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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Using E-Portfolios in the Classroom

Mary Beth Hertz

K-8 Technology Teacher in Philadelphia, PA

For decades, students have been completing assignments in school. Often, these were seen only by the teacher, graded and returned to the student. Sometimes, the work was posted on a classroom wall or in a school hallway. Many teachers kept portfolios of student work for report card conferences, and the rare teacher taught students how to build their own portfolios from their work.

With more and more schools going paperless or migrating to the "cloud" (storing files on the Internet), student work has become more easily shareable, accessible by many, and more easily organized. Many teachers have turned to digital portfolios -- or "e-portfolios" -- for their students. These digital portfolios have caused a huge shift in how teachers assign, collect and assess student classwork and projects.

However, with so many options for collecting and sharing student work, it's hard to know which method or tool to use.

Defining Your Needs

Here are some guiding questions to consider before you commit to a tool or platform:

  • Can student work be made public or is it housed inside a "walled garden?"
  • Can students view and comment on each other's work?
  • Can the teacher provide feedback for the student privately?
  • Is student work easily organized by date, course or some other category?
  • Are the portfolios transferable from year to year as students move through the school?
  • Can students access their work or export it when they leave the school?
  • Does the platform allow for multiple file types (documents, sound files, video files)?
  • What are the costs for using the tool or platform?
  • Can a teacher create a teacher account and student accounts, or do students sign up on their own? Is there a minimum age to sign up?
  • Can the tool be integrated into an existing SMS or other school-wide database and/or gradebook?

While some of these questions may not apply to your situation, it is important to do your research before committing to a tool. Once your students begin building their portfolio, it can be time-consuming and often frustrating to transfer student work to another platform.

Some Options

Below is a list of tools that can be used to collect, organize and share student work. Those that are free are marked with an asterisk (*).

Project Foundry

This tool organizes, tracks and shares learning in a project-based learning classroom. It includes standards-based grading tools and feedback tools. Teachers have the option to include a digital portfolio website for students.

Google Sites*

Create a website to share classwork and projects. Potential users must be at least 13 to sign up. Students can use the "file locker" option to upload files.

Wikispaces and PBwiki*

These two wiki-creation tools allow students to create a website of their work. Due to the collaborative nature of the tools, student teams can build a workspace to showcase their work. The teacher can create student accounts without an email address. (Note: PBwiki is also known as PBworks.)

Dropbox*

Students can create a public folder in Dropbox to share their work. This platform supports multiple file types and can be used collaboratively by sharing folders.

Evernote*

Students can create "notebook" within their Evernote account for each class, and that notebook can be shared publicly. Students can upload files to their notebooks, including documents, photos and audio files.

eBackpack

Teachers can assign, collect, grade and return assignments to students through eBackpack. Students can upload files to their digital locker to create an online portfolio for their course. Work uploaded cannot be seen outside of the closed system.

Comments (33)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

KDCotner's picture
KDCotner
Third Grade Teacher

When Steve Zimmerman talked about the requirement " to meet 'academic accountability requirements' set, of course, by our performance on standardized tests", I thought of how ePortfolios can be used best. I do use student portfolios in my third grade classroom to allow students to monitor their progress throughout the year. I do think it would do them a great deal of good to comment and make suggestions to their peers' work.

Have you ever thought about using it to track data to form academic intervention groups? Older students can also use the information in their portfolio to somewhat lead parent-teacher conferences on an iPad. This allows students to take responsibility for their grades and classroom work.

Is this OpenSchoolPortfolio site free to any teacher? I would like to review it to see how well it navigates because I teacher primary-aged students who are unfamiliar with such concepts or sites.

Matthew Selinger's picture
Matthew Selinger
Physics and math teacher.

I never considered Google Sites for an e-Portfolio but is worth considering. I have used Google Drive for collaborative labs and I want to start my physics students on a class wiki where they submit a video of an object in motion along with an analysis of the motion using software. I am planning on students adding to a class wiki throughout the year and build a portfolio. The wiki portfolio will help meet content and NETS standards as well as providing a collective review source for other exams.

I do have a few questions. Is it possible for students to easily take there work out a wiki and successfully transfer it to another personal portfolio? Also, I planned on grading a rubric hard copy, not digital, for privacy of the student. I want students work to be available for parents and the public to view. How do I best handle any concerns about making student work public on a wiki? I do not want to choose a digital tool that does not fit my needs.

Mary Beth Hertz's picture
Mary Beth Hertz
K-8 Technology Teacher in Philadelphia, PA
Blogger

Great question, Matthew.

