Recently I was working with primary and secondary educators at a conference about leading organisational change.
I usually start this workshop with a Socratic circle, asking colleagues to share their biggest challenge or obstacle towards adoption of technology in their school communities. As attendees rattle off bugbear after bugbear of their sticking points, I listen intently to their key messages and (attempt to) make connections from what they are describing by way of a mind map.
It is always interesting to see how varied these connections are, but ultimately, it seems that regardless of the type of school or where it is located, the problems are seemingly universal:
“Our teachers are not motivated to use the tech”
“We are still debating acquisition strategy (shared / 1:1 / BYOD)”
“Leaders higher up the scale are not supportive of my change”
“We are still trying to push the envelope to truly transform our classrooms with technology”
Adelaide, South Australia
Once everyone has had their say, I often take a deep breath before I admit a simple truth. There isn’t a silver bullet, a definitive recipe, or even a secret sauce for dealing with all of these challenges.
As I have written previously, schools can be incredibly hard places to change, and at times, difficult spaces for re-imagination to take place. Technology itself often becomes the focus of anything that is to be supported or enhanced by technology, when the reality is that it is only just one piece of the puzzle. I use the diagram below in a lot of my workshops to illustrate the point that social capital makes up most of the equation, not technology.
Driving change with technology can be particularly complex, and for some school communities, still not even well understood. Some of my favourite authors around change, leadership and re-imagining schools include Michael Fullan, David Price, Andy Hargreaves, Eric Sheninger, Guy Claxton, Clayton Christensen, John Kotter… and I could go on. But that’s not the point.
Their ideas, frameworks, strategies and even research can indicate how to drive change in our schools, and what that can look like. Whilst their suggestions on what ‘works best’ can be taken as definitive, we should be mindful of the conditions of where and how it ‘works best’.
Schools are incredibly diverse in their people, their needs, and their structures; and just because a strategy worked in my school with my team, doesn’t mean it automatically works somewhere else!
One of the resources I suggest to educators who are interested in driving change in their school community is the Google for Education Transformation Center. It still surprises me how many school leaders I interact with who have not heard of this useful resource, even though it was announced last year.
The Transformation Center is a hub of resources, materials and best practices to support schools in the change process. And whilst no magic secret sauce is offered towards transformation in schools, it does highlight success stories, case studies, and guides which have come from real schools that are driving real change.
The Center categorizes a seven element framework that educators and schools have emphasised when dealing with change:
Financing and Durability
Under each of these themes, educators can find suggested strategies and questions for consideration that can serve as an individual reflection, or a great discussion springboard at a team meeting.
There is also a resource directory where you can filter by ‘problems solved’, which contain the most common challenges reported by schools under each element of the framework, and gives related support material.
Even though our schools are different, we often face the same challenges and opportunities. The Transformation Center is a great way that members of our profession can connect more widely with educators around the globe to realize that change is hard, but possible when coupled with certain strategies for certain conditions.
In my opinion there is no generic secret sauce for change, because change depends very much on the purpose of change, the community context, and stakeholders at hand. However, The Transformation Center does reveal that through the power of a connection and sharing our practices, we can equip ourselves to move our agendas of innovation forward.
If you have your own experiences of innovation and change, consider sharing your idea to the Google for Education team for inclusion of your story as a powerful resource.
Educators, are you using the Transformation Center?
How might educators connect to drive agendas of innovation and change?
Developing the positive connotations around failure, effort, and growth mindsets is one of the most powerful gifts that we can give to our students.
People would agree that if students are not making mistakes and learning from them, they’re not developing as they should be.
I would argue that if you are not making mistakes as a teacher and learning from those, you are not developing as you should be either.
Of course, mastering the classroom curriculum is very different to mastering the fine art of teaching. However, when it comes to the professional standards for teachers, I would argue that a teacher cannot possibly develop through these standards unless they are willing to try new things, reflect, and learn from their practices.
Modern students are encouraged to take risks in their learning. Therefore, we as teachers should be encouraging ourselves to do the same. If we are not failing and learning from these failures, we really need to be asking ourselves if we are daring audaciously at all.
We are creatures of comfort
Teachers tend to find the familiarity of daily practice comforting and predictable. A new process, idea or organisational change becomes a very threat to that because it is in opposition to what we know and expect.
The human brain is hardwired to keep us safe, the consequence of which is to be habitually averse to change. We tend to stick to tried and tested units of work rather than embrace new methods. We wouldn’t want to look silly in front of our students if that new gadget or gizmo didn’t behave on the day, and we certainly wouldn’t want to deal with the mess or chaos that might ensue if we gave a bit more freedom and autonomy to students in the classroom.
Change is both hard and uncomfortable.
We plead with our students to take risks in their academic work, yet many adults in our system seem to stay frozen in time, rarely changing their classroom structure, embracing a new technology, redesigning a curriculum unit or reimagining a lesson plan.
