ePortfolios in the Upper Primary Classroom?

Recently, I’ve been reading about ePortfolios … e-portfolios …. and even Eportfolios (not sure which one to use!) Anyway, when I first heard the term I looked it up and immediately thought that the concept would be great to use when giving children their own online space. I’ve been introducing teachers here to class blogging … but after a time, they tend to ask me how they can give the children their own space. I can understand this – it’s exactly what led me to giving the children in my own class a page in a class wiki – then eventually their own wiki, and their own blog. The next question I’m asked is always…. ‘So – how should the pupils use the space?’ After more than two years of giving children their own online spaces, you’d think I’d have been able to answer that question straight away – but I always hesitate. I’ll attempt to reflect here on why that was.

Year One

The first attempt at giving the children an on-line space was via a page on a class wiki. There were four wikis, actually – one for each type of writing. The children either wrote class work directly on to the wiki or, if they didn’t have the typing skills, they would put on a short section of whatever they had hand written. They also had a space on our topic wiki, and they learned how to upload pictures, slideshares, videos, etc. There were even maths group problem solving spaces where they wrote about on what they’d been doing in class …. and early attempts at making group podcasts to say how they’d solved some maths problems. At some point the children were given their own blogs where they wrote about school related items.

Year Two

With my next class, I began to allow the children more freedom over how they used their on-line spaces. To begin with, I’m not sure they knew what to do with this freedom …. this quote from Anna’s blog will demonstrate what I mean:

‘Well a couple of days ago me and courtney were pestering Mrs Vass and asking her about blogs and stuff and me and courtney were a bit stuck about what we could write on our blogs.So Mrs Vass made it very clear to me anyway that a blog is like an online diary and i found it intresting because everyone in my class thinks a blog is only for school stuff and its not its like courtney has been writing about Dundee.Anyway i just wanted to make it clear that a blog is not only for school stuff so thanks Mrs Vass for telling me that!

What happened after that was just great! The children began to use their blogs for reflection – what they wanted to do when they were older, worries – and hopes – for High School, thoughts about family life, hobbies, etc. etc. They were also keen for the blog posts to be read out to their classmates, and this led to inspiring others to go home and write their own post. I’ve written a few blog posts in the past about the positive impact of giving the children more ownership over their blogs.

The children also began to use their wikis for writing imaginative stories. The quality of writing on their wikis was far superior to the writing they were producing in jotters during class time. Again, I’ve blogged about the great teaching opportunities that arose from sharing these stories on the whiteboard ….. not to mention important lessons that were learned about copyright issues 😉

So why the hesitation in recommending that other class teachers leave  children to their own devices?

Well, on reflection, it may have worked so successfully for me because the children were actually very well aware of the fact that their use of their online spaces was going to be used in the case study I was writing up for my Chartered Teacher course. Because I was going to be quoting them in my write up, permissions had to be granted by everyone involved. They were also aware that I was blogging about the whole journey, and a couple of them even left comments on my blog.

I’m not sure what would happen if children were just handed these spaces and told to ‘get on with it’ …. would it turn out to be no more that a bebo or myspace type of thing??  ….. not that I think that would be totally wrong, either – but that’s another story 🙂 What I’ve been lookng for, is something in between simply using the space for classwork and a kind of ‘laissez faire’ policy.

Could a type of ePortfolio be the answer – and if so, what form would that take? I’ve been reading a bit about ePortfolios and here are some thoughts so far ….. wee snippets taken from literature I’ve visited (apologies that there’s no direct link to original sources)

What is an ePortfolio:

  • In general, an ePortfolio is a purposeful collection of information and digital artifacts that demonstrates development or evidences learning outcomes, skills or competencies.
  • A collection of student work that tells the story of the student’s efforts, progress, or achievements 

What should they look like?

  • They should be purposeful. Without purpose, an ePortfolio is just a folder of student work
  • The student work included in the portfolio should be that which best tells the story they want to tell – so they need to justify their choice of content.
  • There should be evidence of student self-reflection

What’s the teacher’s role?

