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ePortfolios spark frustration with students, faculty

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The recent ePortfolio push has met resistance from both students and staff. Despite two advisory periods dedicated to the development of online portfolios, many are left confused about what should be uploaded and what the purpose is.

“Why are we doing it? What is it for?” Calculus teacher Kelly Sudderth said. “A college professor is not going to want to see your Geometry 10th grade project.”

Digital Learning Director Michele Jacobsen responded to written questions saying that through the portfolios, students can create a positive digital footprint.

“It’s a wonderful way for students to show their individual learning and growth over time, without being compared to their peers by a standardized test score,” Jacobsen wrote.

On Nov. 17, all juniors were required to have three artifacts uploaded to their ePortfolio. Principal Gary Shafferman thought it would be easier if teachers encouraged every student to add content.
However, Sudderth said students don’t want to work on the district generated template.

“My concern with the ePortfolio is that you guys haven’t been taught or explained to why you’re doing it,” Sudderth said.

After becoming frustrated with the portfolios, senior Carson Moseley decided to offer constructive criticism to Shafferman. Moseley believes that the idea of ePortfolios is great—they allow students to actively think about the future and offer a place to show personality. But he says the implementation has been lazy.

“If you want to promote that individuality, that uniqueness—you want kids to showcase who they are and what sets them apart,” Moseley said. “We need to be able to customize. We need to be able to move away from a basic template.”

Sudderth said showing personality is the point of a portfolio, but the district is restricting this through the inflexible layout.

“We’re supposed to be giving you guys choices, yet we’re sticking to one format,” Sudderth said.

Shafferman said he has reached out to the district about allowing students to choose their own templates.

However, Jacobsen said that as of now the district is planning to stay with Google sites.

One complaint from students is that tabs cannot be altered. The core tabs such as “Technological Literacy,” “Social Responsibility,” and “Collaboration” must remain. Many students are confused about what these mean or what kind of artifacts should go under them and would rather have tabs that are personally meaningful.

“Ultimately, the heart of ePortfolios is about the artifacts and reflection process,”Jacobsen wrote.

Another tab is called “Graduate Profile.” This would suggest that colleges look at ePortfolios as a piece of the application process, but currently no major Texas university is asking to see ePortfolios on applications. Also, they disappear after graduation, so colleges would not be able to view a student’s past work. Jacobsen wrote that the district is looking at ways to solve this problem.

The University of North Texas has recently adopted an ePortfolio initiative. It was created for UNT students, so they can “document real-world experiences and marketable skills to help them stand out in job searches or pursuit of an advanced degree.”

Since this initiative does not apply to high school graduates seeking to be admitted to the university, seniors like Moseley have not been motivated to develop their ePortfolios.

“For seniors especially, these just aren’t useful,” Moseley said. “We can’t really do much with them.”

Students are also frustrated that they are forced to add content that may be outside of their desired career path. Shafferman agrees that students should be allowed to upload artifacts that demonstrate their interests.

“Eventually I hope if your pursuit is art, just put art artifacts in there,” Shafferman said. “If you want to be a writer someday, then put writing samples.”

Jacobsen sees ePortfolios differently. She feels that there is value in artifacts and reflections from every curricular area, as well as non-school related activities.

“Some of the best ePortfolios I have reviewed housed artifacts pertaining to social responsibility and extracurricular activities outside of [the] school day,” Jacobsen commented.

Moseley hopes the district will reconsider the way they have implemented ePortfolios. In the meantime, he encourages students to voice constructive criticism to the administration and district instead of just complaining to each other.

“We need to be able to have something that teachers and students can agree on, and we need to do it in a way that everyone has an input,” Moseley said. “And right now, it’s like bureaucracy has given all of their input and not much else, so we’re just left to be the hamsters.”

While the controversy continues, Shafferman believes students and teachers should remain positive because ePortfolios will become a valuable tool in the future. He tells students that nobody is going to brag about you more than yourself.

“You need to be able to show your work because you’re the one that’s going to have to sell yourself to your employer,” Shafferman said. “You’re going to have to sell yourself to your next professor. And I just think this is a great way to do that.”

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