If we are serious about providing the best possible education for our students, we need to face the reality that the traditional schooling that we have inherited is inadequate. If we want to change the way our classrooms and schools operate, then we must put the expectation upon ourselves to dare to do things differently, better and more deliberately.
Previously, I have discussed the need for schools to think and act in agile ways if they are to remain relevant for modern students. Progressive change in our schools goes against the traditional notion of schooling where educators teach masses of content in an orderly and easily digestible way that is ultimately measured on a report card or a test score. We can avoid the ‘same old, same old’ if we decide it is time for us to embrace change and approach our professional practice with a willingness to innovate, try new technologies and pedagogies, and constantly reflect upon and improve students’ classroom experiences.
Pausing to reflect
To progress is to learn more about what we don’t know, which requires a curious mindset and a willingness to be investigative by giving something a go.
All teachers should be encouraged to innovate in their classrooms if they are to reimagine the possibilities for their students. This requires thoughtful reflection around asking the right questions about the current state of the school or classroom, and thinking about where the desired outcomes should be.
This happens best when we slow down and step back. This is seemingly difficult because humans can be very task and goal orientated. Especially, when it comes to workloads, teachers can have the feeling that there should be no time for pausing and reflecting, but rather, getting on with the task at hand. It is hard for individuals, and even harder for organisations to build a culture where reflection and questioning is prioritised.
Stopping may be perceived as the antithesis of progress but, when you stop, you pause and invite questions. These can lead to insights, ideas and new possibilities. For example:
Why is teaching content decided by teachers?
Asking ‘Why’ can provide insights and offer perspectives on problems and challenges that can be used as opportunities for improvement.
What if students had genuine co-creation in the curriculum plans?
Asking ‘What if’ invites the creative imagination and brings an innovative mindset to the fore, allowing for the exploration of new possibilities in the classroom or school community.
How might we include student voices in the design of the curriculum?
Asking ‘How’ invites action and the execution of ideas, which can be explored in an iterative manner, embracing risk and failure as part of the process.
Taking a leap of faith
Organisations and schools are facing times of dramatic change, reflective of the world around us. Therefore, the school community and individual teachers need to be comfortable with constant questioning of and reflecting on current practices.
We may find that each time we challenge ourselves it becomes a little easier and that, in doing so, we gradually expand our comfort zone and deal with our fear of change. It is through deliberate practice that we can build our own capacity for change, just as we tell our students.
Every day we have the opportunity to improve ourselves. Let’s think about our own practices and the bold path and required actions towards great educational experiences for our students.
In the wise words of Dr Suess:
Today, I’m excited to formalize the #DisruptEDU pet project from the incubator. It aims to amplify disruptive thinking and actions in education by providing useful resources for people, and assist myself and others to find their tribes.
You can read more about how and why I chose to be bothered with the status-quo of education by reading these twoposts.
The DisruptEDU logo above depicts a speech bubble within a representative D. To me, amplification of disruptive thinking and ideas in our schools requires dialogue; that is, understanding perspectives from multiple sources within the school community and beyond, conversations and questioning around the current status and intended status of school as we know it, and communication of ideas that helps us to understand that it is possible to design our own relevant futures if we believe we can.
There are a few ways that people can be involved in this dialogue:
At a simple level, you can check out resources that I am collecting through a Flipboard Magazine. Useful for sharing a provocation with that fixed-mindset colleague, or to lobby your school board, or just to have a read to fuel the heart and mind.
It’s no secret that I am advocating for change in education whenever I have a captive audience. You can view relevant posts and updates by following the #DisruptEDU category on this blog, or view talks and presentations on the subject from the static #DisruptEDU page at the very top of this blog.
With the nation’s first Digital Technologies Curriculum available here and now, many schools have begun implementation into their own school settings, or are looking to do so in 2017.
As a new curriculum which brings challenges that either excite or terrify teachers, how do schools prepare themselves for successful implementation?
Below is a list of questions, key considerations, and resources that might be useful for school communities who wish to successfully implement the Digital Technologies Curriculum.
Key considerations and questions to ask in order to prepare for implementation and sustainability of the Digital Technologies Curriculum
Audit Teacher Readiness
Are teachers willing to shift?
Are teachers familiar with the curriculum?
What is their level of expertise?
Some teachers might sigh at the thought of continued ‘meddling’ with our curriculum, but we need to face reality; advancements in technology are rapidly shaping the world as we know it. It is our obligation to ensure that students are best prepared for a world which is increasingly reliant on technology. The Australian Government’s National Innovation & Science Agenda is one reflection of this response to a shifting workforce and innovation economy.
It should be of no surprise that the NMC and CoSN reported that these trends are already having an impact in schools as identified in the 2016 Horizon Report; with the idea of ‘Coding as Literacy’, and ‘Makerspaces’ as the new classroom. The report certainly puts into context the changing landscape of education in light of technology, and will remind teachers of the need to be responsive educators that provide the best possible learning for their students.