  • They will only have the desired effects if  planned for carefully
  • There needs to be clearly defined criteria to allow students to paint a picture of their efforts, growth, and achievement
  • Effective feedback should be given to students, to encourage them to observe their own learning journey
  • Assessment techniques should improve achievement and not just monitor it
  • Assessments should align with what is considered important outcomes in order to communicate the right message to students and others about what is valued

What about the pupils?

  • Students need to see samples of good self-reflection so that  thoughts and comments go beyond “I think I did OK” or ” I think I have more to learn.”
  • Criteria should identify what is most valued by students and teachers alike
  • Pupils should be monitoring their own learning so that they can adjust what they do when they perceive they are not understanding.

Well there it is! My new recommendation for next session when teachers ask about giving children their own online space.

Blogs or wikis?? I’ll suggest wikis –  I have recollections of the primary 7’s not liking the fact that their blog posts seem to disappear (archived).  Also, on a wiki, the menus at the side and the discussion facility facility on blogs  just seem to lend themselves more to the purpose?

Wow!  Writing this post has been a learning journey for me ……. and it’s only thrown up more questions that I want to find anwers to ….. time to hit the publish button 🙂

25 thoughts on “ePortfolios in the Upper Primary Classroom?

  1. Interesting stuff! Obviously many teachers will enquire about online safety, about who will “manage” the spaces, all the what-if questions… cyber bullying etc etc, who will have to check the site… But as you mentioned, many pupils will have a Bebo site etc anyway. So, wouldn’t it be better to teach them the skills of how to best represent themselves online, then let them try it, rather than hide away… but that’s another topic altogether! onto the positive…

    As you say, do you just leave them to it? I think they will need scaffolding. But I think a great deal of autonomy can be achieved in the way a task, project or outcome is phrased or worded.

    I think there is a way forward with giving compulsory tasks for the class and then gently encouraging them to submit some work online, or to choose this resource as a way of presenting their work. In a way, it is almost weaning them off be teacher led and making their own choices – but that is a much bigger topic too!

    We have a folder of pupil chosen best work, but this is hard to represent if it is a video or a voki etc, so having a dedicated online space would be of benefit here too…

    aaaaahhhh, summer ramblings, must try to get the mind in gear before mid-August!

    What about Edmodo???

    • Thanks for the comment, Rich … I see that you have as many questions as I do 🙂 I’ll try to answer them (well … the ones I think I can answer!)

      Online Safety. I’m convinced I had this covered (as much as I could have done for the age group and for the circumstances). More than happy to discuss this.

      Managing the online spaces. This wasn’t really a problem for me … how do you manage your own online spaces at the moment? The same goes for managing the children’s space – except, of course, I had total admin rights of each space 🙂 And all comments required to be moderated.

      Bebo sites? I think they learned a huge amount about using these sort of sites – but that’s discussed in detail in quite a lot of previous blog posts …. and in my dissertation research. Happy to discuss as well 🙂

      Scaffolding, compulsory tasks, weaning them off being teacher led and making their own choices? Thought I’d described that journey in this post ……. need to learn how to get my points over more precisely?

      Finally, I think that trust in pupils is a vital ingredient here, too – they want to learn, they want to be heard, but they want (and deserve) guidance, too …. ePortfolios??

      Questions 🙂

  2. think we have wires crossed, slightly. I’m all for it. Was just trying to think from point of view of many of the staff you will encounter on cpd sessions, or elsewhere. just raising some issues that others will no doubt raise!

  3. I think it sounds like a fab idea! Short and sweet!

    The thing that concerns me about it though is access to resources. I think it sounds a great idea but it would be annoying if it ended up one of those things that never gets done because you have 3 children sharing a computer in the 45 minute slot you’re allocated in the computer suite.

    When will we get better resources in schools?!

    Thanks for the post, it has definitely answered a lot of my questions!

  4. Thanks for this post, I especially liked your bullet-point definition of an e-portfolio and have a feeling I’ll be popping back to look at that again in future.

    Like you, we have been thinking about e-portfolios and how they might work. We currently have the edubuzz blogs, Glow and Google Apps (on edubuzz.org) as our main options for creating, sharing and publishing online.

