E-portfolios for personal learning

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.

An e-portfolio is 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&6as 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 Powerpoint or 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 as Kidblog, Edublogs, Ning, Blogger can 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.


Abrami, P., Wade, A., Pillay, V., Asian, O., Bures, E. and Bentley, C. (2008). Encouraging Self Regulated Learning Through Electronic Portfolios. In Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology. Retrieved from http://cjlt.csj.ualberta.ca/index.php/cjlt/article/view/507/238

Barrett, H. (2008). The REFLECT Initiative. In National Educational Computing Conference, 2008, 1-12. Retrieved from http://electronicportfolios.org/reflect/NECC08.pdf

Barrett, H. (2014). Electronicportfolios.org. Retrieved from http://electronicportfolios.org/

Ministry of Education (2015). Digital portfolios: guidelines for beginners [online] Available at: http://www.minedu.govt.nz/NZEducation/EducationPolicies/Schools/Initiatives/ManagedLearningEnvironments/MLEPublications/ePortfolios.aspx

Theodosiadou, D., & Konstantinidis, A. (2015). Introducing e-portfolio use to primary school pupils: Response, benefits and challenges. Journal of Information Technology Education: Innovations in Practice, 14, 17-38. Retrieved from http://www.jite.org/documents/Vol14/JITEv14IIPp017-038Theodosiadou0669.pdf

Leading a Digital School Conference 2015

This week I will be presenting 2 sessions at the 2015 Leading a Digital School Conference. Abstracts and session resources can be found below.


Google Apps for Education and BYOT

Abstract: Google is much more than a search tool – it is an extraordinary tool for education. Cloud-based technologies are now enabling “anytime and anywhere” access which has the ability to redefine learning and teaching for our staff and students. The vast suite of Google Apps and tools offer distinct advantages and powerful collaboration for its users. This session will: – Unpack the advantages and disadvantages of Google Apps For Education. – Provide resources and advice for deploying Google Apps in an educational setting. – Provide examples of Google tools in action in a primary setting. This session is intended for educators with basic knowledge of Google Apps or starting to experiment with some of Google’s offerings. It is also suitable for anyone considering whether Google Apps for Education is suitable for their school context, and if it might complement a BYOT program.



Ignited Learning through Genius Hour

Abstract: Genius Hour, inspired by Google’s 80/20 time, is a timely change from the industrial model of schooling. Time is set aside each week for students to take ultimate control of their learning. Teachers will no longer dictate the entire curriculum of the teaching and learning that is taking place in their classrooms. Students will have choice and voice in their learning as they pursue their interests and passions. It is Passion Based Inquiry Learning at its finest, and is engaging and motivating students around the globe to unprecedented levels. More information can be viewed at http://www.geniushour.com. This session will: – Explore the disruption of a traditional pedagogical approach that goes beyond the idea of flipping delivery of content, but flipping how, what and when students learn. – Discuss successes and surprises from a recent school implementation of Genius Hour. – Provide resources and advice for implementing a Genius Hour / 20 Time program in your school context.


ACER EPPC 2015 Conference – Using Google Forms to drive differentiated instruction

This week I will be co-presenting a paper at the ACER Excellence in Professional Practice Conference in Sydney with Phillip Holmes-Smith. Philip has worked closely with our school in the last few years and has been instrumental in pushing our thinking when it comes to data literacy and fluency.

The session aims to describe the process in which our school has undertaken to improve outcomes in mathematics by using Google Forms for assessing skills and concepts for and of learning. The presentation builds upon previous talks I have given (particularly at #GAFEsummit) but is more explicit in the rationale behind our initiative and the associated improvements in outcomes which are drastic.



At St. Mark’s Primary School in Dingley, Victoria, teachers have developed an effective and
efficient approach to teaching mathematics in the senior years. For several years the school was faced with NAPLAN results which indicated average performing students in mathematics. The school desired to lift this by structuring an approach to mathematics where the use of data was central to the teaching and learning process.

The teachers developed a scope and sequence of curriculum for each area of mathematics. They used them with students who were able to plot and track their learning at various stages of development. The teachers designed assessments using a free tool, Google Forms (a web based data collector). Students take the online assessment as a pre-test of their learning. The data of 125 students is captured instantaneously, the test graded automatically, and the students are sent an email with their results. They use it to plot their current stage of learning on their scope and sequence.

