Digital Shadows of ePortfolios

DODH_digital_shadowsLara Porter, John Mikton & Andrew Grover stare into the future implications of ePortfolios.

Reflections from an Interview with John Mikton Director of eLearning and Lara Porter Primary Tech Integrationist @ ICS. I would like to thank both for their time and insightful answers.

One of the major questions that I have been obsessed with throughout this process has been “what is the digital footprint of a student’s e-portfolio?”. With all of the focus that we as Educators take to look at the digital footprint of our students and the hours of digital citizenship lessons our students partake in; I was very unclear about what future ramifications the creation of student portfolios might be. The planning and consideration of both the positive and negative consequences of moving portfolios online never seemed to be fully taken into account.  In a world where employers and universities research a person’s social media accounts prior to acceptance. A world where  information is becoming permanently accessible for the rest of the foreseeable future. I was intrigued to see what might be the potential impact of the students actions within the classroom today.

In our own School, the question is only now being considered since we have taken the decision to fully implement digital portfolios from the start of the next school year. I had no idea what could be future outcomes and solicited the opinions of two other respected practitioners in the field of our conversation.

The future impact the creation of digital portfolios seems to be as yet, unconsidered  within the educational community. Or at least the ramifications currently are assessed to be a negligible  level. When discussing cases from current culture, where tweets or Facebook posts have come back to haunt their author, costing their employment or sponsorship contracts; it appears an educational portfolio should not be judged in the same breath. The content posted is singularity educationally valid, whereas social media is just that. Social. Not based in curriculum or student understanding.  Social media is a reflection an individual’s education,  personal philosophy and worldview.  Most educational assignments are much more structured and created to make safe spaces for dialogue to take place. Perspectives are shared through a lens which promotes discussion and analysis of common or dividing principles.

According to the PYP definition, a digital portfolio is “a record of a student’s involvement in learning which is designed to demonstrate, success, growth, creativity, assessment strategies and reflection. A portfolio is a Celebration of an active mind at work”. In other words, assessment.  That is where our conversation kept circling back to. The concept of assessment and the digital portfolios documentation of that process. Through the use of a deft questioning technique designed to help get to the root of the problem, Mikton was able to unpick the confusing tangle of complications to bring our focus back to assessment. Portfolios are created purely for assessment within an educational context.Even though their permanence is now more likely than ever before, their impact on the future is negligible. In part due to the moderation which takes place prior to publications. What we are proposing and offering are not yet likely to impact a student’s future in a negative way. A case can certainly be made for the professional portfolio created by a student whether it be for writing, art, music or the rest of the spectrum of their education. One created for professional purposes, which might be used as an asset to sell oneself is might make to privately advertise or share parts of themselves. Most School digital portfolios are not developed at that stage, although they might lay the groundwork for future adoption and presentation by the individual.

The last aspect of this question which perplexed me was while compile and archive a student’s work from year to year.  Within the major bandwidth of the Early Years, Lower Primary and Upper Primary; clear divisions can be seen.  In Lower Primary the use EasyblogJr. in both Grades 1 and 2 allows for easy transfer of ownership and gives the student the opportunity to pick up where they left off skillswise from the year before. In Upper Primary our students run with the Google Sites platform which again allows easy structure and archivability. However it appears that there is a wide chasm between handovers within the school. Namely it does not happen because the platforms are not compatible.  Rather, it is seen as a natural ending point and conversely a starting point as students transfer throughout the school. When it comes to the Primary to Secondary transition another natural conclusion and reincarnation takes place as the ePortfolio structure is not paralleled in Grades 6 to 12. In fact, in many cases Secondary Students and Teachers do not maintain or contribute to a digital portfolio. The curriculum dictate is compiled differently for documentation of assessment. In fact the maturity, physical and educational development driving assessment are gathered and presented in other manners such as IA’s or Individual Assessments in Math or the Personal Project in Grade 10.  A detailed breakdown of the research can be found  on my post ePortfolios in Your Classroom: Results & Analysis where I discuss the results of the collaborative survey.  

In conclusion, I still feel the question of potential impact of a digital portfolio remains largely unexamined by our institutions and educators. It is quite difficult to predict, as we are just entering the stage where this issue might be come into effect. The future is to open the possibilities almost too vast to accurately consider without as yet identified signposts. Due to the relatively “safe” nature of the content posted to ePortfolios, they are unlikely to cause harmful digital shadows for an individual in the future. Although I feel that this is an important question that must be revisited annually to ensure it remains this way for the sake of the creator.





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