How Digital Portfolios Improve Teaching

News
By: 
Steve Wandler

Documenting learning shouldn’t feel like hard work. Is that statement surprising? Controversial? If that’s how it feels, it’s a clear indication of how long teachers have been asked to put too much sweat into the part of their jobs that should be purely fulfilling.

Combining different assessment tools into one solution, such as a digital portfolio platform, can give teachers back the valuable time they need to engage in professional development, plan an innovative new lesson, and do the heavy lifting of teaching to make sure each student learns. Who doesn’t want to give a teacher more time to teach?

Reducing Workload While Increasing Effectiveness

Digital portfolios are an excellent way to help students better track and understand their own learning, and they are just as beneficial for teachers. With dozens of students to shepherd through a challenging curriculum, monitoring each learner’s progress the “old way” isn’t effective or efficient. Instead of scaling a mountain of paperwork at the end of term to give parents a report card that only captures a piece of the puzzle anyway, digital portfolios allow teachers to capture learning in real time and give feedback on the go. It enables both the teacher and parent to become a responsive support for individual student needs.

Brian Keller, a 4th and 5th grade teacher from South Carolina, says “Digital portfolios increase student productivity and allow for smoother day-to-day transitions because students can quickly see what work they have completed and what work still needs to be done. Parents are excited when they receive an update on their child's work (with pictures and video) and students take pride in the work they were posting for parents to see. Assessment tools help school leadership view concrete, supported data on the growth of each student. Parent-teacher conferences are also a breeze because there is evidence of skills and proof of mastery as well as documented opportunities of further development.”

Importantly, there are no surprises. All of this information is regularly shared. It helps build a higher level of trust.

Digital portfolios also help teachers manage the needs of multiple learners. With more cloud-based solutions available, it means that teachers can check in with their class wherever they are — whether that’s in class, or while they’re waiting for a meeting.

Getting Parents Involved and Engaged

To base the learning on the abilities and interest of each learner, parent engagement is critical. Digital portfolios are one of the most effective ways to show a student’s learning not just at school, but also at home. Involving parents in a child’s development by having them view and give feedback on their child’s work is especially helpful for parents of children who have special needs.

When parents are given access to their child’s digital portfolio, they get visibility into an environment they don’t typically see. Speaking from experience, my son Noah has an IEP and my ability to engage with his learning is enhanced enormously when I can see his progress on a continuous basis. This completely changes our conversation around the dinner table; it helps me support his teachers and most importantly, my son.

I’ve heard from parents who travel, or who are separated or divorced, tell me how amazing it is to have this window into the classroom. One father told me, “The fact that I can see a video of my son giving a speech in the classroom only a few hours after he delivered it is amazing — and particularly helpful to a parent like me who travels a lot for work. I will be in Spain next week, but I will still be able to see exactly what my son is doing in school.”

Change is a Process

Many education systems have similar goals that they want to achieve — creating strong parent engagement, encouraging student ownership of learning, supporting the needs of multiple students. Goals are good for planning progress but strong systems are what allow educators to make progress happen.  

Teachers might be doing the best job they can with the resources they have, but if documentation of the learning process is still a slog, then it’s time to change the way you document learning.

Digital portfolio platforms have the potential to be complete game changers for teachers. A quality portfolio platform should do three things.

  1. It should save teachers time on documentation, by making it quick and easy to capture learning as it happens with minimal disruption to the learning taking place.
  2. It should allow teachers to manage the needs of multiple students, meeting learners right where they are.
  3. It should connect parents to their child’s learning, providing them with frequent opportunities to see where their child may need to get support.

So where do you get started? When choosing a digital portfolio, it’s important to consider the intuitiveness, the learning curve and the engagement for stakeholders. Look for tools that aggregate different tasks into a single solution, allowing students and teachers to collate artifacts and assessment into the same platform. Consider a platform that blends seamlessly with the learning progress and allows multiple channels for access — for all stakeholders.

 

Steve Wandler is the director and co-founder of FreshGrade, a learning collaboration and portfolio tool. Steve has 19 years of entrepreneurial and leadership experience despite never graduating from high school. Motivated by the hurdles he faced in school, and his determination that his own children should not face the same challenges and struggles, Steve is driven to change the change the future of education. Teachers, students, and parents can sign up for a free account at www.freshgrade.com.

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