More and more schools strive to move away from standardized educational models in favor of student-centered approaches. It is no secret that teachers also need better ways to evaluate student learning, including qualitative assessment methods.

Portfolios have been around for quite some time. They are a must for visual arts students, but educators are seeing the many benefits of assigning portfolio tasks for all subjects. They are also excellent assessment tools for implementing a personalized learning approach since students are encouraged to use their talents to create original content.

However, teachers that use digital portfolios in their classrooms know that they can be much more than an evaluation method. Portfolios help students take ownership of their learning, plan their tasks in advance, practice their skills, and ultimately showcase their progress. It can have a lasting impact, since students are actively involved in the process and can transfer skills to different subjects. For example, a student might record a Chemistry experiment and take notes on conducting an experiment. This will help them apply the same principles for a Physics class later on.

Portfolios are as varied as the children who create them and as the classrooms in which they are found” (source)

At the same time, portfolios need to be easy to manage and stored for later use. Gone are the days of student work displayed on classroom walls. Well, you can still do that and also have a digital copy stored somewhere safe! That is why going digital is a no brainer in this case.

Here are some benefits of digital portfolios:

  • Promoting student choice
  • Enabling creativity through multimedia options
  • Promoting reflection on learning
  • Organize, store, retrieve and share with a single click
  • Evaluate students and see their progress

7 digital portfolio guidelines

Not convinced that this is the best option? We have prepared seven guidelines that show how easy it is to implement digital portfolios in the classroom. Let’s explore them!

  1. Choose the right tools

    Choosing the right tools from the beginning helps students focus on what is important: creating awesome portfolios. A good digital portfolio tool must allow students to add, edit and delete items with ease. It should also function as a way to showcase your students’ work. For example, the portfolio can be visible under their student profile.

    Ideally, a portfolio feature should already be part of a tool that teachers and students use every day, such as an LMS. There are many advantages in using the LMS itself, since teachers can connect lessons and classes to portfolios. However, educators can also use separate tools such as Dropbox, Google Drive, or even a digital portfolio app.

  2. Make room for creativity

    The possibilities are endless! Students can experiment with video/audio, essays, photography, live streaming, coding tools, you name it. They will feel that the learning process is more relevant for them, and will be able to communicate their ideas better through interactive portfolios. It is also a way for them to discover new passions, such as making videos, and it is a way to better meet students’ diverse learning needs. Not to mention that students have the opportunity to flex their creative muscle as opposed to following a predetermined set of rules.

    The only caveat would be that teachers should offer some guidance at the beginning, especially for younger students. They might need a guide on uploading files, embedding videos, creating PDFs or PowerPoint presentations. In addition, they might also need to learn how to use a voice recording app or a photo editor, even if it is at a basic level.

  3. Organize portfolios

    There is an unspoken rule that handling documents of any kind can turn into complete chaos, pretty quickly. Even for an adult, this can seem like an impossible task. That is why educators need to establish a simple and easy to follow plan. Depending on the purpose of the digital portfolio, students can update their portfolios throughout the semester or throughout the year. They can also have deadlines for uploading items, or submit them at their own pace.

    Students should be taught early on how to keep track of resources through folders and subfolders. For example, they can use a larger folder for a class and a subfolder for specific lessons and portfolio assignments. A good idea is to create a simple template for them to use at the beginning and stress the importance of record keeping — no file should be lost in the process.

  4. Enable student choice

    Depending on the goal of the digital portfolio, students should be able to pick which essays, videos, recordings etc. make the final cut. For example, they can choose their best work for the end of the school year portfolio.

    In fact, it is a great assessment tool for schools that support student voice and choice. That is why it is important for them to have permission to add, delete, and edit items. It is also easier for them to reflect on their own work and evaluate their progress. Increasing awareness about the learning process also leads to increased self-efficacy and confidence in their own abilities later on. Ultimately, giving students more control in this aspect will make them more involved in their own learning and help them see what they can achieve past schoolwork and homework.

  5. Use digital portfolios as assessments

    Digital portfolios are an excellent competency-based assessment tool. Each portfolio assignment can be linked to competencies defined by the state or district curriculum. Of course, teachers should keep in mind that they need to design portfolio assessments with learning outcomes in mind, and use tools such as rubrics to better evaluate student performance.

    In fact, it is much easier to not only assign, but also grade this type of assessment, especially if you are using an LMS. It is a way to centralize and organize items, as well as associate competencies with portfolio assignments. For example, students create a folder specifically for one lesson and add resources, their own research, and an essay. Educators can tag the items with a competency and evaluate how well the student understands what has been taught. What is more, students and teachers will be able to easily find the items for future reference, as opposed to forgetting all about it when the lesson is over.

  6. Encourage student reflection

    “Learning without reflection is a waste.” As Confucius put it, students need to have plenty of opportunities for reflection on their own learning. In this way, they will become more aware about their progress, as well as gain a valuable skill that will be useful later on. It also provides unique insight for teachers, as they will be able to better help students achieve their learning goals.

    Digital portfolios enable metacognition because they offer a chance to plan, monitor and evaluate their own tasks. For example, a student is aware of being good at grammar, but that they need to work on their pronunciation in a foreign language. They also know that pronunciation is a harder skill to master so they are learning how to be patient and do their best.

    At the end of a task, the student should be able to write notes or even record their reflections on their work. These reflections can be added next to each portfolio item.

  7. Showcase versus learning portfolio

    Putting together a digital portfolio can help students achieve their goals in the long run. For example, if they are learning to create websites, they can create a presentation that shows their progress and mastery of the subject. They can even use it as part of their application for college, internships, and even jobs. This is an example of a long term purpose or showcase portfolio.

    A short term purpose, or learning portfolio can be used as an assessment method that has a shorter lifespan, of let’s say, one semester. Students can select their best work from the learning portfolio to create a showcase one. In any case, teachers should be thinking about the following questions when assigning digital portfolios:

    • How will my students use it in the future?
    • How will they access it after graduation?
    • How can they share it with other people?
    • Is it important for students to make a more professional looking portfolio?
    • How can they use the skills learned now to make progress in their other classes?

Conclusion

As with any type of assessment, getting it right can seem like a daunting task. After all, teachers need to teach effectively as well as evaluate student performance. Digital portfolios can be a good compromise between the two. In the end, students seem to benefit the most from this approach as they take a more active role in their learning. They are also encouraged to showcase their digital portfolios and take advantage of future opportunities.

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