One of the fastest growth segments in EdTech is the digital portfolio. While once only for art, advertising, and architecture, traditional portfolios have transformed into a 21st-century digital liberator, now one of the most essential tools in education.
Besides meeting many of the current needs for students and teachers, digital portfolios also provide answers to several pressing issues facing modern education.
The creativity gap.
Sir Ken Robinson’s meteoric rise as the most-watched “TEDTalk” speaker of all time, fixates on the subject of creativity and education. Robinson surgically calls out traditional learning environments as the “killers of creativity.” He identifies this as “the great tragedy in education,” asking the question: “How can education provide an environment where creativity thrives and talent is discovered?” An initial but fundamental step toward cultivating creativity is the fundamental need to connect with the wider expressions of learning styles.
Enter the age of the digital portfolio, a multifaceted easy-to-use tool designed for gathering and expressing ideas combined with the capacity for teachers to provide clear and detailed feedback. Digital portfolios break down decades of learning barriers and elevate creative expression in ways unimagined. Now the learner and the teacher have the option of expressing ideas through various forms like video clips, audio files, photos, annotated images, graphics, written copy, etc. Learning is no longer limited to a single expression. Digital portfolios liberate traditional learning processes. The ability for students to create knowledge and demonstrate understanding and express their creativity is now only limited by the imagination.
How to develop lifelong learners.
Angela Duckworth, educator and researcher on the subject of childhood learning acquisition introduces a familiar but unique term for education. “Grit” says Duckworth, “is the missing quality in today’s classroom.” Duckworth’s research reveals that students who lack grit are incapable of building the skills necessary to become lifelong learners. Many students when faced with a difficult problem often give up when they fail to get the answer right the first time. When this pattern is repeated during early childhood education, the learning path often leads to chronic underachievement.
Stanford professor Carol Dweck says that throughout the 20th century the “Now” learning environment has conditioned students to think that problems must be answered precisely and immediately. The prevailing expectation has been “there is one path and one right answer and if you don’t get it right you’re wrong.” So, when students don’t get it right the first time the conclusion is they have failed. The results are devastating on confidence & motivation. Dweck says the shift education must make is to create a “yet” mindset.” In other words, when a student is confronted with a problem the student must understand that finding a solution involves a process. And while they may not “yet” have the answer they are discovering a process that will lead to the answer. Most importantly the student discovers their process. The fundamental change in pedagogy is the shift from “get it right the first time” to “haven’t yet discovered it.” It is the essential process of discovery that builds confidence, motivates curiosity and ultimately leads to Duckworth’s definition of “grit.”
So process is fundamental for effective education; showing work reveals the learning styles of individual students. Process also provides teachers and students a place to reflect and interact while discoveries are made.
The introduction of digital portfolios to 21st-century education provides a seismic shift in learning and teaching. Digital portfolios allow students to uniquely express themselves and establish their own unique path toward solving problems. Digital portfolios also serve as a window into the mind and heart of the learner. Teachers can see how students arrived at a certain conclusion and then engage with them in unique and practical ways. This process of learning is active and detailed and provides a “not yet but getting closer” mentality which builds confidence and promotes curiosity to higher learning. When students can break down their work into manageable steps and reflect on each of those decisions, engaging with their mistakes and misconceptions, there is a fundamental positive change that occurs. Students begin to learn that it’s not about immediately getting the right answer but rather learning the process of understanding. Most importantly digital portfolios emphasize process, feedback and reflection which develops confidence, self awareness and the motivation to learn for a lifetime.
How to tell the difference? The problem with GPAs, test scores and transcripts…
The traditional high school or college graduate validates their competency as a student with a few primary indicators: GPA, test scores, and transcripts. GPA reflects the level of a student’s overall general competency using a numerical scoring device. This scale is one of the indicators which supposedly reflects future success as a learner. What has become evident over time is this attributed “number” is actually very inaccurate when it comes to predicting long-term competency as a productive human being.
For the past several decades, SAT & ACT tests are used to determine the capacity and level of competency of a given student for future study. While the ability to take a test may reveal a certain level of knowledge or familiarity with a subject, these tests do very little in predicting success as a contributing member of society. Privileged students are tutored and practice for years before they actually take the test. Not only that, the tests are “super scored” so the students who can afford to retake the tests can do so as many times as they need in order to achieve the score they desire. One of the most significant criticisms of these college entrance exams is speed. Ultimate success in these standardized tests is determined by a student’s ability to take the tests quickly and accurately. Slower, more processed minded students are penalized for taking too much time and therefore don’t complete the various sections ultimately resulting in poorer scores.
Despite all the testing, transcript and GPA deficiencies, another common problem with these indicators is the amount of shockingly similar GPAs & transcripts. Countless high school graduates flood the college admissions boards every year with identical profiles. How can administrators and potential employers differentiate applicants?
Once again digital portfolios come to the rescue. The truth is, not all 4.0 GPA’s are created equal. Digital portfolios are a great differentiator among seemingly equal candidates. The proof of showing detailed work makes a significant difference in determining competency. Digital portfolios follow the student through their education so they provide support, proof and examples of learning style throughout the life of the student.
As education prices rise and competition increases for prestigious universities, an important question emerges: shouldn’t there be more to show for all this time, effort and cost? Shouldn’t there be a way for students to represent the body of their education in an easy, practical and beautiful way? For centuries subjects like Art and Architecture required extensive proof of competency and mastery over these subjects. With the emergence of the digital portfolio, the ability to “show” work is simple, portable and manageable for every subject. While good grades, test scores and beautiful diplomas may applaud certain kinds of accomplishment, they are not sufficient indicators of true competency and long-term success. All across the globe, there is an emerging demand that requires more than mere GPA’s, transcripts or diplomas. Proof of competency through the power of digital portfolios is a fabulous solution. Digital portfolios propel education into the 21st century. They foster creativity, they encourage lifelong learning and they provide a detailed view into the minds of students while simplifying and modernizing the teaching process.
The proof of an education should rest in two places, first, in the developed mind and heart of the student and second in a body of work representing the years of study. Ideally the latter comes in the form of an easy-to-access document that allows the creator to share, refine and use as a reference for competency and learning style as they transition to higher ed or begin their career. Sadly, few students have proof of their education. Some assignments and projects are saved but they are stored in shoeboxes and left in the attic. As the technological age matures, education is a primary target for reform and a digital portfolio is one of the most important tools to bring about the modern reformation of education.
The notion of leveraging technology in order to foster creativity and maximize learning potential is the reason digital portfolios exist. Digital portfolios allow users to gather information, develop ideas and create knowledge unrestricted by learning style. Additionally, they combine the ability to share and showcase work.
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