Feature: Launching Digital Portfolios District Wide

Dr. Chris Wasko

Dr. Chris Wasko

Teich After incubating the idea in his district’s strategic plan, Dr. Chris Wasko, Instructional Project Manager in Wake County (NC) Public Schools, helped launch a digital portfolio initiative involving 700 teachers from 187 schools. He shared Wake County’s experience in a recent Tech & Learning Leadership hangout.

During the 2016–17 school year, Wasko worked with 50 educators with expertise in portfolios, mining their experience to introduce digital portfolios into the district. The objective was to develop and implement a more robust and balanced assessment system that would use digital portfolios to reflect accurately students’ knowledge of core curriculum standards as well as their ability to collaborate, be creative, communicate, and think critically.

The strategies the district used to develop the portfolio program included:

■ Define and communicate standards for the 4Cs: collaboration, creativity, communication, and critical thinking
■ Create a balanced pre-K–12 district assessment framework to include measurement of the 4Cs
■ Develop and deploy a digital portfolio platform to house work samples demonstrating student growth on 4Cs competencies.

In the fall of 2017, Wasko and his team identified four teachers at each of the 187 schools to participate in a train-the-trainer professional development model. Initially, Wasko’s trainers helped teachers see the value of digital portfolios in terms of their own evaluations. They explained their responsibility to use various types of assessment data to ensure that their students are globally competitive for work and postsecondary education.

The training team cultivated teacher buy-in by providing professional learning around related tech tools and helped participants to develop their own digital portfolios. The district then provided additional professional learning around Understanding by Design, balanced assessment, digital citizenship, and student reflection—all key components of successful digital portfolios.

The district goal is for each Wake County student to have their own digital portfolio by 2020.


An important concept to fine-tune is the difference between a digital warehouse and a digital portfolio. While a warehouse can literally store every digital artifact a student generates over time, a portfolio is a carefully curated, organized, and polished presentation of a student’s intellectual journey. Young students learn to create their portfolios and share them with teachers, parents, and classmates. As students mature, they can choose to share with a wider audience, such as friends, colleges, or even potential employers.

As teachers and students practiced building portfolios, five core elements emerged as integral to both the process and the portfolio itself:

■ Classes (core, elective, multiple grade levels)
■ Type of artifact (picture, video, slides, docs)
■ Reflection
■ Audience (teachers, classmates, parents, administrators, college admission boards, potential employers)
■ Design (background, fonts, colors, biographical information, layout)

The district empowered the school-based teams to determine the expectations for the items to be included in the portfolios. Younger students would have more required elements, but as students aged they would exercise more agency about their portfolio’s contents. A third-grade portfolio is going to look different from a high-school student’s portfolio. Students can remove or collapse their portfolios as they grow through the years.

Over time, teachers have learned that building digital portfolios is not radically different from what they’ve always done in their classrooms. Some of the learning artifacts can be quite modest—for example, a photo of a math problem the student worked on. If it’s meaningful to the student and it exemplifies the learning, then it’s appropriate to include in the portfolio.

Wake County schools now have many kindergarten through third-grade students using Seesaw to establish digital portfolio habits, but teachers are encouraged to implement a Google Sites-based portfolio as soon as possible. From fourth grade on, students have a Google Sites-based portfolio and regularly add and reflect upon meaningful learning artifacts from a variety of classes.

When students graduate or teachers leave the district and want to take their digital portfolios with them, they have a specified length of time to use Google data migration to move their portfolios before they’re deleted from the district’s Google drive.

Want to join the Tech & Learning Leader community? Email christine.wesier@futurenet.com for more information. To be considered for a Tech & Learning Leadership Summit, apply here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/TLSummit19

Annie Galvin Teich has more than 25 years' experience in education writing and publishing. She is an edtech industry expert in content marketing and copywriting. As a regular contributor to Tech & Learning she focuses on the information needs of district decision makers.