Why ePortfolios?

Like any program or initiative, it’s best to always start with your goals. To that end, let’s begin by covering some of the benefits that implementing an ePortfolio program can offer all members of our community.

A short summary of the benefits looks like this:

  • For students, digital portfolios foster independence while fueling reflection, creativity, and authentic lifelong learning.
  • For educators, portfolio programs work wonders for tracking and assessing student growth and are an invaluable way to provide constructive feedback.

Let’s break this down in a bit more detail…

Student Benefits of ePortfolios

We know all students have individual strengths and weaknesses but in a system often driven by pre-set curriculum and assessments, it can be difficult to cater to each student and celebrate their uniqueness.

Dr. Helen Barrett, International Researcher and Consultant

An ePortfolio can be used to capture each student in a way that standardised tests or end-of-course summative exams simply cannot. Some students may have difficulties showing their true strengths in traditional assessments but may be marvelous at expressing themselves through video, music, art, spoken word, design, coding, or creative writing — mediums that are easy to embed into a digital portfolio. You might also find that some students who are more reluctant to speak up in a busy classroom really find their voice and shine in a digital space.

Educator Matt Renwick stresses the value of a digital portfolio as a wholistic method of assessment,

Students are more than a score. They are unique individuals, each possessing different motivations and talents. To distill an understanding of their current status and future potential down only to a symbol, such as grades or levels, is at best a misrepresentation of their abilities and at worst educational negligence. We can do better.

An ePortfolio can also help students develop independence as they’re given the responsibility of shaping and maintaining their own space on the web. Students can be granted the autonomy to capture, curate, document, and share their learning. There’s a lot to be said for the power of choice and ownership to motivate students to improve.

The overarching purpose of portfolios is to create a sense of personal ownership over one’s accomplishments, because ownership engenders feelings of pride, responsibility, and dedication.

Paris and Ayres (1994)

With traditional assignments and assessments, students make note of their grades in the moment. By keeping track of their successes, failures, and everything in between over time, students are able to understand where they need to improve and celebrate how far they’ve come. Combined with ownership of their digital space and autonomy of expression, student results can soar.

You might be familiar with The Future of Jobs report from the World Economic Forum (2018) that ranked as the top 5 skills for the 2020 workforce. The report demonstrates that skills growing in prominence include analytical thinking, active learning, and technology design, along with “human skills” like creativity, critical thinking, and complex problem-solving.

Similarly, a national survey by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (2015), revealed that 93% of employers believe that “a candidate’s demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important than his or her undergraduate major”.

Critical thinking, communication, and problem solving are precisely the sorts of skills that students can develop as they work on their digital portfolios throughout their education.

Digital portfolios help to shape students’ digital footprints. While we naturally may want to shield and guide students, we know that having no digital footprint at all is no longer an ideal option. It’s no secret that potential employers and higher education institutions increasingly consider individuals’ online profiles and search results when making selections.

Students who use a digital portfolio may be at an advantage as they embark on life outside of school or university. Maintaining a polished record of their work can help students accomplish a variety of goals as they near the completion of their studies such as scholarships, internships, or even jobs. As an added bonus, helping your students succeed can reflect well on your school or institution.

Overall, an ePortfolio can put options and opportunities into the hands of each student.

“How can you make sure that every student who walks on graduation day is WELL GOOGLED by his or her full name?”

Will Richardson (2012)
Summary graphic -- benefits of digital portfolios for students

It can be challenging to organize and track students’ work while assessing their progress over time. As I mentioned earlier, students themselves may not even be able to gauge their own development without a system for monitoring their academic growth. A digital portfolio enables both the student and their instructors to measure progress over time — both academically and in other ways.

Just as important, digital portfolios give instructors insight into students’ educational journeys so they can deliver targeted feedback seamlessly.

For portfolio programs in K-12 environments, one of the many benefits of having an ePortfolio program is the strengthening of home-school relationships. An ePortfolio program is a convenient and effective way to encourage ongoing family involvement in schooling.

Individual ePortfolios can be like virtual windows into the classroom and families can keep up to date with student learning and progress. No more waiting for end of semester reports or parent-teacher conferences.

You might have heard many parents admit that their child is often reluctant to tell them what they’re working on at school. The dynamic nature of ePortfolios means this is no longer a problem — parents can view their child’s portfolio and survey their progress anytime.

ePortfolios can also provide conversation starters. Parents can ask their child more about what they’re learning and what they’ve documented in their portfolio while driving to footy practice or sitting around the dinner table. These conversations can bridge the gap between home and school, and further extend students’ learning while strengthening relationships.

Parents can even add artifacts or leave comments on student portfolios, making the portfolio a two-way means of communication.

A School-Wide Approach

The important thing here is that the same portfolio or website is used across classes and even from year-to-year. Why? There are a number of reasons:

1) The Focus Can Move From the Technology to the Content and Learning

When students spend more than one year working with digital portfolios, they learn and know the tool. This means students aren’t bogged down with learning the technical stuff. They will become fluent with the technology and be able to concentrate on creation, curation, reflection, connections, and all the things that will really drive their learning.

2) Progress Can be Documented From Year to Year and Class to Class

How often do students make great strides in a particular class only to then have to start from scratch in their next class with a brand new teacher? A lot of time can be wasted as teachers scramble to find out where their new students are at and where they need to go next. An ongoing ePortfolio program solves this dilemma.

3) More Meaningful and More Impactful

How many times have you seen a school with each teacher alone in their classroom using different technology tools and teaching approaches? While some autonomy and creativity is fantastic, educators can end up working harder than they need to on their own “islands” while students can end up confused as they constantly switch tools.

A school-wide approach to digital portfolios means teachers and students can work together to navigate and perfect their program.

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