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Mr G Online
Jul 10

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Cartoon by Dave Walker. Find more cartoons you can freely re-use on your blog at We Blog Cartoons.

A couple of things happened last term. My school finally took the plunge and allowed the Grade 6 students to replace their file books with digital portfolios as a means to collate their work to share with their parents at home and during parent/teacher interviews. The other thing was that a small group of teachers dipped their toe into class blogging. By the end of the term, we ended up with two problems – How do we create the best Digital Portfolio and Do we want to really blog?

Let me explain.

During my ‘Techie Brekkies” before school, I introduced blogging to a group of interested teachers. They had lots of questions and not all were answered but we ended the couple of sessions with setting up blogs, but apart from one grade level who used their blog for Camp updates and reflection, not much happened after the meetings. Then I introduced Edmodo and it seemed to be a more useful and easier to set up option. Edmodo now has full adoption across all Grade 5/6s as a collaboration/work sharing/assessment and class organisation tool. It was seen as more relevant than having a class blog at this stage in the development of the teachers involved. ( Note: the whole “Techie Brekkie” thing went into hiatus during report writing season and so there was no follow up to blogging session. We’ll pick it up again next term).

In terms of the Digital portfolios, there was a push for them last year in the 5/6 area but because they were just an add on to the  school wide  file book/work sample policy, they were not fully embraced by teacher or student. In 2012, however, change came about and the Grade 6 students moved from paper based file book to digital portfolio. They adopted Powerpoint as the platform ( not my personal choice nor my decision to make) and then last term decided they would  export them over to Sliderocket so that they could be accessed via the internet at home. It was soon apparent, though, that this was a fail as a workflow as the export experience didn’t upload attached files or links. This was compounded by SlideRocket’s sudden policy change which locked the children out of accounts ( hence my recent posts about Web 2.0 for the Under 13s).

When this happened, I started thinking of alternatives. The teachers initially decided to stick with PowerPoint but start a new portfolio ( the originals quickly became bloated, growing to unmanageable sizes that took forever to load over wireless networks – need to invest in video compression software!) I started thinking of blogging.  From reading about blogging over the last year, however, from the likes of Kathleen Morris, Linda Yollis and Langwitches Blog ( who seem to respected in the field of class blogging) and reflecting myself earlier in the year in this post (and here as well),  my quandary is that I may be blurring the lines between blogging and digital portfolios. Am I rushing the students and teachers into blogging by attaching the importance of the official digital portfolio to it without going through the process of preparing them for blogging as outlined by the aforementioned “experts”?

Nevertheless, today, I am pushing ahead with a “Pros and Cons” list to help me decide what the best choice might be from my point of view. Obviously, I would like feedback from you, my readers, on what you think is the best option. It’s a work in progress and would like to hear suggestions from you for both the pros and cons. 