In July of this year, the ABC produced a compelling documentary titled ‘Future Proof’: 44 minutes of provocation that will ignite plenty of healthy discussion around the need to introduce concepts of Computer Science at an early age.
With several toy manufacturers placing toys that involve computer programming into the marketplace, some students are becoming exposed to certain skills and concepts of Computer Science before their teachers even deliberately provide these opportunities.
Modern students who grow up with technology are fluent with ICT, and navigate technology easily. Teachers will be called upon as expert learners to assist students to be effective at using those fluencies for productive learning, and designing solutions with technology. A key distinction between the ICT Capability in the Australian Curriculum and the Digital Technologies Curriculum, is that the Capability assists students to be effective users of ICT, whilst the Curriculum assists students to be effective creators of solutions with ICT.
Which teachers or programs can be used?
How is ICT embedded in curriculum?
How is ICT supporting Learning & Teaching programs?
The introduction of Computer Science concepts into our curriculum is unfamiliar to most teachers (I am yet to meet too many teachers that have degrees in both Education and Computer Science!)
Teachers on the front line will be the crucial linchpin to determine implementation success. TPACK is a framework that identifies the type of knowledge required for effective pedagogical practice in light of technology. Leaders should be aware that the knowledge and practice of concepts such as computational thinking or algorithms is adding another layer to the already complex problem of leveraging technology with students in the classroom.
The University of Adelaide has been pioneering teacher education of Computer Science in recent years, and offers a free MOOC for teachers to prepare them to be effective educators with the curriculum. More recently, the university has also provided access to a lending library for schools, and supporting project officers in each state. More information can be found on their website.
The Digital Technologies Hub which contains plenty of links, curriculum resources, implementation advice, and access to professional development is also an invaluable resource for schools.
Where are the strategic links between Technologies and other curriculum areas?
Is there solid planning in place for weekly, termly, semester, yearly overviews?
Schools must make deliberate decisions that consider when the knowledge and skills of the curriculum are taught, and how evidence of student’s development is captured, assessed, and reported upon. It will be up to the collaborative expertise of teachers to design cross-curricular opportunities to develop students’ knowledge and skills in purposeful and engaging units. This will require dialogue and support with a variety of stakeholders within the planning process, and should not be left to one individual, or the resident ‘technology expert’ in the school.
A question worth considering is, ‘Are our schools agile enough to evolve with society?’
Do they move quickly and easily, with clear purpose? Or are they clumsy, stiff, and slow?
Most importantly, are they responsive to changes happening in society? If so, how responsive are they, and in what way?
The Greek philosopher Heraclitus once said ‘Everything flows and nothing stays’ — a striking reminder that the only guarantee in our complex world is that change is constant. In modern society, change is occurring all around us, at a seemingly exponential rate. In particular, technology has changed the way in which we live, work, play, and socialise. Yet at times, it seems that our schools are stagnant, unresponsive, and unwilling to adapt, reinvent, and reimagine learning opportunities in order to stay relevant.
Let’s rewind only a modest 10 years ago. No iPhone existed, nor did any iPad. Instagram was unheard of, and Facebook had a mere 12 million users.
Fast forward to today, and it’s hard to argue that technology hasn’t fundamentally shifted our world as we know it.
But has technology pervaded our schools in the same way that it has augmented our lives? To a degree it has, in scattered classrooms, with teachers and leaders who recognise the potentials and pitfalls of technology, and are agile enough to adapt.
Has technology pervaded into every classroom, or has every teacher changed their processes and structure in response to technology? Not a chance.
Our ignorant inheritance
Today we live in an ‘innovation economy’. The skills required to succeed in life have intersected with the skills required to be an effective citizen. Several decades ago, well before teachers and students used the internet, it made a lot of sense to teach the facts and content of a specified curriculum. This ‘factory model’ of education, where the teacher was the ‘dictator’, was acceptable for the time, but bears little relevance for today. However, the influence of an industrial era model can still be observed in schools now.
The tragedy of this inheritance is that we hold a lot of traditional structure that has become engendered in us. Generally speaking, learners are grouped according to age, with the teacher then deciding how to unpack the specified curriculum to those groups of learners. We tend to favour the telling of content to students rather than allowing them to discover. We tend to teach to the cohort rather than personalise pathways. Innovative teaching methods that involve technology such as flipped-classrooms, blended learning, game-based learning, makerspaces, inquiry, and project-based learning are yet to become the ‘norm’ in every school community.
Above all, technology has made access to information ubiquitous. Students no longer have to rely on only the teacher to learn or discover. Yet, the majority of our schooling system reinforces that students should come to school ready to listen and memorise the content from the teacher, or risk a demotivating failure on a test.
There should be no competitive advantage on how much ‘Student A’ may know in comparison to ‘Student B’. Both have, or should have, the commodity of knowledge available to them with the swipe of a finger. Instead, both students need to be able to ask great questions, critically analyse information, form expressive opinions, create products and solutions, and collaborate and communicate with one another, with and without technology. These are the skills essential for life in today’s world.