With a guiding hand, they make decisions and elect to position themselves at given stations to suit their progress. The teachers design activities, tasks, and pathways to deliver explicit instruction of skills and concepts in mathematics over 6 lessons. At the end of the unit, the same assessment is taken as a post test of learning.

The approach developed at the school has led to several improvements. Time and money has been saved, but most importantly, the strategy has demonstrated significant improvement in learning outcomes for students. Teachers calculate effect sizes for individual students and cohorts to track growth.

The data correlates to more longitudinal sets like NAPLAN and PAT-M which confirm the effectiveness of the approach. This presentation will unpack the data and explain the process employed in detail.

Google Apps for Education Summits – Canberra and Sydney 2015

I will be speaking at both the Canberra and Sydney Google Apps for Education Summits this March and April. I am in the process of setting up a Site for all of my training material, but in the meantime, below is a round-up of all resources from my sessions:

Unleashing the potential of Google Forms


E-portfolios made easy with GAFE


Managing your learning environment with GAFE and Chrome


Ignited learning through Genius Hour


 Deployment guide to Chromebooks



Transformed learning with Google Apps for Education

This article originally appeared in Educational Technology Solutions Issue 64 (FEB/MAR 2015)

40 million and counting. That is the number of students and teachers who use Google Apps for Education around the globe. But why are they using it? Furthermore, do schools use it to its true potential?


The power of the web

Google Apps is a suite of free productivity tools designed to help students and teachers work together more efficiently and effec­tively. It is a multi-purpose platform with a myriad of educational and instructional benefits.

At its core, Google Apps includes Gmail (webmail service), Google Drive (online documents, spreadsheets, presentations, forms, and drawings), Google Calendar (web based appoint­ments and organisation) and Google Sites (website creator); not to mention the many additional services like Hangouts, Blogger, Youtube, or Picasa which can be used with Google Apps with seamless integration

As cloud-based technologies, they are always readily available, backed up, accessible at any time and place, and available to use on any device. They remain automatically up-to-date, and are constantly being refined and improved with increased functionality (see http://goo.gl/CdPj).

Google’s foray into Education is enabling a total rethink in the way that teachers and students use technology for learning (see http://goo.gl/p4Cp4). Google Apps is an online solution that bridges the divide between learning at home or at school. It offers the opportunity for collaboration to happen in real time, irrespective of physical or digital location.

Google Apps makes it easy to share with fellow students, teachers, parents and the wid­er community. Teachers can apply the appropriate security and share settings for resources as they see fit, all via one account and one password. Simplicity and flexibility at its best, it is removing obstacles for students, teachers, and even technical departments.

From primary to tertiary institutions, students and teachers are realising the benefits of the Google Apps for Education platform. Google Apps has been growing fast, if not virally, over the last few years. There are currently over 40 million students using the service worldwide, and the number continues to grow each day. Google delivers a high quality service, at a cost-effective price, as an easy to use system, with powerful potential. With guaranteed reliability of 99.9% up­time, Google Apps is scaling at an incredible rate.

Each week on Google’s Official Enterprise Blog (http://goo.gl/ipTXOO), stories are emerging of the continued uptake of Google Apps, and the way in which they are changing communication and productivity for the better once organisations have ‘Gone Google’.

From connecting 45,000 schools across 7,000 islands in the Philippines, to equipping 4 million students in São Paulo in Bra­zil, Google Apps is bringing new and exciting opportunities to education.

As technology is developing at an ever-increasing rate, Google Apps has the potential to make communication easier; and lead us to more powerful collaborative and connected experiences. Equipping this generation of learners with modern tools makes sense. This is why many schools are adopting Google Apps for Education, an extraordinary platform for the 21st Century.


The redefinition of the “learning task”

With powerful technology comes the opportunity to design powerful learning tasks which harness the richness that digital tools offer. However, this all depends on the extent to which the technology is used effectively for such opportunities. As educators, we should not assume that the use of technology leads to the automatic enhancement of learning and teaching in our classrooms.

Instead, we should think about our deliberate practices and how they offer the opportunities to truly transform new opportunities for students which were previously inconceivable. In fact, let’s start thinking about how much of our use of technology is in fact transforming classrooms, instead of getting carried away by the simple urgency to use digital tools with our students.

