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:
- It engages students
- It provides an authentic audience thus increasing student motivation which in turn enhances literacy
- It provides collaboration and sharing of learning
- It provides opportunity for student reflection of learning
- It enhances comprehensive reporting as parents can login and view their child’s progress
- The vision for student online educational portfolios
- Technology Platform
- Student safety – How public will the students’ portfolios be?
- Digital citizenship – Acceptable user agreements, student education and responsibility etc.
- Technology administration
- Parent & community communication
- Roll out plan
- Teacher technology training
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Presented the initiative at School Council
- Started a school blog as a means of collaboration and communication
- Sent home a Technology Innovation Plan letter with every student starting the project
- Asked all parents/guardians and students to sign and return a Technology Acceptable Use Agreement and Parent Collaboration & Consent
- Posted information pertaining to our Technology Innovation Plan on our school blog
- Shared the information on our School Facebook page
- Formed a Tech Team of staff members willing and wanting to learn about Google Apps and WordPress – met for training a number of times
- Started school blog
- Parent & community communication
- Teachers start classroom blogs
- Implement student online learning portfolios in classes of teachers willing to take the lead
- Create a grade 8-9 Online Learning Portfolios option – implement with students in options
- Implement in all middle year classes
- Early year students to participate in teacher blogs
- Partner middle and early year classes for older students to assist younger students in creating online learning portfolios in classes of willing teachers
- All middle and early year classes partnered to implement online learning portfolios in early years classes