I just finished four days of ePortfolio training in South Brooklyn and Staten Island. This was my third trip to do training for the New York City Schools under their Title IID grant. It has been refreshing to see a large school district approach ePortfolios from a learner-centered perspective (we started with teachers developing their own professional portfolios using Google Sites) and then transferring that experience to their students. In the second trip, we added digital narratives to the portfolio training (a very intense two days!) but the examples that I saw last week were quite inspiring. This week, we focused on a planning process to implement ePortfolios in a school.
When I think back over the teachers I have met this spring, from the International Schools Conference at the American School of Bombay (ASB), to Bucklands Beach Intermediate (BBI) in Auckland, New Zealand, to the teachers in New York City, I saw some of the extremes in opportunity in our worldwide education system. In the private International Schools, the use of technology was assumed... every student had a laptop, or there was a very low student-to-computer ratio. BBI is a public school in a relatively affluent neighborhood, where more than 10% of the students have bought a laptop and bring it to school every day, in addition to the sets of laptops that are available to use in classrooms. In NYC, I worked with both private and public school teachers. Yesterday, I was meeting with high school teachers, and I was corrected about my erroneous assumption that high school students created most of their written work with a computer. We didn't talk about access to technology, although it didn't seem to be as high a need as expressed by some of the teachers at BBI.
My impressions, as I think back over these three examples, is that the "haves" (affluent students) are getting a technology-rich education, but the "have-nots" (low income students) are not reaping the constructivist/creative/collaborative benefits of educational technology that have emerged with Web 2.0 (as contrasted with 1980-90s models of direct instruction/LMS). That is why I am pleased to introduce a student-centered constructivist approach to electronic portfolios to schools in New York City. I've seen this approach successfully implemented in schools from Mumbai to Auckland to rural California (my trip next week). Electronic portfolios should not be just for students in affluent schools; we need to implement this student-centered strategy with all schools. That raises issues of sufficient access to networks and tools, but I think these problems will be solved in the next few years, especially as tablet/iPad-like devices become more affordable. Or until schools allow mobile phones to be used for educational purposes. But that is the subject of a future reflection.