Educators often talk about how apps or software are “transformational” because they are engaging or motivating, or personal devices that are in the hands of students lead to transformational “approaches”. For me, the transformative opportunities in today’s digital age with technology are when the technologies are used to connect, share and widen classrooms, which in my opinion, are scarcely met in a genuine sense.

Here are a set of 6 questions that can be used to consider how, in fact, technology is improving (or hindering) the learning process or opportunities for students (adapted from Alan November, see  http://goo.gl/wv79oL):

1) Does the task create capacity for critical thinking on the web? – The extent to which critical thinking and higher order cognitive skills are utilised with the web. The word “web” here is particularly important as it offers the opportunity to broaden perspectives, break down the barriers of place and time, and share and connect across communities.

2) Does the task enrich the possibilities for students to develop new lines of inquiry? – The extent to which the technology is used in a way that sparks curiosity and provides the avenues for students to develop and seek questions.

3) Does the task broaden the conversation via authentic audiences? – The extent to which the technology is used to flatten classroom walls and open dialogue and interaction between other students, teachers, parents, and the wider community.

4) Does the task allow opportunities for students to publish with the possibility of continuous feedback? – The extent to which the technology is used to publish student knowledge and synthesis with the opportunity of viewership and feedback from others without the restrictions of place and time.

5) Does the task allow opportunities for students to create contributions? – The extent to which the technology is used for questioning, moderating, collaborating and co-creating with others.

6) Does the task expose students to “best in the world” examples of content and/or skill? – The extent to which the technology is used to demonstrate high quality examples of the learning objectives content and/or skills.

If the answers are more no than yes when analysing the impact of technology to the task at hand, then we could suspect that transformation is not taking place.  According to the Substitution – Augmentation – Modification – Redefinition (SAMR) model by Dr Ruben Puentedura, transformation occurs when the technology has allowed for significant modification of the task and / or created new opportunities which were previously inconceivable.



Beyond substitution with Google Apps for Education.

As educators, how do we harness the richness of Google Apps to go beyond substituting the traditional tools employed in many classrooms?

Take the example of Google Docs, a light-weight word processor delivered through a browser or the use of an Android / iOS App. Let’s assume that students are crafting a piece of writing that might normally be achieved with paper and pencil.

Students could use a static word processing application to type up a draft or final piece of writing. In this case, one could argue that nothing significant has taken place except that, instead of using paper and pen, students have used a device and application to communicate their thoughts. Here, substitution of the paper and pencil has taken place.

If students drafted or published their piece using Google Docs, their piece becomes accessible from any device with an internet connection, and thus removes the physical barrier or carrying around the paper and pencil. Whilst the purpose has slightly changed, augmentation of the task has occurred.  The improvement means increased student access and word processing ability that is irrespective of neither place nor time.

If students share their Google Doc with multiple classmates then this could open the opportunity for collaboration and synergy to the task. The students might ask to receive feedback or invite input from peers or the teacher. The teacher could check the revision history of the document to monitor the activity and progress of the exercise. Through communicating and working together in a production space, modification of the initial task has taken place, and an entirely new opportunity has been created, that goes beyond paper and pen that was once private to the student.

If students share their Google Doc with ‘view’ or ‘comment’ access to a global audience then this could open the opportunity for authentic connections that go well beyond the classroom community. The task of processing words has transformed to an opportunity which requires a set of high-level thinking skills, where a stage is offered for students to share their learning beyond their local contexts.

Below are further uses of Google Apps for Education with the SAMR model.


Australian Computers in Education Conference 2014

This week I will be attending the 26th Australian Computers in Education Conference in Adelaide. I will be looking forward to meeting up with members of the ACCELN network and previous members of the ACCE Study Tour. I am also privileged to be presenting two sessions:

E-Portfolios made easy with GAFE




EdTech MasterChef Challenge: ACEC14 Edition

I will be hosting this with fellow 2013 Study Tour colleage Narissa Leung. Narissa and I attended the Iron Chef challenge at ISTE 2013, which was a major highlight for both of us. Kirsta Moroder from the EpicYEN network at ISTE kindly made their resources available and we are pleased to bring a modified version of this challenge to ACEC14. We have a website for the event hosted at bit.ly/edtechchef.