First, did you create the wiki accounts for your students through the teacher account (without emails)? If so, it will be harder for students to access their work once they leave the school as they do not have true ownership over their wiki. There isn't really an easy "export" option for a wiki.

I see no problem with keeping the grading aspect of the projects out of the public eye. Who would have concerns about students' work in public view? If you have a photo release for each student, see if it extends to your site or not. If not, just avoid having photos of students on the site. Avoid using last names or other identifying information. You could talk to your principal and see if you can send an "opt-out" letter to parents explaining that unless they return it signed, that student work will be shared publicly on the site.

All of this also depends on the age of your students, too, as there are laws that protect students under 13 and many sites (including Google Sites) do not allow anyone under the age of 13 to create a site. The exception would be a school that uses Google Apps for Education. Wikis, on the other hand, do not have these limitations. However, if you are using Google Drive then I assume your students have access to a Google account.

The biggest difference, I would say, is that a Google Site is an actual website linked to an existing Google account, so would be more easily accessible once the student leaves the school (many students forget their login information once they leave school). A wiki, on the other hand, is much simpler to build and navigate and allows for more easily trackable collaboration.

I hope that is helpful!

lp3707's picture

Thank you for your informative blog on e-Portfolios. I have come to the conclusion that e-Portfolios seem to be extremely beneficial in a number of educational settings. However, I am having difficulty deciding if there is more than one way to use an e-Portfolio. I have started working on my own e-Portfolio which uses artifacts and personal reflections to show what I have learned thus far through my graduate studies. However, you mention that, "These digital portfolios have caused a huge shift in how teachers assign, collect and assess student classwork and projects." I have only witnessed e-Portfolios being a way to demonstrate what a student has learned and accomplished. I was wondering in what ways have you experienced educators assigning tasks through e-Portfolios? Your quote also sparked another question as far as assessments go with e-Portfolios. How do you or other educators assess students' e-Portfolios? Do you grade with a rubric or do you have other means to use for grading purposes? I am looking forward to implementing e-Portfolios in my classroom in the future. I just want to make sure that I am completely aware of what needs to be done in order to make the process run as smooth as possible.

Bob Barboza's picture
Bob Barboza
Bob Barboza, Founder of Super School K12 International University

Thank you for this posting. It is good to see that ePortfolios are still alive. We have not given up on ePortfolios. They are helping to inform our daily K-12 and higher ed STEM instruction. We are experimenting with ePortfolios and artificial intelligence as a part of a new school of the future project. In stage one, we are using STEM, STEAM and STEAM ++ graphic organizers in our new student and teacher ePortfolio system. It is important that all of our work be stored in a strong relational database with good important and export features and benefits for a wide variety of file types. Our portfolios included STEM related text, graphics, animations and audio and video files. We need to have the ability to customize ePortfolios or we will not be able to keep up with the challenges that the education community keeps throwing our way. It would be great if Edutopia could host a sharing of the ePortfolios online workshop. We could all benefit from each others action research and best practices.

Mary Beth Hertz's picture
Mary Beth Hertz
K-8 Technology Teacher in Philadelphia, PA
Blogger

Hi Bob,

Yes, people are still using ePortfolios! I think, however, they are becoming more and more ingrained in LMS systems or other school-wide systems that schools use. I agree that learning together is really helpful. I am not familiar with any current system for sharing these kinds of resources, but maybe there are communities online already?

KatrinaStevens1's picture

EduClipper recently added many new features to make their eportfolios even easier to use. Worth checking out.

Ray Tolley's picture

Yes, here in the UK most schools are using some form of ePortfolio embedded within their LMS, Unfortunately this defeats the whole concept of the ePortfolio being portable ie from school to school, across different local authorities of easily available in further or higher education.

Some five years ago I developed the concept of an externally hosted ePortfolio based on the MyEfolio system. Unfortunately schools in the UK were too blinkered to see the value to the student of an externally hosted and thus lifelong system.

Bill Gibson's picture
Bill Gibson
Web Developer | Blackboard Admin

I've suggested creating eportfolios on WordPress.com. Each person gets a free 3GB account. They can keep using it after they leave a school/institution, or not. It can be private, or accessed by selected users, or to the public. A template site could be created by an instructor, exported as XML and shared with all users. You can select to be able to also "post via email" or "post via audio" (phone call). You could use "categories" to organize posts and the instructor could subscribe via RSS for each student. *If you host your own WP, you could use a plugin like "WP Help" to create help info for your users and push this out from a single site.

John McCarthy's picture
John McCarthy
Education Consultant, Advocate for Student Voice in Learning
Blogger

This is a nice primer article about e-portfolios. Thanks for the laymen terminology so that I might use it for teachers explore their use of e-portfolios.

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