The concept of students documenting and reflecting on work is not new... but in the wake of standardized testing and pressurized exams, they've taken a back-seat to traditional assessment.
Schools using portfolios are typically driven by one of these questions:
How can we show we value learning when it is not directly related to an exam?
How can we see learning when it is not directly related to an exam?
How can we systematically capture learning in skills as well as knowledge?
How can we show and value growth in learning? In making mistakes?
Portfolios have been waiting for a time when exams have been canceled and when teachers are searching for new tools to use for assessment. School closures as a result of Covid-19 may offer that exact opportunity for portfolios to transition to the digital age.
At High Tech High, we used Digital Portfolios (or DP's) to document student learning. These portfolios were worked on during and after every project to varying degrees. Some teachers invested a lot of time in supporting students to create beautiful portfolios of learning... for others it was something just done at the end of a project.
These DP's were often used as a tool to help students document and reflect on the learning unfolding all around them while working with projects. They supported students in unpacking what was significant, what was challenging and how they were growing. DP's stayed with students throughout their time at High Tech High, providing an opportunity to see growth as students aged. And an opportunity to remember the experiences they had.
Digital Portfolios were not just created for the sake of creating something. Students had to use them in other student-driven assessment practices as well. Student-Led Conferences, Presentations of Learning and Exhibition almost always required students to update and show their DP.
For some time, Digital Portfolios were also public on the High Tech High homepage... creating a very authentic audience. Anyone, anywhere, anytime could see the work that individual students were doing. It motivated students to reflect deeply, document beautiful and make sure everything was spelled correctly.
As more schools use portfolios, universities are following suit. In the USA alone, over 80 higher learning institutions are now accepting portfolios in lieu of standardized test scores.
If we really want to value something other than test preparation, we need student-driven tools that capture all kinds of learning.
It's the Digital Portfolio's time to shine.