    We wanted to start from knowledge of those learning activities we know to be effective (e.g. formative assessment techniques such as peer feedback and peer assessment, comment-only marking, personal reflection and parental involvement). The idea was to try to support those with technology in the best way we could in a pilot.

    Earlier in the year we discussed this with visiting award-winning Australian teacher Dan Isele, from Queensland, who told us about a system he had been successfully using called ePearl. As you’ll see, this stands for Electronic Portfolio Encouraging Reflective Learning. Our initial impressions from browsing the web site were very positive, and we plan to try it out on a small scale with some classes next session.

    • Thanks for the comment, David.

      I’ve had a look at the ePearl site and have watched the information video clips. It looks very interesting (I’ve emailed them and asked if it would be possible to have access to their Demo Site).

      It sounds like you’re much more further on with the idea of using ePortfolios with students ….. I’ve only just begun to think about the possibilities this offers.

      Do you think that my idea of using a individual wikis to host student ePortfolios might be feasible? I’d love to hear how your small scale trial works out.

  5. Hi, Mvass,

    You raise so many interesting issues, that it’s difficult to know where to start.

    1. Rome was not built in a day and an e-Portfolio cannot be built in a year. The real power of the e-Portfolio comes, as with the shoebox, in opening it several years later and reflecting how one has progressed.

    2. Perhaps on of the most powerful features of the e-Portfolio is the ability to embed a number of tools for feedback, polls, questionnaires etc related to the work in progress displayed in the e-Portfolio. This encourages peer response and collaboration.

    3. When you ask, ‘What should they look like?’ my first response is that they should look like the owner. The layout, colour schemes, avatars etc should all scream out “This is ME”. Have a look at my examples at:

    4. In your question about the teacher’s role you seem too fixated upon your own position rather than a more focussed approach to facilitating the child’s experiences. So, perhaps I would say that the teacher’s first role is to be provocative (in a nice way) to get the children to respond and build upon their own understanding.

    5. Assessment? Yes, the e-Portfolio is the quintessential place for formative feedback. After all, the Latin root of ‘assessment’ is about sitting alongside – or understanding the individual’s motives.

    6. I agree with your notes on scaffolding and guidance. But that takes a lot of understanding of individuals. Usually I suggest that some degree of advice should be built into the ‘blank’ e-Portfolio. See these two examples for Secondary school students:



    I have a lot more ideas and links that you might be interested in on my blog,

    Best Wishes,
    Ray T

    • Hi Ray … and thanks for taking the time to comment on my blog post.

      I’ll follow your lead and try to respond to each of your points.

      1. liked the shoebox analogy …..

      2. The idea of using polls, questionnaires etc for feedback is great – and there are so many freely available online tools that could be used on a wiki for the purpose.

      3. I absolutely agree with the importance of the students having ownership over the look and feel of their space. I suppose that’s one drawback of using a wiki over a blog …. there are lots of theme choices on, say, wordpress – not so many on free versions of wikispaces, etc. Havong said that, the children would have the opportunity to create their online identity in other ways (designing their avatars,
      choosing from a variety of presentation tools, etc.)

      4. The role of the teacher? Did it sound too controlling? I suppose what I meant was that there has to be criteria set down, but that this should be decided by both the students and the teacher. After that, I think that the teacher’s role should be that of a facilitator (once described to me as being ‘a guide on the side’ rather than a ‘sage on the stage’!) But I do think that this is the most difficult thing to get right?

      5. Thanks for the link to the Latin root of ‘assessment’ – I’ll definately use that again 🙂

      6. I don’t think I had thought too much about the understanding of the individuals …. I mainly work with Primary stage teachers, and hadn’t taken in to consideration the different set-ups in Secondary schools. I really liked your link to the ePortfolio example that included: “I hope that my tutors will get to know me better through this e-Portfolio and thus be the better able to advise me how to proceed (I’m all ears!)” …. Great!

      I’m off now to have a look at your blog 🙂

    • Hello Maryam! Lovely to hear from you!

