Using Digital Portfolios To Aid Learning And Showcase Curricular Goals

dp sampleShowcasing the progress of a learner over a specific time is probably a teacher’s greatest joy. (Ok, let’s not forget parents or even accompaniment providers.!). As children grow up, those around them see this growth and speculate over the circumstances that brought it about. “These circumstances” might be defined as curriculum and if the experience for children and older learners is designed with purpose, can impact a learner’s journey in powerful ways. Now imagine you can have a record of this progress. The promise of today’s technology is that we can now design a portfolio of individual learning (in multiple mediums and media) over a short, long, wide, or narrow timeframes among many other permutations. This individualized “container” can serve as an incrementally authentic document that demonstrates curricular expectations with more depth and understanding of learning than our current modes (i.e. report cards, teacher-parents interview etc.) Individually, fragments of learning have always been available for review but portfolios allow designers to curate a collection of learning perhaps by theme, subject, age etc. Designers should probably be the learners themselves but educators and curriculum developers could purposely collect on a learner’s behalf. This post will analysis the potential of digital portfolios to showcase a learner’s progress following a specific curriculum through the lens of change theory, curriculum theory, and other learning theories. The focus will primarily be on the impact upon the student-teacher relationship but when appropriate analysis could be extended to a learner-accompaniment provider scenario.

What is a digital portfolio?

A digital portfolio is a container of documents, files, pictures, media, conversations that record a learner’s progress against a specific curriculum or express an individual’s life-long journey. Curriculum designers and educators have a unique opportunity today to set up structures for learners in their care to collect and create a digital record of their progress in a specific curriculum with the potential and likely longer “shelf life” than a physical portfolio.

Why digital portfolios?

BVG Workflow sample 2014“It is imperative (today) students be able to curate, archive and expand on the work they are producing in class. As an added bonus, student digital portfolios help students authentically learn important digital citizenship lessons. Portfolios also allow students to internalize vital digital literacy skills such as creating their own digital web presence and learning to effectively and purposefully share their learning with the world.” (Clark, 2014) Curriculum developer can leverage this opportunity to encourage dialogue, reflection and a potentially wider audience to showcase learner beyond the traditional student to teacher sharing.

What different types of digital portfolios are available?

Clark divides portfolios into three types: process where learners are asked to create a product and use the document to reflect, showcase, which highlights a learner’s best work and a hybrid model which presents both the showcase pieces and steps made to get to the final product. The emphasis on reflection in both the process and hybrid model are critical as learners can be encouraged to take a reflective stance as Lafortune suggests and educators have more insight in a learner’s Zone of Proximal Development by Vygotsky. Choices for a container will have an impact on the nature of a portfolio but they are a few characteristics that are vital. A portfolio should include versatility, compatible with multiple media especially images, videos and sounds recordings and finally, easily sharable with others. Best practice would also include the option to have different degrees of sharing (i.e. with one individual, within a learning community, public etc.) and to toggle sharing on and off when work. Google Sites and Voice Thread  and other web based tools offer these options to collect, share and comment upon in manner that support dialogical learning encouraged in the works of Freire and Lafortune.

“Portfolios give students a chance to develop metacognition, set goals and internalize what “good work” looks like. Blogs offer a platform for creativity, communication, connection and the practice of digital citizenship. “Blog-folios” are the best of both worlds- using a blogging platform to develop writing skills, provide opportunities to connect with an authentic audience and increase reflective practices.” (Hernandez, blog) This last model is focused on a reflective stance and students can use their blog to celebrate their achievements and most importantly, their change of thinking as a result of a specific curriculum.

