Digital Portfolio URL Management System

Just to be perfectly clear, this blog post is about putting student learning on display–giving your students a way to focus on demonstrating what they are learning in your classes and sharing that learning with others.

I see digital portfolios as a great way to get students to rethink the degree of ownership they have when it comes to learning. School sometimes trains students to think that they have to wait for teachers to give validation of learning through test scores or point totals or grades. But we can empower students to prove what they have learned through the creation and curation of digital portfolio pages.

digital-portfolios-why-and-how-sdcuetechfairAt the #SDCUETechFair last month, I enjoyed sharing some ideas on why and how to use digital portfolios. If interested, please feel free to view/share my slides from that presentation. I plan on discussing the why and how of digital portfolios in more detail in later blog posts.

Now, although I have experimented with digital portfolios for years, I’ve found managing the multiple web addresses that I wanted students to submit throughout a year/semester to be a big challenge. Chasing down URLs and navigating through confusing menu structures is frustrating and time consuming. But I persisted because I truly believe that digital portfolios can put student concern and focus where it belongs: on learning, and making learning experiences better for students is one of my passions.

What I’ve created is a digital portfolio URL management system, a way for teachers to collect multiple web addresses from multiple students multiple times over a semester/school year and have all those things show up on one row of a displayed spreadsheet. This way, teachers can have students submit web addresses that take the teacher (or peer, or job interviewer, or college admissions officer) directly to specific pages on their digital portfolios (pages that can contain things like demonstrations of understanding for specific projects or learning goals).

To see what I mean, try it out below:

give-it-a-try

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So, would you like to set up a system like this for your own digital portfolio URL collection and display adventures? Great! It’s all done with Google Forms and Google Spreadsheets, with some formulas. I’ve created a couple of templates as well as detailed, step-by-step instructions for how to set up a digital portfolio URL management system like this for yourself. Click on the presentation linked below and follow the instructions closely (templates and examples are all in that presentation). You can do it! Please feel free to reach out to me with any questions or hiccups that you notice in my instructions. I really, really want this to work and enable more teachers to see digital portfolios as a way to focus student attention on demonstrating learning.

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Improve your Digital Portfolio Workflow: Manage Multiple URL Submissions from Students

I love the idea of having students creating pages on their digital portfolios in which they demonstrate their learning. I see each page as an opportunity to defend the thesis: “I learned X” or “I completed the X project.” I think this use of digital portfolios helps students take ownership of what they are learning when their digital portfolio pages need to demonstrate learning, rather than waiting for the teacher to tell them whether or not they learned.

However, I had trouble as an English teacher matching specific pages to specific skills and projects. I would ask students to submit a URL to the page showing their X project, so I would need to make a new Google Form for each new assignment. To compound this problem, students would often submit a link to their home page, leaving me to navigate websites looking for specific pages.

This workflow was frustrating, and it reminded me of the way some of my colleagues flip through stacks Interactive notebooks looking for where students put their work. Now, I wholeheartedly believe in the power of digital portfolios to amplify learning, but technology is also supposed to help make things easier–and searching through student websites to find evidence of learning was not easy.

screen-shot-2016-11-01-at-9-46-56-amI’ve been thinking of a solution to this problem for a while, and I think I’m on the right track to finding a solution. Here are the steps I suggest:

  • Teacher: Create a Google Form that you will use to collect a class’ digital portfolio URLs.
    • In the settings, only accept one response per student, but allow students to edit their submission. Students will need to edit their previous form submissions as you have them build additional pages. They will come back to this form later, edit their previous response, leave the URLs in place that they submitted perviously, add URLs to new skills/projects, and resubmit the form.
    • Put a link to this form on your website and/or in Google Classroom (I work in a district that uses the Google Suite–admittedly, this digital portfolio solution would work best in a Google Suite school).
  • Students: Build digital portfolio pages according to teacher instructions to demonstrate understanding.
  • Students: Turn in digital portfolio pages to the teacher by submitting URLs to specific pages on the same Google Form throughout the semester.
  • Teacher: On the Form Responses Spreadsheet (the spreadsheet that collects the responses from your Google Form), create a new tab (new sheet) at the bottom for display purposes. Embed this display sheet on your website (very easy to do in the new Google Sites).
    • Each column on the display sheet should have its own formula so that it takes Text from one section of the spreadsheet and URLs from another section. For example, in Mr. Ford’s Multimedia class, his columns currently have the following hyperlink formulas:
      • A:=hyperlink(‘Form Responses 1’!D2,‘Form Responses 1’!B2)
        • column B of Form Responses 1 = The student’s last name
        • column D of Form Responses 1 = The student’s digital portfolio home page.
      • B: =hyperlink(‘Form Responses 1’!E2,$B$1)
        • column B of the display sheet has the name of this project/assignment
        • column E of Form Responses 1 = The URL the student submitted for this project/assignment
      • C: =hyperlink(‘Form Responses 1’!F2,$C$1)
        • column C of the display sheet has the name of this project/assignment
        • column F of Form Responses 1 = The URL the student submitted for this project/assignment
      • D, E, F, and so on in the same fashion as columns B and C (above).
  • screen-shot-2016-11-01-at-10-14-19-amTeacher: As you add more skill/project pages for students to enter on your Google Form, you will need to enter another formula to the next column over on your display sheet. You will also need to drag/copy your formulas across your entire display sheet once in a while so that students who submitted previously omitted URLs will see their links updated on your display sheet. What you end up with is a one-stop-shop taking you straight to students’ different digital portfolio pages. You can quickly and easily see who has/hasn’t submitted each page, and you can even color code the cells to provide initial feedback (a color for “great,” a color for “needs work,” etc.).

It does take some work to set up, but if you’re seriously attempting to use digital portfolios as a way to assess student learning, this approach could end up saving you a lot of time and frustration in the long run. This is especially true if you teach middle school or high school and you’re dealing with well over 100 digital portfolios.

Thanks very much for reading. Please share this with anyone working with digital portfolios, and please let me know if you have discovered a better solution or innovation that would achieve the same or better results!

Connections Between Scaffolding and Digital Portfolios

The work of Aida Walqui and other advocates for effective teaching of English learners stresses the importance of providing scaffolds for English learners. When educators provide the right kind of scaffold at the right time, students acquire language (and, more generally, knowledge). This way of thinking about how understanding (and language proficiency) is developed comes from the Quality Teaching for English Learners (QTEL) initiative. The QTEL approach suggests that there are 6 kinds of scaffolds:

Bridging, in which students make a personal link between prior knowledge and new concepts

Contextualization, in which concepts are delivered via the senses (sounds, sights, smells, etc.)

Schema Building, in which students build on understanding to construct new knowledge

Metacognitive Development, in which learner autonomy is fostered by helping students assess and think about their own learning

Text Re-presentation, in which students are asked to display what they understand from one medium/mode of a text by re-presenting that understanding in another medium/mode (such as creating a visual based on what the student understood from a chapter in a science book)

Modeling, in which students get access to clear examples

Now, when I was at the QTEL Summer Institute in San Francisco a few months ago, I had digital portfolios on my mind. I was advocating that my school should implement digital portfolios on a wider scale. I am a big supporter of how digital portfolios can amplify student learning! It was pretty clear, though, that a significant portion of our school’s professional development time over the next couple of years was going to go toward helping staff members effectively teach English learners. We have over 800 English learners at my high school (and more every week!), so training in this area is incredibly appropriate. Still, I was looking for a way to link our school wide focus on English learners and my desire to tap into the learning benefits that digital portfolios can provide. As we reviewed the 6 types of scaffolds, I saw it clear as day: Digital portfolios can facilitate the implementation of the 6 types of scaffolds! I got so excited, I used a different color in my notes to remind me to come back to this idea in a blog post later:

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After a little more thinking, I realized that if I tried to show a connection between all 6 scaffolds and digital portfolios, it might read a little like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. I didn’t want to force the issue inauthentically, but I still saw a clear connection between some of the scaffolds to help English learners acquire language (scaffolds for learners in general to acquire concepts through language) and work educators could be doing with students through digital portfolios. I concluded that digital portfolios can facilitate the implementation of at least 3 types of scaffolds: Metacognitive Development, Text Re-presentation, and Modeling:

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Metacognitive Development:

Thinking about thinking is vital to causing authentic, lasting learning for our students. I worry that teachers sometimes over emphasize “covering” or “getting through” content, rather than taking the time that learners need to clarify what they have learned, how they learned it, and determine where they need to go next with the concept. I understand the pressure that educators feel to get through content, but our primary goal should be to cause learning–and if that means we don’t cover everything we set out to cover then so be it.

One of the most valuable skills we can foster in our students is learning how to learn. When we have students document their learning process, demonstrate what they have learned, and assess what their digital portfolios actually show they know, then we are using digital portfolios to help students build metacognitive skills. Students creating pages on a website that are meant to prove how and what they learned is a metacognitive act.

I very much see this as the primary value of having students curate their own digital portfolios. Putting knowledge on display is great. Building digital communication skills is awesome. But the most important pedagogical value that digital portfolios provide is their ability to continuously facilitate metacognitive development among our learners.

Text Re-Presentation:

When students are able to present their understanding of a concept using a medium that is different from the source medium, that is text re-presentation. Students are re-presenting ideas in another format. screenshot-2016-10-30-at-4-46-39-pm

Implementing this scaffold means to give students learning tasks that ask them to re-present their understanding. So, if a student has to re-present their understanding of a concept that they heard about in a class lecture, why not have them do so by creating and posting a video about the concept on a page of their digital portfolio?

Digital portfolios offer many other ways that students can re-present ideas from source material. Students can blog about their personal learning/understanding related to the text, create visuals, create videos, create presentations, embed images of the learning process–text re-presentation can take on many forms.

A focus on digital portfolios as the way to assess student learning can facilitate the implementation of text re-presentation.

Modeling:

Giving students clear examples of how to demonstrate learning on digital portfolios becomes much easier when you can refer them to other students’ digital portfolios. I’ve listed modeling last because it will probably come last in your own implementation of digital portfolios–at least as far as this kind of modeling is concerned. Sure teachers can create student mock-ups of what they would like students to do on digital portfolios, but the more authentic models will come when students can see how other students incorporated their learning onto their websites in creative and innovative ways.

Of course, we’ll continue to expect original meaning-making from students. Seeing how last year’s students demonstrated their understanding of meiosis and mitosis doesn’t give this year’s students license to copy and paste. This is why it’s so critical that students see their digital portfolios as representative of their own personal learning story. But if seeing an explanation from last year’s students helps this year’s students develop their understanding, all the better.

Scaffolding student learning and implementing digital portfolios are not mutually exclusive ventures. We don’t have to decide between one and the other. Just as with all technology integration in the classroom, it should never be about the technology. This isn’t a blog post about technology. It’s not really a blog post about digital portfolios. It’s a blog post about learning and using the tools at our disposal to help students learn more deeply. My argument is simply that digital portfolios can facilitate some of the work that is most vital to educators:

  • Implement scaffolds as needed to help learners, especially English language learners
  • Encourage students to focus on the value of learning and their own learning process
  • Challenge students to assess for themselves what they really understand and what they might need more help with

 

Sources and References:

Couros, G. (2016, August 16). 7 Important Questions Before Implementing Digital Portfolios [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://georgecouros.ca/blog/archives/6602

Ritchart, R., Church, M., & Morrison, K. (2011). Making thinking visible: how to promote engagement, understanding, and independence for all learners. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Walqui, A. & van Lier L. (2010). Scaffolding the academic success of adolescent English language learners: a pedagogy of promise. San Francisco: WestEd.

Peer Tutors and Peer Mentors: Shared Responsibility and Mutual Respect

The staff at El Cajon Valley High School works extremely hard to give students the support they need, but providing all of the support that students need is a pretty daunting task. To help with this, we have a tradition of having Peer Tutors and Peer Mentors help out in the classroom. Peer Tutors and Peer Mentors mostly consist of upperclassmen who have expressed a desire to give back to the school community.

