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ePortfolio should allow student creativity

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Virtual portfolios are a great way to showcase skills. College students are using them more and more. LISD has decided to encourage their students to join this technology trend. The ePortfolios required by the district are great in theory, but the way they’re being implemented isn’t working.

“A student portfolio inspires learning and is owned by the learner, structured by the learner, and is told in the learner’s own voice.” – LISD ePortfolio Resource Page, “The ‘Why’ behind ePortfolios

Students don’t want to participate because they don’t see the point. They don’t know why ePortfolios are important. They don’t know what they’ll help accomplish. Asking students to trust that ePortfolios are beneficial is simply not enough. There is no drive to work on something that doesn’t have a clear purpose. It’s difficult to identify the value of ePortfolios because students were never shown an example of a successful one.

It also vanishes once they graduate. Which is another reason why students put zero effort into something that will ultimately go away before they can use it.

Another problem is how they’re designed. It’s less of an avenue for student expression, and more of a vessel for the district. With all the structural elements students must satisfy on their ePortfolios, real ownership is taken away. Required features like the large LISD logo, mandated content from each class and immovable and unclear tabs, mean it’s no longer controlled and structured by the learner. Students get discouraged because it doesn’t feel their own. That’s why they aren’t putting effort into making pretty content and design for their page.

Teachers are also discouraged and frustrated with ePortfolios. LISD’s teacher mission statement says that they must simply “guide” and encourage students to use ePortfolios. That’s it. With the required content expectations, teachers are put in a helpless position. It’s tedious going through each junior ePortfolio and reporting back on it. Additionally, ePortfolios can not be tied to grades. So teachers are having difficulty motivating students, when there’s no proven benefits or clear instructions.

Truly, ePortfolios may have many benefits for students in the long run, but until students get on board, they will not be successful. Getting them on board is where the district needs help.

Here are our suggestions for increasing student engagement:

1. Allow alternate platforms

Google sites may be fine for elementary and junior high students, to start at a basic level. This satisfies the need for uniform portfolios early on. However, once students enter high school they should be able to move it elsewhere. Give them back the creative reins. It would also solve the issue of the portfolios disappearing on graduation. Students are pushed to find themselves in high school anyways. Letting them decide how their ePortfolio reflects their personality is what will appeal to colleges. It will really be told and structured in the learner’s voice, then.

2. Tie it to student endorsement

This would also narrow down what is included in the ePortfolio and make the contents more relevant to student passions and interests.

Instead of mandating reflections from all classes, students could reflect on creations from classes relevant to their possible career choices. A STEM major won’t necessarily need to call back on their sophomore English class, just as a Theatre Arts major won’t need to reflect on a Math project from middle school. But both could include accomplishments from classes that matter to them.
Although the district wants ePortfolios to “inspire learning,” all they inspire currently is frustration. The district may have requirements, but it’s important to remember that these are ultimately for the student’s benefit.

So if the district wants these portfolios to put students ahead, they need to stay true to their defined purpose. Give students freedom to display their personal talents and abilities in their own voice.

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ePortfolio should allow student creativity