ePortfolios: Exploring our paradigms

There are times when things happen in the course of my work and I can see that they provide me the perfect opportunity to stop and reflect. Yesterday was a great example of this because my conviction that we need to continue to look at our system and what we do inside it was “refreshed.” The interesting thing is that one of the catalysts for reflection  came from two people who don’t work inside our profession at all!

Yesterday, I co-facilitated a professional development opportunity on ePortfolios for teachers. I shared leadership duties with two of my colleagues, both of whom are digital learning specialists in our division. As always, I came away from the experience having learned as much as everyone else there! My own learning started with the lead up and planning for the day and developed as we led others through inquiry-based activities.

At the last minute, we were able to invite and include two people from a community centre in a larger town in our school division. These participants were interested in digital portfolios and the opportunities they may present for sharing between their students, the centre and the school as well as a place where students who are experiencing multiple challenges in their lives could place things they were proud of, things that represented who they are and things that advance their learning. It was an exciting partnership and proved to be an extremely beneficial addition to the day.

Prior to the day, my co-facilitators and I met on three different occasions to plan, and most importantly, sort out our own and then a shared understanding of the potential of ePortfolios as well as our ultimate purposes for the day (planning with the end in mind!) I blogged earlier about my own realizations that emerged from one of our planning sessions (Digital Thinking: Why We Have to do Better). As we continued to meet, my understandings continued to grow, along with my conviction that thinking digitally opens up opportunities for different kinds of learning in new and exciting ways.

Here are some of the gems that emerged out of the day (for me, and hopefully, others):

  • Having people from outside the system join us for the day invited us to hold a mirror to our own practices, beliefs and assumptions. It was wonderful to watch and listen to two people share in the day and reflect on what they were seeing and hearing. It was also great to hear them make sense of digital oppotunities for youth who come to their centre looking for connection and support. I saw tremendous opportunity to partner with outside agencies in ways that emerge from the students, themselves. They were excited and hungry to learn and this was so wonderful!
  • As one of my colleagues said: “It is no longer about saving; it is about sharing.” How profound. This reflects how students function in their world. Sometimes I think our paradigms really get in the way of us seeing things as they are. ePortfolios invite us to have much needed discussion with students about why we share, who to share with, when to share and how to protect ourselves. Because sharing is no longer an option, we have to talk about the best ways to do this. His statement also speaks to authentic purpose – they ways we choose to share can provide students with purposes more authentic than “for marks.” The possibilities are limitless.
  • Digital portfolios offer us ways to assess that can be much more inclusive of process. It is not just about a product; it is about how we construct a product…how we get to the product (process). ePortfolios can allow us to see a much wider picture than one assessment event can sometimes provide. This means we can offer feedback in a more timely fashion, can engage in conversations with students anytime, from anywhere and really and truly see where students are stuck and where they are ready to fly. As my colleagues and I stated it: “Connect me to your thinking through your ePortfolio!”
  • We saw evidence of the much desired “flow” when we engaged in inquiry, using an ePortfolio to document or “capture” learning. Everyone in the group could make choices, like who they would confer with, how they would show what they were learning, and how to document thier overall understanding. The collaboration process was organic and natural – they worked with others when it made sense to do so and worked on their own when that was what they needed. We have done workshops like this several times and we see the same thing every time. This is how learning could be!
  • As a facilitator, I did not have answers to questions MULTIPLE times during the day. I tried my hardest to model being perfectly okay with this. It was really nice to say to participants, “I am not sure. Let’s try something. What do you think might work?” I would love all teachers to be comfortable with this aspect of inquiry. Learning alongside others is optimal for so many reasons (this would be a blog in and of itself.)
  • We talked about the idea of “letting go” of perfection. The conversation started with an assertion that doing ePortfolios with students in grades 1-3 is so time consuming – teachers have to do every step for students. What? When we got down to it, the reason for this was because we wanted the ePortfolios to look a certain way. In the end, we decided that ePortfolios give students the opportunity to be in charge of their own learning and be proud of what they have done. IT ISN’T ABOUT US…it’s about them!
  • We don’t have to choose between digital or traditional portfolios. We can use a blended approach. We need to be open to problem-solving and adapting to meet the needs of the moment. We talked a great deal about using photographs to capture learning that happened in non-digital ways.
  • Front-end pain (for set up) = long-term gain. It may seem like we are wasting so much time establishing ePortfolios but they can pay off tenfold afterward.
  • Lastly, we talked a great deal about literacy. A statement was made early in the day about how students who were really lacking literacy skills would not be able to do ePortfolios. By the end of the day, we were talking about KINDS of literacy. We talked about using listening, viewing, speaking and representing as building blocks for reading and writing. We talked about the power of images and how ePortfolios can build on and honour literacies students already possess so we can move forward. We looked at multiple apps to support this process. By the end of the day, we all understood how the paradigms we hold can prevent us from looking openly at tools and ways of communicating that may be powerful for students. This was a profound discussion.

I continue to marvel at the gift of these professional development days. We are not engaging PD that is outside of a context and lacking in applicability. We are trying very hard to invite learning in ways that are meaningful for those who are in the room. This leads to amzing insights!

 

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