Digital Portfolios as Alternative Assessments

Written by Destiny Wagner

February 9, 2023

Digital Portfolios allow students to demonstrate their creativity and unique personalities along with fostering independence, responsibility, and ownership over their learning. With this 6-step process, students can develop critical thinking, communication, and problem solving skills while shaping their digital footprint in a positive way.

1.  Build your template, providing cues and structure to fill in.  Include assets to build engagement.  

Starting with a template gives your students some sort of structure to start their portfolio.  It can be as minimal or as detailed as you like, but you may want to start more structured, then ease up as you continue with other portfolio projects.  Some great tools to start are Google Slides or Google Sites, Microsoft OneNote, Canva, or – my favorite – Wakelet.  

With Google Slides, you can create a template and include directions in text boxes in the “gray space” next to each slide.  Including assets such as clip art or other drag and drop options is another good idea that can build engagement with students who are not quite sure where to start in their creative process.  

With Google Sites, you can create the main site’s template, share it with the class, and then assign a separate page to each student or group.

In OneNote, you can use the Notebooks Sections for instructions, assets to be included, etc.  Once the template is shared and the portfolio unpacked, the student will then be free to edit their own project.  

Wakelet already has a plethora of templates created – you can find them here.  You also have the ability to create your own and share with students.  Either way, using a Wakelet template is as simple as clicking the three dot menu at the top of the collection then clicking “copy collection”.  

2.  Share with students, providing instructions on basics, but with encouragement to create and innovate.

While starting out with a template is useful, one of the advantages of using digital portfolios is to allow for student voice and choice.  Provide some basic guidelines and instructions, and encourage their creative side by allowing flexibility in the type of elements to include.  Yes, the purpose of the portfolio is for the student to communicate back to you what they learned in a meaningful way, but also it will be something they can keep to showcase their best work for college applications, scholarships, or job interviews.  Allowing some flexibility in how the student demonstrates their knowledge shows growth over time as well as letting their personality stand out to others beyond your classroom.  

3.  Monitor the creation process and highlight outstanding work to stimulate others.

Digital portfolios are a good place to offer flexibility in student expression, but remember that you still have to grade it.  Limiting content length is expected; use this opportunity to teach your students how to be “brief but brilliant”.  A well-built rubric will ease grading time as well.  Make sure your rubric is specific enough to achieve the learning goals but loose enough to allow for creativity (how effectively the student communicates what they learned).  

Using modern sharing and collaboration tools easily allows you to monitor student progress and provide feedback along the way.  Consider creating a template of canned comments to copy and paste into the comment tool; however, make sure your comments have a purpose or intention rather than simply stating, “good job”.  Better yet, use voice feedback with a tool like Beep or Mote.  

4.  Provide access to additional tools like screen capture and video editing to enable students to create enhanced work.

The more personalized the digital portfolio, the better.  Provide students with access to screen or video tools that allow them to play to their strengths.  Are they good in front of the camera?  Great!  Show them video tools like Flip, Loom, or WeVideo.  Do they prefer to only demonstrate their knowledge with screencasts?  That’s cool too!  Show them tools such as ioradTango, or Camtasia.  There are also tools that do both like Screencast-O-Matic and Screencastify.  Allowing students to use techniques they are stronger with such as videos, links, images, audio files, and text lends itself to more student-driven learning.  Let them highlight their talents in the best way possible and create that buy-in for the student taking ownership over their own learning.  

5.  Have students turn in work for grading, but be sure to return the assignment so they can keep it for future reference.

You may want to set periodic deadlines along the way so you, the teacher, are not inundated with mountains of huge portfolios to grade at the end of your project.  Not only does this cut down on cumbersome grading time, but it allows for meaningful feedback along the way.  

Depending on the type of digital portfolio, some students will use their portfolios for purposes other than your classroom assignment – things like their CV or a business website for those budding entrepreneurs.  The portfolios also can follow the student from year to year within a subject.  For example, a senior year English teacher will have a history of the students’ writing progress from year to year or to serve as evidence for level placement.  

6.  Encourage iteration and collaboration to allow students to improve and grow as the process continues.

Building progress check points into the process is two-fold – the students know they are on track, and you as the teacher won’t be left with grading such a huge item at the end.  These checkpoints are also a great way to have students collaborate.  Rather than an advanced student getting too far ahead, have that student help those falling behind.  The student becomes a temporary teaching assistant.  In addition, if you teach different levels of the same subject, a digital portfolio is a way students can learn from each other.  For example, an AP class has a graded digital portfolio as an assessment, which can then be used as a teaching tool for on-level students.  Students benefit from other students’ knowledge by having additional study materials curated for them and presented in a different voice than the teacher’s.  

SUMMARY

What are your thoughts on digital portfolios?  How have you used them or plan to use them in your own teaching?  Every time I present this topic at a conference, the audience is invited to view and contribute to this Wakelet space.  Check it out – you may just find some gems in there, or perhaps you add a few of your own for others to use.  

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