Essentially, school as we knew it, depended on how well pupils could passively consumecontent and retain facts and knowledge from the teacher, assessed by what students knew. School as we need to know it, should depend on how well pupils can actively consume then create content, critically ascertain facts from multiple sources, and be assessed with what students do with what they know.
So we need to ask ourselves, are we consciously and actively developing these opportunities with our students in mind? Or are we falling short? As the 2016 education machine turns out the next graduates from a system that teaches and tests narrow aspects of a curriculum that any smartphone can handle, we potentially set our future generations for failure, unhappiness, and social discontent.
We need to face the facts and recognise that technology has caused disruption to our economy and society. However, embracing technology will also be one answer moving forward, with many schools having already done so. Has technology fundamentally changed the machine of education? Not yet… but it certainly has started to put the wheels in motion.
Change in our schools
With the rapid change in the last 10 years, one has to wonder what the next decade will bring. Will schools be responsive enough to meet the needs of today and tomorrow, with one eye on the present and one eye towards the future? Will they be agile enough to remain relevant for students and their parents?
Schools will need to be prepared to change, adapt, and reimagine the established machine of school as we know it.
Change is taxing and requires effort. It requires us to be comfortable with the uncomfortable. It requires us to challenge the status quo, recognising that what we have always done may not be the best solution; and being dissatisfied with ineffective and no longer relevant pedagogies, procedures, and structures. It requires relentless dialogue and shared vision with all stakeholders about the purpose of school, the alignment of our beliefs and practices, and asking the question: ‘is this best for our students right now’?
We have natural a disposition to protect the tried and tested, rather than embracing the ‘new’. This is why new and innovative ideas are difficult to launch and gain traction, as the natural response of the status quo is to favour the known road rather than the risky foreign pathway.
Creating the space for innovative change to occur requires risk, trial and error, and an open mindset. After all, no real learning happens with failure, for either students or teachers. This means schools, leaders, and teachers need to be prepared to try new techniques if we are to disrupt conventional methods of education. We also need to be prepared for the status quo push-back, and allow space for positive conflict, disturbance and uncertainty to occur, in order to find ideas that will provide the highest level of value and outcomes for all stakeholders.
Schools need to create space for innovation, and at times, tolerate the messy and chaotic rather than the predictable and ordered. (Image credit: A photo by Azrul Aziz)
The age of disruption
Examples of disruptive innovation and its impact on society can be observed at an increasing rate, as more and more organisations exploit technology and the consumer. Uber and similar ride-sharing services are changing the way in which we travel, Airbnb is changing the way we sleep abroad, and Google Cars and other autonomous vehicles are changing the way we commute, deliver, and transport goods.
The innovators behind these initiatives have a few things in common:
They are agile and responsive. They have grown quickly, and have a ‘fail fast, fail quick’ approach to rapidly improve their services.
They leverage technology to find gaps and meet the needs of clients in new ways.
They are not afraid to find problems and tackle them head on.
Schools could probably learn a lot learn from these examples!
American businessman Jack Welch once said: “If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near”. As tomorrow comes around, current and future technology trends will continue to push the boundaries of traditional schooling.
Can schools keep up with the pace of change on the ‘outside’? (Image credit: A photo by Tim Gouw)
Responding to these trends will be crucial for schools. They may struggle or embrace, dissolve or evolve with society. Those schools that are not agile or responsive may eventually be scrutinised by society. It is possible that we could see the whole notion of school questioned, and formal education challenged.
A useful resource for schools and teachers alike is the NMC Horizon Report, which discusses developments in technology, short to long term trends in education, and the associated challenges for schools. It is essential reading and research for any educator who wishes to stay abreast of the influences that will drive educational change and policy.
There are no easy answers available to shift schools in the right direction. The ‘right direction’ will need to be determined by the schools themselves, who will write their own futures. It is reliant upon the stakeholders within school communities to acknowledge the need to take appropriate action. The obvious stakeholders who wield the heaviest axe are teachers and staff leaders.
It is up to us to challenge ourselves to embrace change, so that we might evolve education to a rate that reflects evolution in the society in which we live.
It is up to us to challenge ourselves to let go of the past, recognising that it’s not about what we know from past experiences; but about being open to what could be, and what might better suit the needs of young people today.
Every decision we make contributes to this. When we teach in a certain way, question a traditional paradigm, leverage technology to new potentials, nudge a school in one direction, or influence today’s generation, we co-create what is coming next. It is up to us to be responsive. If we are passive, we will be too late. We can make change happen. We are all, each of us, practising futurists and world-makers. Let’s do so with open eyes, hearts, and minds.
Let’s think differently, learn differently, and disrupt the machine of education as we know it.
This text was originally published in the February 2016 edition of ‘Educational Technology Solutions Magazine’ and has been modified to suit this post.