PROS FOR BLOGGING AS DIGITAL PORTFOLIO

  • “Anywhere, any time access” to their work for composing, editing, publishing and sharing with their parents. One of my problems with the whole twice a year file book access is that parents aren’t kept informed on the progress or quality of their children’s work. With the blog as portfolio option, the child’s work is more transparent and because the parents can see the work during all stages of the year, children may be more motivated to work at the standard Mum and Dad expects of them.
  • A bigger audience for greater purpose and motivation. Opening up their work to a wider audience puts the responsibility of quality back on to the students. It should also motivate them to publish quality work as well since it is being viewed by others.
  • Feedback and collaboration. Through moderated comments, parents, friends and the wider world audience can provide feedback, encouragement, praise and advice. With access controls, individuals can be invited to collaborate on posts under the supervision of the teacher to ensure collaboration goes smoothly. Shared posts can be linked to each others’ blogs so that the work can be shown to both students’ parents and audiences.
  • Controlled environment and ease of communication between teacher and student. With student blogs linked to a teacher blog, teachers and students can control the level of privacy and access to their work. Students can save their work as unpublished drafts and teachers can review their work before they go further. Students and teachers together can make decisions about which posts go public and which remain private. This gives a student control over what he/she wants to publish to a wider audience while still being able to show their parents all their work.
  • Wide range of publishing options available through uploading, hyperlinks and embedding published work from other web tools. One of the time wasting tasks I have seen through the PowerPoint Digital Portfolio option is organising file storage, folder structures, hyperlinking to files, linking to work published with software not available at home and the resulting broken links when all of these tasks are completed effectively. An online version with links controlled by the blogging platform and a central storage area coupled with the ease of linking and embedding to work that exists on the internet, not in random folders spread across the school network is a more user friendly option. Having the online option may also encourage students to try out more web tools for composing and publishing their work. It may move them away from just typing words out in Microsoft Word and onto Prezis, comic strips, slideshows and audio presentations that can easily be embedded in their portfolio blog.
  • Purposeful blogging. I’ve checked out a lot of student blogs in my research for setting up blogging at school. While there are some outstanding examples from very talented student writers, there are also a lot of blogs out there that don’t meet the standards and guidelines outlined by the blogging experts above. Like a lot of technology, many teachers never progress their students past the experimental stage and we are left reading unedited “my Favourite……” posts by the truckload. Using the blog as a digital portfolio gives a consistent purpose to what is being posted and students won’t spend time wondering what to write next.
  • Part of whole school program, not an added extra. A digital portfolio blog would include work from all areas of the curriculum and would encourage publishing of work in the Arts, Sport, Mathematics and other subjects besides Literacy which can dominate a blog as the “writing subject”. Hopefully, this would encourage the use of technology for reflecting upon and showcasing learning in the non text based subjects.
  • Consistent, purposeful reflection across all curriculum areas. By using the blog as a digital portfolio, students will have an accessible place to store their reflections on learning side by side with the actual work they are reflecting upon.
  • Easy to use publishing and organisational platform. Thoughtful tags to identify each post, organised in Portfolio categories ( subject areas ), pasting the embed code or link from work done on another web tool – and we’re done. A simple to organise workflow that allows easy access to all files with a simple click on a link.
  • Home/School Link. On top of the connection between school and home available to the parents through the blog option, the maintenance of the blog becomes purposeful homework in all curriculum areas.
  • Teacher Accountability/future direction. Access to student work is soon to become part of our Educational landscape in my system. I can already access individual files of my own children’s work, albeit work that is uploaded and commented on by their teachers in their own time. Having the blog as a digital portfolio easily accessible by parents places some onus on teachers to be consistent and up to date with their assessment and feedback, which helps with teachers planning for children’s learning and improvement.

CONS OF BLOGGING AS DIGITAL PORTFOLIO

  • Rushed process without preparing for the responsibility of online publishing. This is not a problem with blogging itself. Rather it’s more a problem with moving straight into using it as a Digital Portfolio platform without having already having experience in blogging. When we adopted Edmodo, there were plenty of teething problems with getting the students to use it appropriately ( that is now ironed out). Morris, Yollis and Langwitches all emphasise the need to for a gradual release of responsibility and training in posting and commenting. Having said that, as a Digital portfolio, the work that is published on the blog will be controlled in some way.
  • Maintaining feedback. There is a danger that teachers will find it too difficult to maintain the same level of feedback and commenting over the duration of the year, considering the public nature of the blogging platform.
  • Negative feedback. How students react to possible feedback of a critical nature is something to consider. Does the digital portfolio component of the blog remain separate from other posts through privacy settings?
  • Separation of Teacher/Student/Parent Comments during the composing process and once published. How do we manage the situation of comments from teachers at the composing/editing stage being misunderstood by parents? Does the student want their classmates’ comments being seen by parents or vice versa? Should the teacher comments be privately viewed?
  • Making a blog “all work and no play”. When you look at successful blogs, they’re about building relationships with audiences, being free to publish posts of your own choice, having fun with the layout, plug ins etc. By making it the Digital Portfolio, you run the risk of sucking the joy and freedom out of blogging and making it all about school work.
  • Access/Connection issues. 90 students simultaneously trying to blog at school can play havoc with the wifi. We run the risk of making the students’ work inaccessible during high traffic periods. Not all students have easy and regular access to the internet at home.
  • Quality control/Teacher accountability. Keeping track of 30 student blogs is no easy task. If students have publishing rights, unchecked work might slip through to public viewing and cause concern for teacher responsibility. Teachers who aren’t confident with technology may find the blogging platform difficult to manage.
  • The linear blogging structure. While tags and categories can make linking to individual post simple, the scrolling, back dated, linear structure of a blog is not always the best way of presenting a large body of work.

