Students and teacher Rachel Foster delight in their e-portfolios

 The best and best of e-Portfolios

Above: Students and teacher Rachel Foster at City Kids in Wellington delight in their e-portfolios Software such as Blogger from Google, Microsoft’s Sway and smaller e-portfolio suites such as Storypark,…

Above: Students and teacher Rachel Foster at City Kids in Wellington delight in their e-portfolios

Software such as Blogger from Google, Microsoft’s Sway and smaller e-portfolio suites such as Storypark, Educa, Seesaw, and Kidz allow teachers and students to:

• record their work as well as goals and achievements

• work with a range of media such as video and sound as well as text

• reflect on their learning and share it with whānau.

Instead of a two-dimensional portfolio that comes home once a term or twice a year, children can upload documents, images, blogs, videos, and more to show off what they’re doing.

Parents receive notifications whenever there’s something new to view, and can feedback stories from home, says education consultant Tara Fagan.

Proponents such as Fagan see e-portfolios as an additional tool in the arsenal to engage whānau in children’s learning journey. They can also open communication lines with wider family. When auntie or another relative comments on their e-portfolio the children realise that they have a wider audience, says Fagan. As a result they often make sure they put their best effort in.

Sometimes, says Fagan, busy families don’t know the children their own offspring are interacting with during the day and many make connections outside of school as a result of the group stories on the e-portfolio.

Ebbett Park School in Hastings has only been using e-portfolios this year, but already it has been a “game changer in terms of engaging with the parents,” says principal Steve Bloor.

Bloor, whose school uses Seesaw, predicted that by the middle of this year he would have 50 per cent of parents engaged through their children’s e-portfolios. By May, that number was 70 percent and growing.

Student ownership

Yet there are teachers who cite e-portfolios as the bane of their lives and say parents never read them. Some, of course will be technophobes but given New Zealand educators’ internationally high rate of new technology uptake, the problem is more likely to be around workload. The answer to this is to get students to take ownership, upload, and peer edit, says Fagan.

In early childhood centres, however, it really does need to be the teachers who do the uploading.

Nonetheless centres are finding e-portfolios as a particularly effective way to start conversations and share learning with working parents, wider whānau and parents who may be overseas on business, says Rachel Foster, supervisor at parent run co-operative City Kids in Wellington.

Pre-schoolers often don’t have the verbal skills to tell parents what they’ve been doing with their day. If, however, the ECE teachers upload stories to the children’s e-portfolios parents receive a notification and can see in nearly real time what their children have been doing.

Foster believes Storypark has reduced teachers’ workload, not increased it and it connects City Kids’ wider whānau in a way that never happened before. Foster remembers one kuia who attended the fourth birthday party of her mokupuna at the centre and who said she felt like she knew the place thanks to the videos she had seen on Storypark.

One issue going forward for teachers and parents is the use of proprietary software. E-portfolios should be a record that travels with students as they go through from ECE centres all the way to university.

Memory sticks

One school we spoke to planned to give children their portfolios on memory sticks when they leave in Year 6. The issue there is that the memory sticks could be lost, the media deteriorate, or be incompatible with e-portfolios used by their chosen intermediate or secondary schools. What’s more children who move schools often could be disadvantaged.

On the other hand locally sourced e-portfolio apps such as Storypark and Educa can be used to link into the New Zealand Curriculum, which give them an advantage over their larger multinational cousins such as Blogger and Sway.

“Teachers can click (the content) and link to where it meets the curriculum. They can say for example ‘this learning assessment fits into well-being’ and give examples of how it fits in,” says Fagan.

She adds that it’s important for schools to choose e-portfolio apps that allow for the data to be exported to other systems so that the lifelong record isn’t lost. Schools also need to consider who owns the portfolio and who can access it. Fagan recommends that the children and their whānau own the portfolio, rather than the school.

The school must also consider who else has access. Schools such as Point England School in Auckland have their e-portfolios accessible by anyone at nz/our-blogs. The children, however, are schooled in digital citizenship to make sure that they don’t share too much in a public forum.

Getting started can be the big hurdle for some schools. Ebbett Park School’s staff voted to transition to an e-portfolio after Bloor trialled Seesaw in one classroom in term 4 last year. The response from whānau, students and teachers was such that rolling it out school-wide in term one 2016 was an easy decision.