According to recent figures from the USA, the Chromebook has quickly became the best selling device in Northern American educational markets and is continuing to grow in popularity (see here). But are Chromebooks really a panacea for the ever growing and ever evolving educational market? Or are they merely a fad destined to burn out in the years to come? (Netbooks, we are looking at you). And what should schools consider before dipping their toes into the Chromebook realm?
The Rise of the Chromebook
A Chromebook is a laptop of a different breed, one which runs Google’s web-based Chrome operating system. At the core, a Chromebook is designed to be used with an internet connection with most applications and data residing “in the cloud” which is accessed through the Chrome web browser.
The first Chromebooks to go on sale were manufactured exclusively by Acer and Samsung. Announced at the 2011 Google I/O Conference to much fanfare, they haven’t quite gained traction in the consumer market.
This is a different story in schools; where tight budgets exist, and when it comes to technology expenditure, bang for buck is paramount.
To date, customers from the education market have formed the most common type of user for Chromebooks. Big names like Dell, Toshiba, ASUS, Acer, Lenovo, and Hewlett Packard are competitively manufacturing a variety of Chrome devices to satisfy the market, with some companies producing up to 3 different models. The consumer here wins, spoilt for choice when it comes to size, power, form factors, warranty support, and accessories.
But under the hood, the principle of the Chromebook remains the same; they all run Google’s Chrome operating system, rely almost entirely on cloud-based storage and apps, and – most importantly for schools – cost between $300-$400, much less than a tablet or traditional laptop. They come with USB slots to support an array of devices, integrated web cameras, headphone/microphone jacks and HDMI display ports. Some manufacturers even offer cellular LTE connectivity, touch screen capability, Gorilla Glass screens, rubberised edges and anti-spill keyboards to last the distance in children’s hands.
Popularity for the device is picking up pace around the globe, like in Malaysia where the national school system utilises Chromebooks for 10 million students in their primary and secondary schools. Their efforts of integrating the web through the Chromebook and Google Apps for Education forms part of their national plan to reform its educational system (see here).
Chromebooks merge perfectly with Google Apps for Education, which is now used by more than 50 million students and teachers around the world. The productivity suite, which includes already popular apps such as Docs, Gmail, Calendar and Drive, also includes Google Classroom which allows students and teachers to collaborate on homework and other assignments in real-time.
But Chromebooks are not only limited to Google Apps products. Through the Chrome Web Store, web apps and browser extensions can be installed to increase productivity, with a bevy of apps and extensions that can enhance the technology experience for teachers and students who use Chromebooks in the classroom. Moreover, as a fully fledged web browser, a user is only limited by their imagination when it comes to tapping into any pocket of the vast World Wide Web.
Upon opening the lid of a Chromebook it boots up in seconds and prompts the user to log in with an associated Google account. Once connected the device automatically sets up the user’s profile and synchronizes the preferences, apps, bookmarks, and Drive data. (The system is even more speedy when returning from sleep mode from the closure of the lid, resuming almost instantaneously). Within moments anyone can be surfing the web, authoring Docs, or checking emails. Speed and simplicity at it’s best, having a Chromebook at one’s disposal makes it easier to get on the web and get on with it.
The secret behind the Chromebook is the operating system ChromeOS. Lightweight on resources it doesn’t require massive amounts of CPU cycles of RAM storage to run the laptop or boot from scratch. This means the end user is not paying the price for high end processors and memory storage employed with traditional operating systems. Moreover, battery life figures on Chrome devices are extremely impressive as the device efficiently consumes minimal power on basic hardware in operating modes and in hibernation.
As a thin client based on the cloud model, massive amounts of hard disk drive storage is neither required nor warranted. All Chromebooks come with minimal amounts of solid state drive space for any local files or downloads, as the whole ideology of using a Chromebook is to utilise cloud storage.
All of this “down specced” hardware equates to a lean package which means that Chromebooks are incredibly light-weight and portable machines. And considering that there are no licensing fees to pay for neither operating system nor office tools, it means that the device also becomes extremely affordable.
Updates occur automatically, don’t break the internet, and won’t take seemingly forever to install. A quick reboot when the update is ready and the user is running the most recent version of ChromeOS, which continues to improve in performance, functionality and security over time.
The Chromebook doesn’t come without it’s perceived caveats and limitations. It doesn’t run Microsoft Silverlight web applications, which some rich web interfaces require. It doesn’t run legacy software, or premier multimedia suites. However, what developers are currently achieving through a web browser using HTML5 standards of late has been very impressive and is continuing to improve.
Want to edit and produce that video on the Chromebook? Install the free WeVideo web app and edit your film in the cloud. What about editing that image with multiple layers? Install the free Pixlr web app and import your images directly from any location.
All in all, Chromebooks are an extremely affordable option as a purchased computing device, but also in the upkeep and management of the device. There are no setup times or imaging requirements. Google support most Chromebooks for up to 5 years with free ChromeOS updates. There is no need to automate backups of files.