      I’d love to hear all about High School. You seemed to be enjoying it a lot last time you wrote a blog post …. and I’ve been reading your comments on the Carronshore class blog, too. Sounds like 2nd year is going to be very busy 🙂

      I’m doing fine – enjoying my new job, but glad the holidays are here.

      Keep in touch 🙂

  6. Great post Margaret!
    I’ve been trying to use the idea of “evidence” (that the students need to provide to show that they have accomplished a learning outcome) with my students this year and I think that this is a really authentic way to give ownership to the students.
    You know I’ve used blogs with my class in previous years, but I was interested in your use of wikis with your class. Do you think that individual wikis are the way to go to collect this evidence? Do the kids get the feedback that they get from their blogs? But maybe a wiki as an e-portfolio doesn’t need the feedback???? What do you think?


    • Thanks for the comment, Kim.

      I think that wikis have a better format for what I had in mind. I like the idea that menus can be placed down the side – maybe the headings could be specified in the criteria? I also like the fact that you can add to the page content of a wiki. This would allow for the pupils to revisit a topic and update it (maybe at the start and the end of a term or session – they could add spoken content, or video for example?). This wouldn’t work well on a blog.

      On a wiki, the discussion area can be set up in a variety of ways. I was thinking that only certain people could be given access to this (teachers/peers). It would also be possible for teachers to provide feedback directly on the children’s pages using a different coloured font?

      If the ePortfolios are to be kept as a record of assessment, It would be easy to archive content – for example ‘My Primary 6 ePortfolio’ ‘My Primary 7 e’Portfolio’

      If I was back in class, I’d probably set up wikis to allow the children to have an ePortfolio, but I’d also give them a blog to use in a similar way as I used them last session.

      I read on twitter recently, however, that someone (sorry – can’t remember who) is in the process of setting up pupil blogs that will act as ePortfolios. It would be interesting to see how this goes …..

      It would be great to hear your thoughts!

  7. Pupils at our primary school have set up eportfolios – used blogs, forums, wikis, podcasts, video etc Making their own games with 2Simple DIY and uploading these to their eportfolios, encouraged others to visit and contribute to their learning spaces. Children control their own learning networks and learning journeys.

    • Hi Eve – and thanks for the comment. It sounds like you’re well ahead as far as using these tools with your primary age children. I’d really love to find out more. I think? we’re following each other on twitter?

      Any more information about your experience would be much appreciated … I’d love some links to your pupils’ blogs, forums, wikis, etc. Please keep in touch 🙂

      • Great blog. We won an award recently from Uniservity for innovation, creativity and for engaging the wider community but I’m certainly still learning. Are you familiar with Uniservity features? Pupils learn the technical side of it all really quickly which means we can get on and use them to encourage a more personalised learning journey. They’re putting together a showcase so will keep you posted. I’m in Worcester if you’d like a visit?

        • The UniServity website looks great – thanks for pointing me in that direction. The information about Connected Learning Communities was really interesting …. and the ‘Best Practice’ section of the website was full of inspirational ideas.

          Please do keep me posted ….. and thanks for the offer for a visit to your school. If I can swing that, I’ll be in touch 🙂

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  9. Perhaps one important point missed so far is about longevity. Having taken the trouble to help pupils build up an e-Portfolio, what happens if there is no ‘portability’ to the Secondary school or beyond? I doubt that promises of ‘interoperability’ will really materialise in the next 10-15 years! I think that it is very important to invest in a system that is future-proofed. I feel that children will get very frustrated if they have to start from scratch all over again when they move on to another school.

    But, as a Secondary (well, ex-) school teacher I really appreciate the fact that Primary school teachers are having to lay down foundations for e-Portfolio management which will go with them throughout their lives. Good on you all!

    • Thanks for this new comment, Ray

      The issues of ‘longevity’ and ‘portability’ did concern me when I set up the individual wikis and blogs with my primary 7 classes. It almost felt like I had given them an ‘online voice’ that they were destined to lose when they moved on to Secondary School.

      Your comment has helped me gather my thoughts on my experience and I think that this will be the subject matter of my next blog post.

  10. Pingback: Learning, Teaching and ICT » Online Spaces – Portability and Longevity

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