Who should collect and curate the digital portfolio?
To keep a portfolio as authentic as possible, it should be curated by the learner themselves engaged in a particular curriculum. This document can reflect how a learner’s “concept of the self” (Lafortune, p.62) as that changes throughout the course of study. This will encourage dialogue between the educator and learner to aid the next steps for learners in their ZPD and also allows educators to adapt to a learner’s emotional state and their affective domain. Students in the action of creating their portfolio must shift from a passive state to an active one as they are creating his or her understanding of the new material. In doing, change is encouraged. The act of collecting a portfolio demonstrates a shift from a theory in use to a theory in action as Fullan outlines in his change theory. Furthermore, the opportunity for follow up through dialogue and commenting in portfolios spurs change and development of new ideas and synthesis.
When implementing digital portfolios, prominence must given to a student’s unique and authentic voice that reflects their multicultural background, gender perspective, social class among many other unique factors. In other words, digital portfolios if supported by the educator or accompaniment provider, could allow for a greater expression of a learner’s cultural background and result in higher esteem and as Sleeter suggests “be fair and broad enough to actually capture what children know and can do.” (Sleeter, p. 125) Also if curriculum designers allow learners to express their perspective, then their journey to self-actualization as Maslow suggests is encouraged. In fact, accompaniment providers and educators have a unique opportunity to capture learners in the act of “peak experiences” in learning. If and when, these peak experiences occur, they might also be added to a portfolio as a record of a learner experiencing change and hopefully much success too! Most important is the idea that a class set of digital portfolios should never be the same, like recipes for example. but instead reflect the uniqueness of the individual and if possible, be an expression of self-actualization and, fingers crossed, the internal curriculum not accessible without it. From a curriculum designer’s perspective, referencing both a curriculum map and the most recent student-created portfolios would be informative for future planning and course delivery.

Theoretical support for portfolio to record and encourage change
Portfolios potentially reflect a learner’s perception of the curriculum. This access to the internal curriculum of the student could be very useful for educators and curriculum designers reflecting upon their pedagogical choices and use as feedback for future students. Educators can also use this document to initiate dialogue on a learner’s conception of the curriculum and if necessary, address misconceptions of the curriculum. Acting in a socio-constructivist manner, the educator or accompaniment provider can help learners apply ideas from a curriculum working beyond and through conflict to demonstrate change. This change can be recorded in a variety of formats using portfolios. Whether one uses a “before’ and “after” format (perhaps as graphics or screenshots) or records change in more of a gradual (perhaps blogging or narrative) manner, portfolios offer a unique opportunity to record a snapshot of change occurring. Fuller’s Concerns Based Adoption Model with three stages of concern could provide an excellent format for a blog or portfolio. Rarely, are students given the choice in curriculum and so this opportunity to voice their likes and dislikes (traditionally afforded to teacher) may not be appropriate to students. However, some degree of student choice and an emphasis on how new ways of thinking and knowledge impact a student’s view of the world is definitely worthy of representation in a blog or portfolio.

Sharing digital portfolios

A web-based format for sharing digital portfolios has many benefits. As prior mentioned, options to toggle the degree of sharing a learner’s progress outwards from the individual to a trusted individual, internally to completely public is an excellent opportunity. Digital Badging complements portfolios as another tools to aid curricular goals and encourage students to record their progress completing tasks for a specific curriculum or towards an individualized curriculum. The web-based nature of digital portfolios also allows learners the opportunity to showcase skills and projects created outside the classroom and specific tasks (The concomitant curriculum). Finally, portfolios are perfect for student led conference and could be done F2F or virtual. Speaking personally, I find that being asked to share my learning in presentation format or sharing with others forces me to engage and explore my learning in greater depth. In fact, curriculum designers and educators might showcase their ability to lead their students through a specific curriculum in their own teaching digital portfolio.

Digital portfolios can be an excellent expression of sound pedagogy and demonstrate a reconceptualized curriculum ignored in traditional curriculum based on products only. Learner must adopt a reflective stance especially when asked to blog or share a progression of learning (assessment AS learning) through a variety of mediums. They can be a powerful expression of an individual’s creativity, background, culture, heritage, perspective and most importantly provide a glimpse of learner’s internal curriculum and unique voice. More specifically, this intentional act of phenomenology by learners is applied directly to the curriculum as an expression of them undergoing changes. Educators and accompaniment providers have a unique opportunity to celebrate this individuality, and in terms of curriculum goals, identify misconceptions, engage in productive dialogue and suggest next steps in a learner’s Zone of Proximal Development. At its highest level, digital portfolios could be an expression of an individual in the act of “peak experience” as triggered by specific curriculum. For curriculum designers, accompaniment providers and educators, authentic portfolios provide insight into the individual who just “finished” the curriculum but also to the individual just “starting” the unit of study. What a powerful tool for change agents.