For this reason, Chromebooks have been a hit with school deployments as they don’t require extensive IT departments to support and manage each device. To deploy technology across a classroom, school or even sector, computing devices need to be simple, manageable and secure. Chromebooks make this ideal. Administrators can make changes to a whole fleet of Chromebooks through a web-based console without even having the device physically present. Teachers can share them throughout the class, under individual student logins, for each session. Schools can set the appropriate measures for accessing content, and design the user experience with pre-determined bookmarks and apps.
With reduced overhead costs, Chromebooks are a cost-effective option to deploy technology at scale. Many schools are releasing this as an affordable option for closing the technology-equity gap whilst promoting the kind of rich digital learning that we all believe in.
This text was originally published in the June 2015 edition of ‘e-technology‘ prepared for the Australian Council for Educational Leaders and has been modified to suit this post.
E-portfolios for personal learning.
For decades on end, students in schools have been completing assignments for their teachers. Too often, these were seen only by the teacher, assessed, and then returned to the student. Often they were kept in student tubs, lockers, bags or filed under ‘bin’. Sometimes, if the student was lucky, the work was displayed on a wall or in a hallway. Teachers collected work samples as a way of informing and reporting to parents, and very rarely, taught students how to build their own portfolios of work.
With many modernised educational institutions using less paper, and the rise of digital technologies in our classroom, student work has become more easily shareable, accessible by many, and more easily organised. Consequently, teachers are turning to the use of electronic portfolios – or ‘e-portfolios‘ – for their students; which have the potential to cause a huge shift in how a teacher assigns, collects and assesses student work, as well as how students, themselves, engage in the learning process.
Ane-portfoliois an electronic record of student accomplishments; displaying student progress within a range of subject areas. The use of a portfolio brings various possibilities of collecting evidence of student learning. It allows opportunities for students to engage in a workspace for thinking, develop meta-cognitive skills, and create a passionate space for engaging in personal learning.
Having any type of portfolio (either electronic or paper-based) encourages self-regulated learning to occur. It can also be a powerful tool in terms of assessment for, as and of learning. When students own a portfolio of their learning journey, it helps give identity to who they are and understanding themselves as learners. It is also a great way of showcasing developmental learning and achievements.
Where the ‘e’ comes into it’s own with electronic portfolios, is the way in which technology helps remove barriers. Through portfolios that are stored on digital platforms, they can become interactive to multiple viewers or collaborators, as well as stored or accessed without physical limits. No longer do work samples, assessments and reflections have to be stored in a folder that resides with the student, but can be curated in a digital portfolio, thus multiplying the benefits of personal learning.
In my experience, implementing e-portfolios (Year 3&4 and Year 5&6) as part of our personal learning program has helped strengthen relationships between peers, teachers and parents alike; with regard to our children’s own journeys at school.
In the past, students and teachers relied heavily on storing mountains of paper to show the progress of learning. These would include assessments, reflections, goal-setting journals, and evidence of outcomes. They were stored in a folder or in student tubs: therein lay the problem. That folder was limited to one place in space and time, to be accessed, most likely, by only the student and teacher.
However, since digitising existing ideas of personal learning and encouraging the development of stronger meta-cognitive skills in our students, we can now securely share and celebrate a student’s journey, with everyone in the school community; students, parents and teachers alike.
Utilising this method has changed the purpose of a traditional paper-based portfolio of learning. By using an electronic platform, the communication of the journey of a student needn’t be limited to the 4 walls of the classroom, but instead, can include the whole village which supports that child. Students realise the value of sharing to a meaningful audience, telling with pride, their experiences during the learning process. They can communicate it to a community of people who care. This in turn, I believe, lifts the standard of the communication used in the e-portfolio, as well as motivating students through the processes of learning.
The students, parents and teachers all play their roles in the development of student learning at school, and this is no different when it comes to e-portfolios. Students themselves want to be proud of their achievements, parents want to see evidence of learning and academic progress, and teachers seek documentation to support successful achievement of educational standards.
This article discusses the use of e-portfolios in Primary and Secondary classrooms, and provides guidance for introducing e-portfolios with your own students.
Dictating the portfolio
Before embarking on the path towards e-portfolios, one should think carefully as to who or what is dictating the structure and purpose.
Is it the student? If so, were they to have complete ownership of the portfolio, one would hope that their personal interests would rise to the occasion with their passions being clearly visible. The e-portfolio may include space for goal setting, provision for evidence of progress, as well as an outlet for self-reflection. It would be evident that the e-portfolio caters for true choice and voice in learning, if given a level of autonomy.
Or is it the school? There might be influences coming from traditional ideas of teacher assessment upon students. Understandably, as teachers have certain requirements they need to meet, this could be a space for it. It may be an avenue where standards and achievement outcomes are reported on. It could include achievements of both academic or personal in nature. It may even be a part of graded assignment, or a requirement for graduating.
