Monday, September 03, 2007

More Questions from High School Teachers

I received the following email questions from high school teachers (Hmmm... school must be starting)
We are planning to implement a pilot eportfolio program this fall in our high school (about 100 students out of a population of 1700). At the current time we are not using the Web 2.0 technologies that I read about on your blog because there is district fear of the "social networking" issues that might arise and Google docs, for example, is blocked on our network. We worked with a handful of 9th grade students using iWeb last year, but we only have one maclab, and frankly, since students do not have their own laptops, iWeb seemed complicated. So, what we do have is a site license for Contribute and are planning to use that. The thing we are struggling with now is managing the assessment piece and figuring out how to mentor the students. If we go all the way with this, we will have 1700 a lot of students to manage, and that piece seems daunting, but we are excited and I have a group of incredibly talented and dedicated colleagues to work with. Any examples of schools doing this, or any thoughts you might have would be deeply appreciated!
My response: OK, I have a few questions for you.
  1. What kind of assessment are you talking about? Formative or summative? Formative assessment is sometimes called "Assessment FOR Learning" and is used to provide feedback for the students on their work so that they know how and where to improve. Summative assessment is sometimes called "Assessment OF Learning" and is used to "score" or assign a rating to student work (based on a rubric), and aggregate those scores, either for grading purposes or for external audiences. The tool requirements for each purpose are different.
  2. Where will the students' portfolios be posted and what kind of interactivity is built into the hosting system? In either type of assessment, you will need to be able to interact with the work, either to give students feedback (qualitative data), or to collect and record quantitative data (scores). The first function is really a commenting function (such as you will find in a blog or wiki). The latter is really a data management function that you will find in a database or spreadsheet or gradebook.
  3. What is your primary metaphor for your implementation of e-portfolio: checklist of skills or story of learning?
  4. Is your intention to create a student-centered portfolio or an institution-centered portfolio?
  5. Do your teachers currently implement paper-based portfolios? Or are you starting both innovations simultaneously (portfolio process and using technology for portfolios)?
Today I received another request:
I'm trying to implement a eportfolio system in my 9th grade English classes as well as my Latin classes. I have been searching and learning, but I could spend days and weeks here and I would like to begin before the end of the first semester! Therefore, would you be able to recommend a site for me that I could use for a single teacher with about 130 students? Most eportfolio systems I found during my research were for building-wide systems. It would be a safe guess to say that I will be the only teacher using eportfolios. But, if my preliminary work is successful, the district may catch on faster. I spent a little time with pbwiki and a blog, but I am concerned with security and the school's babysitter blocking the sites. So, would you have one (or more) sites for eportfolios that could be financially feasible for a single teacher with about 130 kids?
My response: I never make a definite recommendation, since there are many options out there, and I don't know your district and what the blocking software will allow. I recommend that you talk to your district network gatekeepers ;-) to see what they will allow. If this is a pilot for your entire district, then they should be involved in helping you select the tools.

You also didn't tell me what the purpose that your ePortfolio will serve. Purpose drives everything. Do you want to track the achievement of standards? Do you want your students to simply showcase their work? Do you want your students to develop collaborative writing projects? These are different tasks that require different tools. What kind of Internet access do you have? Did you read the article that I have online?

Does your district have Unix server space where you could install one of the open source eportfolio tools, such as Elgg or Mahara? Those tools have the security elements that your district would want. Elgg was created in the U.K and includes a blog, social networking, file space, groups, and a new presentation system. Mahara was created in New Zealand for the education system there and provides a blog, social networking, multiple views for multiple audiences. A school district in New Hampshire is developing an ePortfolio tool that works within Moodle (an open source course/learning management system).

As a temporary (but immediate) solution, here is a list of websites that you could see if your district will block:
GoogleDocs: (basically Word on the WWW)
Google Pages: (an online website builder)
Your students can build artifacts in GoogleDocs, and create a customized portfolio in Google Pages. Your students can collaborate on docs together and you as a teacher can see what each student contributed to a collaborative document. Your students can share documents with you, and you can provide feedback right in the document. For these last two options, your students would each need a Google account, which is allowed at age 14. The Oregon Virtual School District is using a Google portal for its work.

I also like wikis for ePortfolios, and you've already mentioned PBWiki, which I know can be password-protected.

You might look at It is totally protected, has a teacher account that controls all of the student accounts. It requires an agreement with the principal of your school, but it is free. I think the interface is a little juvenile, but I found it to be fairly easy to construct a portfolio. But no one can see the portfolio unless they have a account.

There are many options out there, You just need to see which one will work best in your situation for your purposes.
Commentary: The most secure tools are the commercial tools, such as TaskStream, which involves a per-student fee; or some of the open source tools, which require a server. The real challenge with using the most creative Web 2.0 tools in schools is that they are blocked by many school networks. It makes the recommendations more challenging. The best Web 2.0 options are often blocked! Unless a district installs their own solution, or purchases a service, an individual teacher has difficulty trying to implement an ePortfolio system.


Mr Maher said...

I am a History Department chair at a public High School who needs assistance in regards to policy considerations when an academic institution runs ELGG.

Our administration is concerned that students can create communities and exchange materials privately away from the scrutiny of even the network administrator. Is this a genuine concern or do we need a lawyer to answer such a question?

Is there a technical solution to this?

Helen Barrett said...

For a technical solution, you need to contact the ELGG people. I have no idea what controls they can add to their system. I'm not sure this is a legal problem requiring a lawyer; more like a discipline problem requiring an appropriate use policy. What I think is ironic is that students can create communities and exchange materials outside of school. Blocking just makes school that much more irrelevant. But I also understand some of the problems that can be created by a few malicious students. It is a dilemma.

LisaKate said...

Hi Helen - just came across your blog as I search for new ways to approach the eportfolio. I am a high school media,arts,communication teacher in Boston Public. Ive lead the annual school-wide eportfolio project and senior exhibition portoflio since 2002. I also am using Ning's in a pilot classroom and the experience has been very rewarding, but the private messaging is a concern. Although an AUP would "cover" our school, the fact is that the kids have the ability to privately message each other, which can lead to public and often physical blow outs that no teacher/admin could suspect given the privacy of the harrassment. It is a dilemma.

About the efolios...My kids use html, css, dreamweaver & fireworks to build original layouts and offline web sites. What are your thoughts about Adobe Acrobat PDFs and the ability to bookmark, embed video etc, into an electronic booklet instead of an HTML web site?