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Using Technology | Electronic Portfolios in the K-12 Classroom

The use of personal portfolios for assessment and presentation long has been a component of higher education. In fact, personal portfolios are a graduation requirement at many colleges and universities. Now, electronic portfolios have begun to enter the world of K-12 education as well.

Learn what electronic portfolios are and discover how they can help you and benefit your students. Included: Guidelines for developing personal portfolios.

What is a Porfolio?

Guidelines for Developing a Digital Portfolio Program

During the past four years, Todd Bergman has helped more than 550 high school students produce digital portfolios. He offers these guidelines for other educators interested in developing electronic portfolio programs in their schools or classrooms:

Be realistic about your design and expectations.
• Make use of relevant models.
• Instill a sense of ownership in the students creating the portfolios.
• Communicate implementation strategies and timelines clearly.
• Be selective in design and strategy.
• Allow for continuous improvement and growth.
• Incorporate assessment stakeholders in all phases and components of your efforts; that is, make sure portfolio content meets the needs of those assessing the work.

"A portfolio is a purposeful collection of student work demonstrating the student's achievement or growth as characterized by a strong vision of content," according to Todd Bergman , an independent consultant and a teacher at Mt. Edgecumbe High School in Sitka, Alaska.

Helen Barrett, an assistant professor and educational technology coordinator for the School of Education at the University of Alaska, Anchorage, provides another definition, one developed by the Northwest Evaluation Association:

A portfolio is a purposeful collection of student work that exhibits the student's efforts, progress, and achievements in one or more areas. The collection must include student participation in selecting content, the criteria for selection, the criteria for judging merit, and evidence of student self-reflection.

"Portfolios can serve multiple purposes," Barrett told Education World. "They can support learning, play an assessment role, or support employment. The purpose dictates the structure and contents of a portfolio."

The three most common types of portfolios are:

  • the working portfolio, which contains projects the student is currently working on or has recently completed.
  • the display portfolio, which showcases samples of the student's best work.
  • the assessment portfolio, which presents work demonstrating that the student has met specific learning goals and requirements.


The Process of Portfolio Development

Most portfolios programs begin with the working portfolio. Over time, a student selects items from the working portfolio and uses them to create a display portfolio. Finally, the student develops an assessment portfolio, containing examples of his or her best work, as well as an explanation of why each work is significant. The explanation, or reflection, discusses how the particular work illustrates mastery of specific curriculum requirements or learning goals.

Barrett identified five steps inherent in the development of effective electronic portfolios:

  1. Selection: the development of criteria for choosing items to include in the portfolio based on established learning objectives.
  2. Collection: the gathering of items based on the portfolio's purpose, audience, and future use.
  3. Reflection: statements about the significance of each item and of the collection as a whole.
  4. Direction: a review of the reflections that looks ahead and sets future goals.
  5. Connection: the creation of hypertext links and publication, providing the opportunity for feedback.

Why Electronic Portfolios?

"The power of a digital portfolio," Barrett said, "is that it allows different access to different artifacts. The user can modify the contents of the digital portfolio to meet specific goals. As a student progresses from a working portfolio to a display or assessment portfolio, he or she can emphasize different portions of the content by creating pertinent hyperlinks.

"For example," Barrett notes, "a student can link a piece of work to a statement describing a particular curriculum standard and to an explanation of why the piece of work meets that standard. That reflection on the work turns the item into evidence that the standard has been met."

The ability to use hyperlinks to connect sections of portfolio content is one advantage of using electronic portfolios instead of paper portfolios. "A paper portfolio is static," Barrett points out. "In addition, a paper portfolio usually represents the only copy of portfolio content. When the portfolio is in digital format, students can easily duplicate and transport it."

What Age Group?

"I've helped teachers develop electronic portfolios for students of all ages --from primary students through adults," Todd Bergman told Education World. "Students in about fourth or fifth grade -- sometimes younger -- are capable of using Web-based publishing tools to build digital portfolios."

Helen Barrett agreed, saying, "Electronic portfolios work best with students who have the technological capabilities to develop and maintain their own portfolios."

Electronic portfolios are more popular in higher education than in K-12, Barrett added, because they require access to technology in classrooms. For electronic portfolios to become more commonplace at the K-12 level, schools need more computers in individual classrooms.

Tools for Personal Growth

"Developing personal portfolios incorporates many different technology tools," Bergman told Education World. "But it is also a process of self-reflection and personal growth. The process is very personal -- a story of self that involves a great deal of self-reflection and thought.

"Kids really take ownership and pride in the portfolio process," Bergman added, "developing particular aspects of their portfolios based on what is important to them, their unique knowledge, and their unique skills. Demonstrations or displays in the portfolio include an explanation of the context of the material, where the demonstration was done, why it was done (its purpose), and what learning or capacities are demonstrated through its inclusion. Some students demonstrate a capacity for written expression, for example, while others highlight mathematical ability. Some illustrate leadership qualities, while others showcase musical talent."

Not a Digital Scrapbook

"Many people emphasize the electronic side of electronic portfolios," Barrett said. "I tend to emphasize the portfolio side. People often approach electronic portfolios as a multimedia or Web development project and lose sight of the portfolio component. Reflection, however, plays a critical role in the development of a portfolio. An electronic portfolio is not a digital scrapbook."

Bergman sees electronic portfolios as a natural extension of the technology that today's K-12 students are growing up with. "This is an exciting time for digital technologies and digital tools and today's kids are tuned into this environment," he told Education World. "Digital portfolios are a natural fit."

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Article by Mary Daniels Brown
Education World®
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