event, presentation

ASCD Webinar: Digital Portfolios in the Classroom

DigitalPorfolioOn Tuesday, August 8 from 2-3 P.M. CST, I will be hosting a free one-hour webinar for my upcoming book Digital Portfolios in the Classroom: Showcasing and Assessing Student Work.

I’ll go over some of my favorite tools for facilitating digital portfolios and share teaching strategies for making this authentic approach to assessment work in the classroom.

Time at the end will be provided for participants to ask questions and discuss technology integration and student-centered assessment.

Click here to register. I hope you can join us!

-Matt

blog post

Think you’re doing digital portfolios? Think again.

At the risk of sounding like a know-it-all, I have wanted to point out a misconception that some educators have regarding digital portfolios and what is facilitated in classrooms.

This post comes from the idea that by merely publishing student work online for families and a wider audience to view, that students now have a digital portfolio. This isn’t accurate. Digital portfolios are defined as “a multimedia collection of student work that provides evidence of a student’s skills and knowledge” (Niguidula, 2010). This collection is not as simple as baseball cards or dead bugs. Student work within a digital portfolio has been carefully selected by a student and teacher and is accompanied with some sort of reflection, self-assessment, and goal setting. The online space in which a digital portfolio exists matters less than the learning acquired made evident by the content.

Here are three situations in which educators may think they are doing digital portfolios but actually are not.

  • Social Media

If a teacher can get families to join a classroom Facebook page or follow a teacher-directed Twitter account, that is great. Teachers can model for students how to create a positive digital footprint and what it means to be a citizen in the 21st century. Pictures, video, and text that are shared in this way provide parents a window into the classroom. Most families also seem to like this way of staying connected with the classroom, especially if they already use that social media.

Why it’s not a digital portfolio: Social media is a popular way people communicate in today’s world. But it is not a useful tool for collecting and curating important artifacts of student work. Students need more permanent digital spaces to call their own when sharing their learning. In addition, social media might have unreliable security settings and can be susceptible to hackers.

  • Home-to-School Digital Communication Tools

A number of applications that used to do one thing are now proclaiming that they also have a digital portfolio component. For example, Class Dojo, a behavior management app, allows teachers and students to share images and video with parents in addition to the points they accumulated for positive behaviors. Families can comment on what is posted and engage in a conversation about the work.

Why it’s not a digital portfolio: We are getting closer here, as each student has their own account for the teacher or student to post their work. The missing component is in how it’s used. Typically, the teacher is the one posting pictures and video for parents to see. Technology providers that advertise a digital portfolio function often do not see it as an assessment tool. There is little guidance provided for students or the teacher to reflect or self-assess on their work. The work and effort are usually owned by the teacher.

  • Single Year Digital Lockers

In these situations, a teacher might actually be having students lead the digital portfolio process, including uploading their multimedia work and reflecting on it. The free version of digital portfolio tools such as FreshGrade or Seesaw is integrated into instruction. Over the course of the school year, families and the student can see how they have grown from fall to spring. This type of work can have a positive impact on learning.

Why it’s not a digital portfolio: Simply put, the student’s work disappears at the end of the school year, like cleaning out the lockers on the last day. There is no plan for maintaining past artifacts of learning from year to year. Students cannot look back on prior years to better understand their learning journey. Teachers cannot look at student work from the previous year to assess their needs for the current school year. There is no learning legacy for a student in these situations.

So what is a digital portfolio, for practical purposes? An online space that students maintain throughout their school career. It is directed by the student with guidance and support from their teachers. Students identify their best work to publish in a variety of areas that better represent who they are as a person, not just a pupil. True digital portfolios serve as a mosaic of their educational experience. It can even follow them beyond the K-12 years and serve as a professional portfolio for college applications or a job search.

Here are some ideas of what they could look like, year after year:

Of course, all of the posted artifacts of student learning are accompanied with reflection, self-assessment, and goal setting for the future. Otherwise, it’s only sharing content. Nice, but not necessary for students’ education.


DigitalPorfolio

My new book, Digital Portfolios in the Classroom: Showcasing and Assessing Student Work, is now available for pre-order through ASCD! Click on the link below for more information and read the first chapter:

http://www.ascd.org/Publications/Books/Overview/Digital-Portfolios-in-the-Classroom.aspx

What I'm Thinking

Having a Social Media Presence = Being an Active Citizen

I know about the negatives regarding social media, the detriments of being “always on”. We are distracted; we sometimes prioritize our online connections over our physical ones; we become accustomed to responding to our messages and other habit-building notifications. I don’t disagree with the sentiments…in theory. Yet social media and online interactions are where so many of our conversations now take place. To not be online gives us freedom from distraction. But when we are never on, we are absent from the larger discussion about our community and our society.

