Digital Portfolios and Blogs: Use Authentic Technology, Not Technology Made for School

Currently in my district we’ve had some preliminary talks regarding if/how digital portfolios could be implemented on a wide-scale. Of course, while the focus shouldn’t necessarily be on the technology, one of the first questions asked by everyone (both in and out of district) always involves what type of platform we have in mind.

While these portfolio talks are only in their infancy, and we currently have no certain idea what will actually happen (in regards to what technology is chosen and with the portfolios in general)…I do strongly feel that, if possible, we should always be looking to use an authentic tool (e.g., self-hosted WordPress or WordPress.com) as opposed to one that has been made for school (e.g., Kidblog or Seesaw).

Here are three reasons why:

  1. Teaching digital citizenship is now a non-negotiable, and this upcoming school year we are rolling out the Common Sense Media Digital Citizenship Curriculum across all grade levels. Now, if we’re then simultaneously having students leverage “safe” made for school technology because we’re afraid what might happen, they’re missing out on valuable opportunities to apply what they’ve learned. In fact, in this context, I would go as far to say we’d be a bit hypocritical by first declaring, “Digital citizenship is important; let’s practice it!” and then saying, “Use this, because we don’t want you to experience what’s out there.” (Of course, the exception would be if we’ve chosen a certain tool due to it’s lower cost, because we want a simple interface for lower grade levels, etc.) Nevertheless, experiences with authentic tools allow for students to apply what they’ve learned in settings that very much mimic the real world. And, at the same time, teachers are present to turn mistakes into beneficial lessons.
  1. Teaching entrepreneurialism is quickly becoming a non-negotiable, and we’re doing our students a disservice if they’re simply handing in all work for an audience of one, the teacher. Not only should students be learning how to do their work, they should be learning and experiencing how to share and market their creations. While this idea may begin with students simply “copying and pasting” their finished products into their portfolios and then sharing them out (pretty much worst-case scenario)…in time, students can be creating and promoting their own businesses, publishing and marketing eBooks, gaining loyal audiences with podcasts, etc., all of which are only possible with an authentic platform…Everyone, no matter the age, has access to the same “business growing” technologies (many of which aren’t all that complicated, by the way). So, if it’s what adults “do,” our students should be doing it as well.
  1. The resumé is dead, or dying. If our students are applying for colleges without digital footprints, we’re doing them a disservice. (And, if we’re applying for jobs without digital footprints, we’re doing ourselves a disservice). Need convincing? Hop over to Google and search for “resumé is dead” or check out this article right here…In short, we need to make sure our students are searchable. So, when their names are plugged into Google by a prospective college or employer, not only will no damaging content be found, but students will be given a leg up on the competition due to digital footprints we helped them build…Kidblog won’t show up on a Google search, and neither will Seesaw. And, while programs such as Weebly and Wix are easy to use, I would rather have students get acquainted with a tool that’s used on 25 percent of all websites. In fact, once they graduate high school, with a few clicks they can easily export their portfolios from a district or company server (if necessary) and upload the content to their own website and server space, independent of any district or school.

Let me be clear…I’m not against anything that’s not WordPress, a variation of WordPress such as CampusPress, or an authentic tool. In fact, when I taught fourth grade, my students and I used Kidblog on a regular basis. But, when it’s time to choose a platform for digital portfolios (and blogging), I do believe the conversation should always start with authentic technologies. As previously mentioned, there may be limiting factors such as high costs and/or a tool’s complexity, and a different platform may be necessary for younger students at the elementary level. (Many of the elementary students and teachers in my district do amazing work with Kidblog and Seesaw!) But, in the end, I do believe we are severely limiting the possibilities if we play it “safe” and only consider technology made for school.

What are your thoughts on digital portfolios? How have you seen them done “right?” What platform do you prefer?

Student publishing is a topic Erin Murphy (@MurphysMusings5) and I explore in-depth in Hack 10 of our upcoming book,Hacking Project Based Learning! For book updates, sign up for myemail list(and also receive a free eBook).

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