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3 Keys for a Successful E-Portfolio Implementation

Can educators help students meet standards without falling back on the low-bar, one-size-fits-all mechanism of standardized assessments?

E-portfolios can be used to do more than just demonstrate student progress toward standards. They can also allow students to show who they are as individuals, while also providing a means for tracking a student's growth from kindergarten all the way through high school and beyond.

But according to David Niguidula, author and founder of Ideas Consulting, the success of an e-portfolio initiative depends to some degree on the approach schools take to the implementation. For instance, research has shown that schools that incorporate portfolios as a teaching and learning initiative typically have more success than those that view them primarily as a technology project.

For schools looking to implement digital portfolios into the classroom, Niguidula, who presented a session on e-portfolios at this year's ISTE conference in Philadelphia, highlighted three critical elements.

1. Students must understand the standards. For students to understand the standards, they need to know what they are expected to learn over the course of the year, or four years. Projects can be linked to any number of standards, but expectations should be clearly defined.

"We're looking at portfolios as an assessment tool, a tool where students can show what they can do and show that they are meeting expectations," Niguidula said.

2. Students must understand what it means to reflect. Beyond purely assessment, reflection asks students to describe what they learned.

"We learned early on that it's not enough just to put the work in there," Niguidula said. "You have to have some sort of context for it."

Context satisfies the second critical element of reflection, in which students write short "reflections" for each piece or give an overall oral summary of their body of work. Niguidula conceded that reflections can be tricky.

"When you ask kids to reflect, they don't always understand. They'll say, 'I did what you told me to do; I must have done well because you gave me a good grade.' But it's important to know how they learned. Would they have done differently?  Reflection is when they really start to take ownership," he said.

3. Students should think about additional audiences for their work. Their best work can be selected to showcase their overall skills for assessment, or it can be repurposed for another audience beyond school--college admissions, for instance, or for a potential employer. Many colleges are now asking for more materials beyond the usual transcripts and written essays. They want to see that a student has mastered technology through video, podcasts, etc.

To further illustrate this concept, Niguidula showed a video produced by a high school student planning a career in broadcast journalism. The student created a sample newscast using her learned skills both in front of and behind the camera. The production values showcased her abilities at producing a story--editing skills to create a succinct storyline and on-camera knowledge and poise showing her ability to report, interview, and communicate well.

Niguidula discussed another great feature of e-portfolios: Educators can assess not just current student work, but also student development over time. For this example, he used a K-12 case study to illustrate how video provided a vivid measurement of a first grade student's reading progress over time. In the video sample titled "See Me Read," the student is videotaped reading from a text during the first few weeks of the school year. It is evident that she has difficulty recognizing words and uses her finger to trace each word. In a video recorded six months later, however, the same student is shown reading and it is obvious that her skills have greatly improved. Providing parents with video and audio evidence of how their child is progressing is an excellent tool for effective parent/teacher conferences.

"Digital portfolios are much more than a scrapbook of memories or merely work stored in a folder," he said. "Schools that incorporate digital portfolios  often discover that it becomes less about technology and more about students talking about and sharing their goals."

About the Author

Sharleen Nelson is a freelance journalist based in Springfield, Oregon. She can be reached at [email protected].