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ePortfolios and Three Outstanding Options for Student Learning



Congratulations on considering student ePortfolios as part of your transformative learning package. Electronic Portfolios are, in my opinion, the most effective way for students to authentically document and share their learning with an authentic audience. My suggestion is that you recommend one of these three platforms to your students as they begin creating their positive digital footprints: Google Sites, Evernote, and my personal choice, Blogger.




Fresh off an outstanding ePortfolio workshop presented by Dr. Helen Barrett, I became motivated to share some thoughts, and a few resources on this topic. What, how, and why are certainly important questions to address new or improved learning opportunities. My hope is that your focus will be on the "WHY", as the "what" and "how" can, and should, be left to student research and development. Although it may not be appropriate in some cases, I would let the students experiment, and then choose the tools that best meet their needs. Here are three outstanding learning tools that you and your students could consider for digital portfolios.
  1.  Google Sites - Endorsed by Dr. Barrett, Google Sites offers students a single sign-on option for finding, storing, recording, and sharing information. A natural fit for schools that are GoogleApps shops, students will appreciate the variety of media and resources that can be included in their site. Portfolio templates are numerous, but there is a fairly significant learning curve to customizing the site navigation and appearance. Sites is not the best option for mobile devices such as iPads, although you can work around many issues by using the Chrome browser in "desktop" mode to work with Sites, and even then, scrolling, alignment, and formatting can be troublesome. For the "HOW?", here is Dr. Barrett's step-by-step recipe for creating and maintaining ePortfolios with GoogleApps.  Also, here is an ePortfolio Starter Guide created and shared by Thomas College.
  2. Evernote - One of the very favorite tools of connected learners, Evernote offers a device agnostic platform for accumulating, creating, and sharing information. Desktop, iOS, and Android versions are feature-rich and fairly easy to learn and use. Like Google Sites, Evernote is free, can be collaborative, and offers a wide range of digital resources that can be incorporated into electronic portfolios. Separate Evernote folders can be created to support different subjects or learning units. This terrific Evernote Blog post by Rob Van Nood helps to address the question of "How can students create ePortfolios using Evernote?" Also, "How to Use Google Drive and Evernote to Create Digital Portfolios.", shared by +Edudemic. And this just in, Evernote, A Great Tool for Organizing Teachers and Students - Powerful Learning Practice.
  3. Blogger - Like Dr. Barrett, I am a fan of GoogleApps. However, I want my high school students to work with a tool that offers more transparency, is more forgiving on a mobile device, and allows threaded discussions and sequential posting of material. Students can use the body of Blogger to demonstrate learning as a process, while using the "pages" feature to create summative products. While not perfect, the mobile versions of Blogger offer anytime, anywhere update and publishing capacities. (I am composing this post using an iPad and a bluetooth keyboard.) Blogger is easy to learn and like Evernote, a variety of resources can be linked or embedded into the blog. I particularly like the option to bring web gadgets into the mix. (Blogging in the Classroom, A 4-Step Guide - Edudemic) As with Google Sites, templates and customization features are available for enhancing the appearance and functionality of the blog. Blogger can be used collaboratively, and the audience can be controlled by the publisher. Here is an interesting post from Kathy Cassidy, via the PLP Network, explaining how blogs can be used as portfolios for student assessment. Recently, I discovered that readers such as, Feedly or Flipboard, can be used to quickly collect, organize, and review student blogs. The subscription list can be shared with the class so that students can comment on each other's work. As you would guess, students become conscientious editors when they know that their work will be seen by many eyes, including those of their parents and family. (Flipboard & Student Blogging - A Changing Classroom) Finally, if you are like many others who are moving towards 1:1 with iPads, I am recommending a free iOS app that makes mobile blogging a better experience - Posts. Posts provides a clean, simple interface for Blogger or Wordpress when composing on an iPad. 
Any one, or even a combination of two or three, of these platforms will provide an outstanding foundation for your students' ePortfolios. As you plan for this endeavor, consider the availability of wireless connectivity for your students. Also, some consideration and practice with cloud-based file storage, organization, and management is a necessary prerequisite. Google Drive and Dropbox make the storage and retrieval of materials infinitely easier than trying to track down items buried somewhere on a tablet.

A common theme at this year's ISTE Conference was the emphasis on "WHY?". Why do you want your students to create ePortfolios? Your answer to this question will help you guide your students as they address the what (the products) and the how (the processes) related to their connected learning. Electronic portfolios can help set the stage for lifelong learning, life-wide learning, and can also help to establish a positive digital footprint, which is quickly becoming the 21st century resume.

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