Linda Dickeson got excited about electronic portfolios when her district beta tested Adobe Acrobat 9 Pro, almost two years ago. “Previous versions of the software let you create portfolios,” says the distancelearning coordinator for the Lincoln (NE ) Public School District, “but they weren’t going to get us where we needed to be. With this version, the lightbulb was turned on for educators everywhere.”
The key, Dickeson says, is that the program lets you create, in just a few simple steps, a PDF portfolio that you can fill with any kind of file: PowerPoint presentations, scanned documents, video and audio clips, and so on. “The software compresses the files and puts a wrapper around them so it’s one neat little package,” she says.
“Students, parents, anyone with a computer, can open up and interact with all of a portfolio’s contents,” Dickeson says. “And it’s easy for students to continue adding new files every year.”
Although Lincoln teachers are just starting to discover PDF portfolios, they already realize their value. “Students become responsible and ‘own’ their history and evidence of their achievement,” says Carol Andringa, curriculum specialist for career and technical education. “A portfolio helps them collect, organize, and manage important information for further learning, college and scholarship applications, and job interviews. It is always available, and parents can use it to communicate about school and student progress.”
Dickeson can identify plenty of ways teachers can use digital portfolios, from showcasing classroom projects to offering evidence of their own performance. She trains colleagues in how to build a portfolio to augment a textbook or for a lesson that has no textbook attached. The teachers learn to capture Web pages, construct study guides, and incorporate videos. “You can put these into a curriculum portfolio to use again and again,” Dickeson says.
Beyond the District
Once their teachers get started, Andringa and Dickeson know, they’ll find even more uses for PDF portfolios. In fact, while Dickeson was conducting training at the Nebraska Department of Education earlier this year, the state director of technology suggested that she use a PDF portfolio as a pre-meeting organizer rather than send many emails containing many attachments. It probably won’t be too long before Dickeson turns that idea into a reality in her district.