Thinking locally, our small town has an active Facebook page. People post for many reasons. Lost cat? Post the pic. Event coming up next week? Let us know the date. If someone has something to sell or donate, it is likely someone will respond with interest or, at the very least, tag another person who might be interested. Being present on social media with intentional communities such as my town’s Facebook page seems to have little downside. I might feel more connected to locals because we have more opportunities to connect, period.

Going global, the flood of information on Facebook, Instagram, and especially Twitter can be overwhelming. (Sorry Snapchat; I have yet to figure you out, and by the time I do, the kids will have moved on to the next social media.) These outlets do provide tools to stem the flow of the posts, retweets, and updates. For example, I use Twitter lists to control the feed of information around specific topics. My favorite list right now is Reliable Media Sources, a list I have built containing over 250 news outlets, journalists, and credible individuals who post links and thoughts that I can count on for accuracy.

My philosophy right now in being connected is I need to have one foot in the physical world and the other in the digital. I’ll still read the Sunday paper, but I will augment that print experience with my curated online connections. The importance of meeting people face-to-face has not diminished in my mind…yet who might I have not met had I not been active on Twitter or Facebook? Being a member of a community has been redefined. Being connected is a much more complex endeavor. It is not enough to exist only in one world or the other. The best approach for citizenship in the modern world is an integrated one.

 

What I'm Feeling

There is no such thing as an “Education Company”

Colleagues sent me a link to the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) webpage. The next convention is in Chicago, not far from where I live. “It’s not going to get any closer to us!” remarked one person.

The web banner promoting the next ISTE convention proclaimed the following statistics:

16,000 Educators

550 Education Companies

Endless Learning

Ugh.

There is no such thing as an education company. It is a contradiction in terms. Companies are focused on making money. Yes, some might have collective values in which they are committed to student learning and prioritize people in their actions. But their bottom line is making money. Not necessarily a bad thing, but there is a clear distinction. Education is/should be about guiding learners to help them realize their passions and potential.

There are technology companies, publishing companies, textbook companies, professional development companies, even educational product companies. In full disclosure, I partner with a number of these types of organizations. But there is no such as thing as an education company. Let’s do our best to remind ourselves of this fact as we decide what resources will best serve our students today and in the future.

 

What I'm Thinking

Draft: A Guide for Self-Directed Learners

During a recent instructional technology workshop related to self-directed learning, a few teachers asked for a guide for students.

At first, I was hesitant. “If we are telling students how to direct their own learning, are we defeating the purpose? Have we not taught them well enough how to create time and space for learning, break goals into small steps, seek out feedback, and publish good work for an authentic audience?” These four tenets – environment, clarity, feedback, audience – were described in my eBook. They didn’t disagree, but still…

Here is a draft of a simple guide for self-directed learners. I post this template here for feedback. Is this something you could use in your classroom? Does it set out to accomplish what is intended (to guide students to become self-directed learners)? What is missing or redundant? I appreciate your feedback!


Guide for Self-Directed Learners

1. What do you want to learn?

2. What do you believe you already know about this topic or skill?

3. What questions do you have about this topic or skill?

4. What do you hope to gain from this learning experience? What will you produce?

5. What do you need in order to be successful?

  • Time
  • Resources
  • Access
  • Mentor

6. Break down your inquiry project into clear steps that serve as smaller goals toward the bigger project. For each step, make time to get feedback about your progress:

  • Step 1:
    • Check in:    Teacher        Peer          Self
  • Step 2:
    • Check in:    Teacher        Peer          Self
  • Step 3:
    • Check in:    Teacher        Peer          Self
  • Step 4:
    • Check in:    Teacher        Peer          Self

7. How frequently do you need to work on this project to be successful, i.e. three times a week, 30 minutes each time? Make a schedule for your project.

Screen Shot 2017-06-28 at 2.11.53 PM.png

8. How will you know that your work is ready to be shared?

9. How will you share your work? Who will be your audience?

10. What might you want to learn next?

What I'm Thinking

What Engagement Really Is

I write this post on a Saturday night, a time when I should be away from my computer and enjoying the weekend. Ok, let’s retract – I am enjoying my weekend. Just not like you might imagine the typical someone enjoying their weekend.

See, I’m a writer. I’m also an educator, an elementary principal to be exact. When I write, I find joy. It’s as simple as that. This “writing thing” has been a part of my life since 2012, when I first started my blog. That small online space has grown to almost 900 subscribers and is now a collaborative forum for literacy leaders to share their ideas.

So when I write, I have this twin set of feelings. First, I enjoy writing (I’ve already said this, I know). I can put down my thoughts, insights, and questions in an online space for others to read and maybe even respond to in the comments. Second, I also know that when I am writing, I am not attending to all of the other responsibilities and activities that I might otherwise. I’m not talking and listening with my family. I’m not watching television or engaging in recreational activities. I’m not present, at least with the world beyond my computer.

