Are e-portfolios past their educational used by date?


Photo by author

This post is perhaps a tad hypocritical.

I have not one but two e-portfolios. I’ve used e-portfolios in class for the last few years.

They’ve been around in education since back when I was coding html sites in the 1990s. However over the last few months I’ve been wondering if e-portfolios have been mean meeting the learning needs in my class.

Is it time for education to move on from its love affair with portfolios?

My first problem with e-portfolios is right there in the name – we’re using technology to replace what was done on paper. The inclusion of video and audio moves e-portfolios perhaps into the augmentation level but really they aren’t all that transformative.

If the goal of having all this expensive technology in class is to transform learning, we need to push us thinking beyond digitising what could easily be achieved on paper.

Yet so much time and energy is devoted to talking about e-portfolios and that’s before they hit the classroom.

Often the systems supporting e-portfolios are unintuitive. What should be a two click job ends up being sucked into multiple lessons showing kids how to upload content, embed files, link to content or finding fixes when systems won’t talk to each other.

The portfolio becomes the learning rather than the tool to support the documentation of learning.

The problem with e-portfolios is that they create a walled garden. Fine when you are doing something the designers have envisioned but infuriating the minute you wander from the trail.

Yet the internet by its design is divergent.

Media is created on multiple devices and shared through different content channels.

This year I used blogger as portfolio found myself frustrated at the unnecessary hurdles being put up in order to maintain e-portfolios.

  • Made a cool path on pic – that needs to be saved first to the camera roll before it can be uploaded to blogger.
  • Easy blogger junior was a quick way for students to send video content to their blogfolios until the videos were too long and it didn’t support tagging aside from the child’s name.
  • A creative animation on keynote needs to uploaded to youtube, then embedded into a post.
  • The kids made an awesome book creators. Great but they won’t upload directly to blogger.
  • A google doc with a writing assessment needs to be linked back to in blogger. There’s a whole bunch time lost publishing the doc to the web, linking to the doc and that’s before the child has had time to reflect on their writing.
  • Showing an album of photos of a school event or science project? Fantastically easily on flickr or a photo stream on iOS but then that requires a link in blogger.

All these superfluous steps translate into lost learning time and shift the focus of the learning onto the technology.

To be clear, I don’t think this is a problem specific to blogger. There are other platforms out there I could use but they would have other issues and I know my actions part of the problem.

I am very conscious of the digital tools I introduce to the children I teach. Any app or website needs to fit the purpose of the learning otherwise I don’t use it. As a result, the kids become critical of the technology they are using to support their learning.


Over the course of this past school year, I was amazed at how quickly the children were starting to make decisions about what tools to use but were able to justify why they wanted to use them. It struck me that if my year 4s are already able to articulate what applications they think best suit their learning needs now, imagine what they’ll be capable of in a few years. More importantly, the older kids are highly capable of documenting their informal learning experiences right now.

The problem is that their institutions often don’t recognise the tools they are using.

E-portfolios won’t change this.

Particularly if the tools don’t recognise that kids are going to have digital lives outside of those walled gardens.

Being able to curate and share evidence of learning is important. But for the amount of work that teachers do and the amount of learning time sucked out of maintaining e-portfolios, a big question needs to be asked.

Is the technology supporting the learning or is the technology the learning?

Because the most important e-portfolio in our students lives is the one we don’t really give that much thought to – their google search footprint.

Harkness discussion in Elementary Schools

This a classroom idea I stole from Chad Walsh and Sam Sherratt at Time Space education, the Harkness discussion.

Put simply it is a discussion where classroom discussions are tracked by a teacher (or a better yet a child). The observer draw lines between participants in a discussion and jot down interesting ideas in the conversation.

I wandered around with my camera last year to show one in action.

Some observations:

Children are noticing and naming learning behaviours and giving feedback to each other on their performance.
Quieter children are aware that they need to contribute more.
Confident children realise that they are dominating conversations and include others.
Children look for ways to include ESOL classmates by slowing down and giving wait time.

Telling comment from one of my students.

If someone needs time, you give them time.

Handing over assessment data – where is the student voice?

With the end of the year drawing closer, assessment data is handed over from one set of teachers hands to the others.

Spelling tests

Writing samples

Standardised reading assessments.

But what is missing from this list?

The kids.

This week the children in my class with select a photo from our class photo that best represents them and write a story ‘what I want my teacher to know about me…’

Instead of numbers and scores, why not make those first impressions for new kids be driven by the kids rather than their numbers?

On writing reports… There has to be a better way #rethinkreports

Today marks one of the best parts of term 4 for a teacher.

Finishing the first draft of reports.

Like most schools, the reports contain a mixture of check boxes and general statements in different subjects along with general comments and goals for the next year.

I started drafting my comments back in mid-April so to get to this point took a month. The reports then need to be proof-read, checked and the data entered into the learning management system.

That’s not counting the time in class I devote to assessing kids for the purposes of report writing and then analyzing those as sources of data.

It’s a lot of work.

And the worst part of the process?

By the time the reports are actually published in June, most of the statements will be out of date.