Neither student nor school influences are more important than the other, but I do think that a balance needs to exist. Whilst students choice and voice can only be a good thing, the use of an e-portfolio is also a good opportunity to include school required documentation; particularly if it allows other students, teachers and parents in the community, to have viewership of that child’s journey. Moreover, in the years to come, it might prove to be a meaningful collection and narrative which encapsulates the learner’s developments and memories of their time at school.
The e-portfolio is a collection that should be treasured and cared for. We hope that, at the end of their primary years, our students take their e-portfolios forward, even continuing to use it as a space for development, sharing and celebration.
Process versus Product
As well as the influences of the e-portfolio, some consideration should also be given to the processes and/or products at play during the teaching and learning cycle.
If the portfolio is used during the process of learning, one could expect that such a portfolio take on the use of a workspace. It could include a journal, a transactional space for learning, or a chronological archive of drafts or samples that are relevant to the learning process. There might also be an opportunity for students to receive ongoing feedback during the process from the teacher or from peers.
If the portfolio is used for presenting learning or achievements, then it may take on more of a narrative. It could have a varied purpose or audience, from sharing work with classmates, to opening the portfolio to the wider community, or even to inviting viewership and comments from a global audience. Learners might display their work in a variety of ways, such as documents, photos, videos or other creative display formats. Teachers could assess students against standards or outcomes, and use student reflections and showcases as evidence of achievement.
Once again, neither e-portfolios that take on the process, nor product, is more important than the other. What is important however, is how the e-portfolios are effectively used to enhance teaching and learning. Moreover, there is no reason why elements of each could not be used within an e-portfolio with students.
Content is king
In addition to text, most electronic platforms can be used to link and enrich multimedia.
Examples of this might be: a video that students make for a project, a screencast demonstrating new found knowledge via a demonstration or explanation, an audio recording of self-reflections, or annotated photos. Incorporating these is a great way of bringing authentic student voice, showing evidence captured during the learning process.
As the saying goes, ‘a picture tells a thousand words’. Images or videos which capture the trial and errors of an experiment, the iteration process of a document, or the award received at assembly, can not only reveal insights, but create lasting memories. Visual media also allows for those students who are not as comfortable with writing, to be able to include videos or other media as part of their learning process.
Authoring for whom?
Students love an audience, but when using electronic mediums with students, privacy protection and age-appropriate safeguards, should be of the utmost importance. If portfolios are viewable beyond the classroom, it would be worth considering putting in place a review or moderating process. Minors should be conscious of their digital identity, and should never post identifiable information online. However, Secondary teachers may use blogs which are open on the web as student e-portfolios, as a vehicle to teach and encourage positive digital identities online, in an educational context.
The right tools for the right job (empowered students)
When considering which tools will be used for student e-portfolios, 3 major elements should be addressed.
1) Storage – Where will documents, files, artefacts be kept? Will the storage medium allow viewing, interaction or collaboration if necessary?
2) Reflection – How will students reflect on their learning? Does the tool allow a space for commentary on a frequent basis? Is it easily manageable? Will it need to be reviewed before being published?
3) Communication – How will students showcase their learning? Does the tool allow text, images and various files to be meaningfully organised? Can it be shared securely with the people who need to see it?
The tool or platform which is selected may encompass all of these things. Students and teachers may use a variety of tools and apps in order to store artefacts, reflect on their learning, and communicate it to a wider audience. Below are a list of questions which will help clarify the use of the technology to store, reflect and communicate learning:
Can student work be made public or private with ease?
Can students view and comment on each other’s work?
Can the teacher provide feedback?
Are the portfolios easily transferable from year to year, as the students move through the school?
Can the student access their work and export it when they leave the school?
Does the platform allow for multiple and common file types?
Are there any costs associated in setting up the platform for students?
Can a teacher create a supervising account and generate accounts for the class? Or does the student have to do it for themselves? (Is there a minimum age to sign up?)
Can the tool be integrated into existing Learning Management Systems?
Another consideration is in relation to the range of electronic devices that students will have at their disposal. For example, if students have daily access to an internet browser via desktops or laptops, then tools such as Wix or Google Sites, which operate effectively in these environments, may be a good option. On the other hand, if students have a personal mobile device in the classroom, these web-based options may not be suitable for mobile platforms, and teachers may opt to use a platform with a mobile app such as Blogger or Evernote.
Forms of e-portfolios using digital tools
Below is a list of tools (mostly free) which can be used for student e-portfolios. Some offer educational versions which have benefits for classroom management
Shared notebooks or folders – One of the easiest ways to develop an electronic portfolio is through an online notebook collection or a folder of artefacts. Microsoft Onedrive or Google Drive can be used to store and share files which are accessible from multiple locations and devices. Note taking tools such as Microsoft Onenote, Evernote or Three Ring can act as digital books which include annotations, reflections and links to artefacts.