Clark, H. (2014) The Beginner’s Guide to Creating Digital Portfolios Edudemic, webpage link
Chuter, A. (2015) Digital Badging a valuable addition to assessment practice unpublished (blog) website link
Chuter A. (2015 How might Digital Badging impact the future of learning and assessment, unpublished (blog) website link
Fullan, M. (2006, November). Change Theory: A force for school improvement. Centre for strategic education, 157.
Fuller, F. F. (1969). Concerns of teachers: a developmental conceptualization. American Educational Research Journal, 6(2), pp. 207-226 D.C.), 85, 226-232. Retrieved May 25, 2015, website link
Hernandez (2011) Blog-folios unpublished (blog) website link
Lafortune, L. (2009). Professional competencies for accompanying change: A frame of reference. Quebec, Canada: Presses de l’Universite du Quebec.
McCulloch, C, (2010) Powerful portfolio practices (Slideshare link)
Pinar, W. F. (1999). The Reconceptualization of Curriculum Studies. Counterpoints, 70, 483-497
Sleeter, C. (2004). Critical multicultural curriculum and the standards movement. English Teaching: Practice and Critique, 3 (2), 122-138,
Wilson, L. O. (1990, 2004, 2006) Curriculum course packets ED 721 & 726, unpublished. webpage link

Putting Students First: Using Learning Theories to update Projects and Spaces

build own countryCollaboration is often cited as a key 21st century skill yet students rarely get a opportunity to observe educators in the act of working together. In my role as a technology integration specialist, I consistently collaborate with other teachers, openly when possible, so students can observe and model. The creation of clear, transparent and shared projects between educators aids learning goals and student success. Add in access to creative, technological tools and students have powerful ingredients for learning. Shared objectives not only reinforce the work of a classroom teacher but also validate the learning from the student’s perspective. They might say “this is important as we are exploring it in two different subjects, Information Technology and Social Studies (perhaps more!)” This cross-curricular and integrated approach has been a fundamental aspect of learning and progress in my classes, in computer labs or increasingly anywhere tablets (and wifi) take us. However, my recent thinking, research and discussions on learning theories have led me to acknowledge that much more is needed to put the learner first. How much can I “learn, unlearn and relearn” my approach? (Toffler 1970) More specific connections with learning theories and leveraging vital collaboration with the collective intelligence of peers and colleagues in my current course of study, would improve learning and teaching in my learning environment. This “levelling up” approach has been applied directly to my current and future curriculum and project planning with students. “Upgrading content requires deliberate provocation…what content should be kept,…cut,…created.” (Jacobs 2010) Using experiences with Grade Five students, I will explore benefits of current approaches and leverage established and evolving learning theories, specifically humanism, cognitivism, behaviorism and constructivism in order to upgrade the learning environment for my students.

In the third term of Grade Five, students are often expected to more formally present a researched topic in Social Studies. Taking the pre-2013 revision of the Ontario Social Studies curriculum as a guide, Ancient China was the topic and students were assigned to research martial arts, food, clothing etc. Students were then asked to present their discoveries. When critically examining this project from a humanist lens, it is clear the students might have to “manufacture” their connections to topic, especially when they are assigned by the teacher. Yet connection with the material was a vital assessed element as manifested through enthusiasm, performance and creativity. In fact, much effort was made for teachers to find the right topic to fit specific students with understandably mixed results. These are clear signs that although assigned presentations were appropriate for meeting curricular goals, some tweaking and updating would be necessary to engage students from a humanist perspective. In fairness, our curricular documentation has reflected this change in the 2013 revision with an emphasis on an inquiry-based learning model where students are encouraged to ask questions and research using a variety of sources (primary, secondary etc.) and assumingly leverage new web-based search tools when appropriate.

From a behaviourist perspective, students were encouraged by a secure environment and often felt safe and supported by a variety of educators, peers and parents. Not surprisingly, students loved showing martial arts movies, dressing in beautiful silk and eating Chinese delicacies too. At times, students would use handouts with crosswords, games, stories  and other techniques. We often used presentation tools on the computer (i.e. Power Point, Voice Thread etc.) for engagement and interactive purposes (i.e. Jeopardy, online commenting) These last two strategies were often a great help when exploring more facts-based material (Emperors, Religion etc.) From this analysis, I would argue that students were aided by behaviorist perspective with praise, support and even scaffolding when appropriate. Students were encouraged by the teacher to demonstrate their observational learning skills by leading the class through materials in a teacher-like manner. (By Grade Five, they have much experience observing many teachers in action to use as a guide.)