Google Apps for Education Summit Melbourne (2014)

This week the Google Apps for Education Summit rolls around to Melbourne again. All of my resources and presentations for the sessions that I am running can be found below:

E-Portfolios made EASY with GAFE

Session description




Unleashing the potential of Google Forms

Session description




Google Classroom 101

Session description



Demo Slam x3 featuring “Google Sticky Notes, Google Cloud Print, and Chrome Remote Desktop







Why schools are going Ga-Ga for Google

This text was originally published in the June 2014 edition of the Australian Educational Leader and has been modified to suit this post.


The power of the web

Figure 1 - 1024px-Google-Apps

If the web brings the opportunity to flatten our classroom walls and expand our horizons, then nothing has quite had the sledge­hammer-like effect on physical and digital barriers like Google Apps for Education.

Google Apps are a suite of productivity tools designed to help students and teachers work together more efficiently and effec­tively. It is a multi-purpose platform with myriad educational and instructional benefits.

At the core, Google Apps includes Gmail (webmail service), Google Drive (online documents, spreadsheets, presentations, forms, and drawings), Google Calendar (web based appoint­ments and organisation) and Google Sites (website creator); not to mention the many additional services like Hangouts, Blogger, Youtube, or Picasa which can be used with Google Apps with seamless integration.

As cloud-based technologies, they are always readily available, backed up, accessible at any time and place, and available to use on any device.

Unlike Google for Work, the Education suite is not only free but cost effective. Google take on the duties of many traditional tasks which IT administrators normally carry out. It means that technical staff avoid the hassle of maintaining file servers to be online, running security updates, or managing li­censes for applications. As a result, many hardware and software maintenance costs are removed, and over the long term, this will provide schools the opportunity to save for other resources.

Google’s foray into Education is enabling a total rethink in the way that teachers and students use technology for learning. Google Apps is an online solution that bridges the divide between learning at home or at school. It offers the opportunity for collaboration to happen in real time, irrespective of physical or digital location. It makes it easy to share with fellow students, teachers, parents and the wid­er community. Teachers can apply the appropriate security and share settings for resources as they see fit, all via one account and one password. Simplicity and flexibility at its best, it is removing obstacles for students, teachers, and even technical departments.

From primary to tertiary institutions, students and teachers are realising the benefits of the Google Apps for Education platform. Google Apps has been growing fast, if not virally over the last few years. There are currently over 30 million students using the service worldwide, and the number continues to grow each day.

Of course, there are the naysayers who at times do have genuine apprehension about ‘Going Google’. For example, some insti­tutions have concern that their organisational data is not hosted on their site or in their locality. There are issues around privacy and data security within the cloud. Google take this very seri­ously and are governed by a stringent privacy policy. They insist that the data is, and always will be, owned by the users within the organisation.

As with every business, Google has to make a profit to survive as a company. Their largest source of revenue is through adver­tising within their products (like Gmail and Youtube). Advertise­ments have always been turned off by default in Google Apps for Education. However this April, Google announced that adver­tisements will no longer be available within in Google Apps at all, nor would it scan emails for the purposes of collecting data for marketing.

Once schools see through these minor considerations, they are able to harness the richness that Google Apps offer. A high quality service, at a cost-effective price, as an easy to use system, with powerful potential. With guaranteed reliability of 99.9% up­time, Google Apps is scaling at an incredible rate.

Each week on Google’s Official Enterprise Blog, stories are emerging of the continued uptake of Google Apps and the way in which they are changing communication and productivity for the better once organisations have ‘Gone Google’.

From connecting 45,000 schools across 7,000 islands in the Philippines, to equipping 4 million students in São Paulo in Bra­zil, Google Apps is bringing new and exciting opportunities to education.

Locally, three of our top-tier universities (Griffith, Macquarie and Monash) joined the hundreds of tertiary institutions world­wide who have embraced Google Apps.

1.2 million students in New South Wales were migrated to Google Apps in 2010. In doing so, they were able to unify stu­dent email to one system and improve communication across campuses.

Schools and education systems around Australia are also investigating similar paths.

As technology is developing at an ever-increasing rate, it has the potential to make communication easier; and lead us to more powerful collaborative and connected experiences. Equipping this generation of learners with modern tools makes sense. This is why many schools are adopting Google Apps for Education, an extraordinary platform for the 21st Century.


