Saturday, September 20, 2014

Student Archival of Learning Via E-Portfolios

This post is part of the 30-Day Blog Challenge from TeachThought. To learn more about the challenge go to

DAY 20: How do you curate student work - or help them do it themselves?

I reported in the "Day 19" blog post that my Biology students are using Weebly to create e-portfolios as a reflection of their best work. It turns out that a more thorough discussion of these portfolios is warranted by today's blogging prompt regarding curation of student work.

First, a little bit of background about my experiences with curation of student work. When I first started teaching, students kept all of their notes, assignments, quizzes, etc. in a three-ring binder. This is the method I used to keep my classes organized in college, so I thought it would work great for my students. Wrong. Items were constantly out of order, falling of the binders, and getting lost. We wasted valuable learning time just trying to keep the binder in order so that I could "correct" it. I wasted valuable personal time assessing every single piece of student work. And I hate to admit it, but since there were also points associated with organization of the portfolio, I wasted time checking that everything was in the "right" place.

About 5 years ago, I switched from three-ring binders to composition notebooks. This fixed two problems. Number one, no more loose paper and lost assignments. Number two, I stopped correcting everything. About once every two weeks, I'd haul all of the notebooks home and assess two or three assignments. If students didn't reach mastery on an assignment, they'd make corrections, and I'd assess it again...and again....and again....until mastery was evident, at which point the student would get his/her score.

This year, I really want to focus on students becoming better assessors of their own work. I won't lie; part of me is trying to avoid evaluating the same assignment four times. But in all seriousness, if a student needs my input on his/her work four times, who is really doing the work in the learning process - the student, or me? So I'm attempting to establish a work flow that looks something like this: personal assessment - peer assessment - personal assessment - submit to portfolio - teacher assessment - personal assessment. The student can still make changes after my assessment of and feedback on their work, but I'm hoping the quality will be better by the time it reaches me because of the peer intervention.

Okay, more on the e-portfolio, since this is what deals with the archival process the most. I decided to have the students use Weebly to create their portfolios after comparing a few different options. I considered Google's Blogger, but wanted more flexibility in format so that students could provide a variety of artifacts. I also thought maybe we could use Google Sites, but was worried it wouldn't provide enough structure, unless I developed a "scaffold" page for all of the students to start with. Weebly is a nice balance of teacher control and student creativity.

Teachers are able to get access to and monitor all their students' sites by setting up classes. Within those classes, I created the student usernames and passwords. For now, I've set the student sites so they are not public, but I plan to have the students open them up as they get more artifacts on them. Your first 50 student accounts on Weebly are free, and after that you have to pay $10 for each additional 10 accounts.

To get students started on their sites, I started a site of my own and designed it to show the students the elements they needed on their sites as well. For example, I wanted all the sites to be named using the same formatting and to include a description on the homepage about the purpose of the site. I've also required that students follow a common method for naming tabs for the various pages on their site. I'm hoping this will make it easier for me and other readers to find what we're looking for when we enter the site for the first time. All the other options, such as site theme, colors, photos, and font I left up to the students.
Sample homepage for student portfolios. Required tabs are boxed in different colors. (Home-yellow box, About-red box, Unit Title-green box)
Outline for required text on the homepage.
On E-Portfolio Introduction Day, I guided the students through the parts of their portfolios that were required and those that they were able to personalize. Weebly has a really simple function that allows the teacher to print out all of the student usernames and passwords on a document that can be cut apart and distributed to individual students. This seems like a minor convenience, but speaking as a teacher who has had to hand out student user information for a variety of programs, this is a real time-saver. So I gave each student their information, they logged in, and away they went. During this first interaction with their Weebly site, all I asked them to do was choose their theme, name their site, complete their home page, and create their first two tabs. Students enjoyed finding their favorite theme and adding pictures and colors that represented themselves. 

The next step in the archiving process is to give students time every Friday to choose assignments that they and their peers have determined show their learning around different targets. They will upload photos, web links, documents, and videos of their work. (Another reason I chose Weebly: It supports a variety of content). But the process doesn't end with the students adding their work to the portfolio. They will also write a short description for each artifact, describing:

  • Which learning target/s does this work support?
  • How is the artifact evidence for your mastery of the learning target/s?
In a unit tab, students can drag boxes from the left onto their page to add a variety of artifacts.
Although I have some trepidation about students' current skills in assessing their own learning, I truly think that this process will improve their "thinking about thinking" by the end of the year. The challenge for me will be evaluating how much time and guidance they'll need for the process. It's a brand new system for students, so I know they're going to be very confused and unsure of themselves at the beginning. I need to trust that it may be messy at first, but if I stay committed to the process the students will gain valuable insights and skills around metacognition.

Photo from Anne G. via Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons. 

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