We have had students helping in classrooms for years at El Cajon Valley High School. When I was an English Language Development teacher at ECVHS, I enjoyed the help of some amazing multilingual Peer Tutors (many of them former ELD students of mine) who helped me provide the language support that my students needed. The Moderate to Severe Special Education Program has been relying on Peer Tutors for years to help students with special needs. And now we have a Teaching and Learning course, which trains students to be Peer Mentors to help students in a variety of learning situations.

20160915_084719As the librarian, I had the privilege of playing host to Liz Castagnera as she trained Peer Tutors to help students in the Moderate to Severe Special Education Program. Mrs. Castagnera is always looking for ways to improve how her Peer Tutors serve our students with special needs. Her training focused on the benefits of a philosophy of inclusion and acceptance, as well as the personal benefits being part of a community where we help each other.

20160915_101404Mrs. Castagnera has had her Peer Tutors use Digital Portfolios in the past to reflect on the different aspects of what it means to provide support to students with special needs. But as a person continuously looking for ways to improve, she worked to develop a sample portfolio in the new Google Sites to show Peer Tutors more clearly what was expected of them.

The thing I admire most about Mrs. Castagnera’s use of technology here is that the point of what she is doing is not the technology itself. The focus of this Peer Tutor training is on goal setting, communication, and documenting progress–technology is simply the tool her students will use to keep track of the work they do with students. And because students are developing their Digital Portfolios in this way, Peer Tutors will leave high school with documented evidence of volunteerism and work experience. And as these Peer Tutors apply to colleges and get started in careers, that documented evidence will be very valuable.

Speaking of Digital Portfolios, we are experimenting by having all 9th grade students in our Brave Adventure classes start Digital Portfolios in the new Google Sites. Students follow this sample, which includes links to a step-by-step guide by Grossmont Union High School District Digital Learning Coach, Reuben Hoffman (@reubenhoffman). As stated above, we have Peer Mentors as part of our Teaching and Learning Course. One example of these Peer Mentors helping our school is that they helped us with this Digital Portfolio roll-out. 20160906_132121The Teaching and Learning Peer Mentors were trained in how to create Digital Portfolios in the new Google Sites, then they were assigned to lead Brave Adventure classes in the site creation task. I was able to visit one of the classes during this roll-out, and it was impressive to see our Peer Mentors at work. The class I visited had a substitute teacher, but the Peer Mentors took over and made sure that all students in the class created their Digital Portfolios.

Our Peer Tutors and Peer Mentors are continuing a tradition of giving back to the ECV community. I’m so glad to be a part of a school culture that empowers students to be campus leaders, and I’m excited to see what happens this year as more students embrace leadership roles. We’re building a community of shared responsibility and mutual respect.

Share Your Ideas

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Please take a couple minutes to view this video:

This video is a pep talk to all those educators out there who doubt that they have good ideas to share. Participating in a professional learning community means more than simply connecting to resources and experts, it also means contributing your own ideas. I think many teachers shy away from sharing, thinking: my ideas aren’t good enough to share (as the video illustrates).

EDpuzzle- Teacher InstructionsI experienced something similar to the situation in the video: I started using @EDPuzzle, and I really liked it. I liked it so much, that I wanted to share it with others. To do this, I made a Google Slides presentation with instructions and screenshots for how to get started with EDPuzzle. Now, EDPuzzle has their own instructional tutorials on how to get started (and their instructions are better than mine). More than that, some of the screenshots and instructions in my presentation are a little outdated. Still, I made this presentation and sent it to my colleagues to show them how to get started with this instructional tool. I was also sure to set the sharing settings so that it was public on the web, just so it would be easier for others to see.

I thought nothing of this presentation for a long time, and then out of the blue I got emails from teachers out of my district–out of my state! They were asking for permission to use this presentation to help their own colleagues get started with EDPuzzle. Of course, I told them to go for it–make a copy and modify it for their needs. I even changed the title slide to include a link that makes a copy of the presentation (see above).

