Int. Education

True E-Folios for students

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A couple days ago I shared how the 1st grade here at ISB is creating Portfolio’s for students using iPhoto. They are simple Quicktime movies that kids can start and stop with their parents as they talk about their learning.

This is a great solution for teachers in primary grades who have a digital camera in their room with them to document learning throughout the school year.

But what about true E-Portfolios that students create and reflect upon themselves? Last year as Shanghai American School we started with a vision of every middle school student having a blog as a e-folio to reflect and share their learning with teachers, parents, and in the end…the world.

Of course I left and taking my place to carry on the vision is the one and only Amanda DeCardy. As a math teacher Amanda was one of the first middle school teachers to play with the idea and later on go 100% e-folio via the blogs last year. This year as one of the Educational Technology Integrationalist for SAS she has made that vision a reality with every 6th – 8th grader having a blog as their portfolio.

It’s an easy concept once you understand how blogs work. Create a category for each subject…students collect digital documents via, mp3, images, uploads, etc. throughout the year reflecting on there learning. When it comes time for the Student-Led Conferences (SLC) students can go back through their year’s reflections pick the ones they want to share with their parents and simple add it to the Student-Led Conference Category.

Without Daniel knowing it (I randomly clicked on a student blog) I’ve used his blog as an example. I’ve shown here how the categories look on his site. As a parent you can follow your child’s learning through the school year and know what you are going to be talking about at the SLC. Feel free to browse Daniel’s site (I’m sure he’d appreciate it) to get a feel for how this works. Use the categories as your navigation and take a tour of Daniel’s learning.

Thinking long turn this blog continues to grow each year. Daniel continues to add his thinking, his reflections, his documentation of learning. As his content grows he’s able to not only reflect on what he’s learning now, but go back in history on his own blog and link to that prior knowledge and thinking from years past.

Why a blog? It’s simple and in chronological order….right or wrong that’s how are schools are set up and over the years you would be able to see the growth of the student.

Why Public? I’ve had teachers talk to me about having students reflect in a public space. One which I think is even more powerful than a private space, but others feel students reflecting openly can be dangerous. I find it to be a very rewarding learning experience personally, that’s what blogging is and students seem to take to it (not all but most). It’s teaching how to reflect, how to be honest and understanding that part of the learning process is reflection. Is there risk? Sure…there always is when you publish something, but I feel the risk is minimal to the benefits students, and educators for that matter get in return. Anyone that blogs knows what I’m talking about.

Long term advantages:

By using a blog or a common open system and adopting it school wide really allows the power of this type of portfolio publishing to show. When Daniel is in 11th grade and he’s appling to univeristies think about the depth of knowledge he has to pull from. The link he can share with universities, and what universities can find out about Daniel. It will be 5 years before Daniel graduates and we do not know what universities will be looking for or what applications will look at at that time, but I can’t help but think that this kind of website of learning, or reflection won’t help Daniel in some way.

There’s a lot that must go into this and I know that Amanda has worked hard this year getting all teachers and students to a place that this just what happens at Shanghai American School. The amount of PD for teachers and the amount of training for students in understanding what this means I’m sure has taken much of her time this year. But in the end these students will be better for it and that’s what we’re all about!

I started blogging in 2005 and found it such a powerful way to reflect and share my thinking about technology, this generation, and how we prepare students for their future not our past.


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  8. Hi Jeff,

    I have been thinking about e-portfolios lately, a very timely post. I like this idea and would love to talk to you and Amanda more about this. A few initial questions: What software are you driving the blogs with? How easy to manage? Are they hosting on their own servers? I understand the benefits of public but might not be able to convince admin/teachers/parents, is there a way to put up a barrier to general public?


    • Hi Bruce,

      At SAS and what we’re setting up here at ISB is WordPress MU (Multi-user) addition. It’s easy to install and manage and comes with all the great features of WordPress. Students can choose from over a 100 different themes and it allows them to individualize there space…which is important for the customization generation.

      Both schools are hosting it on school servers. It’s a light weight program that runs fast internally at school where much of the blogging is done and being Internationally (especially in China) where the Internet connection can sometimes be an issue this has been a good work around solution.

      You could set this up on an Intranet so it was only accessible within your school pretty easily. That way they would be private to the school community.

  9. Jeff,
    I’ve really enjoyed browsing some of the class’s blogs over the last 30 minutes. I think Amanda has hit upon a beautifully simple solution to the e-portfolio.
    They look like WordPress blogs? If so then that also means when pupils leave the school it would be a relatively simple process to export the blogs from the school server and on to their own for posterity. I think it only fair pupils have an easy way to take the portfolios on with them when they leave our care to continue their lives.

    • Yes…that’s one of the great things about using a standard system. When I was at SAS and we were just getting going with blogs. I had a 7th graders who was leaving and wanted to continue blogging. We set her up with a blogger blog and then just exported and imported her content to that blog. It worked great!

      This is also great for high school students when they graduate. If they start to get their voice in high school they can easily export and continue blogging outside of the school site. Using a common blogging platform I think is important and WordPress does a great job of keeping standard export and import features.

