Digitize the Students’ Walks: The New Writing PortfoliosTexas Council of Teachers of English Language Arts48th Annual ConferenceJanuary 19, 2013
By Jennifer Lilly Engle, Eldorado High School

Preparing students to be successful in the 21st century dictates a paradigm shift in the concepts delivered by educators, the learning attained by students, the products produced by students, and the process by which they collect and publish those products for reflection, growth, and future opportunities. Daniel Pink qualifies this necessary shift based on the societal evolution to the new “Conceptual Age” in which students are now required to contribute “creativity, innovation and design skills” in addition to the outcomes of traditional educational purposes (Jones, 2012). The tools shown in the Periodic Table of the Internet above represent a variety of technologies teachers must use in educating today's young people as well as technologies with which they must arm students before the transition into the 'real world.'
ratio of student to computer.jpg
Figure 1 Ratio of public school students to instructional computers with Internet access: Various years, 1998-2005 (Wells & Lewis, 2006, p. 24)

A key component in this preparation process can be the creation of digital portfolios. Utilizing this platform in the classroom contributes to authentic instruction as teachers will be contributing to the students' knowledge base that will be necessary for the real ways they will be working in the real world. This idea fits perfectly with INTASC Principle One. Higher education has long used the digital collection of artifacts to assess graduation candidates, and K-12 schools showed great interest in the system more than a decade ago. However in a time when schools were in the early stages of acquiring computers and bandwidth, most schools did not have the capability to support such widespread use of technology across a campus or district.

Today, through initiatives as a result of the No Child Left Behind Act, federal funding has allowed more schools to supplement their local dollars to provide adequate technology. According to John Bailey, former director of educational technology for the U.S. Department of Education, “Title I funds, Reading First, migrant education funds, teacher quality funds… can be used to help fund technology tools, technology services, and even hardware and software, as long as they are aligned to the particular curriculum goals of those programs” (Delisio, 2011). Schools today are more likely to have the resources, a computer for every 3.8 students according to the graph shown to the left, to implement digital portfolio requirements and should do so to participate in the paradigm shift for one simple reason: their students’ futures depend upon it.

Before the Portfolio
The first step for an educator in planning all lessons is to decide what skills are to be introduced, taught, learned, and assessed. Today, an added element includes determining what technology will help to accomplish those goals. In this way, teachers avoid including technology elements for the sake of technology. A digital portfolio is a more preferred collection of artifacts because the types of pieces used to exhibit a student’s skill set can be diverse in lieu of just paper products. The possibilities are endless. Fredericksburg Academy in Virginia has their students "create webpages and wikis, blog and email, and delve into discussion boards and explore visual argumentation [, and] the digital portfolio is therefore the perfect vehicle for capturing students' 21st century literacies" (Christel & Sullivan, 2010, p. 61).

The sense of ownership that will come from the creation of technological artifacts and the digital portfolios on which they are compiled will be beneficial in fostering the active engagement students need, and, more importantly, the technological skills they will need to contribute to and compete in the 21st century. This results in a cyclical effect: engagement stimulates learning which stimulates engagement (Ash, 2011). The engagement leads to more intrinsic motivation. Wagner noted as one of the essential differences in schools that are generating “innovators” the concept of creation versus reception. Instead of receiving information from educators, ingesting lecture-based learning, students who are allowed to construct their own understandings are more motivated and this intrinsic motivation builds a more profound tenacity and intent (2012). In his book, The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Daniel Pink qualifies that autonomy is one of three factors that lead to better performance and personal satisfaction. He illustrates how this applies to employees in the real world in the following excerpt of the YouTube video, and the correlation to the education world is straightforward.

