Monday, August 1, 2016

Learning ePortfolio

This last year as I was helping my students to learn without using grades I started thinking about how students can prove that they have learned the information they are supposed to learn in school. This lead me to start looking into ePortfolios. So, I started searching around for examples of ePortoflios that are out there and how people are using them in schools. Surprisingly there is a lot out there about ePortfolios, but I could not find examples of how I could use it in my classroom with my students.

Then, one day I found that a local college (Salt Lake Community College-SLCC) that requires all of their general education students to create and use an electronic portfolio. I was really intrigued. The coolest thing was that they have videos to show students how to actually create the portfolio. As I looked through their tutorials and resources I began to really like the ideas they had come up with.

SLCC (pronounced "slick") allows students to use Google Sites, Weebly, Wix, Jimbo, or WordPress. However, some of these websites are blocked in our district, and let's be frank, WordPress is not the easiest thing for people (especially for most 7th-9th graders to learn to use). Our district recently started using Google Apps for Education (GAFE), so I started leaning towards Google Sites for my students' ePortfolios.

I went through the Google Sites tutorial from SLCC on how to create their ePortfolio. As a programmer I have never been too impressed with Google Sites because it doesn't allow a lot of flexibility, especially for those that know how to program. However, it is very simple to use and would be easy for students to use (mostly because of the simplicity). I was able to setup my first ePortfolio site and found it pretty simple to do. So, I thought I would try it out with some of my 7th-graders. Let's just say it didn't go too well (not terribly, but I have done things better).

So, I found out that Google Sites allows a user to create Templates. I then started putting together a template that my students could use to create their ePortfolios without actually having to set up all of the pages. I then started trying it out with a few of my other students. This worked a lot better. However, I wasn't too impressed with the setup of the site.

I started thinking about what happens if one of my students transferred to another school in our district. Then I wondered if they could use the ePortfolio if they went to another district in my state. Going further, what would happen if they moved to a different state or bigger yet, another country. Would they be able to use the ePortfolio they started with in my class, or would they need to start all over again because it was specific for my school, district, state, or country?

This began a huge search that would take several months. I first started listing classes that students cold possibly take. However, that seemed limited because those same classes could not even be offered in other places. So, I wanted to list the knowledge and skills that a student should be learning while taking classes.

My principal had shared the Future-Ready Plan from the Lakeville Area Public Schools. Although I have come to dislike the phrase "Future-Ready," I found myself returning to this file to look at the overall global things we want students to learn. You will see on page 9 the six basic literacies that this district listed. I decided to start with these literacies on my ePortfolio template.

So, instead of classes I started listing these literacies. I also started listing other basic, general literacies that students should know or have. I then had to start searching for what those literacies really meant. How could students upload an assignment or video or whatever to prove that they have the knowledge and/or skills for that literacy. I started to find national standards that have been created for a lot of these literacies. I liked the national standards better because I found that a lot of the state standards we have are very limited and outdated.

Now, I didn't want to get extremely detailed with these standards. I didn't want just a checklist of specific assignments for students to do. I want my students to see that what they are learning in all of their classes are bigger ideas instead of just the assignments that teachers have created. And, instead of listing "Classes" I decided to create a page called "Knowledge & Skills" to reflect truly what was being presented.

My goal in all of this is to help students to start to learn how to create a portfolio. I would hope that they could take their ePortfolio with them as they go through the schools in our district and start to collect, select, and reflect on the proof of their learning. Then, after they graduate, hopefully they can continue to take the ePortfolio with them into tertiary school and to their work life as well.

I also try and tell my students that this is just a template. They can change the portfolio any way they want. I also tell them that if they want to use a different site for their portfolio, they are more than welcome to do so. However, if they choose to use a different site, they need to do that on their own and basically have the same type of content.

This next year I will be trying to use this template a little more with my students than I did last year (isn't that what we do as teachers?). If you have any comments or suggestion, please help me to make this template better. You of course may use it all you want. Copy it, change it, improve it. Tell me how you did so and how it worked so I can improve mine as well.

Here is the link to the template (make sure you follow the link as there is one that is similarly named, but is totally different):

The site should look like this (if the template you see has birds, you are on the wrong template):

When you go to copy this to your Google account, you may get an error stating that you need to request permission to use the template. If that happens, return to the page and click on the "Use Template" button again.

I am also currently starting to set this template up for the "New" Google Sites. This will take some time, so please stay tuned.

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