I personally think my pros outweigh my cons, although their are some definite issues to address. But I’m a prolific blogger and a confident user of web tools. That doesn’t make it the best choice for everyone. I know there are alternatives but I haven’t experimented with them as much as blogging. As I said earlier, I would really like some feedback from others who have used Digital Portfolios with their students. Do you use blogs or something completely different? What have been your issues and challenges? Please leave a comment and join the conversation. I’d really appreciate it.

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19 Responses to “Digital Portfolios – is Blogging a good option?”

  1. Adrienne Says:

    By making it the Digital Portfolio, you run the risk of sucking the joy and freedom out of blogging and making it all about school work.

    If I could make a comment about this thought….? I would approach it as a self-expression element of the blog rather than ‘the teacher made me do it’. In most tasks that we have to do in our lives there will be elements that we naturally enjoy and those elements that are somewhat more onerous, adding a collection of evidence of learning should only be PART of the whole presentation. The beauty of blogs is that they don’t have to be all work and no play. They can be any way you imagine, design and create, they are are also developmental and dynamic.
    My only word of caution comes from an experience I went through with my son. He is somewhat(!!) of a perfectionist and made the unilateral decision to delete all his blogging work from the past 12 months (it no longer met his high standards of how he percieved his abilities). This year when he needed to present an application to be accepted into a G&T program I urged him to include his blog as part of his submission only to discover that it had all been deleted. Some discussion about the role of portfolio evidence and how long it should be kept for, would be on my agenda after this experience.

    • mgleeson Says:

      Thanks, Adrienne. You would like to think the students would be proud of what they publish but the reality is they move on and don’t want to keep everything. Something to discuss with the students.

  2. Jenny Luca Says:

    We are using an edublogs platform at our school to create ePortfolios, for all the reasons you elaborate in your post. I’ve written about it here:
    http://plpnetwork.com/2011/08/26/5-reasons-why-our-students-are-writing-blogs-and-creating-eportfolios/

    Feel free to contact me should you want to discuss things further.

    Jenny :)

    • mgleeson Says:

      Thanks ,Jenny. Great post by you. Especially like the digital footprint reason “These kids need to establish a positive digital footprint. Without question, it will be the norm for these students to be Googled when they begin to seek employment. Even employment of the part time variety! They need to cultivate their personal brand, and we can help them by encouraging them to post about the great things they are involved in at school. This can reflect what they are learning in their classrooms, or it can be a discussion of the co-curricular activities they enjoy. We want our students to understand that they can control the message about them that exists on the Web, and they can point prospective employers, colleagues or university admissions officers towards a digital footprint that they themselves have created when the time is right.” Will keep you and your school in mind as we move forward.

  3. Daniel Weinstein Says:

    You spell out the pros and cons perfectly! I have incorporated website portfolios the past few years and have had much success. My one caveat: I make it an option.

    All my students must end the year with a creative portfolio, but some have decided to go on-line. I encourage that, I show them examples from former students, and I tell them it’s important for them to learn to use new technology.

    However, I do not make e-portfolios mandatory. I probably never will.

