A significant number of K-12 teachers looking to move away from student success measures that focus on standardized testing and grades are turning towards eportfolios, online websites showcasing projects tied to learning objectives. Unfortunately for many educators using the medium, the audience they hope to garner—university admissions officers and potential employers—simply aren’t clicking.
“Our school’s original eportfolio program became these brochure websites that no one went to,” says Lisa Gottfried, New Technology High School’s digital and interactive media teacher, in an interview with EdSurge. “I always thought, ‘To what end and why do we do this? How do we make it more relevant, more shareable?’”
In 2015, educators at New Technology High School in Napa, California embarked on a mission to rehabilitate their sluggish eportfolio program and get some eyes on student work. Gottfried and Andrew Biggs, the school’s government and economics instructor, led a group of students and educators who were tasked with redesigning the program.
Gottfried wanted a platform that was accessible, shareable, allowed her students to update their work regularly and helped them build their digital brand with followers. She chose to work with Weebly, a website creation platform, in order to reach those goals and have the security she needed for students. On the platform, students were expected to do more than document what they learned; she wanted them to actively consider their audience when writing posts. In the end, her students were working on what many would describe as an eportfolio and blog hybrid.
“Instead of simply saying [in the eportfolio] how well a team did in collaboration, they needed to say, ‘We did well while collaborating and here is how you can too,’” Gottfried says of the advice she offered.
She hoped this change in approach would mean either students could learn from each others’ portfolios, or students could be teaching other educators what works in the classroom and what doesn’t work. She expected students to document their work, reach out to online communities, and to make real world connections that lead to possible employment or internships opportunities.
Gottfried frequently shares what she deems “quality postings” on her social media accounts and has had employers actively engage with the students’ posts. Karen Calhoun, a marketing director for a nonprofit called NEWS, describes her experience as an employer engaging with one student’s post about designing 3D objects with Adobe.
“It was relevant to what I do. Seeing a student in high school learning how to do it doesn’t often happen. It didn’t happen with my kids,” says Calhoun. “I was like, wow! Kids are learning graphic design with the real software.”
Calhoun didn’t have an internship available to offer the student, but she did share a few comments on the blog post to let the student know she was impressed with her skills.
Not all employers are impressed with eportfolios, however, particularly if they reveal the student has interests irrelevant to the internship.
“One of the guys at the local hospital, who has one of our interns, said when they got his resume and saw what his interests were in the portfolio, those two things didn’t match,” says Gottfried. “They went over it with him and helped him fix it. He got the job.”
She says that this type of feedback is a positive process that students go through making drafts, testing it out in the real world and making changes. “This puts them ahead of most adults,” she continues.
Gottfried notes that eportfolios with unclear audiences can confuse readers, and are often the result of classroom teachers who treat the blogs as a landing place for “diary-like” entries. To her, this type of writing limits that audience to just the people in the classroom, something she hopes to get away from. “Students have to understand who they are writing for, and that is something I have to work on with the staff,” explains Gottfried. “You have to use social media with it, to promote it. Otherwise, you are just using it for your teacher.”
Lottie Carson, a senior at New Technology High, says she enjoys the eportfolio now that the redesign has been implemented, but notes that her attempts to use it during interviews and the college application process have been thwarted.
“I brought my computer with me to show interviewers my portfolio if they wanted it, but they said the resume and cover letter were all they needed,” says Carson. “When I inquired about it with the admissions offices, they told me there were too many applications they had to look at.”
Students like Carson want to show off the hard work they have put into their portfolios, but have a hard time generating an audience—even with the redesign. EdSurge reached out to a small sampling of universities to ask if they would review submitted eportfolios. Most public institutions we surveyed, such as Pace University, said no, while private institutions like Columbia University stated that they consider everything an applicant sends in.