Digital Portfolios and Their Necessary Place in the Classroom
In my first year of teaching, I worked in an English department that prided itself on extensive student portfolios.
Each class had crates full of folders filled to the brim with student work. The essays within each file followed students from their freshman year of high school to their senior year. At the end of each major writing assignment and semester, students looked through their portfolios and wrote reflections on their process and understanding. In their senior year, they did a portfolio project on their development as a writer throughout the course of their high school career.
Although these portfolios were ahead of their time back in 2013, there were a few issues. One issue was that the crates took up an abominable amount of room. My classroom was overflowing with crates under my teacher’s desk, along the walls, and resting dangerously on top of bookshelves. Another problem was that portfolios mysteriously disappeared into unknown dimensions. The crates would travel with students to a new teacher every year, and with student transfers, late work, and the normal chaos of teaching, a few portfolios were lost each year. This meant that when students were seniors, there were huge gaps in their reflections. Another problem was that some classes had digital writing or video compositions that couldn’t be printed out and filed in the portfolio. Not to mention the shameful amount of paper wasted by printing out each assignment and reflection–only to be thrown away after students turned in their final project.
Thus began a need for the digital portfolio.
What is a digital portfolio?
David Niguidula defines digital portfolios as “multimedia collections of student work stored and reviewed in digital format” (Niguidula 1). Teachers can use digital portfolios in their classrooms not only to keep track of student work but also as a tool for reflection. Throughout the year, students can refer back to their digital portfolios to reflect on the progress they’ve made, areas for improvement, and plans for their next steps.
Digital portfolios also allow for meaningful revision. Students create a lot of writing and assignments throughout the course of a semester and it’s crucial that they have opportunities to revise this work–not just for a better grade, but also to demonstrate how they’ve learned and developed their writing skills. With digital portfolios, students can choose the assignments that they’re most proud of, assignments they worked really hard on, and assignments that show the greatest areas of growth. Digital portfolios also students to visually showcase and reflect on their learning in a given course.
Make It Meaningful
Portfolios can also benefit students beyond the walls of the classroom. Digital portfolios can be used as evidence of work to support students in job interviews, applications for schools, and connections to specific communities. No matter which field of interest students journey down, these portfolios can be helpful assets to showcase their experience, understanding, and a demonstration of their hard work.
Digital portfolios aren’t just for the English classroom. The point of a portfolio isn’t to show good grades on a vocabulary test or an A+ on a history exam. Students can showcase their work across genres including writing that demonstrates a range of abilities. They might include personal vignettes, a student-made video advertisement, poetry, a scientific report, an article, and more. The possibilities are endless.
How to Get Started
There are many different tools that educators can use to help their students create digital portfolios. Here are a few ideas:
Digital Portfolios allow students to demonstrate learning and reflect upon their maker processes. They also are creative ways that students can connect their work in school to the outside world in a meaningful way.
Educators, how do you use portfolios with your students?