Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Planning High School Portfolios

I received another inquiry today from a graduate student:
I am a graduate, post-bach student at ... Our program requires that we complete a service learning project, which will benefit out site school. ___ High School has a student who is incredibly interested in developing an electronic portfolio that will showcase her work, in order for her to gain acceptance into a electronic gaming program at the school of her choice. The school is behind her 100% of the way, and has also decided that it would be a good initiative to make it a requirement for seniors, in order to graduate. __HS wishes to write the creation of electronic portfolios into the school's curriculum-that is where my grad cohort comes in. We have offered to help this student successfully complete a portfolio and then go further to write curriculum that will include putting together an electronic portfolio, for each student during their four years of high school. I was wondering if you have any advice...
Here is my response:
Regarding the requirement for all students in a high school to put together an e-portfolio, I would go slowly and carefully address the support requirements. If this student is creating a portfolio to show her technology skills (to get into an electronic gaming program), my guess is that her technology skills surpass the average student in the school. Do not assume that just because she can create her own portfolio (you did not say what tools she would use or how she would publish her portfolio), that the average student would be able to create a similar portfolio. Rather than work with a single student, you need to look at a small cohort. As a grad student, you should know that it is difficult to generalize from a "n" of 1.

I always ask 4 questions when planning for implementing portfolios:
  1. Where are the portfolio requirements introduced to students, including purpose and audience?
  2. Does the curriculum support the accumulation of artifacts in a working portfolio (i.e., not just a lot of quizzes and test scores)?
  3. What kind of support is available to help the student develop their presentation portfolio for graduation?
  4. How will the portfolio be assessed, who is responsible, when in the program will the portfolio be assessed?

I believe that electronic portfolios begin with a digital archive of a learner's work, so you need to figure out the digital storage requirements. I recommend a content management system (CMS) that provides an easy way to inventory the stored artifacts. Then, the CMS can be used to develop a presentation portfolio, without having to learn HTML. Students need to get into the habit of saving their work in a digital format.

If I can be so bold, I don't think a group of college students should develop a new curriculum to implement portfolios in a high school. To be successful, the teachers in that school need to retain ownership of the curriculum and should be able to identify opportunities in the existing curriculum where artifacts can be collected. Portfolio development should be a natural part of the program, not an add-on or a separate curriculum. Where you can help is with identifying the technology support needs and showcasing practices that can be easily integrated into the existing program. If changes need to be made in the curriculum, these should be initiated by the teachers and school leadership.

The literature on change also points out five elements of change:
Vision, Skill Development, Incentives, Resources and an Action Plan. You can help build a Vision by helping to develop models of what is feasible as well as possible. You can help with Skill Development by identifying strategies for training in technology as well as portfolio strategies. The school leadership needs to identify the Incentives, Resources and develop an Action Plan.

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