How to Build Better ePortfolios

from Tech&Learning

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.


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.


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 billiard-table animation 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.

What They Used to Build Eportfolios

Adobe Acrobat
Adobe Creative Suite
Adobe Photoshop
Adobe Illustrator

ANGEL ePortfolio 2.1


Autodesk Maya

Belkin Voice Recorder


OneNote 2007

Vectorworks Designer