Collection of pages – Tools such as Glogster, Livebinders or Wikispaces can allow for students to organise their ideas into one place, using pages. Microsoft Powerpointor Google Slides could even be used in the earlier years, as a simple place for students to add weekly reflections, achievements and samples of work.
Personal websites – Building on from the idea of pages, organising a portfolio of learning in the form of a web site, can make organising content into categories and curriculum areas very easy and highly visual.Weebly and Wix are two great website builders that are suitable for older students, as these website platforms require users to be 13 years or older. The exception to this is Google Sites, which can be created legally with Google Apps for Education accounts.
Student blogs – Blogging platforms such asKidblog, Edublogs, Ning, Bloggercan be highly interactive, and are powerful for their social and interactive features.
What to do with paper?
Whilst teachers and students are now consuming increased amount of digital content, there is still place in the classroom for the paper, pencil and pen, or even the art brush.
Most modern multifunction printers now offer ‘Scan to Cloud’ functions, meaning that work samples, documents, thinking organisers or art pieces can be scanned and sent directly to Google Drive, Dropbox, Evernote or even to email accounts. Once the artefact has been digitised, it can then be included in the e-portfolio, depending on the platform.
If students or teachers have mobile devices or cameras at their disposal, these could also be used to capture images or videos of paper artefacts that could be included in the e-portfolio.
Steps to success
Prior experiences – Consider your own and your students’ prior experiences in using portfolios, web tools or social networks for personal and professional reasons. How do you, as teachers, currently use digital tools? And how do your students use them? Electronic platforms might be perceived as a ‘can of worms’ for educators, but the opportunities that digital tools bring to education should be embraced, not ignored!
Vision and purpose – Be clear as to what you wish to achieve by providing e-portfolios to your students. Determine the vision of how the electronic medium will help connect personal learning between all relevant parties. Clearly communicate those expectations to students, teachers and parents
Collecting artefacts – Determine the types of artefacts that will be collected, and how this will be done. If your teaching and learning cycle relies heavily on paper content, it would be worth investigating the move to digital mediums. Consider investing in technology for scanning paper-based content that you would like to be included in the e-portfolio.
Challenges – Think critically about the obstacles, such as student privacy, legality in using digital tools, and your existing ICT policy and documentation around the smart, safe and effective use of technology. Think about when and how e-portfolios will be updated, and from which device.
Professional Development – Create a PD plan for implementing by yourself or with your teachers. The New Zealand Ministry of Education have a fantastic resource available on their website titled ‘Digital portfolios: guidelines for beginners’. Explore the options available and decide on the tool or tools which will suit your intended purposes and access to technology. Learn and explore the tools, and consider inviting the students to be part of the learning process.
Assessment – Determine how the portfolios will be used for assessment during the teaching and learning cycle, and in turn, how you will evaluate your own effectiveness of the program.
Time and energy
Invest in an e-portfolio program that will:
allow for student identities to come shining through
encourage insightful reflections
provide the opportunity for students to make connections to prior, current and future learning
give the development of necessary contemporary literacies
show the story of deep personal learning.
Our experience with e-portfolios
(A presentation of this implementation can be viewed here)
As our school utilises Google Apps for Education, a decision was made to use a Google Site for each student e-portfolio in Years 3 to 6. Through Google Apps for Education, we were able to secure the portfolios to be viewable only to those in our school community. As students carry the same account from year to year, they can continue their eportfolio in the middle and senior primary years, accumulating into a portfolio of rich insights and showcase by the time they graduate. As students were already using Google Drive to work with files of different types, the Google ‘ecosystem’ allows students to embed items into their Sites with ease. Teachers are able to see the updates and activities occurring on each e-portfolio through the integration of Google Sites with Hapara Teacher Dashboard, a learning management system which integrates with Google Apps for Education.
A blank template which could be modified was provided to each student. This ensured that the e-portfolios would be consistent across the school and easier for the teachers to manage, but allowed the students to personalise their e-portfolio to their liking.
Existing elements of student’s paper-based personal learning folders were incorporated into the design. The site included 7 pages:
About me – a space where students can introduce themselves, reveal who they are, and share their interests and school and life experiences
Reflection journal – an announcement page that serves as a ‘mini-blog’: allowing students to post thoughts and reflections during the teaching and learning cycle
Goals– a space where students can identify long term and short term goals which are set between the student, teacher and parents at school interviews; providing evidence for the attainment in an ongoing manner
Achievements – a space where students can identify their proudest moments, in any curriculum area, over a semester basis
Showcase – a space where students can curate links to files, artefacts and media of completed projects, inquiries or learning activities
Assessment – a space where both students and teachers can provide evidence of student growth and progression based on assessments, feedback cycles and achievement of outcomes
Genius Hour – a space where students can communicate the progress of their Genius Hour projects: a passion-based inquiry, in which students have true freedom and creativity to learn about whatever they want, and present it however they desire.