Image courtesy of DRs Kulturarvsprojekt
Over the past few years now, I have been working on and refining my use of e-portfolios in my classroom. For those unfamiliar or only knowing a bit about what they are, e-portfolios are essentially an electronic archive of things the student does in the course of their learning. It can be made up of projects from inside or outside of the classroom and is primarily divided into two parts: the sandbox and the showcase.
The sandbox is the messy, incomplete goings on while the student is working with the language. The showcase is much more neat and orderly as it is often the finished product put on display for all to see. An example of this comes from my business English classroom as we worked on resumes/C.V.s as part of their writing component. The sandbox was only seen by myself, the students, and any other student in class that was designated as a peer-reviewer. As the student worked on his or her resume, both myself and the peer-reviewer added comments as a guide, not a judge. The student made revisions, we made comments, the student made further changes, and it went back and forth until the student felt they were happy with the results. At that point, the student could then post or print their resume to share with potential employers.
E-portfolios are not just for writing assignments. It is for anything that the student creates during his or her voyage through language learning. I have used it for presentations, pronunciation exercises, interviews, group discussions, vocabulary building, and even photo galleries (long story that includes my foray into combining my hats as digital imaging trainer and English language instructor).
So why do I love e-portofolios so much? That’s easy. It helps both myself and the student see where they are at and what they need to work on in order to achieve their goals. By making short, accessible objectives that help them move towards a larger target, students and those who are helping guide them can see what is strong and what needs more work. Since language learning is ongoing, these need to be measurable, but not absolutes. When a student completes an objective, there is the danger that they will feel they are done, yet by using an e-portfolio, students can see that they on a continuum that fluctuates, but is hopefully always moving upward. When I first started as a language instructor, students were constantly asking me ‘how good’ their English was. Without evidence, that is hard to prove. With an e-portfolio, I allow them to see for themselves. What is funny is that I almost never get that question anymore. Students know where they are and are much less likely to get upset that they aren’t making progress.
I meet with my students on a regular basis (normally once every couple of weeks) and talk about how they feel things are going. We use the e-portfolio a lot to go over why some things have happened and what successes they have had. This can even be done online and recorded if you use something like Google Hangouts. The feedback I get from students is great and I have seen it work really well for most students, and less so for others, but I never regret doing it.
Of course this is strictly anecdotal evidence based on my experience, but I hope this pushes you to test this out for yourself and for the growth of your students. Most of the teachers I have talked to about this are worried that this will add to their already crammed schedules. Truth is that it hasn’t actually added to my workload, instead it has probably reduced it somewhat (only to be filled with something else). I will try by best to fill you in with what I do. This isn’t an absolute since there are a large number of ways of doing this and all are likely just as effective.
Here are some of the ways that I have created e-portfolios and the various components within it:
- Class website – I primarily use Edmodo for it’s simplicity and flexibility, but I have also used blogs as well.
- The student showcase – I almost exclusively use blogs here. There are tons of options, but I like WordPress. For those who don’t want to have students give away information such as email addresses, I suggest KidBlog. I have students create a WordPress account simply from the fact that this will go with them as they move from my class. The showcase should be a place that grows with the student as they move throughout their life. Of course, students are allowed to choose whatever they would like and some go with Blogger or Tumblr, but since I don’t use either of those very much, I can’t provide as much assistance on the technical end of things. That isn’t all bad since sometimes this provides another learning opportunity and even peer-teaching!
- Writing (electronically made) – I use an online text editor such as TitanPad or Google Drive. While I personally use Google Drive for most of my work, I am also leery about making my students register for anything, especially in Canada where privacy laws can even make it impossible in certain situations (for another post some time in the future). Needless to say, the flexibility and simplicity of TitanPad has worked really well without a whole lot of learning. I create a password-protected page for each student and then they just work on everything there. I use the chat function to give them general feedback and can provide more detailed comments in the document itself. Free and simple. Can’t ask for more than that!
- Writing (paper-based) – Yes, I still have students work on paper from time to time. I think there is a lot of merit to it and also in situations where access it limited, this still works really well. Also, some students prefer to write things out. My students are almost always allowed to give me their work in whatever format that works for them (this has some variability, but for the most part this how things work in my class). For these paper-based projects or texts, I scan them. I have a scanner at home, but there is also a really quick on at work that has a sheet feeder. Quick and effective. I then upload these documents to Crocodoc Personal or Google Drive and add my comments there.
- Audio recording – I use audio recordings in my class for various reasons. Students can record themselves reading or talking about a subject for use in pronunciation practice. Students can record group discussions and share them with the rest of the class. Students can interview other people and then share it with the class. I tend to use a variety of tools here, depending on the students. There are online recording options such as RecordMP3.org and Croak.it, but I have started to make more use of the built in recording options on computers and especially phones to make the recordings without any additional tools.
- Video recording – Again, built in tools on the computers (webcams) and phones make it much easier than before. You can also use mailvu.com or the webcam recorder in YouTube to record and host the videos.
- Screencasts (video recording your computer screen) – Screencasts are great for having students share presentations or demonstrate how to do something. Students can run a slideshow and record video along with it. They can share pictures and describe them. I also use it to give oral feedback on their writing assignments. On the Mac, students can use QuickTime Player to record a screencast with audio and video and then download it or share it on YouTube. Online, there are a number of options, although I mainly use Screencast-O-Matic for the length and ease of use. Also, you can embed a webcam video in the screencast which makes it more personal.
- Photos – Camera phones are excellent for various purposes, but mostly for saving work we have done in class on the board or on paper as well as taking pictures of things that can be used for presentations or vocabulary building. Student can make a visual dictionary (actually, they can also add videos here). Students can also do a ‘graphic novel’ style of writing. They can also create websites or presentations. For this, I almost entirely use mobile phones here, but have them host it on Google Drive or Share.Pho.To.
- Presentations – For slide presentations, I have students host them on Reelapp without needing to register. It allows them to share the slides and even embed them in their website.
I wish I had the time or space here to go through all of the steps, but that will have to wait for another day.