    I believe it is more important to create student-choice than it is to demand students get experience publishing on line.

    Daniel Weinstein, author of http://www.creatingcreativeclasses.com

  4. justinstallings Says:

    Great post here, Mr. G. Every time I read articles about digital portfolios, I love the idea even more. I’ve yet to find my first teaching job (economy still not that great for teachers in Texas) but I always think back to my student teaching days. The teacher I was under had the students keep everything (notes, worksheets, etc) in a spiral. Every day I taught class I thought to myself, “What is the point in this?” Only a small portion of students will ever look back at these spirals after they graduate or go onto the next grade. With digital portfolios, students can actually build on it as they go through each grade. I would want my students to feel that there is a point to everything they are doing. Notes in a spiral mean nothing after it’s been graded and done with. Having a collection of blog posts that students have done in the past, however, shows students how they have grown over time.

  5. Mrs Rice Says:

    Thanks Mark your post was VERY timely for me! I am new to all this blogging ( I am reader but not a blogger) , Edmodo etc. which opened up for me when I was given a class set of iPads and a mac book a few months back . So, after reading your blog regarding the pros and cons on digital portfolio & blogging and combining them I wondered about how Edmodo would fit into this issue. For me I want to learn a way to create a digital portfolio and move away from so much paper BUT I want a safe and manageable environment to do so….. my students are young and need to learn how to work, behave etc in this forum I think before un leashing them when they are older into WWW blogging etc. I know there are kid blogging sites and I am starting to look into those. IDEAS?

    • mgleeson Says:

      Ms Rice. I’ve considered Edmodo. Pro is that kids are already on it and know how to add files and links. It has the parent code component to allow access too. Students could store their work in their backpacks and use tags to sort. The assignments section allows for private comments. Main problem would be all the work being lost amongst all the other collaborative conversations if students forgot to tag. Something to think about.

      • Chris Fry, Barcelona Says:

        I don’t teach kids – all my students are over 18. I use Edmodo a lot with them, but not for portfolios. I want my students to be able to add to their portfolios after they have left my classes and that is not possible on Edmodo.

        The issue of privacy is different with adults and kids and Edmodo provides the sort of privacy and parental access that you need for kids. I used posterous with my adults for portfolios: it has privacy options, but I asked my students to make their spaces and posts public so they could be embedded in Edmodo. The vast majority of their portfolio work was recordings made on their mobile phones.

        A way to keep portfolio work separate from the rest in Edmodo is to create a ‘Portfolio’ group. I created separate ‘Speaking’ and ‘Writing’ groups to put all the assignments for each together and to get a ‘Writing’ and ‘Speaking’ gradebook.

        • mgleeson Says:

          Thanks for comment, Chris. Good point on Edmodo class set up. There would be an issue with adding and deleting classes and students having continued access over the years. Would make it a one year proposition.

  6. Viv Says:

    I think embedding their creations and writing journal entries on a blog is terrific, as long as the teacher is comfortable with that. You could make just a class blog, with pages for each student.
    In addition, now that powerpoint 2110 has the capacity to be saved as a wmv file, you can insert clips and audio etc etc, and the whole lot can be converted to a working video clip with no need to upload embedded media.
    Hence you can then upload their converted work to a google docs/drive account and get an embed code. I don’t know if google docs is banned for your students though. It is for the DEC.
    I had a small group of gifted kids keeping a blog this last term, but from the point of view of a created character in a novel. So the whole thing was a creative writing exercise – involving journal entries, digicreations, imovie trailers and clips, vokis etc. The whole box and dice haha.
    They really enjoyed the experience. In the end I put all their entries into a cohesive collaborative narrative and it was terrific. I posted it here a while back.
    Next term I am going to set up class blogs administered by myself and the class teachers for the Stage 2 and Stage 3 classes in edublogs. The main page will be whole class stuff with examples. Each student will have their own page to put their stuff on though.
    I really do think blogging is a wonderful way to showcase a student’s work for their parents. They could put educreations they had made on it too. A lot of possibilities for some very creative and impressive work the students and their parents can be proud of.

