Friday, January 18, 2013

Digital Portfolio System

I was fortunate to be asked to present at the Google Education Summit in Hawaii last week and during one of my sessions a participant asked how we implement our digital portfolios system. I have discussed the process in various settings, but I don’t think I ever really mapped the process out step by step in detail with diagrams, examples and templates. So, here goes.  

The Digital Portfolio Process

I break the management of student digital portfolios into three distinct stages that build off each other. First, the digitization of student work. Second, collecting the work in manner that's easily organized. Third, students publishing exemplars of the work that best reflects their interests.
Stages of Portfolio Types.


Initially this stage is the equivalent of the traditional bulk folder where anything worthwhile gets stored. Students become comfortable with the technical process of digitizing their work. This can be accomplished with any media, but generally are images or video.

Here, not every formative assessment that a students completes is digitized, but certainly the more important summative assessments. Initially this is one of the hardest steps and is dependent on a few key factors.
1) Parental consent for recording students. Though it's not difficult to collect permission slips from parents on this, there are still some who will not want to participant. In almost every instance of this, when the parents come in for conferences, and see other parents watch the recording of their child reading or scrolling through the images of their work they sign up. If there are specific legal concerns. I recommend checking out this site which covers the actual legal requirements.
2) Age of the students - My experiences has been that at roughly 5th grade on, students can be caretakers of digitization their own work. (One teacher I work with assures me her third graders are more than capable so I'm sure it's variable :)  That said, for the younger students, we have older student helpers complete the process from taking photos, videos, etc. This generally takes that burden off the teacher who simply views the shared work when collected. This example goes through the steps of an older student recording and sharing work with the teacher.   

3) Access to Hardware Of course, all of this is predicated by ready access to hardware. Again there are a couple possible scenarios here. When every student has his or own device with a camera, they can keep up with it and store them images in their own account. If it isn't a 1to1 situation, you may use a single class iPod touch where each student sets up a individual media collector [Steps to Creating a Collector Address] Or if the teacher has access to a digital camera that takes SD cards, another option is to get an Eye-Fi card and link it to a Picasaweb album so younger students set out their digital work and the teacher walks around the classroom snapping pictures that are automatically uploaded. Wherever possible students should be in charge of the recording, editing and collection process. Here's an example in Phys. Ed.

Now that students have ways to digitize their work, we setup have them set their Google Apps for Education account folder structure in Google Drive.  There are scripts and services that can automate some this process, but it’s also worth the students going through the steps to learn how to, Create a folder, Share a folder and add files and documents to that folder. 

How I explain this to my students is,
You know how your teacher has a box in her room that you put your homework into?”   
Most nod and say, “Yeah, Mr. K
This is a digital version of the same thing, if you don’t put your paper in the box in the classroom, it’s not handed in. If you don’t name if correctly and put your digital work in the correct folder, you didn't hand it in.
This doesn't mean students start to magically hand all their homework in, they will still put it in the wrong folder or not label it correctly, but this is all part of the process.

Our Google Drive Folder Structure
MS - (Shared with the account:
Grade 8
LA - Student Name
Math - Student Name
Science - Student Name
SS - Student Name

The purpose of sharing that overlying MS folder (which stands for Middle School, we use ES and HS for elementary and high school respectively) is so the account can access all work domain wide with sharing setting issues. The individual subject folders are shared with the appropriate teachers so the LA teacher will see a list of 20 or so folders all called LA - Student Name. The teacher can then move them into her own folder by class, period or whatever makes sense.
NOTE: On it’s surface folder structure mirrors the way school are cut up by age and subject, we found that initially for students and teachers, it makes the easiest transition to see a familiar setup. That said, there’s nothing stopping us from eventually reorganizing this by topic, collaborative groups or projects. Work can also be housed in multiple folders. In the Drive Dashboard, click the check beside the file or document, click the More button at the top, select Organize, hold Ctrl on Windows or Command on a Mac and click the multiple folders.


At its core, this is a list of the work to be completed by students throughout the year. It can be a list of standards or overlying themes that the work represents. We use a Spreadsheet set up as a template that students take a copy and share with their teacher and add it to a Google form. Districts may adapt the list to their needs. It’s important to note that this spreadsheet list of the summative work that students complete stays with them. Much of the work organizing and storing traditional portfolios falls onto teacher simply due to the reality of paper shuffling. The concept here is that students own their work and are expected to build that list. Parents and teachers have access and can look at the work any time they want, but the student owns it, and will go with them beyond the classroom.
NOTE: Definitions of formative and summative assessments. I’m using these terms to mean: Formative assessments are the day to day skill building work while summative assessments apply the content and skills they've accrued to create something more comprehensive. The easiest way I think of this is separating the Work and the Worker. Formative assessments are the work and summative assessments examine the student as worker. All summative assessments should lead student to a greater understanding. The Educational Portfolio template students use can include a combination of these assessments and can be updated as needed.
Here’s an example Google Site that students would go to at the beginning of the school year, click to take a copy, then fill in the form below.

