Monday, March 28, 2011

Portfolios-- A "Digital Can of Worms?"

I love home improvement shows. The homeowners decide on a fabulous renovation to turn their house into the house of their dreams. They work with a contractor and make a plan. But once they actually begin the process of tearing down walls they discover a problem- mold, termites, whatever. The problems are such that there can be no continuing with the planned renovation until the newly-uncovered dilemma is solved.

This is the perfect analogy for my experience this year piloting digital portfolios in grades K, 5 and 8. There is no possible way that I, or anyone, could have foreseen all of the questions and conundrums that would arise. Some were easily solved; others have required more research and development. Some were straight out of left field. I've taken to referring to the whole thing as a digital can of worms.

It's been an interesting journey so far, and I have been remiss in taking the time to reflect and share. How ironic that I can't seem to find the time to reflect on this process of becoming more reflective with students.

First of all, I feel like a pioneer. Maybe I am just not looking in the right places or asking the right people, but I am not finding a lot of teachers who are actually using digital portfolios with students. I have had a google alert set up for both "digital portfolios" and "eportfolios." My hope was to find examples of student portfolios and get ideas. While these alerts fill my reader, very few of them yield anything helpful. The examples I find are, by and large, created by adults. The few portfolios from younger students often look like they were started and then quickly abandoned. And I am starting to understand why.
I have also found several examples of "digital portfolios" that seem to be just exercises in using a blog or wiki for students to post work. There is no reflection on the work itself nor does there seem to be any attempt to select the student's best work. The space is more of a repository, and I wonder a bit about the thought behind the assignment of the portfolio. Even in these cases, it is usually high school and college age students.

Several times I have participated in #edchat on twitter. I figure that is a good place to find fellow educators who are also dipping their toes into the portfolio pool. Nada. When I ask about portfolios on twitter, I generally hear crickets....occasionally I get a retweet of my question or a teacher who says they are interested in using portfolios "next year." I started a digital portfolios group on the Curriculum 21 ning, again thinking that would be a relatively fertile place to mine for those who had information to share. The group has 39 members, which is very encouraging, but little hard data, portfolio samples or even detailed conversations. Again, it seems to be a case of people who are interested in getting started in the near future.

I hear a lot of talk about portfolios. I can only assume that there are people using them with students, but I haven't hit upon the right group. I am going to draw the conclusion, for now, that I am one of relatively few at these grade levels who is actively working with portfolios, and that I have quite a bit of helpful information to share for all those interested teachers. Maybe I can save them some of the difficulties for which I was unprepared.
I am not sure how best to share I simply state my conclusions, and skip over the "can of worms" or do I detail the whole messy path that led me to this point? I know that, personally, I like to know the reasons behind decisions, but I don't know if it's superfluous.
Consider this the introduction with more information to follow. If you are interested in seeing some sample portfolios from my students, here is a link to a kindergarten portfolio. Here are links to some 8th grade portfolios (any of these students would be very excited to receive a comment on their portfolio):


Kevin White said...

Hello Ms. Andrea Hernandez,
My name is Kevin White. I am in an educational technology class at the University of South Alabama known as EDM310; Dr. Strange is my teacher.

I really enjoyed reading your post and commend you for your efforts in teaching children and building digital portfolios. I think this is very important work because It gets children involved with computers, the internet and other pieces of technology they will use daily throughout their lives.

Thank you,
Kevin White

Christina A Dunnam said...

I am a student at the university of South Alabama and I am now getting ready to do my first digital portfolio for EDM 310 . To my understanding this will not be the only time I use it while studying to become a teacher. I would be more than interested to hear about your conclusions and the "cans of worms" you have encountered. It could really help me during my learning process and perhaps help me in avoiding the same problems. Thank you for sharing links to your students portfolios. I hope to read more about your experience with digital portfolios. Good luck in your future ventures!