    • mgleeson Says:

      Some great points there, Viv. Will keep them in mind. With all the multimedia the students are adding to their PP folios not sure a converted WMV would stay manageable. Havent looked into Google Apps for Ed yet. Google Docs is technically not allowed for under 13s I’ve found out. Not sure a lot of schools know that but Google Apps is fine.

  7. AJ Says:

    It depends on age I guess….I have been playing around with evernote for collection of evidence for portfolios. I have also created my own(professional) eportfolio in Google sites after the EpCoP MOOC last year. At that time there was much discussion about the choices of platform for portfolios. We all agreed to use an option that we were comfortable with. If kids know blogs then explore its’ potential and the sky is the limit, they are certainly used for more that just journalling and reflecting.

    • mgleeson Says:

      AJ, I’ve been considering Evernote as well. I use it a lot myself Have a couple of teachers playing with it but more for their own assessment notes. Have read a couple of blogposts on Evernote as portfolio. Will continue to experiment.
      Mrs Hardy, limited experience with Livebinders. Saw it more as bookmarking rather than portfolio but if all work online, it’s possible I guess. Need more exploring on that. Got to consider under 13 rule for my case too.

  8. WendyGoodman Says:

    Excellent post and comments. I am a huge fan of blogging, but depending on the platform and the “vision”, it can be overwhelming for teachers and students. What about a combination of tools? Student/teacher can capture artifacts of learning and voice via Evernote (love the ease of use and sharing capabilities of this tool), then the blog could be the metacognitive element where they select a piece to discuss publicly. This could be done on the “class” blog as a guest post. In WordPress if students are assigned the role of contributor they can do their own posts, but need to be approved by the teacher before they are “live”. The use of “categories” (each student is a separate category) would help sort student posts on the class blog and make it easy for parents/students/teacher to see all of reflections done by individual students. I’m also a fan of Edmodo, and I find teachers find the Edmodo environment easier to navigate than the blogging dashboard. There are so many great tools available to share student learning it does make it a difficult decision. That being said, it is also a very exciting time!

    • mgleeson Says:

      Thanks Wendy. all good suggestions. Probably looking for a Personalised rather than shared approach so would only use a class blog for shared class work rather than digital portfolio for individual students. Edmodo is very easy to use for any teacher regardless of tech skill but I think portfolios probably require a more structured platform.

  9. BalancEdTech Says:

    I have tried PowerPoint, wysiwig websites, blogs, and wikis for portfolios. The one with the lowest floor and widest walls so far has been wikis. We use Wikispaces and the kids find it a breeze on Windows and Mac computers. We’re still getting used to it with iPads. Uploading files has been our problem on the iPads.

    What I like best about the blogs is having students write a quick description of what they are linking/uploading and a quick (every now and then, more detailed) reflection. We do some of that with our wikis, but it feels natural to do it on the blog.

  10. moveoverhomework Says:

    I might be mistaken, but the problem i’m having is accessibility. So far I’ve looked at edublogs and evernote. Both require users to pay to use necessary features. In evernote you need to upgrade to be able to have 2 way collaborative feedback between teachers and students. In edublogs, students can’t upload their prezi’s, youtube videos, authorstream presentations, bit strip creations, etc unless the account is a pro account. How effective are digital portfolios if we only use the barebone features of a free account?

    • mgleeson Says:

      This is true although in our case in Victoria, Australia both state and Catholic system get free access to Edublogs campus/pro features through global2. This only happened this year for Catholic system AFTER I upgraded to Edublogs Pro!! But I thought $40 was worth it for unlimited (now) student blogs with all the pro features through one teacher account. I was also able to upgrade teacher accounts to pro I have avoided the Evernote upgrade so far because I’m just using it myself.

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