Blogs as Web-Based Portfolios Part 2

(Part 2 of a series of blog posts to be made into a free PDF. Your feedback, ideas and thoughts are critical! Part 1)

Finding the right Web-Based Portfolio Container

Web-Based Portfolios (WBP) can come in all shapes and sizes. There are literally hundreds of programs and ways you can create a WBP. The issue then becomes which way is the right way? That I believe, needs to be determined on a school-by-school or district-by-district basis.

The most important idea to keep in mind when choosing a WBP is the flexibility it allows you in embedding content from other parts of the web. There are many amazing Web 2.0 programs that are being used in education and have embed codes that allow you to pull content from their sites and services into your WBP. VoiceThread, YouTube, Flickr, SlideShare, are just a few that students can use to create/manage content and pull that content back into their WBP. In the end, what your WBP needs to be is nothing more than a container for content of any kind or variety.

When choosing a WBP platform, understanding what its limitations are is critical to being able to know what you can fully do with the container itself.

Blogs as a Web-Based Portfolio Container

There are many reasons why blogs as WBP make sense. They are easy to use, highly customizable, allow you to embed almost anything the web has to offer, upload your own content, and they can be installed locally or hosted virtually. Blogs are a natural web-based container for portfolios. Even their reverse chronological order of placing the most relevant ideas, knowledge and understanding at the top is a way to show learning over time. Here’s what I learned today, scroll down to see what I learned yesterday. The newest learning is always on top.

Ease of Use
The basic blog post could not get much easier. Write your title here, your thinking here, and click publish over here and you’re done! It is a similar process for embedding content from somewhere else on the web. What makes blogs so easy to use is that the same interface, the same process once learned, is applied to all media.

Organization is Key

With any portfolio organization is key. Blogs have a built in organization feature in what they call categories. Much like folders on your computer only more dynamic, categories make keeping your blog organized easy.

Isabel, a 5th grade student at the International School Bangkok, has agreed to allow me to use her blog as an example for other educators to see how a blog can be used in the classroom. To the left you’ll see the categories that Isabel has created for her blog. Some of the categories, reading, science, writing, slice of lifes, are categories that her teacher has asked her to make and use for assignments and reflections from the classroom. The rest of the categories were created by her as she has written things both for class and on her own. Isabel uses her blog as a container to store her own learning over time, not all of it at school, and not all of it asked for by her teacher. The category “for specific people” has her reflecting on her 1st grade buddy, and friends.

You’ll also notice the category “for conference”. The week before her spring Student-Led Conference with her parents, she wrote learning goals to share with her parents during the conference.

Teacher Driven vs Student Owned

One key aspect of a WBP that truly shows learning overtime is having students own the space. When students feel as though the space belongs to them, there is a sense of ownership in what is posted. There is also a freedom that comes with having your own “web site” where you can talk about the things that matter to you the most. WBPs in this way become more than a teacher driven activity that must be completed. They take on a life of their own, allowing students to freely write, and create for their portfolio those aspects of their life that are most meaningful to them. The categories of “movie reviews” and “book reviews” are categories that Isabel has created on her own and used to reflect on movies she has watched and books she has read.

Many teachers feel they need to control the WBP of the students. When the WBP is seen as “just another assignment” or something else students need to do for school, the interest is lost. The sense of ownership of the portfolio is lost and students’ interest in telling their stories, reflecting on their lives quickly fades.

That’s not to say that you can not require certain posts from students within their WBPs, but you must be careful in the limits you put on students on what they can post on ‘their’ site. Allowing students to write about what they did over Spring Break, a trip they took, a book they read, a movie they watched, a game they played all has relevance to the learning of that particular student. By reflecting on these other aspects of their lives they learn to think deeper, become more introspective, and of course just write more.

I’ve seen teachers who have tried to control the content that goes within the WBP and it doesn’t take long before all interest is lost. Giving the students a sense of ownership over their WBP not only shows respect and responsibility, but allows teachers to have open conversations about cyber safety, appropriate use of the Interent, and building a postive digital footprint.

Customization Generation

This generation, more than any before it expects to be able to customize every aspects of their lives. Whether it’s their own legos, their clothes, their shoes or their technology. Customization and the ability to put your personal brand on things that belong to us is a way to show ownership. It’s important that we allow students to customize their WBP in a way that allows their personality to show through. By using a blog platform, it is simple to allow students limited choice to customize their WBP. As a school you can decide what themes (colors, layou
t, structure) you want your WBP to be. You can add themes or limit the number of options. It’s not the amount of options that matter, it’s the simple fact that there are options and that each student gets to choose the option they feel best represents their personality.

Building a WBP Blogging System

As educators it’s our job to build the systems that allow students to have WBPs to organize their thinking, reflect openly, and customize their space. There are a number of free and low cost solutions available to schools and districts today that make putting a system in place relatively easy. The hardest part will be determining what system best meets the needs of your school or district. It is important to determine if the system is scalable to the needs of the school or district, and put structures into place to ensure that the system can be maintained over time. All of these decisions need to be made locally. For me to say that it should be this way or that way without knowing the school or district is not feasible. Much like students in our schools, schools themselves are diverse places with different needs, and financial responsibilities. I am certain however, that there is a solution for every school out there. In the next section we will look at the options available to schools today and discuss the positive and negative aspects to consider when making a decision on a WBP system.