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I’ll admit, I felt proud that a presentation I made was being looked at (sought out) by educators I didn’t even know. It told me that the idea I had (to share this cool instructional tool and make it as easy as possible for others to get started with it) was valuable to others. It told me that my idea helped others.

But the part of this experience I really appreciates goes back to the idea in the video at the top of this post: This wasn’t some spectacular insight. This wasn’t an epiphany that would reshape the pedagogical world. This was just a “how to” presentation for getting started with a useful edtech tool. Still, by sharing I was able to contribute to more educators and more students than if I had decided to keep my ideas to myself.

I hope the non-sharers out there have a change of heart. It would be great to see more educators contributing their ideas so we can all better serve our students.

The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men…

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I have been a big believer in the power of digital portfolios for years. When I became the teacher librarian at El Cajon Valley High School (@ECVHS), I knew I wanted to advocate that we try to go more school wide with digital portfolios. I blogged a little to share the educational value of having students build digital portfolios to demonstrate understanding.

 

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click to view the “classic” Google Sites Digital Portfolio Template

I was so pumped to hit the ground running with digital portfolios, that I spent some time to put together an easy-to-copy digital portfolio template for students at my school. It was going to be so simple: students would visit the URL, hit “Use Template” and then they would have their very own skeleton of a digital portfolio to build up with evidence of learning over the years. Teachers would be able to get started with digital portfolios without really having to understand all the intricacies of how Google Sites worked. And let’s face it, “classic” Google Sites was pretty clunky. It was hard to use. But once you spent some time learning how to get it to do what you wanted it to do… it was still clunky, but in a way that Google Sites users understood. Plus, it had the advantage of integrating pretty well with the other Google Tools we were already using: Docs, Slides, Drawing, and more. So, I built the template and waited for the fall of 2016 to come so that I could help lead this digital portfolio experiment.

 

And then, after years of having few, if any, updates to Google Sites, Google announced the “new” Google Sites. Luckily, our Director of Instructional Technology, Dan McDowell (@danmcdowell), requested and received access for our district pretty early on. Now, because this happened over the summer, I was pretty sure I would be able to simply build up another template based on my earlier template. But I ran into two (I thought) significant hurdles:

  • the new Google Sites doesn’t offer blogging pages (yet)
  • the new Goolge Sites doesn’t allow sites to be published as templates (yet)

I see blogging as very valuable for educators wanting to take a risk on digital portfolios. And clicking a button in order to make a skeleton of a website is so easy. I was worried that students and teachers would see digital portfolios as less valuable and more difficult with the new Google Sites (and yes, we would be sticking with Google Sites because of how well it integrates with our other Google Tools). I emailed a few people and talked to Reuben Hoffman (@reubenhoffman), one of our district’s Digital Learning Coaches, about my worries. Everyone’s advice made sense: new Google Sites is the way to go because:

  1. it would get better over time,
  2. it is very easy to use (much easier than “classic” Google Sites),
  3. “classic” Google Sites may stop being supported after one year,
  4. we don’t want to have our students invest intellectually in a dying web tool, and
  5. our staff members are still excited about digital portfolios.

I stopped worrying about the problems now associated with the original plan and started getting excited again about going more school wide with digital portfolios.

 

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click to view the “new” Google Sites Student Sample/Guide

I used a lot of the content from my old template in order to create a “sample” in the new Google Sites. Students will be able to use this sample as a guide for developing their own websites. The original plan has changed; there is more uncertainty when it comes to how digital portfolios will play out at ECVHS–neither of those are bad things! I’m looking forward to seeing what opportunities this uncertain path forward will present.

