to a students’ learning:

  1. It engages students
  2. It provides an authentic audience thus increasing student motivation which in turn enhances literacy
  3. It provides collaboration and sharing of learning
  4. It provides opportunity for student reflection of learning
  5. It enhances comprehensive reporting as parents can login and view their child’s progress
Although, we at Muir Lake School are very early in this process there has been lots of excitement about the project. Students are jumping at the opportunity to participate. Obviously, in undertaking an initiative of this nature, there are a number of factors to consider:
  1. The vision for student online educational portfolios
  2. Technology Platform
  3. Student safety – How public will the students’ portfolios be?
  4. Digital citizenship – Acceptable user agreements, student education and responsibility etc.
  5. Technology administration
  6. Parent & community communication
  7. Roll out plan
  8. Teacher technology training
  9. Student technology training

The Vision for Student Online Educational Portfolios

The goal is to have every student in our school create and manage their own portfolios including work samples from all subject areas and interests in their life. Their work will reflect what they are most proud of but also work that shows their growth and development. This portfolio will follow them through the completion of high school and beyond. Although teachers will facilitate and make suggestions as to the content on their portfolio; ultimately, the student will be the editor and author of their own portfolio. The students will use technology to learn. This will be an incredibly powerful tool to facilitate creative problem solving, information fluency, critical thinking skills and collaboration.

Technology Platform

There are many choices available to facilitate such a project. Parkland School Division has chosen to use a combination of  Google Apps for Education and WordPress-Multi User.

Google Apps is beneficial for many reasons that will deeply impact student learning, and is transformational in the way we teach and learn in Parkland School Division. Other than providing anywhere, anytime, anyplace access for our students at both home and school, the ease of use to collaborate with one another helps our students to develop the group skills that are so necessary in a team environment, while also ensuring that our students have the options of developing skills as an individual.  Using Google Apps for Education helps to ensure that we can create an environment that while beneficial to learning, is also controlled; thus, ensuring safety for our students through the different sharing options.

Our division has chosen to utilize WordPress-Multi User as the platform for the students’ blogs. This platform is comprehensive in terms of the flexibility and options it provides in terms of method of content creation. It allows for video compatibility with many online video hosting platforms, pictures, and much more. It is an open source project which offers much more flexibility than many of the other options available. To read more on the project please visit the Parkland School Division Google Apps/Digital Portfolio Wiki.

Student Safety

Our students use technology to learn. Technology is essential to facilitate the creative problem solving, information fluency, critical thinking skills, and collaboration that we see in today’s world. While we want our students to be active contributors in our connected world, we also want them to be safe, legal, and responsible. WordPress provides multiple options of visibility to the public. We at Parkland School Division have chosen to start this initiative by only allowing students’ blogfolios to be viewed by people within login access in Parkland School Division. In other words, the only people who can view it are other students and staff members. Parents are then encouraged to login with their child’s information to view their child’s portfolio. Utilizing Google Apps in combination with WordPress increases the flexibility in sharing even further. Students posting links on their blog to their work can range from completely private to public on the web. This range of flexibility has already alleviated some parental concerns pertaining to the protection of their child and allows for students and parents to embrace the project at a level that they feel comfortable.

Digital Citizenship 

I have seen many examples of young (and older people for that matter) post things online about a situation or person that they would never say in person. It is almost like there is a false sense of security, boldness, and lack of awareness that will sometimes occur when sitting in front of a computer screen. Most people understand what it means to be a citizen in a community and the responsibility that comes with it; however, my observation is that many struggle with what it means to be a digital citizen. Prior to having our students begin this project, we took the time (and will continue to do so) to talk about and engage our students in digital citizenship learning activities. Educating our students in this matter is more imperative to their safety than any of the things I discussed above. Empowering students to make sound informed choices will serve to protect them in and out of school as they engage in different activities on the internet. There are many great resources available so one doesn’t have to “reinvent the wheel”. A couple resources that I have recently utilized are bookmarked in my diigo Digital Citizenship list.

Technology Administration

This is an essential component to seeing a project of this nature succeed. WordPress allows for different levels of administration privileges, roles and capabilities. Planning who will have what privileges ahead of time and making sure they are appropriately trained will save headaches later. For example, if you decided to do this, I can promise that you will have students who forget their passwords. Having the people and process in place to deal with this ahead of time will avoid frustration. At our school, I am taking time to train others to have super admin privileges. Sharing responsibility and leadership not only alleviates workload on any one individual, it also ensures longevity of the project. Having the project rest on the shoulders of one means the project will stall or die if that person leaves the building. Share leadership.

Parent & Community Communication

Knowing and informing your parents and school community is essential to implementing a project of this nature. Prior to beginning this project with our students we took steps to inform and educate parents. Here are some of the steps that we took in an attempt to educate and communicate with our school community.