Select the Elements of the Portfolio
The next step for educators is to qualify and quantify the requirements of the student digital portfolios. A combination of what some authorities in the educational technology field call progress, display, or working portfolios might serve as an appropriate starting point. Figure 2 shows possible purposes which could ultimately define the mandatory artifacts.
Artifact Creation as Instructional Context
An electronic portfolio is defined by the digital artifacts it presents. The content of such artifacts does not often relate directly to the use of technology, but successfully using technology to create artifacts often necessitates the learning and/or application of a variety of worthwhile skills. This represents a very concrete learning context.
In addition to defining concrete creation-oriented learning contexts, the actions surrounding the development of digital material often defines experiences that involve learning and/or applying problem solving as well as collaboration skills.
Portfolios can help define both large "meta" education goals as well as smaller instructional goals. Planning the creation of portfolio artifacts involves teacher-learner communication and clear goal-setting. If analytic rubrics will be used to evaluate the artifacts, specific categories and items within the rubric constitute clear goals available for review at any time throughout the learning process.
Accessible portfolio artifacts can provide a variety of examples and non-examples useful in the instructional process. Additionally, the creation of electronic portfolio artifacts in an environment rich with communication
options provides many opportunities to receive detailed feedback over the performances being learned and applied throughout the portfolio artifact development process.
Successfully developing artifacts for an electronic portfolio can constitute evidence of learning. The learning of content-related as well as technology and collaboration skills can often be clearly identified by within a successfully-completed portfolio artifact.
Designing and developing electronic portfolio artifacts generally constitutes a complex set of tasks, so detailed assessment instruments (including analytical rubrics) are often used. This type of assessment can encourage the learning and assessment of higher-order, critical-thinking intellectual skills.
In addition, learners can use detailed assessment rubrics as guides to help them navigate the experience and acquire the intended skills.
The experience of designing, developing, and presenting electronic artifacts provides numerous opportunities to reflect on the learning experience.
It is very easy to include reflection requirements within the portfolio. Directing reflective activities and experiences is a very effective instructional strategy, particularly for adult learners.
Electronic portfolios make it easy to distribute artifacts to others (family, friends, colleagues, and potential employers), especially if the digital portfolio is Web-based. Electronic portfolios can also provide the mechanisms for helping group members living in different geographic locations work collaboratively on projects.
Planning and
Management Tool
Creating a learning environment in which learners must develop electronic portfolio artifacts can help teachers manage the instructional process by enabling them to view, track, and evaluate progress. Also, determining the
types of artifacts to be included within student portfolios and creating the analytic rubrics to help guide student portfolio development constitute effective planning practice.
Organization Tool
Portfolio development can help learners organize their time and resources throughout a learning experience. "In Progress" and "Completed" folders, as well as calendars, timelines and progress checklists can help to organize
resources and monitor progress. In addition, analytic assessment rubrics can be used as instructional scaffolds (support mechanisms), and existing artifacts can be used as instructional examples.
Teaching and
Most portfolio artifacts reflect the application of skills learned within a number of different content areas. Additionally, the application of general technology-related skills is clearly evident within each artifact. The skills
represented by each artifact can most likely be easily aligned with a variety of academic standards. Professional educators should communicate with each other about the standards facilitated within their courses versus those addressed in other courses. This type of dialogue can contribute to sustaining comprehensive, cohesive, and quality educational environment.
A digital portfolio can be used as a means of communicating an impressive resume, complete with the obvious representation of advanced computer-use skills.
Historical Artifacts
& Stories
Artifacts included within portfolios can become permanent and accessible records detailing specific events or chapters in the portfolio developer's history. These artifacts tell a unique story.
Figure 2 (Sherman, 2005)
Not only do these types of purposes allow students to showcase their 21st century literacies which the National Council of Teachers of English says will need to be a wide range of proficiencies (Christel & Sullivan, 2010), these skills will be essential for their futures. According to Schawbel (2011), traditional resumes will be obsolete in ten years, so the creation of a portfolio can serve as a meaningful aggregation of digital items that represent students well and provide evidence of their skills and abilities.