Each report represents months of work yet will be read for just 10-15 minutes. In an age where I can email, send pictures and videos to parents, I can’t help but wonder how effective reports are in furthering children’s learning.

The time that I could be devoting to creating interesting learning experiences and responding to needs is often swallowed up during report writing times on gathering data, analyzing it and then reporting back to parents.

There is one part of reporting I do enjoy, reflecting on how the child has progressed in the year in their learning and relationships. The problem with modern reports is that they keep getting longer as we break learning down into smaller and smaller fragments.

Are we losing more than we gain?

What if instead of pages of reporting there was just a paragraph and some examples of student learning through video, photos.

Is brief, more frequent, interaction preferable to the tomes we publish at the end of each semester?

Making inferences…

“Ms Stephanie, I think I’ve got a connection,” a little voice piped up. 

It was the last day of term, The class had just finished reading The One and Only Ivan. A fictional story of a real life gorilla who paints pictures to free his friend Ruby the elephant. I had just finished the last page.
Earlier in the week I had watched as this child had laboured over the inferencing questions in a PROBE reading assessment. The child had found the relevant bits of the story but just couldn’t make the link between the information on the assessment and the background knowledge to answer the questions correctly. Instead the child just kept reading out the relevant bits of text.
We would need to put effort into inferencing I thought.
“Well Ivan kind of reminds me of Mandela.”
My ears prick up. 
A few weeks ago the children had a Google Challenge featuring the South African leader. 
Like all great provocations there were more questions than the answers.
Why did Mandela go to jail?
How does a prisoner go to being president of a country? I thought only bad people went to prison.
People really weren’t allowed to go places because of their skin in South Africa?
“Tell us so more about that.” I wonder out loud.
“Well Ivan wanted to free Ruby the elephant just like Mandela wanted to help black people in South Africa to have a better life.”
“What makes you think that?”
“Ivan had to try really hard to tell people about Ruby drawing those pictures. People came and protested to free Ruby. They also freed him. Mandela wrote all those letters and people and protested to free him and people weren’t buying things made in South Africa so the government had to release him too.”
“Any more connections?” I hoped he’d make the link between Ivan’s domain and Robben Island prison, but quietly I was stunned.
I had never thought to make the connection. 
Another chimed in with that part of the puzzle and now the class are talking about Rosa Parks and inequality while I sit back and take it in.
I kept coming back to the Probe.
To be able to infer a child would need to use their own background knowledge as well as evidence from the text 
The book was selected as theme of collective action fitted nicely with the central idea of our Unit of Inquiry the Cultures ‘The opportunities in communities can be changed by the actions of others.’ Along with developing research and digital citizenship skills, the Google challenges were examples of people and events which demonstrated the central idea. Small little ideas were knitted together by the kids over a series of weeks.
On the other hand, the Probe was completely out of context. Standardized to ensure comparisons between children and used year on year. Yet if I hadn’t been watching other data, I would never thought of changing how to approach reading with this child.
I think my assessment maybe wrong,
I’m wondering if his fluency and decoding skills needed development in inferencing texts. Listening to the story enabled this child to think more deeply about the text. He had made several text to world connections backed up with evidence from the book. Was the mental effort of decoding and finding information what was holding reading back? 
Something to ponder next term…

Taking the text out of assessment for learning – Inforubrics

Formative assessment is a tricky beast. Rubrics are way to get the children reflecting and showing growth on their learning.

However they are often text heavy and written in teacher speak. This makes it hard for children to identify learning priorities and document how they have shifted in their learning.

Enter the inforubric.

A set of simple concepts and visuals from The Noun project to give children a starting off point for self-assessment.

image by author

Image by author

One of the downfalls of self-assessment is that it can be hard for the teacher to understand and for the children to remember why they made particular judgements.

Fortunately technology is making this process a lot easier.

When the children are finished colouring they grab their iPads and use DoodleCast to reflect on the choices they made. The beauty of doodlecast is that they can record their voice and draw on their infographic. The kids then use easy blogger junior  to upload the video to the blogfolio.

This evidence is powerful because it is the children explaining in their own voice the reasoning behind their judgements.

Over the course of this unit the children will use this rubric again. The original judgements remain but they can use doodlecast to show how they think their learning has changed.

As we meander towards the end of our unit the children will think more about their initial judgements.

How have they changed?

How have they proven learning?

What is their evidence for this?

They will use also the concepts to assess their knowledge of the central idea with a co-constructed unit.

Watch this space…

Playground collaboration 2/365 #blogaday

Yesterday I went to the playground with my friend and her two lovely young sons.

I took the boys for a ride on the basket swing, patiently waited their turn. The older kids playing on the swing immediately got up and helped lift the boys into the swing. Then they pushed the boys on the swing, learning their names, patiently responding to requests to go higher and when the time came to go, helped the boys out and said goodbye.

As I walked away with the younger boys, I thought about how little we value playground interactions unless there are school rules broken.

Yet by observing children at play we can really assess all those attitudes we say we are teaching. Because the true measure of what children learn in the classroom is how the kids treat each other when they think adults aren’t watching.