  1. Presented the initiative at School Council
  2. Started a school blog as a means of collaboration and communication
  3. Sent home a Technology Innovation Plan letter with every student starting the project
  4. Asked all parents/guardians and students to sign and return a Technology Acceptable Use Agreement and Parent Collaboration & Consent
  5. Posted information pertaining to our Technology Innovation Plan on our school blog
  6. Shared the information on our School Facebook page
So far in our implementation plan, sharing this information in this matter has greatly helped to gain the support of our parents and community. After receiving the information, we have had a few parents with concerns regarding the safety of their child in terms of participating in this initiative; however, providing the information to them in this manner has only helped facilitate meaningful phone and email conversations to clarify and alleviate their concerns.
Roll Out Plan
Obviously a roll out plan needs to be designed specifically to your specific school community. Accounting for such factors as teacher comfort level, willingness to innovate and take risks, skill, knowledge, and training, current school technology use and availability, parent community comfort and knowledge level pertaining to online social media, are all important to making an initiative of this nature successful. Trying to do too much too fast will only frustrate everyone involved. It is better to implement in manageable steps specific to your school rather than rushing to do all at once. Finding the appropriate balance between pushing forward and allowing time for people to increase their comfort level is essential. As mentioned previously, it is important to design your roll out plan specific to your school; however, I thought I would share the steps that we are taking in implementing this initiative in our school. Each step does have a target goal date; however, that being said, this is not a rigid plan. As we are early in the implementation process, we are taking a flexible approach, with a willingness to speed up or slow down at each step depending upon the needs of our school.
  1. Formed a Tech Team of staff members willing and wanting to learn about Google Apps and WordPress – met for training a number of times
  2. Started school blog
  3. Parent & community communication
  4. Teachers start classroom blogs
  5. Implement student online learning portfolios in classes of teachers willing to take the lead
  6. Create a grade 8-9 Online Learning Portfolios option – implement with students in options
  7. Implement in all middle year classes
  8. Early year students to participate in teacher blogs
  9. Partner middle and early year classes for older students to assist younger students in creating online learning portfolios in classes of willing teachers
  10. All middle and early year classes partnered to implement online learning portfolios in early years classes
Teacher Technology Training 
Formal training, as mentioned above in the role out plan is productive and can provide an introduction and foundation to the technology; however, meeting a few times to show how the technology works is not adequate. In my experience, the best way to increase confidence and create “buy in” among staff is to create practical opportunities to use the technology. Providing these opportunities so that the benefit of the technology can be experienced first hand will motivate to continue to use and increase the comfort level of teachers to implement in their class for student use. For example, instead of administration only creating staff meeting agendas, we have moved a transparent, collaborative model where all staff members can contribute to the staff meeting by using Google Docs. Yes, that means that staff can view the document before the final draft which I realize may make some people uncomfortable; however, encouraging and including collaboration in the process is invaluable. In addition, we utilize Google Forms to collect feedback and input from staff, again providing the opportunity to interact and experience the technology. Teachers have worked on report card comments using Google Docs. We created a shared school calendar and embedded it on the school blog as a tool for staff to share classroom and school activities with the community. We have and will continue to encourage teachers to set up classroom blogs. We started the school blog with a collaborative multiple author approach as another opportunity for staff and community to contribute and interact with the technology. The ideas really are endless. The challenge is to increase skill level to the place where the technology is seen as a benefit and not onerous. The more opportunity to utilize technology in everyday use is the best training I know. Ultimately, teachers need to feel comfortable with the technology themselves, before they will feel confident to facilitate the students in the process.
Student Technology Training
Getting started is the hardest part. Introducing a new platform to the class does come with some initial difficulty as students interact with the technology for the first few times. Although, the obvious method to train the students is through demonstration; however, in my experience, expecting this to suffice will only lead to frustration. Demonstrating the “tech” steps is a good starting place but don’t expect all the students to get it from there. Instead, give them a task (ie. create categories, do your first blog post, choose a theme, create pages etc.), point them in the right direction and let them figure it out while providing support for those who get stuck. Learning by doing is best. While the students are working just be available to help students troubleshoot. Taking a team teaching approach in providing support for the students especially if one isn’t overly confident with the technology is a great idea in keeping the students move forward initially.
Ultimately, begin the process with realistic expectations. It will take some time for students to get comfortable with the technology but it is time well invested. Although it may seem slow going at first and pull on every ounce of patience you can muster, it is a season that quickly passes. Very quickly, the process becomes less about the technology and more about the learning. My students, early in the process, are already not relying on me, instead excited to take the initiative to share and write about their learning on their own. They are working on it at home… and I never even assigned it as homework!




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4 Comments

  1. I arrived from tumblr well done on an outstanding social media campaign

  2. Olivia Diaz says:

    Hello, important suggestion and an fascinating post, it’s going
    to be exciting if this is still the state of
    affairs in a few months time

  3. Francisco Gaviria says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you…..this was such a great read! Maybe the title should be “Innovate, Engage, Learn AND INSPIRE: Student Online Educational Portfolios”. While we are trying to make them accountable, reflective, and engaged sometimes we miss the boat b/c we’re scared to use technology. Like I said this was a great late night read! Can’t wait to see how i can implement this ASAP @ school!

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