Digital portfolio is the buzzword of the week at my school, at least for me in the media center. This possible initiative has surfaced from two separate sources: Our new upper school principal and the English department chair.
At our first department chair meeting a few weeks ago, our principal asked all chairs to read "Turning the Tide," a report published by the Harvard Graduate School of Education that takes a critical look at the current college application process. The report asserts that the typical college application puts undue emphasis on grades, short stints of superficial volunteer work, and "gaming" the system, all of which increase student stress and deter meaningful learning along with real ethical engagement for students. The report also encourages colleges and high schools to turn the tide, so to speak, by changing what the application process values. High schools should encourage sustained community service, depth of experiences and studies over breadth, and a reassessment of what is considered a "good" college. Conversely, colleges should take a closer look at students' full high school experiences instead of just the 18-month sprint leading up to graduation, a practice that encourages students to artificially pad their resumes. After discussing these ideas with fellow department chairs, I remembered that I had read a TIME magazine article a few months ago that suggested digital portfolios as a way to better document student experiences leading up to the college application process. I reread the article, entitled "The New College Application" by Eliza Gray, and found that it even referenced the Harvard report. That connection was my first nudge to start investigating digital portfolio platforms.
A few days later, I had a conversation with the English department chair in which she expressed an interest in integrating digital portfolios into composition classes. In addition to typical English classes, all of our students must take at least one advanced composition class to meet GWA's graduation requirements. A portfolio of written work is already required in these classes, but after speaking with a recent graduate who had just completed an ENGL 1101 course at Georgia Tech, the department chair felt that we needed to do a better job of incorporating collaborative, multi-modal assignments in the composition curriculum. Therefore, a portfolio platform would need to showcase visual and web-based components in addition to written essays. These digital portfolios would also need to be publicly viewable on the web. She asked me if I would be interested in assisting with this project, and of course, I said I would be.
I'm currently investigating a few possible platforms to see how they'll meet GWA's needs, both in the composition classes and possibly as a way for our students to document their work for upcoming college applications. Mahara, Pathbrite, Evernote, Google Sites, Three Ring, and even Weebly have all surfaced as potential choices. Whatever we choose, I think it should be on par with what colleges are already using, so I'm leaning a little towards Mahara or Pathbrite, platforms that both partner specifically with institutions of higher learning. However, all are still options at this point. I have a meeting with the English department chair, our technology director, the curriculum director, and the composition teachers on Tuesday morning during which we plan to discuss our initial ideas for digital portfolio integration. I'm excited to see what comes out of these discussions and hope that digital portfolios soon become a reality for GWA students.