Students create a truly outstanding amount of work over the course of a year. Back when everything was done on paper, most of that work was either thrown in the trash, stuffed in a drawer somewhere, or stuck in a box in the garage. How many essays, stories, you labor over during your years as a student that you’ll never see again?
Now that so much of what students create in school (and in life) is in the digital realm, teachers have an opportunity to help students value their work more and for longer. Digital portfolios allow students to collect the work they’re most proud of and see their progress over time in a tangible way.
More than that, they encourage students to take more ownership over their work. An assignment that they turn in to get a grade is something easily tossed out the next day. In comparison, an ongoing project that helps them collect the work they care most about and present it in the way that feels most natural to them – well, that’s something worth re-visiting and engaging with.
That’s especially true if you encourage students to make their digital portfolios more broadly about themselves and their interests rather than solely about their schoolwork. A great example of this is Durham, NC’s Voyager Academy Charter School, where students used their digital portfolios to learn more about themselves and record a year in their life.
Because digital portfolios live online, parents can easily access them as well and see what their kids have accomplished throughout the year. Students can share them with each other, share them with family members, and even use them as a tool for college admissions.
The sheer number of free options available for creating digital portfolios means you’ll never have to worry about justifying the costs. Your only concern will be figuring out which of the free options will work best for you.
Coming from arguably the most familiar brand name in the world, Google Sites is an obvious choice. As with many of the company’s products and tools, Google Sites is easy to use and the kind of thing students can list on a resume later in life. It allows students to build a basic website using one of a number of available templates and upload files in almost any format to showcase their work.
Ms. Computer Teacher has a series of tutorials specifically covering how to make a digital portfolio on Google Sites that can help your students get started.
Evernote is easy to use across devices and offers a lot of functionality within its free version. It’s a good tool for organizing different files and notes, but less optimized for sharing or showcasing your portfolio than some of the other options on this list.
One nice benefit it offers is how easy it is to create different types of files within the app itself. If you want to add a picture or audio file to your digital portfolio, you can open up programs within Evernote to create them. That makes it easy to capture a moment during class or record something you see outside of class, and immediately have it categorized in the right place within your profile.
For more in-depth tips, check out one Portland teacher’s experience using Evernote for digital portfolios to work with with elementary school kids.
Like both Google and Evernote, WordPress is a tool that it increasingly pays to understand in the business and work worlds. Students that get some experience with it early will likely reap the benefits long term.
Luckily, it’s pretty easy to use for basic purposes and, like the other platforms mentioned here, allows students to bring files of all different types into the portfolio they create. Students can choose from a number of free themes and craft a site that fits their personality to help them feel more ownership over the project.
They can use posts and pages to document their work throughout the year and revisit anything they’ve captured there later in life. Some students may experience a little bit of a learning curve in getting started with WordPress, but once a blog is in place, updating it is simple.
By the way, stick with WordPress.com here. The learning curve gets much more involved with WordPress.org, and you have to pay for each domain name with the latter. This page goes through all the steps to get started.
Edublogs offers a service very similar to WordPress, but is meant specifically for students. That makes for an easier interface, but a lot of the same functionality otherwise.
An Edublogs site can be set to private, so access can be restricted to just a student’s teachers and classmates if that makes the student (and more likely, the student’s parents) more comfortable. They also promise a lack of ads on all student sites, an issue that comes up occasionally with WordPress. And some school administrations may have WordPress blocked, which would make Edublogs a promising alternative.
These two options come pretty close in terms of how they work and can be used by your students, so check them both out and consider which works best for you. Edublogs offers a guide on getting started that covers all the basics.
Weebly is yet another platform that makes it easy for students to create a website using the visual template of their selection. The interface for making updates is very visually intuitive. It’s a little easier to use than some of the other options – images can be sized and placed using a drag-and-drop movement, for example. As such, it’s probably the better choice for any younger students.
Since the functionality provided by these tools is pretty similar, you’ll get a clearer idea of which one you prefer by playing around with them a little bit. You should keep in mind how difficult each option is likely to be for students of the age you work with and what kind of work they’ll be doing throughout the year. For example, a blog format makes sense if a lot of writing or reflection will be encouraged, but something like Weebly may be a better choice if images and videos will be more commonly used.
You could also consider leaving it up to your students. Exploring each of the options and making their own choice could translate into good experience for them. Knowing how to weigh a product’s features and benefits against your own preferences and strengths is a good skill to have in life. Make a few resources readily available to help them figure out on their own how to get the portfolio set up and they’ll get a good learning experience out of the deal from day one.