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How ePortfolios Can Prepare K-12 Students for College, and Beyond

ePortfolio home pageWith the Common Core State Standards emphasis on 21st century skills, as well as the expectation that today’s workers are technically savvy when they enter the workforce, career and college readiness in the K-12 classroom is more important than ever.

One way teachers can prepare students for life after high school is through the use of electronic portfolios, or ePortfolios. In this article, we’ll take a look at what constitutes an ePortfolio, as well as three main ways ePortfolios support career and college readiness in the K-12 classroom.

What is an ePortfolio?

According to the article, A Balanced Approach to ePortfolios, published in THE Journal, “By definition, ePortfolios are collections of text, electronic files, blog entries, hyperlinks, multimedia, and images that demonstrate learning outcomes, skills, and competencies.”

Helen Barrett, international expert on electronic portfolios in education, and former part-time professor at the University of Alaska Anchorage, states that there are two primary purposes of ePortfolios, which she expands upon in her paper, Balancing the Two Faces of ePortfolios:

1. Learning/Reflection (Student-centered): Students are able to reflect on and take ownership of their learning, creating a record of learning over time. In this type of ePortfolio, students can create their own goals; they can identify and express their views on strengths and weaknesses through self-assessment; and they can share their work with others.

According to Barrett, student-centered ePortfolios are typically structured as chronological workspaces that focus on the process and documentation of learning. At this level, students can use a blog to immediately reflect on learning as demonstrated by the digital artifacts in the portfolio, with the teacher providing formative assessment to identify opportunities for improvement.

2. Showcase/Accountability (Teacher- and institution-centered): This type of ePortfolio focuses on the end product, and is primarily used for assessment. Typically organized by theme, students reflect on past achievement of specific outcomes or standards, as well as define future learning goals.

The role of the teacher in this scenario, states Barrett, is “not only to provide feedback on the students' work, but also to validate the students' self-assessment of their work.”

When considering which type of ePortfolio to use in your classroom, Barrett suggests that there must be a balance between student-centered and teacher-centered in order to maximize student engagement.

Now that we know what an ePortfolio is, let’s dive into the benefits of ePortfolios and how they can prepare students for the future.

Benefit #1: ePortfolios Encourage Lifelong Learning

“The real value of an e-portfolio is in the reflection and learning that is documented therein, not just the collection of work,” states Barrett (Balancing the Two Faces of ePortfolios).

Through the power of reflection, students can express their views on learning at different stages in the learning process:

1. Immediate Reflection/Short-Term Learning Goals: As soon as a project or portion of a project ends, the student posts digital artifacts to their portfolio and then writes a blog post on how those artifacts affected their learning. Students can also post short-term goals to their blog based on this learning, motivating them to progress to the next stage in the project or learning.

2. Retrospective Reflection/Long-Term or Future Learning Goals: Typically encompassing an entire project period, semester, or even year of work, students select the portions of their portfolio that best demonstrate learning over a period of time, and then record their reflections about how those projects have achieved stated objectives. Based on their self-assessment, they then record future, or long-term goals for learning.

With the right mix of short- and long-term goal setting in this manner, students can master the process of taking their learning to the next level, from elementary through post-secondary and beyond throughout their careers.

Benefit #2: ePortfolios Help Build 21st Century Skills While Promoting Personalized Learning

By facilitating communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking, ePortfolios not only help students master the 4 C’s that are essential for college and career readiness, but also serve to demonstrate this mastery.

According to A Guide to Understanding e-Portfolios (published by Texas Education Agency and the University of Texas at Austin), “the electronic medium of the e-portfolio is an excellent way for students to show off their mastery of key foundational standards.”

The guide also states that, by allowing students to use digital tools that cultivate 21st century skills, students become more engaged in their learning. Further, as authors and publishers of content, students “are more likely to reflect on the content they create and share.”

One way to encourage student creativity is to allow them to personalize their portfolio through the choice of colors, styles and multimedia content. By providing students with choice and voice, through the ability to incorporate audio, video and digital storytelling, the electronic portfolio comes alive and provides a rich, personalized learning experience while helping to build career-ready skills.

According to Barrett, “ePortfolios are essential for 21st Century Literacy because they give students the opportunity to build a positive digital identity and establish their online brand.”

Benefit #3: ePortfolios Help Build Technical Literacy

As students make use of blogs, online research and other digital methods to help create, manage and reflect on their work, they are not only building important critical thinking skills, but also technical skills that many employers expect them to have in the workforce.

A prime example of this is teachers using ePortfolios to demonstrate teacher effectiveness. Lisa Nielsen, author of The Innovative Educator blog, wrote an interesting post about this topic.

“Innovative educators take great pride in their work and they are determining ways to showcase this work using digital portfolios," she states, in How to showcase #TeacherEffectiveness using digital portfolios. “These digital portfolios enable educators to share their work, not only with the administrators evaluating them, but also with parents, students, peers, and anyone else who might be interested in what goes on in schools everyday.”

In addition to preparing students for real-world scenarios such these, technical skills used in building electronic portfolios can help students master the anchor standards of the Common Core that incorporate skills related to media use, including both critical skills, and those involved in production of media.

According to the ISTE Position Statement on the Common Core Standards, “Technology, used effectively, can help all students meet and exceed the rigorous learning goals embedded in the Common Core State Standards by providing access to tools and resources that personalize instruction and creating rich, engaging and relevant learning environments.”

Reflection and Learning Are Key

Circling back to reflection and learning, Barrett provides educators with this key message when working with e-Portfolios in the classroom:

“I want to remind us that reflection and relationships are the ‘heart and soul’ of both portfolios and social networking … NOT the Technology! My final wish to you is that all your electronic portfolios (and social networking) become dynamic celebrations and stories of deep learning across the lifespan.”

2 comments (Add your own)

1. Mike wrote:
Personalized creativity.

August 5, 2015 @ 12:40 PM

2. Mike wrote:
Access for parents.

August 5, 2015 @ 12:41 PM

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