Using Google Apps for Education and formative assessments

Our school has been utilising Google Apps for Education for almost two years.

Whilst there have been many benefits for the school on this platform during this time, one of the key ways in which Google Apps has had an impact on student outcomes is through the use of Google Forms for formative assessments. Google Forms can be used to design surveys or web forms to easily collect, analyse and export data.

Figure 2

Figure 2

For several years, the school has employed the use of pre- and post-assessments in mathematics. Formative assessment is used to accurately ascertain the needs of the students before the de­livery of lessons, provide direction for the student and teacher for the next stages of developmental learning, and determine the progression of each student on their own path of learning. (Figure 2)


Recently, in the Year 5 and 6 levels, the teachers began to de­velop their pre- and post-assessments using Google Forms rather than issuing the assessments on paper. Using an existing scope and sequence of curriculum in child-friendly language, they de­veloped questions to map the next stages of learning for their students in a given area of maths.


The Forms are completed online at a given point. Once results are collated, the responses are marked automatically and the test scores are emailed back to the students and teachers. This in­formation is then used for the students to develop an awareness of their understanding of the particular topic, and the teachers are able to formulate groups or stations in which they can pro­vide lessons, scaffolds and activities for the students to undertake learning.


Figure 3 - lesson

Figure 3

In this mode, students are flexible in their groupings and are able to focus on the given areas of the curriculum that they re­quire. Lessons and resources are also posted online so that stu­dents can revise or progress through concepts at their own pace at school and at home (if required). (Figure 3)


At the end of the topic, students take the same assessment as a post-test of their learning. Once again, the students receive their results and take delight in seeing how much they have developed during the given period of time.

The teachers carefully analyse the pre- and post-assessment data and use it to calculate effect sizes. Consistently, they have seen this teaching method achieve an effect size well above 0.4, easily exceeding the effects of a typical teacher and well into the zone of desired effects of highly effective teaching (Hattie, 2009 & 2010). Average effect sizes for cohorts have been observed be­tween 0.5 and 1.2, and students can also be tracked with an indi­vidual effect size. (Figure 4)

Figure 4

Figure 4


Using Forms as formative assessments has brought a lot of benefits for these students and teachers.

• There has been a large saving of paper and printing.

• Students nor teachers have to mark the assessment.

• Students immediately receive an email with their results.

• Teachers are able to track student responses in the assessment, eliminating manual data entry.

• It has assisted in making the process of learning visible to students.

• Time is saved in processing assessments, so that more time can be used for learning.

• Pre and post data is automatically collected and available for determining the effectiveness of the teaching strategies using effect sizes as a measure.


Further reading

Hattie, J (2009). Visible learning. London: Routledge.

Hattie, J (2010). Visible learning for teachers: maximising impact on learning. Routledge.


Google Classroom – first impressions

Last week I received an “early preview” of Google’s latest offering on the GAFE platform, Classroom. According to Google, it promises to save time, improve organisation, and enhance communication between teachers and students. Announced earlier in the year, a lot of educators are keen to to see how this new product will play out in schools. Classroom will be officially released later in the year.

In the past week I have been playing around with a test class with a few students at my school. I thought it might be useful for others to see and hear about a relatively unknown product at the moment.

*Disclaimer- keeping in mind that this is an “early preview” of classroom, and that I wouldn’t be surprised if further changes were made in the months to come.

Classroom in action

1) Setting up the classroom was as easy as going to classroom.google.com. As the invite was sent to my school GAFE account, it automatically logged me in (as can be seen in the top right corner). At the moment only my account can create classes but it will be interesting to see how soon teachers on our domain will also be given access. On the left of the screen there is a home button and a “hamburger” menu.


2) Inside is a settings button which takes you to your Google profile (which appears to have an integral role for students and teachers within classroom). There is also an option to toggle notifications.


3) From the home screen, clicking the + button will allow you to create a class with a title and description. A “class code” is automatically generated for the class. Users in my domain could go to classroom.google.com and use the code to sign up to the class automatically without being invited. There is a reset function to the code, I suppose in the case that unwanted users who know the code start signing up to the class.


4) The class header image can be changed, and there is a wide variety of various images to use. However, it appears that you cannot upload a custom image.