Requirements can also include cross-curricular elements in which students must provide support of connections necessary for a well-rounded education. In this manner, students can consistently add artifacts throughout the school year to their collection of completed assignments to keep the portfolio current. Teachers should have available digital cameras for still shots and videos, scanners, and voice-recording software such as Audacity to provide students with the tools to create a variable array of products. Toward the end of the school year, the purpose of the portfolio can shift to assessment to showcase work of which they are most proud and wish to use to prove they have met the standards required to pass the course. The organizational structure of the portfolio could include archives to house the work not chosen for prominent display and reflection.
artifact samples wordle.jpg
Figure 3 Typical lessons educators currently create constitute the variety from which students can choose artifacts

Ideally the students would continue to maintain the portfolio from year to year only creating a new portfolio when advancing to a new campus or level such as middle or high school. This process creates opportunities for students to tweak projects and writings from early years about which they are passionate into more broad-scaled products their senior year when their thinking has sharpened and matured. Wagner alludes to this effect as one in which students move away from an atmosphere of “risk avoidance” to one of “iteration” (2012, p. 68). Some schools require only three artifacts and reflections while other schools mandate up to fifteen pieces with reflections, and some schools require the portfolios as a stipulation of graduation. One student who had to complete such a task directed a question to Dr. Helen Barrett, a digital portfolio aficionado who has done extensive research for the past two decades. Her blog response proved to be thorough, enlightening and well received even by students: http://blog.helenbarrett.org/2005/02/high-school-inquiry.html The most important determination in deciding what elements to include in the portfolio assignment boils down to whether the project will be used for assessment OF learning or FOR learning. Barnett (2005) provides a direct contrast of these two purposes in the Figure 4 below.

Portfolios used for Assessment OF Learning
Portfolios that support Assessment FOR Learning
Purpose of portfolio prescribed by institution
Purpose of portfolio agreed upon with learner
Artifacts mandated by institution to determine outcomes
of instruction
Artifacts selected by learner to tell the story of their learning
Portfolio usually developed at the end of a class, term
or program - time limited
Portfolio maintained on an ongoing basis throughout the
class, term, or program - time flexible
Portfolio and/or artifacts usually "scored" based on a
rubric and quantitative data is collected for external
Portfolio and artifacts reviewed with learner and used to
provide feedback to improve learning
Portfolio is usually structured around a set of outcomes.
goals, or standards
Portfolio organization is determined by learner or negotiated
with mentor/advisor/teacher
Sometimes used to make high stakes decisions
Rarely used for high stakes decision
Summative - what has been learned to date? (past to
Formative - what are the learning needs in the future?
(Present to future)
Requires extrinsic motivation
Fosters intrinsic motivation - engages the learner
Audience: external - little choice
Audience: learner, family, friends - learner can choose
Figure 4 (Barnett, 2005, p.18)

Technology Venues
A number of Web 2.0 tools currently exist that would serve as practical platforms for digital portfolios. Barnett (2012) has done extensive research for the past two decades on the various types and provides a useful comparison chart with her own samples on each venue. On this list are platforms formatted as Websites, such as those listed below, that would house an extensive number of artifacts and provide students with the opportunity to organize the information as they choose. The YouTube video describes Google Sites, an option with which some people may be unfamiliar.

Other options exist that provide a presentation framework on a smaller scale than a Website format. Students can include multiple pieces of information on these as well.

To simply the process even more, teachers can utilize the Microsoft Office software such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Publisher and have the students house the products on a flash drive, a school network drive, or on the teacher's Website. In addition, teachers can have students take advantage of cloud computing to create and store documents. Google Docs provides the same type of documents as Microsoft Office, but they are easily shareable to peers for collaboration and to teachers for assessment.

Ideas for Implementation
Searching the Internet for examples of digital portfolios, or e-portfolios, provides a plethora of examples. Even though the majority of those examples are posted by candidates in teacher preparation programs or Master's programs, they offer authentic ideas for displaying an array of artifacts.