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  12. Diane Quirk Reply

    Thanks for this reflection on building e-folios with blogs. I’m thinking back to a post of yours a while back about the Lucy Calkins writer’s workshop. As that effort develops in your building, I’m thinking you may find some opportunities to incorporate that writing process into helping students develop writing skills as bloggers. This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately as I watch the training that’s going on in my district with the Lucy Calkins program.

    • That’s my hope Diane!

      Once we get the system set up here in Bangkok I’ll be working with our elementary teachers on how this might transfer to online writing.

  13. Dana Watts and I are introducing E-Folios (via blogs) at the International School Bangkok. We a lucky to have Jeff as our tech-Guru!

    • Jim,

      You and Dana are my early adopters here at ISB. Get ready….next year we’ll hit the ground running with a similar system to what SAS has. I’m looking forward to working with you guys!

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  15. Madeleine Brookes Reply

    Thanks for sharing this Jeff. It’s great that it is open and public – and you list all the reasons and arguments that we face as tech integrators from parents and staff. I am assuming that you have some guidelines – e.g. what is OK to post and what is not OK to post? And was/is this linked to the AUP? We introduced ‘open’ ePortolios in my previous school a few years back – one of the aims was to educate students on cyber-citizenship hoping that they would apply the safety rules to their Facebook and other social networking accounts. Things have moved on since then as students are much more cyber-safety-savvy – but still, I believe we do need to articulate some guidelines. Any advice? Thank you again for sharing this.

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  17. For all the reasons surrounding safety I’ve been hesitant to share this our kids work on the net’ but at this point I’m confident the stick here attracts a pretty healthy & sound of mind crowd so here goes….

    I began working with this years e-learning portfolios using google docs because it fit a multi-grade middle and high school unit I was doing on cloud computing. We migrated over to Google Ed. edition last year but our learning community was still getting acquainted with the various apps bundled in the package. It was a a nice way to get the kids on board with the new systems and we’ve bene using all year, updating them every quarter or so…

    We began blogging a bit later in the year… The way I see it blogs can be a part of a broader learning portfolio or visa-versa depending on scale and scope… As suggested, they could be rolled into one… However, a challenge for getting blogs going at our school was figuring out the best blog app for each grade level. Google Ed. edition does not come bundled with blogger -though I believe it should– so just simply jumping over to it was not an option –it required a bit more work. In the end I had grades 5, and 6 use blogger, and grades 7-12 go with wordpress:

    Both of these projects (eports & blogs) are naturally, works in progress, and there are conspicuous differences between the younger and older students work but that’s something one would expect as they all grow into the process at their own speed….

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  20. I’ve been toying around with the idea of using WordPress for student e-portfolios for quite some time now. My only question surrounds the ability for teachers to provide feedback to students. How easy is this to do? This is my district’s main goal in encouraging teachers to use e-portflios, but we just haven’t found the right tool to allow for reflection, feedback and revision. Any ideas?

    • Danielle,

      Teachers can just leave students a comment on their blog if the feedback is appropriate. If not it’s feedback they can give them in class. A blog in my eyes is a great portfolio platform. The use of categories to mange what you are reflecting about, the ability to upload pictures or work samples directly to the site….and if implemented across the whole school student continue to use the same blog year after year giving them years of data to pull from and reflect on their own learning.

      Shanghai American School has been using them for a couple years. I encourage you to browse their blogs to see what students are producting.

      • Hi Jeff,
        Do you find that one blogging network site is better or easier for student use than another? I know there are various blogging websites like:;;;;, etc. Would you recommend any of these sites for its ease in accessing and responding? I am new to the blogging world, so any information or input would be greatly appreciated. 🙂

        • Good question!

          I’ve used most of those that you have mentioned and I think it depends on a couple of things.

          1. What’s unblocked at your school? That’s the first question to answer…that by itself can narrow down the choices for you.

          2. How “open” are your blogs going to be? Blogger and edublogs are both open platforms meaning they are open to anyone in the world commenting on your students work. If that’s what you want…those are the best blogging platforms….as of easy of use….blogger is easier, edublog gives you more options.

          3. If you want a closed system classblogmeister is a good one. Even though you can open it to the world, it’s a great system if you need to keep your student blogs protected. It doesn’t allow all the customization as blogger or edublogs which for Middle School and High School students is very important, but it’s a nice simple blogging platform.

          So, now that I’ve completely confused you here’s my recommendations:

          Edublogs/Wordpress: Love this for High School and Middle School students as it allows them to customize the look and feel of their site and make it personal which is very important to them and to the “buy in” process.

          For elementary students who you want to take away some of those options, classblogmeister is a good choice…simple and easy to use with just a couple of themes to choose from.

          Feel free to e-mail me if you want to brainstorm some more or need other ideas. 🙂

  21. I love the idea of having students submit work in a public blogging space as it allows for numerous responses and different ways of viewing one topic. However, the safety issue is a big problem to tackle within my school distict. Do you think the safety issue can be resolved or at least monitored for younger students? I currently work with third graders and making sure that they are accessing the correct information as well as weeding out the good responses from the bad is also a concern of mine so that they get the most accurate and up to date information.

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