5) Within Classroom there are 2 main views. A “stream” which shows the activity in the class, and “students”, which allows you to register and notify students.


6) By clicking the “add students” button, a pop-up window brings up your contacts linked to your account. Whilst all users in my domain were searchable, I did have to go digging around for them. The most available accounts for me to select were people that I frequently converse with via email. As contacts were selected, there was an option to add them to a group. Google Groups which were previously setup were also searchable and could be selected. For teachers, it is going to be important to have Groups set up in advance so time is not wasted searching for students!


7) A confirmation appears for the users that enrolled into the class. The email function was also tested. When the icon is clicked, a pop-up window appears.


8) The pop-up is a compose message window within Gmail with the users’ addresses already in the “To:” field.


9) Once users were enrolled in the class, the announcements function was tested. As the class creator, an announcement title and comment can be posted to the stream with an option to attach an image, file from Drive, or an external web link. Users were able to comment to the discussion without requiring moderation. As the class owner I was able to delete the comments if necessary. We tried to add a a teacher account to our test class but the account behaved in the same way as a student and did not have any other privileges (it will be interesting to see if Google allows multiple teachers to manage a class)


10) As well as posting announcements, assignments could also be posted to the class. Along with the title and description, a due date and time can be set. Again, attachments can be made via upload, existing files within Drive, or external web URL’s. I elected to prepare a template in Drive with instructions for completing the assignments. When attaching a Google Doc you are given the options of allowing the students to view the file, edit the file, or making a copy for each student (which was my intention).


11) Once the assignment was set it appeared in the stream with the number of students who have “turned the assignment in” and those who have not. Students reported that they received the documents and had access to a “Turn in” button next to the blue share button in Docs, and used this to submit the task.


12) As students submitted the task, the number of “turn ins” escalated.


13) By clicking on the number of  “turn ins”, the submitted files were available for viewing. They could be opened and fully edited as needed. An assessment score could be given to students but only as a number to 100. Students could also send a note along with their submitted task. Reminders could be sent to students who had not yet submitted the task.



14) At this point I noticed that a “Classroom” folder had been set up in my Drive, inside another folder with the name of the class. Of the students who had turned assignments in, their files were appearing in this folder. The folder also contained uploads from the announcements that had been made in the class.


Pros / Cons

Overall I found Classroom easy to use, and I imagine that most teachers would find the same. At the basics, for being able to share assignments and communicate with students it does its job reasonably well, and so would be a benefit for teachers. Google has very cleverly used API’s and integrated Classroom with Drive and Gmail to make everything flow nicely. I particularly like the ability to share the class via a code to avoid the hassle of signing up individual users. Students were also able to move their documents into their own folders within drive without mucking anything up from the Classroom end.

On the other hand I found a few limitations (or perhaps areas for improvement).

  • As it is fairly basic, there is not much else one can do besides post announcements and assignments.
  • There doesn’t appear to be any way to view student’s progress or give feedback during the task. The only time the document was viewable was when it was handed in. This could be mitigated by asking students to share the file with you once they receive it.
  • The feedback score of 100 can’t be edited. It would be nice to have some language descriptors instead, or the ability to assess against a criteria or a rubric (although these could be also embedded into the assignment against a score).

The burning questions…

Can more than one teacher post announcements and assignments? No, at least not at this stage. For me working with teachers as collegiates, this poses a problem.

Will it replace HAPARA? Absolutely not. As an experienced user (and I guess biased user) of Hapara, it offers a plethora of additional functionality when using GAFE with teachers and students that is (currently) not possible with Classroom. Read Hapara’s official line here. Thinking about the way that our school currently communicates and sets assignments for students, which is at the core of Classroom, I would probably stick with the processes we have in place with Hapara than use Classroom. Having said that, if schools could not afford Hapara then Classroom would certainly be of benefit for teachers.



DLTV Webinar

This afternoon I will be hosting a webinar for (DLTV) Digital Learning and Teaching Victoria on Google Apps for Education. This webinar draws upon some of the experiences and success that myself and our school have found to enhance learning with Google Apps.

The webinar is part of a professional learning series of webinars which are free for DLTV members.

The slides for the webinar can be found here or below:

Edit: DLTV have made a recording of the webinar available here or below: