Technology in the classroom: e-portfolios
By ANDREW GREENE
I never understood the reasons behind their use so I asked two Information Communication Technology teachers to talk to me about e-portfolios. One explained that e-portfolios showcased students’ work. He said that a selection of the students’ work was scanned into or produced upon a hard disk that was then saved to DVDs for the children to take home to their parents. He summarized that, “The only positive to this is that we can save audio and video.”
While I understand the need for children and their schools to please parents, this use of e-portfolios did not seem to me to be a true representation of a way technology could best be part of the classroom. Sure, there are some peripheral skills being practiced during this process such as video and audio recording, editing, scanning and saving files, but honestly I expected more. Fortunately, it turns out, there is more.
Supposedly, when ancient Egyptian King Thamus was presented with the new technology of writing he worried that it would turn out to be a tool of recollection rather than a booster of wisdom. When not completely utilized, e-portfolios run this same risk of becoming merely repositories of past accomplishments.
But, the good news is that fully-realized e-portfolios are more than that; they are truly tools of learning. They delineate clear learning standards for educational professionals, students, parents, family members and, in certain cases, the public. Educator June Ahn wrote in the T.H.E. Journal that e-journals are tools that help teachers with both reflection and feedback. She wrote, “As an assessment tool, e-portfolios provide an economy of scale in terms of efficiency and informational depth… providing ease of access to teachers, students and the general public.”
Teachers and authors Leah E Wickersham and Sharon M Chambers wrote about this same benefit in the journal Education. They state that in the past decade the focus in education has shifted “from a teacher-centered instructional environment to a student-centered one.” This has made teachers more accountable to students than ever before and as a result more dependant upon e-portfolios. E-portfolios empower students. They enable us to judge progress and learning objectives against those of other students and institutions.
This work storage and the opening up of the educational ledger are not the only benefits to e-portfolios. Ahn says they also enhance learning by allowing different levels of access to teachers, students and whoever else should be able to review and comment upon work.
These cleared lines of dialogue bring educational content into context. This concept is key in the ESL classroom. Indonesian students frequently know the English tenses rules without knowing when and why to use them. They have the content, but not the context. Content acquisition is fine for sitting exams, while contextual learning is necessary for living.
Wickersham and Chambers continue, “Multiple researchers concur that the best learning, which is retained, occurs in the context of an active learning experience.” E-portfolios brings context to learning by helping with self-reflection while turning the classroom and homework experience into a more dynamic experience by inter-connecting all of the students’ work with what is happening around them.
Just as I am writing this article following years in the classroom, discussions with ICT instructors and the reading of numerous educational journals, all students learn and produce work that has been filtered through their own experiences. When such work is stored online along with links to class material and peer work, students, parents and teachers can look back upon it learning from it in relation to the setting that it was completed in. This helps everyone.
By improving communication within the teacher-student-parent triangle and bringing context to content, e-portfolios are a tech tool that belongs in the classroom. The challenge we face is how to best make use of them.
This article was originally published