How to Build Better ePortfolios
8/18/2008 By: by Sascha Zuger
Tech-using educators know the many benefits of ePortfolios.
They help get a handle on kids' interests, difficulties, and
strengths. Techno-loving student thrive on the real-time interaction.
Administrators like that ePortfolios record student
progress digitally, making a convenient shared resource
between students, parents, and other teachers.
Graphic arts and animation are obvious fodder for
ePortfolios. However, teachers across the country also
motivate kids through traditional subjects, such as math and
reading, by creatively adapting ePortfolios in their classrooms.
Here is a sampling of these innovative programs.
ADDING UP TO SUCCESS
Palie Cantu of the Forest Ridge School of the Sacred Heart, in
Bellevue, WA, noticed a recurring issue with her middle school
math students. "They just weren't using the paper space needed
to work through the problems in an organized manner,"
says Cantu. Trying to cram scribbles of calculations onto one
sheet of paper resulted in careless mistakes that had little to do
with the student's understanding of the subject.
Palie used Forest Ridge's one-to-one program to create an
interactive environment. Cantu e-mailed a "problem of the
week," chatted the kids through confusion with audio-accompanied
graphic files, and supported vacationing students
through distance learning.
Cantu recognized the benefit of the electronic
progress report these actions naturally created. Then she
decided to take it one step further. "I chose this year to have my
5th, 6th, and 7th grade math classes create an ePortfolio by using
Microsoft OneNote 2007," says Cantu. "OneNote 2007 helps my
students keep their work organized and helps me keep track of
their progress. It also supports a paperless learning environment.
"Finding new ways to use technology led to new ways to
learn," says Cantu. "I would choose one student each session
to be in charge of creating notes for the lesson." This ensured
students actively listened and digested the information.
Parent-teacher conferences became a breeze. Cantu simply
pulled up the ePortfolio, pointed out the problems when and
where they occurred, and devised a cohesive plan with parents
to correct the issues. Cantu hopes to create a system of
ePortfolio sharing between teachers to ease transition years.
MUSIC TO THEIR EARS
Escondido teachers create iTunes playlists to track student reading progress.
Most students stash their IPods or Nanos with a groan at the
start of each class. In some classrooms in the Escondido
Union School District K-8, students do just the opposite as
part of the iRead program. "The iPod and iTunes were obviously
created for music enjoyment," says Kathy Shirley,
Director of Technology and Media Services for Escondido.
"We have taken a consumer technology and used it in a way
that is was not intended, but works beautifully in education
for assessing reading fluency."
Shirley created a unique program using the iPod classic and
nano, along with a third-party Belkin voice recorder, to record student
reading fluency and comprehension practice. The student
reads the passage into the recorder.
The captured voice memo files,
when synced with iTunes, are
transferred to the Voice Memos
playlist in iTunes to create a digital
record, or ePortfolio, of their
progress. "We have targeted our
reading intervention classes, which
contain students who are at least
two grade levels below their current grade in reading, primarily due to learning English as a second
language," says Shirley. "We must help these students achieve at
a 'normal' pace, but if they are ever to catch up to grade level, their
progress must be accelerated."
Escondido data studies indicate the iRead program a success,
showing 2-4 times higher student fluency and accuracy gains in
classrooms using the iPod. Second language learners benefit
greatly as the opportunity to hear native speakers allows students
to practice correct pronunciation of troublesome words.
"The device is incredibly motivating to struggling readers
and provides immediate feedback—they can replay their
recordings and self-reflect on their own progress. One of the
most challenging aspects of improving reading is giving the
struggling reader an objective view of herself. The iPod acts as
a mirror for self-correction."
Teachers can even use ID3 tags as "information containers"
to imbed comments, directions, and assessments directly into
each student's voice memo files. These completed files form
Smart Playlists, or the ePortfolio, which can then be shared
with the student, parents, and other teachers.
When Daniel Cornell relocated to Colorado, he left behind a position
as tech administrator but regained his passion for teaching in
the classroom by taking over computer classes in a Denver public
middle school. Seeing a dearth of game design, video editing,
or animation offerings in the curriculum, he created his own.
Cornell brought his philosophy of "let's open limits and see
how far they can take it" to the program. "They were intrinsically
motivated by their own interests," says Cornell. "It created a
system of perpetual learning."
A student determined to create
came for advice on angles
and left with a smile and
Cornell's old trig book.
Denver students use HP computers to create custom ePortfolios.
Four years ago, Cornell
took over as Digital-
Evolutions Program Director
and Teacher at the Smoky
Hill High School in nearby
Cherry Creek School District.
Knowing a static listing of
skills on a resume would do
little to impress prospective
design colleges or animation
houses, he incorporated the creation of ePortfolios into the
course. Showcasing work would be an important step to future
academic and professional success and he would give his students
years of practice to perfect the art.
"Demo reels, or ePortfolios, tend to be the culminating project
for all of my classes," says Cornell. "I feel that [I am] prepping
them to create their most important demo reel; the reel
that will get them their first job."
Cornell's first students graduated this year and proved his
point. ePortfolios netted success in the form of national
awards, rare paid graphic art internships, and assistant positions
to animators for national outlets like Fox and
Nickelodeon. Major industries
offer exclusive interviews
based on the impressive
ePortfolios, only to be
stunned to see a teenager
walk into the boardroom.
Though he recognizes the
lure of a position in the field, "I
always emphasize the importance
of education," says
Cornell. The country's most
respected art and design colleges
approach Cornell to
woo his talented students. So
far, every graduating student
received a scholarship to their
choice of the prestigious programs, thanks to the most impressive
portion of their application—their ePortfolio.
Sascha Zuger is a freelancer, public radio commentator, and
author of Girl Overboard, a young adult novel, under the
pseudonym Aimee Ferris.