How to use a K-12 ePortfolio to make learning meaningful

Are your learners moving from unit to unit without holding onto their work or reflecting along the way? Or do they keep track of their progression and improvements throughout the school year? A K-12 ePortfolio helps develop lifelong learners who understand what it takes to be successful. 

They allow learners to be creative and reflect, while also giving educators and parents a clear view of their learners’ progress. 

Most importantly, ePortfolios make learning more meaningful during a student’s time in K-12 or primary through secondary school. 

Let’s break down what an ePortfolio looks like, as well as its advantages.

What is an ePortfolio for learners?

A K-12 ePortfolio is a digital collection of student work. It can take several forms:

  • a showcase of a learner’s best work, displaying a mastery of standards
  • a progression of a student’s learning pathway throughout the school year (or years)

If a school decides on the showcase version, learners often present their portfolio with their best work at the end of a learning unit. In addition, they display how the students mastered the standards and discuss their evidence of mastery. 

On the other hand, creating a portfolio as a progression of learning allows students to develop a growth mindset. Along the way, they reflect on their learning versus reflecting at the end. This is how we use ePortfolios in my New Zealand middle school, starting at the beginning of the school year. 

What is the real value of ePortfolios?

Continuous development and reflection

The real value of ePortfolios is in the reflection and the learning. The article Balancing the Two Faces of ePortfolios includes two quotes that emphasize the role of a K-12 ePortfolio in the classroom:

“The overarching purpose of portfolios is to create a sense of personal ownership over one’s accomplishments, because ownership engenders feelings of pride, responsibility, and dedication” (Paris & Ayres).

“The e-portfolio is the central and common point for the student experience. It is a reflection of the student as a person undergoing continuous personal development, not just a store of evidence” (Geoff Rebbeck, e-Learning Coordinator, Thanet College).

Making the connections between the ePortfolio and learning is important. As Rebbeck notes in the quote above, an ePortfolio should reveal a learner’s continuous development. When a digital portfolio’s purpose is to show the progression of a student’s learning pathway, it allows for deeper reflection. When learners reflect more deeply throughout the school year, they also learn more deeply.

The purpose of ePortfolios should also be created in collaboration with all involved — the teacher, the learner, the parent. The reasons need to be clear, especially in the development of the ePortfolio. If there is no real reason for doing something, then the act of doing it needs to be questioned. So communicating the purpose of the ePortfolio to learners and parents is essential.

Purposes for student ePortfolios

In our middle school, here are some of the ways we use ePortfolios to make learning meaningful:

  • reflective thinking and goal setting
  • personalizing learning
  • development of formative assessment
  • student voice
  • creativity
  • building a learning community
  • celebrating success
  • collaboration in learning
  • providing a tool to facilitate lifelong learning
  • understanding future steps of own learning

What are other benefits of using K-12 ePortfolios?

When students use ePortfolios to reflect on their learning continuously, it will transform your classroom culture. The digital portfolio will drive the learning because everything is a work in progress. Students will be able to sort out what’s important about learning and what they need to do next. They’ll be able to see where they are and where they’re going. In fact, they’ll find it easier to articulate their learning pathway and what they need in order to succeed. 

In our school, visitors were surprised by how well students could communicate about their learning. It wasn’t an accident—students developed that skill through their work with ePortfolios. It allows them to take ownership of their work so they can become lifelong learners.

What should be in a student ePortfolio?

An ePortfolio should bring the progress of learning into one place so students, teachers and parents don’t have to visit different sites. Using Google Sites is a simple way for learners to manage their digital portfolios and exercise creativity. They can build their own interactive Google Sites without educators needing to provide heavy structure. Even lower elementary or primary learners can create a portfolio with Google Sites.

Learners choose their layout and add media such as images and video, files from Google Drive and links to other work. Educators can provide a template to get learners started, and from there, learners can design it the way they’d like.

It’s key, though, to remind learners that ePortfolios are not simply design projects. The essential part is the reflection of learning. Throughout the school year, they should include checkpoints such as interviews, self-reflections, peer feedback and teacher feedback. Whether learners are working on a larger inquiry-based project or a formative assessment, the checkpoints help them recognize their progression. Here are examples of ePortfolios using Google Sites, Weebly, Blogger and Wikisites. 

Digital portfolios also allow students to personalize their evidence of learning. As a result, they can communicate through their learning style and be more creative than they would in a traditional assessment. For example, activities, assessments and reflections can take the form of writing, audio, video, visual art or performance. 

How can you use Hāpara tools to support K-12 ePortfolios?

In Hāpara Workspace, educators can create a K-12 ePortfolio Workspace with instructions, examples and a starting template to share with their classes. Then through Hāpara Student Dashboard, learners can instantly access the Workspace with the digital resources they need to get started on their ePortfolio. Student Dashboard brings together all of their digital learning resources, including Google Classroom, Google Drive, Gmail and announcements. 

Teachers can easily access students’ evidence of learning, self-reflection, and portfolio Google Sites throughout the school year through Hāpara Teacher Dashboard. It pulls together every student file from Google Drive into one hub for educators. Because of that, teachers can give formative feedback without clicking in and out of apps and programs. With consistent feedback, students develop an understanding of their learning process as they add to their K-12 ePortfolios.

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