From a cognitivist perspective, this project has challenges as students are assessed on their performance of their research rather than emphasizing a more gradual accumulation of knowledge, thinking skills, organization, project management or even collaboration. They could also be much more potential for input upon the accumulated scholarship or collective intelligence on a particular topic. In addition, this accumulation only built upon prior research skills (in Grade Four) and towards skill development for future research (Grade Six). In practice, projects were often discarded at the end of the year with little option for retrieval beyond an occasional video recording. Perhaps its place in a portfolio, (digital I would suggest) would add retrieval options, give more clues to thinking processes, knowledge acquisition, accumulation and assimilation. Assessment based on the performance/product alone would give educators less data than a performance combined with analysis of the process through documents like a portfolio most importantly accompanied by comments on the materials. Idealy, this might provide clues to a student’s metacognition and perspective. In fact, Piaget might see this project as more about accepting the research of others rather than “…creating men and women who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done; men and women who are creative, inventive and discoverers, who can be critical and verify.” (Piaget, 1952)

From a constructivist approach, our presenter’s performance and ability to engage the students would be based in their “radical constructivism” as suggested by Glaserfeld. In other words, students would be more interested when they can construct meaning to the material with their own inquires. Their ability to accommodate and accumulate puts much pressure on the student to construct and present the materials in an appealing, thought provoking and simulating manner. In fairness, much scaffolding, support and guidance for this was provided by a variety of educators. In fact, students were encouraged to be creative could build or construct their presentation in any manner (i.e. story, drama, multimedia presentation, game, demonstration, samples etc.) However, perhaps a more inquiry-based model is more student centered and would be better supported by constructivist theory.

Our latest project with Grade Five students is less performance based and provide a more opportunities supported by a variety of learning theories and approaches. This “levelling up” or upgrade to the curriculum allows  students more choice (Humanist), while maintaining a consistent level of encouragement through a supportive environment (Behaviorist), provides an emphasis on the analysis of thinking skills in both the process and product (cognitivist) and finally, allows students to create and construct their own meaning and learning (constructivist). Finally, this new approach has the potential to tap into the collective intelligence of our class of digital experts, online sources and eventually when comfortable connect (connectivism) with others.

In specific, students were asked to create their own country after learning and profiling elements of the Canadian Federal government as an observable example. The key components were a “thought book(sample) and a website creation tool (Google Sites). Unlike the prior individual project, students worked in pairs to create their My Country web pages as emphasis on social learning would also benefit students as they can help and aid each other when needed. “Hence, the principle and method of ICT integration in education is as follows: ICT is a means to organize paired interactions in the problem solving process as well as a means of cooperative educational activities in the classroom (teacher – student – group of students).” (Kalas 2010)

Each team was asked to profile their own country based on the criteria from their research and their own creativity and imagination. Scaffolding on using the technology to create pages  was provided by videos (YouTube playlist), links, resources and students were encouraged to work collaboratively. Time was spent encouraging and modelling good collaboration as mentioned above and has foundation in Bandura’s social learning theory. Creating a the videos worked well as an opportunity for students to work within their zone of proximal development (ZPD) as students could watch, pause, rewind and play steps to complete their objective like changing the theme or adding images and links. In addition, teacher-led mini lessons or collaborations with supportive peers aided students to progress in their ZPD. The assessment process was changed from an emphasis on a final performance/presentation towards a gradual process enhanced by technology options like “revision history” and practices like “check in’s” to monitor students progress.

In addition, students were awarded badges (my list) rather than marks based on their creations and these badges were awarded throughout the process than at the end (perhaps too late!) Probably the most exciting element was the opportunity for the students to inspired (and potentially create) badges of their very own based in their interest, achievements and ideas. This appeals from both a behaviorist (“I’ll have that badge I created please”) and humanist perspective (I have designed success myself through the creation of my own badge. Here is my conversation with a student (video only viewable by FDJ) on this and my screencast in student-inspired badges. Based on this conversation and  observation of him leads me to believe that he and his partner is demonstrating Csikszentmihalyi’s “flow” when working on this project. Finally, The “final” product being web-based is easily archived, shared and retrieved as both an exemplary for next year’s students and as part of a digital portfolio for the student.

