The Beginner’s Guide To Creating Digital Portfolios

The Connected Student Series:

Last week on the Connected Student Series, I discussed the ‘why’ of digital portfolios. It is imperative that in 2014, students be able to curate, archive and expand on the work they are producing in class. As an added bonus, student digital portfolios help students authentically learn important digital citizenship lessons.  Portfolios also allow students to internalize vital digital literacy skills such as creating their own digital web presence and learning to effectively and purposefully share their learning with the world. This week, I will highlight how you can make this process happen and showcase the tools you might want to consider using.

Where to Begin? Make Parents Part of the Process

Do NOT delve straight into the portfolio process. That would be a huge mistake. You must  start with the parents! If you try to publish student work online without educating parents about the importance of such an endeavor, it will most likely backfire on you. Most parents are not comfortable with this idea at first.  They learned in very isolated, linear and traditional way and that is their comfort level. You must educate them on the importance of 21st Century skills, student digital footprints and the critical need for students to develop an understanding of their  personal web presence. If you do this correctly, you should in turn get 100% buy-in. If you skip this step and try sending home a permission slip, you will not have the support you need. Support from parents is tantamount to success in this area. Trust me on this one piece of advice.

Now that you have included the parents…what type of portfolios are you looking to produce?


The Three Types of Portfolios


A process portfolio is simple. Students create a product and then later reflect on the process by answering some thought-provoking questions. The important part here is getting the students to think about their learning. This is often an important step that gets overlooked as teachers move quickly from one lesson to another. This allows kids the time to reflect, to ask more questions, or to do additional research.


This type of portfolio seeks to highlight the students’ best work. Here is where they publish the work they are most proud of and/or the work that has become important to them. Showcased work will allow students to populate their digital footprint, create a longitudinal learning inventory, and show growth over time. This is a powerful experience for students and can really increase student self-esteem and pride in their work.


This is a combo of the two portfolios above and my favorite of the three. The hybrid model allows kids to reflect on their learning and then additionally choose those pieces that they value and that show the most growth. It is through this hybrid model that students take work from a previous year and expand on it in subsequent years. This encourages students to work on a project over time or expand on a writing assignment as their skills improve.


The Process

Students can create and house their work using Google Drive, Dropbox or a folder on their desktop. There are many applications that can effectively do this, but with my experience I have found that housing student work on Google Drive is the best and easiest solution. This process teaches students a lot about information organization and allows them to share the work with others to gather any needed feedback before publishing.

Note: Remember there are probably more cameras in a classroom than people. When students don’t have a digital copy of a product, a quick click of the camera on a smartphone can easily make that happen.


Teachers collect work samples via a Google form.

I am sold on a workflow solution that includes having students turn in their work using a Google form. This is because I can ask specific questions and use those questions to  encourage deep and purposeful reflection –  and forms can provide me with a link to their work. This makes finding all student work easy without having to look through numerous different locations.



Now that all work has been collected, and appropriate collaborations and editing have happened, it is time to publish. Some people keep this part of portfolios relatively private using avatars and fake names. I disagree. I believe students need to understand early that they are publishing work under their name for the world to see. I would never have them use their last name in the lower grades, but they need to understand early the ramifications of putting information online. If you think the lower grades are too early for this…maybe you have not been to club penguin or other sites where young students routinely publish and interact with each other online. We MUST teach them early that what they do online becomes part of their digital legacy and identity.

To make publishing easier, I created a template using Google Sites for students to use. Until they understand the design process better, I wanted to make sure I modeled it for them. Here is an example:

This is a complete process. It may seem hard at first, but soon it will become automatic and worth all of the time and effort it took to get it up and running.

I will be teaching a summer workshop series  in Boston July 17th and 18th- on student digital portfolios. Join me in Cambridge, MA to learn more!


  1. John Taylor

    December 17, 2013 at 6:20 am

    Having Digital Portfolio is a great idea. If students are encouraged to do it in the school itself, I think they will be able to understand creating better work portfolio when they will start working professionally!

    Using Google Drives and Drop Box to collect work and projects done is another creative thing that students can do.

    I am going to search some downloadable templates for creating digital portfolio. Any idea or suggestion regarding that Holly?

    Thanks for the awesome article.

  2. Jmcgettigan

    December 17, 2013 at 6:35 am

    Glad you like our ePortfolio. :)

  3. Joe Beckmann

    December 18, 2013 at 4:40 pm

    Portfolios without categories of information are a waste of time: everything is in a generic bin. Some portfolios that use subject categories are only marginally better than files, since they represent “stuff I had to do” rather than the actual decisions of students to promote what they do best (your somewhat arbitrary concept of “showcase”) or to reflect on what best represents my goals (your even more arbitrary bin of “process” or “hybrid”).

    The point of a portfolio is to collect and then reflect on what kids do – and, most important – to encourage that reflection by and among the kids themselves, their parents, and teachers as a group (rather than a single, often myopic judge). The more kids are encouraged to document “good stuff” that reflect some standards they – and teachers, parents, and ultimately colleges or employers – can agree on, the easier it is to see “progress” and change that reflects kids’ own judgment and the insights they get from others.

    The portfolios kids developed from the Kellogg Foundation’s Verified Resume project (do a google on it!) included eight such categories: responsibility, teamwork, listening, inquiry, interpreting information, creativity, negotiating, and work across cultures or other divides. These came from five years of Department of Labor research on “Achieving Necessary Skills,” but, more important and relevant, they also were easy for the kids themselves to understand and to use to evaluate themselves and others.

    Don’t just create new files. Make them mean something.

  4. Ernie Delgado

    December 30, 2013 at 5:43 pm

    This is a fantastic article on the subject. Are there any website solutions that you would recommend that offer more security or specialization on student portfolios?

  5. Matt Renwick

    January 6, 2014 at 2:53 pm

    Hi Holly. I appreciate your thoughts on digital student portfolios. My school has been integrating these for the past couple of years. Although we are using Evernote primarily, I can see Google as a great way to capture student learning to help them move forward.

    Related, I co-facilitated an Education Week webinar back in October on digital student portfolios:;F:QS!10100&ShowKey=16341&partnerref=TOC& This is in anticipation of my eBook coming out, tentatively titled Digital Student Portfolios: A Whole School Approach to Connected Learning and Continuous Assessment (Powerful Learning Practice, 2014). I hope that it will be published sometime this spring. Did you get to attend this webinar? You can download it from the archives.

    Thank you for sharing Holly. I look forward to your future posts on how you are applying these tools for assessment and learning. If I can be of assistance let me know.