ePortfolios and GoogleApps

If someone asked you about your electronic portfolio, what comes to mind?
  • A digital record of your financial capital or monetary assets (and in this economy, might make you cry!)? OR
  • Digital documentation of your development over time, a record of your human capital or intellectual assets, with examples of your work... a showcase of your achievements... and a potential source of self-esteem and pride?  
In schools and colleges across the world, students are developing these "ePortfolios" which include digital collections of their work, created for diverse purposes. This cartoon captures the ePortfolio dilemma in education today:

As illustrated here, ePortfolios have multiple purposes and audiences, all requiring different types of tools:
  • "ePortfolios for Learning" provide an environment for you to reflect deeply about your learning, telling the story of your growth over time, through samples of your work, often using a reflective journal that is structured like a blog. A variation on this type of portfolio is used for personal and professional development planning, helping you envision your preferred future... find your "something to offer" as President Obama said. You are the primary audience for this type of portfolio, helping you recognize your past achievements, plan for your future development, and highlighting your strengths and talents. Europeans call this set of web-based tools a "Personal Learning Environment" (PLE).
  • "ePortfolios for Personal Branding and Self-Marketing" let individuals develop a "resume on steroids" for showcasing skills and samples of work to potential employers, customers, or graduate schools.  This type of personal website can provide an alternative web presence to social networks, helping build a positive digital identity.
  • "ePortfolios for Assessment/Accountability" are used by educational institutions to document achievement, sometimes replacing or supplementing standardized tests, or more traditional forms of evaluation. This type of showcase portfolio can be developed for individual or institutional assessment, and often requires a system for collecting quantitative evaluation data.

An ePortfolio does not require a specific software package, although there are many commercial or open source systems available; ePortfolio development is really a combination of process (a series of activities that produce digital documents or reflections) and product (a presentation as the end result of the ePortfolio process), supported by a variety of tools. Google's suite of software tools have matured over the last few years into a rich environment for creating ePortfolios to meet most of these purposes. A portfolio actually incorporates several different elements and tools, depending on your purpose and audience, which becomes your first task to define. Once you know what you want to achieve with your ePortfolio, then here are some suggested steps:

  • Begin with a working portfolio, that could include a reflective journal, using a blog, such as Blogger, or the Announcements page type in Google Sites.
  • The working portfolio process also begins with a collection of digital documents representing your best or typical work (sometimes called your digital archive). Google tools to build this digital archive include:
    • Google Docs provides a great toolset for developing and storing word processing, presentation and spreadsheet documents; share with others for collaborative editing and feedback
    • YouTube and Picasa can be used to store videos and collections of images. 
    • Attachments of other file types can be added to Google Sites* (see storage limits below)
  • From this collection, select certain pieces, depending on the purpose and audience, to go into a presentation portfolio/website (using hyperlinks or EMBED codes). Google Sites is Google's version of a wiki, a tool that facilitates collaborative editing. It is an effective tool to organize both the reflective narrative, telling your story in your presentation portfolio, and linking to your supporting evidence (selected documents from your digital archive) to meet your intended purpose. This easy-to-build hyperlinked multi-page website can be easily shared electronically with your intended audience.

Below is a visual map for a lifelong, life wide approach to electronic portfolios, with recommended Google tools. For a more in-depth discussion of this conceptual framework, you can read a much longer paper that is published in GoogleDocs: Online Personal Learning Environments: Structuring Electronic Portfolios for Lifelong and Life Wide Learning

To learn more about electronic portfolios using Google Apps, see a Google Site that I set up to illustrate a variety tools and strategies for developing ePortfolios in both K-12 schools and Higher Education: http://sites.google.com/site/eportfolioapps/Home

I also sponsor an open Google Group to discuss the use of GoogleApps to develop ePortfolios in K-12 schools: http://groups.google.com/group/k12eportfolios

This year, I am writing a book about using Web 2.0 tools to create Interactive Portfolios across the educational spectrum, and am looking for K-12 schools who want to implement GoogleApps for Education. Interested groups of teachers in schools who want to join a Community of Learners to implement ePortfolios, and who are willing to write a weekly journal (blog) about their implementation process with their students, should email me.

* Attachments storage: You can set up a GMail account, and then access most of the Google tools using that address (limited to 100 MB of attachments in each Google Site you set up). Many schools and universities are establishing their own GoogleApps for Education domains with a maximum of 100 GB per domain, assigning accounts for each student and teacher (highly recommended for K-12 students since privacy can be protected in what I call a "walled garden"). You can establish your own Standard GoogleApps account, with your own domain name, for $10 a year, which currently allows a maximum of 10GB of attached files in all Sites created under your domain. See Google's FAQ on Storage in different versions of Google Sites