Monthly Archives: April 2016

Using Digital Portfolios to Demonstrate Learning

Authentic Learning


Digital Portfolios, GUHSD Presentation

This image links to my GUHSD English Summit presentation on digital portfolios.

I remember the first time I started using digital portfolios in my classes I was motivated by the idea of getting students to take part in creating online content rather than just consuming it. It was getting easier and easier for students to add to the world wide web of knowledge, and I wanted my students to know how to take part in the digital world. That was a few years ago. Since then, I continue to support digital portfolios for the value they can bring to the learning process for students. I believe that educators can use digital portfolios to train students to take authentic ownership of what they are learning and how they are learning it.


Digital Portfolios, GUHSD Presentation (1)Taking ownership of their learning process is vital to helping students see that school isn’t just something that happens to them. Students often see themselves as passive participants in the learning process. Have you ever asked a student: How do you know when you’ve learned something? The answer I frequently get from students is something along the lines of: “When I get a good grade” or “When I get a high score on a test” or “When the teacher tells me what I learned.” Good grades and high test scores are nice, but I argue that it’s more authentic for students to be able to point to a demonstration of their learning, beyond a score or a grade. In the near future, no one will care what grades or scores our students received in high school, they are going to want to know what our former students can do.

Make Thinking Visible

As a teacher, I understand how assessments can be used guide students as they developDigital Portfolios, GUHSD Presentation (3) skills. I think something is getting lost in translation, though. However much we stress learning in our classes, our students often value grades/scores more than what they have learned. As students go through school, they perceive that high scores and grades have more value than the learning that high grades and scores represent. This flawed value system is bad for all students, but it’s especially bad for students that may not necessarily value high grades/scores in the first place.

Digital Portfolios, GUHSD Presentation (5)Demonstrate Your Understanding

Digital portfolios offer us a way to train students to put more value on learning and the learning process. As a teacher in a 1:1 school, I’ve witnessed the tendency for students to passively engage in the digital world vs. actively engage in it. Our students’ tendency to be passive learners when we focus on grades and scores bleeds into being passive technology users.

But what if, rather than only having students demonstrate understanding on tests andDigital Portfolios, GUHSD Presentation (6) chasing “points” for high grades, we asked students to prove that they have learned by giving evidence of their learning? The learning demonstrated and defended by students on their digital portfolios would be a more authentic assessment of their understanding compared to a score on a test (a number) or a grade in a class (a letter). To repeat, in the near future, no one will care what grades or scores our students received in high school, they are going to want to know what our former students can do. Digital portfolios allow students to show what they can do. More than that, digital portfolios offer students a plethora of possibilities when it comes to how they want to represent their learning. With student choice comes more meaningful, personalized learning and more buy-in.

Digital Portfolios, GUHSD Presentation (7)Rethink the Audience

Digital portfolios will help our students shift away from the “is this good enough for the teacher” mentality. When we ask students to use their digital portfolio to demonstrate their learning, we should stress that making their understanding public means broadening their audience. Digital portfolios allow students to share their understanding with teachers, future teachers, parents, college admissions officials, future employers, their future selves, and their personal learning network. Students should understand that their learning enables them to join a wider conversation, to participate more broadly in the discussions that shape our world. With digital portfolios, students can learn to connect to to a wider audience.

How to Make Digital Portfolios Happen

I’m currently working to promote digital portfolios by making the collection, display, and feedback around digital portfolios as easy as possible.

While it has been slow going so far, I have seen students grapple more with some of the most valuable educational questions they can consider: What do I know? What did I learn? How do I know that I learned it?

I think digital portfolios can benefit the learning goals of every class on campus, so I am advocating for a school-wide push to incorporate digital portfolios into our instruction. I’m not talking about simply adding one more thing to our list of things to do in class. I’m talking about using digital portfolios as a way to demonstrate understanding–something we all have our students do in some way or another in all classes. What do you want your students to know? How can they demonstrate that understanding on their digital portfolios?

In order to make digital portfolios meaningful for as many teachers as possible, I would like to meet up with staff members who are willing to give insight as to how digital portfolios can serve their instructional needs. I’ve also created a guide for how to get started with digital portfolios in Google Sites. Why Google Sites? As a school in a Google Apps for Education district, Google Sites integrates very well with a majority of the web tools that our teachers are using. It’s very easy to embed docs, slides, sheets, drawings, and YouTube videos in Google Sites. Check out my guide by clicking on the image below:

screenshot of digital portfolios website

Digital Portfolio resources for getting started (Staff and Students)

Also, I’m updating this post with a link to web resources I developed for my session in digital portfolios at the 2018 East County EduCon. Click in the image below to visit that page:

Screenshot of Digital Portfolio resources page

Presentation and additional resources. Digital Portfolios: Share your Learning Story

I look forward to working with my colleagues to give students more ownership of their learning process. Thanks for reading!

Additional Reading and Resources


Last year, I was lucky enough to notice TEDxKidsElCajon being promoted on Twitter. I quickly registered for the event and had a fantastic time. Earlier this year, Liz Leother presented TEDEdClubs at the East County Tech Fest, and she happened to mention that registration for this year’s TEDxKidsElCajon was live. I was registered within minutes of Liz’ presentation.

IMG_20160417_234312It was easy to convince my 13-year-old daughter to attend with me again–she had a blast last year and she was eager to come back. Here are my pictures from the event–I highly recommend you plan to attend next year!

I was also very glad to have a handful of El Cajon Valley High School students attend as volunteers. I hope one day to provide students at ECVHS with the opportunity to share their ideas on a TED stage, so I’ve started the process to become a TEDEdClub leader (thanks again to Liz Leother for your guidance!). I already have a handful of students interested in joining the ECVTEDEdClub. I can’t wait to see how they express their ideas worth spreading.

Also in attendance at Liz Leother’s East County Tech Fest presentation was Dr. Gary Woods, Grossmont Union High School District Board Member. He and I talked briefly and it was obvious that we both agreed that TEDEdClubs could be great for GUHSD students. A few weeks later I was at a district meeting, and I got to talk with Dr. Woods and Theresa Kemper (GUHSD Assistant Superintendent). From this conversation, I was invited to TEDxElCajonSalon. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I thought perhaps the TEDxElCajonSalon event was a 2nd take of the TEDxKidsElCajon event, but I gratefully accepted the invitation to go because I figured the more TEDx events I saw in action the more I would be prepared later to help make one happen at ECVHS or GUHSD.

The TEDxElCajonSalon event was not a 2nd take of the TEDxKidsElCajon event. The venue, Irwin M Jacobs Qualcomm Hall, brought amazing presenters to the stage (Cajon Valley Superintendent David Miyashiro, Vista Superintendent Devin VodickaChief Digital Officer for Vancouver Public Schools Mark RayDirector of Professional Learning @USDMTLC Katie Martin, and many others–even Irwin Jacobs himself!). I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to listen to the great ideas shared on stage. I even heard a few good thoughts to add to a presentation that I need to finish up by Tuesday! I did feel a little out of place, as a TED novice, but I had a great time. I will say, though, that I’m pretty sure I was the only one wearing jeans (Since when does “business casual” include a suit jacket? Come on! Here are my pictures from the event–tell me if you see anyone in jeans).

IMG_20160417_234452I feel very lucky that I was able to attend both TEDxKidsElCajon and TEDxElCajonSalon. Thank you to Dr. Gary Woods and Theresa Kemper for including me in your trip to Qualcomm! Thank you to Reuben Hoffman for the great conversation throughout the day! And, again, thank you to Liz Loether and everyone at Cajon Valley Union School District working to bring this amazing TEDx presence to El Cajon.