Three Reasons Digital Portfolios are Important

Today there are emerging technologies that make it very easy for students to tell their story.  Students have access to devices; and video editing tools like GoPro Splice are abundant.  There are speech-to-text apps to help students who struggle with writing. Storing data on Google Drive for students is unlimited.  With so many digital tools available, it is easy to create a digital portfolio of their learning. Here are three reasons why digital portfolios are important:  


  • Standardized tests to do not tell the whole story.
  • Students can look back and reflect on their learning which helps them own it.
  • Sharing their story with an authentic audience results in more learning.


Many teachers and parents are frustrated with standardized tests.  I have taught for twenty years and I have mixed feelings. Many of my students perform very well on standardized tests; and I do think they have value.  There are students who are good at recalling information and answering questions with paper and pencil; and I do believe that there are wonderful careers for students that have these skills.  


Teachers, including me, get frustrated because we know that a standardized test doesn’t give all students a chance to show their proficiency.   Many of the students who don’t perform well on standardized tests have beautiful, curious  minds, ask thought provoking questions, are brave and courageous risk takers, and just need an alternative way to demonstrate their learning.

What if students were allowed to “show” their learning? What if students could demonstrate their proficiency using a digital portfolio by defending what they have learned?  The Coalition of Essential Schools points out that some states are beginning to do this. “Portfolios are gaining currency as an assessment alternative to report cards and transcripts; numbers of schools, and even entire states — notably Kentucky and Vermont — are using portfolios to get a more accurate description of a student’s capabilities.”  With digital learning on the rise and states beginning to look closely at portfolios as an assessment alternative, we are entering a time where all students can show their proficiency.  


Digital Portfolios set the stage for student reflection. Reflection is often overlooked in the classroom yet it is an essential ingredient to student learning.  Beth Holland wrote an article called Digital Portfolios: The Art of Reflection.  She said, “through the act of collecting learning artifacts and compiling them into portfolios, students should have an opportunity to reflect upon their experiences and see their own growth.”  I agree with Beth.  Digital Portfolios offer an amazing opportunity for students to reflect on their learning. Students need teachers and parents to teach them how to reflect.  I have found that students love reflecting and that makes them very cognitive about their thinking which amplifies metacognition. I read an article by Karen Barnstable  called Four Dimensions of Reflective Learning and I adapted it to share with my students.  I explain to them that there are four types of reflection: inward, outward, forward and backward.  Here is something I write on my whiteboard:


Backward- Does your work and video tell a story of your learning?

Inward- What are your standards?  Are you meeting them?

Outward- Did you do your work as well as the others in your group?

Foreward– Was there a character trait from another student that you want to copy or emulate during your next task?


This reflection guides the students toward capturing the right artifacts and thoughts that should be included in their digital portfolio.  This is valuable because students can look back and see how they were thinking.  Looking back on a document, video, picture or drawing is good, but looking back on how they reflected helps the student see what they learned and how they were thinking.


Digital Portfolios offer students the opportunity to share their work with authentic audiences.  Monica Burns simply states in her article The Value of an Authentic Audience why students should have authentic audiences. “When we establish authentic audiences for students, they can see the purpose for their work.” The magic happens when students have purpose.  I explain to my students that the videos that they put in their digital portfolios are for parents, other teachers, students from other schools and the list can be long.  I also explain that when you show others how you did something, you have become part of the learning system.  You are now a contributor.  Students watch Youtube videos to absorb something and I explain to them that you can’t always be the person who absorbs, you also have to give back to that system.  When students add videos to their digital portfolios, they are creating a learning journal of what they did and can contribute it to system.  I love analogies and I feel students need to take care of their portfolios like a garden.  They need to water them, take the weeds out, and share the crop when it grows.  Students take better care of their digital portfolio because there is purpose.  This past fall I had the privilege to listen to Eric Patnoudes run a session at the Fall CUE conference in Napa Valley.  Eric showed this video with teachers to show them the power of giving your students an authentic audience. Check out what the students and teacher say about authentic audiences at the six minute mark. 
Have your students start creating a digital portfolio and guide them on how to take care of it. Explain why they are important and have them begin reflecting on their learning!