Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Digital Portfolios And Self-Determined Learning


Our digital footprints should not be left to chance. Will Richardson recommends that all students become "well-googled" by high school graduation. As the accompanying graphic suggests, students should build a positive digital footprint as they progress in their education. My contention is this is sound advice for all educational stakeholders. As our lives become more digitized, more connected, and more cloud-based, where should we be keeping our evidence of learning? Where should we be keeping our evidence of professional growth?



"One answer is digital portfolios." 

Learners of any age need a place where curated information can get chewed up, broken down, and reassembled into new artifacts of learning. When our children were younger, the refrigerator, their bedroom cork boards, and our under-bed bins, were the final resting places for their shining examples of creativity and learning. To quote Dr. Helen Barrett, "we collect and share what we value". As we move rapidly from analog to digital forms of learning, it is becoming essential for us to create a cloud-based archive for our learning processes, and our favored pieces of work. Here are four more reasons why digital portfolios are growing in importance...


  • Digital portfolios provide a practice field for learning digital literacy.
  • Digital portfolios provide an environment for building and sharing a legacy of learning.
  • Digital portfolios provide opportunities for planning, reflection, and revision.
  • Digital portfolios provide avenues where learning can be shared and appreciated.

Anytime, anywhere learning is a reality with mobile technologies, and device independent web apps. Applications such as Google Drive or Evernote enable learners to collect, create, and share information on the run. Learning networks provide an authentic audience and contribute to the relevancy of the work. Most importantly, digital portfolios provide the learner a platform for assembling and sharing their story. The first step to creating a digital portfolio is to decide its purpose.

Digital portfolios typically come in three varieties; process portfolios, product portfolios, and hybrid portfolios. Process portfolios are collections of work that provide opportunities for the learner to reflect upon thought processes and pose additional questions. The questions and reflections often create a spark for additional research. Product portfolios are also called showcase portfolios. These are collections of what the learner considers being his or her best work. Published pieces highlight proud efforts and valued results. Once again, authentic audiences help promote an intrinsic, conscientious effort from the learner. As the name suggests, hybrid portfolios are a combination of the process and product varieties explained previously. Hybrid portfolios are gaining in popularity. One reason for this is the longitudinal function of the portfolio. Hybrid portfolios provide a year to year opportunity to build upon prior knowledge and revise earlier works in the hopes of deeper learning and more professional results. Understanding the purpose of the portfolio helps the user to create a storyboard, and maintain a focus on the portfolio's function.

After determining the portfolio type, the next steps should include the collection of digital artifacts, along with the digitization of meaningful, existing analog resources. Google Drive and Dropbox are excellent repositories for digital collections, not only for the cloud storage but also for their collaborative capabilities.

The collected resources are compared, analyzed, and dissected in the name of personal learning. New interpretations and new meanings are created and published in the form of the digital portfolio. These publications serve to establish a positive digital footprint for the learner. Published works can be shared through websites, wikis, and nings. That said, many teachers and students are turning to blogs as their platform of choice for digital portfolios. Why would a blog make an excellent choice for a digital portfolio? We'll discuss this concept in detail in next week's post.

For additional detail and helpful references, please review this recent presentation on ePortfolios for authentic learning. For examples of teacher and student digital portfolios, check out High Tech High's amazing collection of digital portfolios.

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