There is guilt with this reality. As a writer, I feel this to some degree anytime I open up my laptop. What could/should I be doing if I were not writing?

Enough of the self-involvement; let’s get to the point of this post. Engagement is not merely a passion for something that is of interest to an individual. Passion is only the half of it. To be truly engaged, a person has to not only have a strong interest in a topic or skill; they also have to dedicate themselves to this effort. Both elements have to be present in order for engagement to be realized.

Is this definition not clear enough? Then consider one of the oldest definitions of engagement. It comes from the agreement two people take when they elect to become married. Consider the typical vow one might hear at a wedding.

I promise to be true to you, in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honour you all the days of my life.

This is engagement. It’s not all rose petals and open bar. These experiences are wonderful, but they are offset by driving your kids to urgent care at two in the morning and forgetting to take the garbage out on Friday. The celebrations benefit from the perspective provided through our challenges.

When we talk about engagement in the classroom or in our lives, it isn’t merely the presence of motivation or attention-grabbing activities. Engagement is much more than that. Engagement is when we decide to pursue a passion or a dream, experience setbacks and hardships, and in spite of these situations, we choose to continue to move forward toward our goals.

My third book is coming out in August through ASCD on digital portfolios in the classroom. The process was nothing if not incredibly challenging. I had to rewrite one chapter twice. Figures for the book did not resemble what I had initially proposed. The title changed, which forced me to go back through the manuscript, line by line, to redact one word to make sure there was consistency in the language.

Did I do this out of passion alone? Heck no. At this point, I was emotionally ready to drop this project like a bad habit. Commitment? To the project…to a point, knowing that I was under contract to finish it. No, it was the combination of passion and commitment that helped me get to the finish line. This might be defined as “love”.

So…the question remains as to how true engagement relates to an educator’s position. Here are some initial thoughts.

  • If you are a teacher, do/will your students have time to explore their passions and interests during class time? Will they be given the resources, support, and feedback to become engaged in authentic and meaningful learning experiences?
  • If you are a school leader, do/will your teachers have time to investigate better practices on behalf of their students? Will they be given the resources, support, and feedback to become the teacher they have always wanted to be?

For the latter, I know I have not always lived up to this promise. No matter. Guilt is retroactive; it is always about the past, never the future. We have to move forward. Engagement is the key factor in student and teacher success. Passion and commitment are the twin roads to follow.

What I'm Thinking

How Technology Can Drive Your Beliefs and Practices

Integrating technology into education is a subtle process. It may seem like a big deal at first, especially when that interactive whiteboard goes up on the wall, or every student now has a Chromebook at their desks. But the process of technology becoming a part of a teacher’s practice is slow and indistinct.

It often appears at our doorstep for free. Either the operating system, such as Google Chrome, or the tools themselves, paid for by some district department, is made available. We think, “Okay, how can I use this technology in school?” So we look to our current practices and assess how they might fit into this new paradigm.

If our current practices do not fit, a couple things might happen.

  • We ignore the technology for some aspects of our instruction and continue as normal. This can be a good or not-so-good thing, depending on how effective our instruction was in the first place.
  • The technology and our practice make a nice pair, and we start using them in concert. Again, can be good or bad. Studies have found that this situation is what happens most often. The technology accentuates the practice for better or worse.
  • Teachers bend their practice so it can fit within the confines of the technology’s ecosystem. Accelerated Reader is a prime example. We stop conferring with kids because we start to depend on low-level quizzes to tease out understanding.

Technology companies know this. They realize that they won’t get every teacher to become a convert to their platform (see the first example). They also realize that the majority of educators, when presented with technology that is easy to implement, will adopt it. Easy to implement…this is a strong indicator that the technology is a) not improving practice, and b) is likely driving instruction. Nevermind that professional educators may have had zero input into the production of these digital tools. Technology becomes a solution to a problem we did not know existed until now.

So what are the problems? Likely, they were invented by the companies themselves. “Bogged down by grades? Try our platform to save you time and give your students better feedback!” Maybe this is a problem. Yet we can get rid of grades and provide more qualitative feedback on student work without a significant integration of technology. This work starts by examining our beliefs about teaching and learning, for today and for tomorrow. Our collective thinking then leads us to reassess our current practices, which finally leads to searching for tools that help us in our mission.

Through this process, will we arrive at the very technologies that were initially introduced to us? Maybe. Maybe not. It’s hard to say unless we have examined our beliefs about what good teaching and learning should be in practice to guide our way.

 

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Image Source: Mike Cogh, Flickr