 

Finding Connections: Sometimes it Takes a While

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For a lot of my teaching career, I was the kind of team member who listened to other peoples’ good ideas and supported them. I just wasn’t really coming up with anything new to add to the pedagogical conversation. My colleagues were already sharing such great ideas, that I had plenty to do to help make their ideas a success. Ideas like:

  • English learners should be developing their cognitive academic language proficiency
  • Let’s share our ideas on a website that we build together
  • Let’s read research to inform our instruction
  • Let’s ask local colleges for advice for how to prepare our students for their courses

Again, there were plenty of high quality ideas to support–and it took work to implement these ideas! It wasn’t until I was finishing up my masters in education that I came across an idea I hadn’t heard my colleagues talking about. I completed my action research project on formative assessments (specifically, how we can use weekly formative assessments to improve writing among English learners). I read from Reeves and DuFour (2 of them!) and Ainsworth and Marzano, and along the way I got the impression that the way I did grades was not ideal for learning. In fact, based on what I was reading, the way a lot of my colleagues did grades was not ideal for learning. I finished my research project/presentation on formative assessments, but what stuck with me was the issue of grading.

So, I read more and I watched videos. I found some great blog posts by Shawn Cornally and I was inspired by the ideas shared by Rick Wormeli on YouTube. Point after point I found myself agreeing with sources I found in books and online. I now had this idea that I thought was GREAT, and I wanted to bring it to my fellow English teachers. I presented this Prezi at a department meeting (I even made it into an exhilarating 22 minute video) with the aim to revolutionize how we grade in order to promote more learning. The reception to this idea was lukewarm. I was able to get the department to agree to some changes to our collective grading practices, but not others. It was clear that no one in my immediate professional learning network (the teachers in my department) was very passionate about this idea that was influencing me and my practice so significantly.

I made some pretty big changes to how I grade, but in the spirit of developing common practices, I didn’t fully run with standards based grading because I felt like I didn’t have many other teachers in my department willing to go along for the ride.

Fast forward to a few years later. I was at a Google Apps for Education conference, and I was stopped in the hall by Natalie Priester. She said something to the effect of: “You’re Anthony Devine. You posted some stuff online about standards based grading, right?” Now, this made quite an impression on me because I hardly expect anyone to remember or remark upon anything I post online (except that my mom is always sure to “like” the pictures I post of my kids to Facebook). But Natalie basically ran with the idea of standards based grading (I think she went well beyond what I’ve done with it). She mentioned coming across my video (linked above) early on in her development of standards based grading practices. She sent me some rubrics that she developed and other materials she made based (in part) on the explanation of standards based grading that I cobbled together from my research.

This interest got me to start thinking again about advocating openly for some changes to the way teachers produce student grades. It took a while, but after experimenting with my grading practices, I wrote this little post to help explain my grading practices to students and parents. And based on that post, I presented earlier this year at a local conference on using our a 4 point grade scale in our electronic grade book (Infinite Campus). In attendance at that session were staff members from an experimental high school within my own district where EVERYONE was giving proficiency grading a try. I loved talking with them about the ins and outs of implementing proficiency/standards based grading in a “traditional” grading world.

One of the outcomes from that presentation was that a colleague of mine who teaches math at that experimental high school, Melanie Ruiz, approached me to co-present on proficiency grading practices this summer. We’re finishing up this website as our presentation tool and our plan is to get teachers to reexamine their grading practices and to adopt some practices that will encourage and value learning more than “traditional” grading practices do.

That’s where I am with this journey with this one idea. And while it’s definitely a story about sticking to an idea that I think is good, it’s also about the fact that finding the people who will connect to an idea with you can take time. My personal learning network did not necessarily gravitate toward supporting this idea at first. That doesn’t mean I abandoned that network! It also doesn’t mean I abandoned the idea. Slowly, over time, I was fortunate enough to add to my network other educators I admire who agree that this idea is a good idea.

In summary, lessons learned from this situation:

  • If you have a good idea, but not many in your immediate PLN agree, stick with it! You may find people later who appreciate your crazy, innovative ideas.
  • Go to conferences! Whether attending sessions or presenting sessions, conferences give you the chance to make personal connections to educators in other schools and districts (and they probably have some great ideas to share).
  • Share your ideas. You may think what you have to say won’t add anything all that great to the conversation, but you’re just wrong! You never know who will latch on to the ideas you have to share. And you never know when you may decide to revisit your old ideas to share again or modify. Just look at this post. The things I’ve linked here go back to 2012 (and that action research project I mentioned was from 2009). Share–join the conversation!