Carly Part, a veteran educator in a graduate program, summarizes her experiences as an educator on a small-scale digital portfolio using Glogster. Junior or senior high school students could complete such a digital portfolio to use as a resume for a job or a college application.

Leanne Ly showcases the knowledge she gained during her practicum on a Prezi through sample assignments and thoughtful reflections. All levels of students can use Prezi for showcase portfolios of work completed throughout the year.

In K-12 situations, teachers can choose to use a variety of platforms, from word processing software to small-scale projects to full scale Websites. Specific suggestions based on grade level are provided below.

Elementary Level
Option 1
Have students create showcase portfolios of writing samples covering each mode of writing: narrative, expository, descriptive, persuasive, and even letter. This could also be a collection that is added to throughout the year and then turned into an assessment portfolio at the end of the year when they select their best work and write reflections on those five pieces.

Option 2
Have students use Glogster or Prezi to compile writing pieces, videos, pictures, and music about novels or units studied over an extended period of time. These individual glogs and Prezis can be combined onto a process portfolio as they are completed. Toward the end of the year, students can select their best work and write reflections for each to be graded as an assessment portfolio.

Option 3
Provide a template such as Mr. Stange, a grade 5-6 teacher in Saskatchewan, Canada, does. In keeping with this idea of simplifying for students, the portfolios can be housed on the same wiki as he does on his current wiki . The template and the established wiki will allow students to focus on the addition of artifacts and reflections. One student's work-in-progress is included here.

Option 4
Assign younger students to use the traditional software programs in Microsoft Office or Google Docs to create one project per core subject area for a showcase portfolio. For instance, a math assignment could be showcased using Excel, a history assignment using Publisher, a language arts assignment using Word, and a science assignment using PowerPoint. These could be collected on a glog or in a PowerPoint presentation that depict "The Best of 2012."

Secondary Level
Option 1
Implement process portfolios which require a web-based format that students begin in their sixth-grade year at middle school or freshman year at high school and continue to edit, enhance, and expand throughout a three-year period. Each year they would select three pieces that provide insight into their capabilities and growth throughout the year. An integral part of this process portfolio would be the reflections for each selected piece. Their selections could be assessed at the end of each year with this secondary process rubric.

Option 2
Assign a resume as an assessment portfolio to submit with a job application or college application. Traditional rubrics used for printed resumes completed in Microsoft Word can be amended to add criteria for the digital elements such as audio files, video files, images, or sample work attachments.

Option 3
Use the product more for assessment of learning rather than assessment for learning as discussed extensively in Barnett’s (2005) report for Taskstream’s study on electronic portfolios. Three samples of varying alternatives are below.

  • New Tech High School, an innovative approach to the physical makeup of school facilities, schedules, and curriculum requirements, encourages students to build with no template their own assessment portfolio that will represent their four years of learning. Similar elements are provided but are notably more creative. http://newtechhigh.org/Sample_Portfolios/Andrea.html

  • Durango High School requires such an assessment portfolio of learning albeit a much more basic requirement similar to a paper portfolio for seniors only. Their system offers several useful components that combined with the artifacts and technological elements could be a comprehensive tool to use in job searches or college admissions. http://dhs.durangoschools.org/senior-portfolio-requirements-0

Educator Preparation
According to Delisio's study (2011), only 33% of educators feel prepared to use computers for classroom instruction and of that percentage, only 23% spend thirty three hours or more on technology-related professional development. As with any type of lesson, educators will need to do adequate preparation prior to implementing digital portfolios in their classrooms. Fortunately, there are a variety of options for professional development, and some are quite accessible and even free, an important quality for rural districts. Texas Computer Education Association (TCEA) offers professional development in a variety of formats and timeframes. Webinars are one of the more
tech related prof dev.jpg
Figure 6 (Delisio, 2011)

prepared to use computers.jpg
Figure 5 (Delisio, 2011)
popular options and provide opportunities for free or inexpensive professional development after school hours which allow teachers to remain in their classrooms. The two-hour Assessing Technology Literacy in Staff and Students would be most applicable to teachers interested in utilizing digital portfolios to assess student achievement of knowledge and skills, but the teachers should access the full TCEA Professional Development 2012-2013 catalog for more ideas.

