Throwing items away has never been a skill of mine. That feeling of “I might use this someday” only worsened when I became a teacher and then a mother. My “keep or toss” decisions became clouded by sentimentality, and I couldn’t bring myself to throw away the precious gems my daughter created in school.
But the large artifacts she brought home eventually created a storage issue, so I began taking pictures of them and getting rid of some. I didn’t realize it at the time, but by digitizing those physical artifacts and storing the photos on my computer, I had started creating her digital portfolio.
A digital portfolio is a collection of artifacts of learning that demonstrates growth, acquisition of skills or knowledge, and student creativity over time. As a mother, I knew I wanted to save these items so we could enjoy the memories, but as a teacher I was thrilled to discover the pride and joy my daughter felt as she reflected on her learning experiences. I realized that a digital portfolio could be more than simply a collection of things—it could be a vehicle for reflection and an opportunity for creating a sense of pride in students.
Years later, I enjoy helping teachers across the country discover new ways to create digital portfolios with their students. With many choices in terms of organizational structure, procedures, and format, as well as a wide variety of applications to streamline the process of creating portfolios, there’s no one right way to create them. Ultimately, each teacher should decide what will work best for students.
G Suite for Education
Google’s suite of education tools has great potential for creating digital portfolios. One of the best ways to create an organizational schema for students is to have them save all of their items in one Google Drive folder. That shared folder can serve as a basic digital portfolio. While it lacks polish, it’s a simple way to get started with collecting, curating, and publishing artifacts.
A Google Doc provides an opportunity for students to write and reflect on each artifact of their learning. Since the artifacts are already stored in a Google Drive folder, students can link directly to them.
The table of contents feature in Google Docs enhances digital portfolio creation: Teachers and students can create hierarchical headings, which can be organized into a table of contents or utilized in the document outline.
Google Slides can also be an ideal way to combine artifacts. With its linear format and individual slides, it can house links to documents stored in a Google Drive folder and provide room for reflections, images, and even embedded videos.
Arguably the most robust of the G Suite programs, Google Sites is a website development program that easily integrates all the Google tools. Teachers and students can embed documents, slideshows, spreadsheets, YouTube videos, images, and more. They can also create links to other artifacts of learning, such as audio recordings.
Seesaw has grown in popularity over the past few years—it works on any device and is easy to learn for young students and those without a strong working knowledge of Google Drive. It doesn’t require students to have email or Google accounts. While Seesaw portfolios can’t be published publicly to the web, the app is a simple way for teachers to collect and curate artifacts and then share with parents. Students can create artifacts such as drawings, typed notes, and screencasts. They can also add files from their device or Google Drive.
With the built-in audio and video recording options, reflection becomes a natural extension of any artifact. Students can easily share their thoughts regarding their learning as they post any artifact to their portfolio.
Book Creator is another great tool for collecting and combining artifacts of learning into a portfolio. Students and teachers can import images and video, add text and drawings, and record audio using the iPad or Chrome app. As with Seesaw, the audio function creates an opportunity for easy reflection. For example, if a student adds a diagram he has created in another app, he can add an audio note to explain his process or reflect on his learning.
An added benefit to Book Creator is that there are numerous options for publishing. The books can be exported as ePub files that can be read in applications such as iBooks, the Kindle app, Google Play Books, etc. Additionally, they can be exported as PDFs or video files. Book Creator offers its own publishing platform that allows students to share their creations safely on the web.
Each of these tools has its own set of features, so teachers and students can choose the platform that works best for them. Regardless of the choice of application, digital portfolios are an excellent way to preserve the amazing artifacts of learning that students create in the classroom. They also provide a vehicle for reflection. As students look back on their learning over time, they can see both what they learned and how they learned it.
Ultimately, beyond allowing students to capture growth and progress over time, portfolios create an opportunity for them to develop a sense of pride and joy in learning.