Moving to Digital Student Portfolios by Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano

Moving to Digital Student Portfolios by Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano

Cross posted to Langwitches Blog

I remember sitting down in a tiny chair at a tiny table during parent-teacher conferences at my daughter’s pre-school class. Her teacher pulled out a folder, filled with papers: drawings my four year old had made, her first attempts in writing her name, a checklist of whether she knew how to tie her shoes, recite her address and phone number, sound out certain letters and count to twenty. I guess you would call that folder my daughter’s first academic portfolio. At the end of the school year, that folder was sent home and some of the items ended up in a scrapbook/keepsake album I kept for her.

14 years have passed since my daughter was in Pre-School. The days, that her teacher collected her work and discussed them with me have long gone. Once an assignment is handed in, a report or project presented, it usually disappears forever in some teacher’s bin or in the trash after the grade was received.

What about the work that was put into producing the assignment? What about reflection and evidence of learning from progress between previous work and current work?

Judith A. Arter states in Portfolios for Assessment and Instruction ( You can download the Full Text PDF version):

Portfolios are scarcely a new concept, but renewed interest, fueled by the portfolio’s perceived promise for both improving assessment and motivating and involving students in their own learning, has recently increased their visibility and use. The definition of a portfolio varies some, but there seems to be a general consensus that a portfolio is a purposeful collection of student work that tells the story of student achievement or growth.

She divides the reasons of doing student portfolios into two categories:

  1. Assessment:
    -keeping track of what students know and can do
  2. Instruction.
    - promoting learning–students learn something from assembling the portfolio.

What caught my attention was the statement:

Portfolios are not folders of all the work a student does.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my thoughts about the change from traditional Paper-and-Binder teacher dossier to the Digital Teaching Portfolios. A natural sequel to the post would be the move towards digital student portfolios from the collection of work in manila folders.

How can we set up an electronic hub to store and display student work? Looking at the statement above “Portfolios are not folders of all the work a student does.” this is not enough though. We need to find tools that allow students to easily access, view, add, edit and share their work.

The reasons FOR doing a portfolio as mentioned above (assessment and instruction) have not changed just because we are going digital. I want to look at the reasons WHY we should look into digital portfolios and WHAT platforms are available to us.

I see the difference and advantage of going digital in:

  • Media: Ability to include diverse media in addition to text and paper (think audio, video, collaborative work, etc). Media that students are comfortable and identify with.
  • Accessibility: A digital portfolio can be made available for access for all of the student’s teachers, parents, administrators, college recruiters, potential employers and other involved professionals in their lives regardless of time and geographic location.
  • Revisability: Easily editable and revisable. Being able to connect artifacts and documents as they are being created and added to previous ones.
  • Communication: Facilitates discussion between students and those interested in their progress.
  • Transparency: Shows what students are learning and their progress (Related and linked to Accessibility)
  • Continuity & Portability: Students work and add on to their portfolios from elementary through middle and high school giving an organized overview of their learning journey and accomplishments.
  • Creativity: New non-linear formats and the integration of various media types allow students many ways to creatively express their professional knowledge and skills” (from Digital Portfolios).
  • Reflection: Able to include a wide range of personal as well as outside reflection and feedback from a variety of sources and media.
  • Going Green: Less copies, less papers, space saver (Thanks @81teacher)
  • Digital Literacy: Learning to work with a variety of media tools (digital expression- Thanks @glazaro), Information Management (Personal Cyber-Infrastructure- Thanks @tuchodi) and creating an academic digital footprint.
  • Durability: The digital portfolio can’t burn (Thanks @suzieswimz), be swept away by a hurricane or get lost in a pile of other paperwork.
  • Productivity: Less papers to keep track of for teachers (Thanks @jmiscavish), able to use RSS to keep track of and organize students’ contribution

If you want to get started in using digital portfolios for your students, consider some of the following platforms.

Blog Platform

  • Blogs are web based, allowing students to log in and edit or view their portfolio from any internet connected computer.
  • Can be used as a hub for their writing, links to documents they produced or to embed other media files such as presentations, images, video and audio.
  • Are organized in reverse chronological order with the newest post being on top.
  • Each post or article can be categorized and tagged.
  • Encourage comments by others
  • Have customizable themes that allow creativity and personalization in design.
  • Free blogs for students: blogger, edublogs, wordpress, 21classes

Wiki Platform

  • Wiksi are web based, allowing students to log in and edit or view their portfolio from any internet connected computer.
  • Can be used as a hub for their writing, links to documents they produced or to embed other media files such as presentations, images, video and audio.
  • Are easily editable websites. Students can create different pages that can be linked to each other and to external sites.
  • Easy to revise and edit.
  • Not as much customizable design and theme options as a blog, unless students have design code knowledge
  • Free wikis: wikispaces, pbwiki


  • One google account allows students to create documents, spreadsheets and presentations.
  • Each file is accessible on any internet connected computer and able to be shared with other viewers and/or collaborators.
  • Files can be stored in personalized folders and are easily searchable for keywords.
  • Google Sites: students can create their own websites. (Thanks @amyhopkins for example site.


  • VoiceThread allows you to upload images, videos and documents
  • Students can add text or voice comment to each “slide” to reflect, analyze or narrate.
  • Can be shared with other interested parties, who can be invited to leave comments as well.

More resources about Digital Student Portfolios:

Please share digital student portfolio examples, platforms, ideas and YOUR thoughts on taking the plunge of going digital with your students’ portfolios.