Friday, September 17, 2010

K-12 and Higher Education ePortfolio Support

What is the most effective way to meet the needs of K-12 schools for supporting the implementation of ePortfolios? Is there a need to bring ePortfolio information/resources/training to events that K-12 teachers normally attend, such as ASCD, ISTE, NSDC, BLC, and other K-12 education conferences? We can spin our wheels, and not get much traction if we don't recognize the differences between the K-12 and higher education cultures. I spent eight years in K-12, six as the Staff Development Coordinator for the Fairbanks School District, and another 14 years in the Teacher Education program at the University of Alaska Anchorage. I have seen both sides of education, although I didn't start studying ePortfolios until I arrived in Anchorage. Most of my work with ePortfolios in the 90s was focused on K-12, but with the PT3 grants, my focus shifted to higher education in 2000. In 2005-2007, I conducted a research project on implementing ePortfolios in secondary schools, sponsored by Taskstream. Since that time, my consulting time has been more focused on K-12. Perhaps some of my more recent experiences can illustrate some of the differences between K-12 and Higher Ed.

I did make a connection with one of the few K-12 educators attending AAEEBL's July 2010 conference (which was co-located with another higher education conference), and I will be working with her organization on some K-12 ePortfolio activities, still to be developed. (But they have little or no funding... another problem with K-12.) I am also continuing my self-funded research on how ePortfolios are being implemented in K-12 schools: In October, I am planning to visit several High Tech Highs in the San Diego area, where they have been implementing digital portfolios with every student since the first school opened in 2000. In mid-October, the students are leading student-led conferences, so I am getting permission to observe and to conduct some short focus groups with students and to talk with the lead teachers.

Earlier this week, I conducted a two-day planning/training session with a small school district in North Dakota that wants to begin implementing ePortfolios over the next two-three years. I met with a committee of teacher leaders for a day, then made a presentation to the entire district (60 teachers!) for a couple of hours, followed by an activity where I led the committee through the Change Game (a simulation to move a school district through the stages of change). I also had both principals and the superintendent participating in this two-hour simulation. The district is planning two more early release days before I go back in January for a two-day hands-on workshop. So the committee and I planned how they could best use that time. We also set up a Google Group to maintain communication between face-to-face meetings. This is similar to the work that I did for the last two years with a small school district in California.

I did 10 days of face-to-face workshops under a Title IID grant (No Child Left Behind) for New York City Schools last spring. I am working via Skype with an individual high school in Manhattan, where the lead teacher is a Google Certified Teacher, so I am learning a lot from how her teachers and students are beginning to implement ePortfolios across the school. I hope to visit that school when I am in New York in December, to see how the process is going.

Last spring, I visited the American School of Bombay, after conducting monthly 45-minute teleconferences for them (over their lunch hour or before school). While in the school, I had appointments to meet with individual teachers or groups of teachers. I saw some wonderful examples from their third grade students! In June, I visited a private school in Barcelona, and with simultaneous translation, introduced them to using GoogleApps for ePortfolios over three days. I also provided a full day workshop at a private school in California after school was out in June.

The K-12 culture is very different from higher education. Professional development is very different, their reasons for implementing ePortfolios are different, and the tools/strategies they use are also different. Most schools don't have the level of technology support that you will find in most higher ed institutions (unless they are a private or international school). The time constraints are also very different. They squeeze in PD in one- and two-hour blocks. But from my observations from the Intermediate (middle) school that I visited in New Zealand, it is the small incremental trainings on a regular basis (before and after school) that makes a difference in how well teachers implement technology in teaching and students' learning.

That's what I am trying to document in my book! It is slow work, but I am gathering lots of good observational data and lots of resources along the way. Any other examples of success stories of implementing ePortfolios beyond a single classroom? For those with experience in both K-12 and higher education, what do you see as the differences?

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