Overall, a reimagining of all our projects and activities through the lens of all learning theories suggested that the learner is at the center rather than the curriculum content. The learner is supported by collaboration from a number of sources including a dedicated partner, educators in a variety of disciplines, other supportive peers, links to learning materials online and specific step-by-step screencasting videos for modelling. In addition, the opportunity in this example project encourages students to be creative on their web design while demonstrating necessary social studies learning goals. Accessing this project online through access to a lab, tablets in the classroom and even at home provides opportunity for anytime tinkering, iterating and creating. However, applying this example further and situated in learning space dedicated to building and construction could be even more powerful for learners. Being surrounded by the “buzz” of creative individuals in the act “flow” no doubt helps too. In fact, here are no limit to the possibilities for this project to include a variety of mediums including digital (paint and sketching (i.e. Flags), audio recordings (national anthem), animations (promoting the country, video, incorporation of web gadgets (a calendar of holidays), even programming through applications like Scratch (a web based games about the country) to Papert’s programmable drawing in Logo. Also physical creative mediums like painting, building with wood, plastics should not be ignored as they can be easily added to the web space through embedded video or photo. Finally, digital to physical mediums like 3-D printers or performing robots provide a new medium for learning. In short, our learning theories tell us that creative learner-centric activities in well designed spaces like makerspaces provide students with the opportunity to self-actualize.

Mini Maker Space 1

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi:. TED talk. (Feb. 2014.) “Flow, the Secret to Happiness.”

Glasersfeld, E. von, (2001) The radical constructivist view of science. In: A. Riegler (Ed.),Foundations of Science, special issue on “The Impact of Radical Constructivism on Science”, vol.6, no. 1–3: 31–43.

Jacobs, Heidi Hayes. (2010) Curriculum 21: Essential Education for a Changing World. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development,  Print.

Kalas, I. (2010) Recognizing the potential of ICT in early childhood education © UNESCO Institute for Information Technologies in Education,

Papert, S. (1980). Mindstorms: Children, Computers and Powerful Ideas, New York, Basic Books

Piaget, Jean. (1952) The origins of intelligence in children. International Universities Press

Pink, Daniel H. (2009) Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us. New York, NY: Riverhead,  Print.

The Ontario curriculum – Social Studies Grade 1 to 6 (2013 revised)

Toffler, Alvin. (1970) Future Shock. New York: Random House,  Web.

Tsu-Raun, Christian (Jan. 2014) Creating a Mini Maker Space 

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Wyatt, Valerie (2009) How to Build Your Own Country © Citizen Kid, Kids Can Press 

Creating and sharing graphic organizers using Popplet

digital popplet2
Popplet is a great mind-mapping and graphic organizer tool to aid planning and writing. Not only can you add text to your graphic organizer but you can also add a variety of sketches, graphics and multimedia. Collaborating with multiple authors is easy through a shared link as your file is stored in the cloud. (The hidden notes page is great for assessment or feedback from you!) Finally, the presentation mode allows you to create and navigate through a path of views from one “popple” (box) to another through your arrow keys.

Here are a few screencasts I made, that you are welcome to use in your classes. Lots more available on YouTube.(without my squeeky voice through:P)

Creating an account in Popplet

Getting started in Popplet

Student sample –Gr.4 Canadian physical region
Gr.4 Muslim Influence on the Medieval Europe –
Diversity of Living Things – Educator sample

This software is available in Windows and iOS and recommended for students from Grade 4 and up.

Writing Reflective Blogs in Blackboard

One of the advantages of our password-protected Blackboard site is the option to create a safe place for students to write, collaborate, edit and share. Setting up a blog is a great option for assessing student writing in a simplified format (i.e. not for elaborate Word docs with graphics, interesting fonts choices and backgrounds etc.) and creating and organizing a digital collection of student writing. This blog option can be customized to be private between you and your student or visible to all students in the class or grade for reading, commenting or peer editing. This tool also eliminates the need for transferring documents from home to school using USB drives, email or other online means. Students can login into Blackboard, click on the link and begin writing immediately. You can give direct feedback as a comment and have full control to delete or edit anything posted by you or your students.

There are two steps. In the first video, I demonstrate how to set up the blog and in the second video I cover posting a link for student access.
1. Setting up a Blog in Blackboard

2. Posting a link for student access to the blog

P.S. Remember only student accounts (i.e. 11111) can access the blogs and not the observer parent account (i.e. chu1643)