and here are the steps:

The Workflow
Once the routine of getting work into the "Digital Inbox" is established, we need to make it easier for the teacher to manage the work load. It is very easy to get overwhelmed in Google Drive with so many documents being shared with the teacher. The number of documents gets really large, really quick. A couple solutions we have implemented for this is to simply use the star feature. Some teachers like to clean off their desktop with all that they accomplished that day. The problem in the Docslist is that if you remove the document, you’re removing yourself from sharing with that document. So, if you use the star on the left of your Drive Dashboard you can keep it as empty or full as you’d like. 
There are third party systems that can be added to a Google Apps domain that streamline this like, Hapara and Haiku LMS.   

We have been using a form called the Assessment Collector that organizes the work by period or assignment. The student still puts it into their shared ‘Digital Inbox’ folder, but they copy and paste the link to that work into the form. This creates a filtered list to make it easier for teachers to find and manage all their collected work. 


This final stage brings it all together. Students go to the Student Showcase Template and click the Use this Template link at the top. They rename it and embed examples of them as a quality learner. This is the equivalent of a 21st Century business card. In my district we felt that leaving school with a digital presence was so important that we gift each graduating senior with their own domain name, forwarded it to their Showcase Portfolio. Cheaper than a monogrammed pen, we buy their name as a web address for one year at which time the student can take it over or let it lapse. This address is what they give to the college interviewer or prospective boss telling about who they are as workers, learners and people. 

To be clear, this is not a Facebook page, the information here is not overly personal in nature, but represents the best this young adult has to offer. It does include a standard resume, but also focuses on the students interests. If they want to go into science, it may have a video of a science project, if they want to be an artist, it may display their artwork or music concert. Even something not necessarily academic, but showing their team winning a championship. The idea being, showing a well rounded person that any employeer or college would want.

Here are a two examples of student with different goals. Justin wants to go into video editing and his site shows numerous examples of him as an videographer, editor and director:  
While Kris highlights his academic work and the technology presentations he has done for educators. 

You can collect the links student Showcase Sites in a similar manner as the portfolio sheet using this Website Collector Form.  A couple important technical notes, first is the ease that students can move content from one stage to the next. The difficulty isn’t technical, but in completing quality work and being creative of how it’s displayed. They are reachable by just about anyone with an Internet connection. Additionally, there are tools available to move their work out of the system. This is crucial. When digital work is created in an "information silo" it’s important that there are easy mechanisms to move data out. With the Google tool set students can transfer their work using:  

The Case for Student Managed Digital Portfolios.

So what's the point of all this effort and energy?  Sure, students learn technical skills in the process of managing digitizing and managing their work. Teachers have a level of transparency that is difficult to replicate in a traditional setting, but in my opinion the real value? I think it's the personal record students build over the years. The growth they display that begins to wear away that unnatural mental split that develops over summer vacation where one grade level is thought to have little to do with the next. And finally, student can use their own learning as an easy reference, pulling it up any time they might need it. 

I want to thank a number of educators who have asked me to ‘package’ this process for some time and apologize that it has taken me so long to do so. Paul, Jeff, Don, Michael and many others, Mahalo.


  1. Reallly impressive work and helpful suggestions. I shall try to do some of this with my students.

  2. Excellent work, Kern!

    This seems to me to be a textbook example of how to approach workflow - the one element that is missing from GApps straight out-of-the-box. Where there is enough expertise (or someone like you on the team), then procedural steps like naming conventions for documents or forms for hand-in can provide a wonderful (and near-free) solution. In some circumstances, Scripts might be appropriate in automating some of those steps. And in yet other schools, a third-party (and paid) product like Teacher Dashboard could be the right answer. Whatever works...

    I'll certainly be demonstrating this to the schools I work with to show them that it is easily-achievable.

    Thanks again,


  3. Hi Kern, this is really helpful and must have taken a while to put together. Thanks for continuing to share your systems and experiences. I have learnt so much from you since our school went Google. Gotta say that your Stages One and Two are neatly taken care of by Teacher Dashboard for us :) leaving teachers to focus on the learning and teaching.
    Ka kite in NZ


  4. Thanks all!

    I agree Mark, whatever works.

    And yeah, portions of this can be replicated by Hapara which is terrific, we've had to use whatever I can cobble together for free.

  5. Anonymous7:46 PM

    Wow! This is great! Thanks so much for putting this together.

  6. Thank you. T
    This is super helpful!!