Sunday, November 30, 2008

E Portfolios - Why what's the point?

How can we communicate to parents in a more timely manner?  We seem to hang on to all this information till the end of a term before sending it home.  How is that helpful?  The moment taken by teachers to call home when a student has passed the next reading level, or photocopied a piece of stunning writing a student has been working on and sending it home in a card seems to be more authentic and meaning for both the learner and parents.  It amazes me how much time and energy teachers put in to writing end of year reports, if the same time and energy was put in to communicating across the year I wonder if the more informal connection would have more impact on student achievement.  
I see one of the significant benefits of e portfolios and reporting using an LMS is the ability to report assessment information as it happens.  An accumulative record of achievement would surely supersede a summative report.  An online space where students can demonstrate their achievements, successes and reflections is surely beneficial to encouraging continuous improvement.  A space that encourages collaboration and ease in which families can share in the journey has endless possibilities.  


Ray Tolley said...

Hi, Sarah,

You raise so many issues that it's difficult to know where to start. But, reading through your thoughts, it seems to me that your e-Portfolio is close-coupled to the LMS or VLE as we prefer to call it in the UK.

This is where I beleive that many confusions arise. My mantra is "Let the VLE do what it does best, and leave the e-Portfolio to do what it can do best."

Consequently, I see the VLE as being an excellent tool for on-line reporting and assessment, both of which can provide useful information 'as it happens'. If the VLE is also 'hard-wired' to the MIS, parents are able to check information such as attendances and lates or commendations every day. Progress in individual subjects or pastoral comments can be easily monitored by parents which significantly reduces the 'shock-horror' of the end of term report.

However, in response to your question, 'Why, what's the point?' there are so many answers.

Firstly, as Primary schools have done for many years, the portfolio approach is an excellent method of encouraging younger children to identify their strengths and weaknesses and tak a pride in what they, individually, can do well. It is not so much the teacher contacting the parent so much as the child 'posting' chosen evidences of their work and documenting their reasoning.

Secondly, e-safe collaboration between peers encourages the formulation of opinion grounded upon ideas or approaches that they might not have thought of by themselves.

Thirdly, and often ignored, is the fact that the e-Portfolio is a two-way communication tool. It is not just about 'informing the parents'. Teachers, too, can learn much about what the child does at home and what support the parents and others give to that child.

In the article on my website "What's in it for me?" I identify some 18 different possible viewers of a child's e-Portfolio. And this leads on to my next point:

In organising and presenting one's e-Portfolio the child is learning to present to different audiences and for different purposes. The e-Portfolio is a realistic exercise rather than a 'pretend' or hypothetical exercise.

The bottom-line for me is that the e-Portfolio is a tool that lasts the owner all its life, 'from 5 to 95' or as the Americans say, 'from K to grey'. In order for there to be the portability that such an e-Portfolio requires, it must be hosted externally to any institution. But this is another story which governments around the world appear unwilling to resolve!

See my website at:

and my blog at:

Sarah Martin said...

Hi Ray,

Lovely to get your comments. After viewing your website and blog I can see e portfolios are an area of passion and interest for you. I guess we keep wondering how we can develop e portfolios richly in a web environment to demonstrate show growth and development in traditional curriculum and also in areas of competency. Importantly we want to share the complexities of building learning capacity in our students along side achievements in multi literacy's. I guess what is constraining our thinking at times is our traditional concept of portfolios as a pencil and paper means. Sure we can digitalize that however how can we really utilize an online space and think differently about want is important to share. All wonderings not many answer!! Fun journey though!