Google Workshop for Educators by CUE offers another alternative for teachers to improve their technology proficiency. According to the website, these workshops come to the teachers at a cost of $275 per participant (Computer-Using Educators, 2012). Faculty members and administrators can participate on their own campuses, or especially beneficial for rural areas, educators from surrounding districts can assemble at a central district. The training includes a full day of presentations and hands-on activities all geared toward helping educators visualize how Google products can propel students' learning opportunities.

The process of educating young Americans continues to evolve. While some may believe too many changes are occurring too rapidly, the simple fact remains that educators must prepare students in the myriad of areas now considered requisite for the world today. Digital portfolios are not a replacement of the concepts and skills teachers much cover each day; they are a platform to collect artifacts of mastered concepts and skills. As teachers practice with technology that is foreign to them, they will become more proficient and be able to implement the level of digital portfolios that makes sense for their class content and their students. The key is to embrace the possibilities by meeting the challenges head-on.

Additional Resources
Assessing Digital Portfolios
The Electronic Portfolio as Assessment Tool and More: The Drake University Model
Portfolios for Student Growth
Creating Digital Portfolios with Share - Elementary
Creating Electronic Portfolios Using Microsoft Word and Excel

Ash, K. (2011). e-portfolios. Digital Directions, 4, 42-44.

Barrett, H. (2005). Researching electronic portfolios and learner engagement. Retrieved from http://www.taskstream.com/reflect/whitepaper.pdf

Barnett, H. (2008). The REFLECT initiative: A research project to assess the impact of electronic portfolios on student learning, motivation, and engagement in secondary schools. Final research report presented to National Educational Computing Conference. Retrieved from http://electronicportfolios.org/reflect/FinalReport0708.pdf

Barnett, H. (2012). Creating eportfolios with web 2.0 tools. Retrieved from http://electronicportfolios.org/web20portfolios.html

Brown, M.D. (2011, June 14). Using technology: Electronic portfolios in the K-12 classroom. Education World. Retrieved from http://www.educationworld.com/a_tech/tech/tech111.shtml

Christel, M.T., & Sullivan, S. (2010). Lesson plans for developing digital literacies. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English.

Computer-Using Educators. (2012). Workshops for educators - technology in education. Retrieved from http://cue.org/cuetoyou/google

Delisio, E.R. (2011, April 26). Technology integration, assessment, and No Child Left Behind.Education World. Retrieved from http://www.educationworld.com/a_tech/tech171.shtml

Jones, K. (2012, August 15). What is the purpose of education? Forbes. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/sap/2012/08/15/what-is-the-purpose-of-education/

Murray, J. (2012, September 25) What’s a digital portfolio and why should you use it? [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://jacquimurray.net/2012/09/25/whats-a-digital-portfolio-and-why-should-you-use-it/

Pink, D. (2011) Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. New York, NY: Riverhead Trade.

Schawbel, D. (2011, February 21). 5 reasons why your online presence will replace your resume in 10 years. Forbes. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/danschawbel/2011/02/21/5-reasons-why-your-online-presence-will-replace-your-resume-in-10-years/

Sherman, G. (2005, April) Electronic portfolios in the K-12 classroom. Virginia Society for Technology in Education EDGE, 2(4). Retrieved from http://www.vste.org/documents/ve_0204_all.pdf

Statucki, C. (2012). There’s an app for that – Google apps for Education. Techniques: Connecting Education & Careers, 87(5), 8-9.

Wagner, T. (2012). Calling all innovators. Educational Leadership, 69(7), 66-69.

Wells, J., & Lewis, L. (2006). Internet access in U.S. public schools and classrooms: 1994-2005 (NCES 2007-020).U.S. Department of Education. Washington, D.C: National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved from http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2007020