Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Using Google Sites as ePortfolios with Middle School Students

It's been awhile since I've blogged. I have excuses, but mainly, I just haven't made time for it. After starting a new job and a new country, I am beginning to settle, and there have been many motivations for me start again. My colleagues are blogging and asking for advice. I attended an educational technology workshop last Saturday and met many other teachers interested in tech integration. I've been connecting with them and my new colleagues on Twitter again.

And then @lfrehlich asked me:

I realized it was time to get back to it!

First I'll start with the why. Why are we using ePortfolios with middle school students? The effort at our school has been teacher led. Teachers want to replace traditional portfolios used for student led conferences with digital portfolios. They want to help students collect their best work over the course of the year. They want to prepare students for a world in which they will send college admission committees a link to their work and who they are as a student. They want to teach good digital citizenship and how to have a positive digital footprint. Yes, I work with great teachers; I am fortunate!

So, what are we going to use for eportfolios? We recently adopted Google Apps for Education. We wanted to stick with Google as much as we could to simplify things. So, we decided to go with Google Sites. We've created a fairly simple template as a starting point. We're thinking about long term and we'd like the portfolio to go with them to high school.

I created the following step by step guide to help our students and teachers go through the process of setting up their eportfolios. Still, it has been time consuming to get to every class and help set this up. It has been taking about 45 minutes of class time to get everyone going. Some of that time is lost to slow internet. When we're up and going, though, we should only have to set this up with our new 6th graders at the beginning of the year. Also, we are looking at a product called Google Teacher Dashboard which we think has the ability to automate some of this. We are going to start a trial of it soon.

We are at the very beginning of this process. We started with a few classrooms wanting to do eportfolios. Through discussion among teachers, it has expanded to every language and science class in 8th grade. It will be a good test to support a whole grade, and students will see some connections between classes. Teachers seem genuinely excited to have students start posting major projects into their eportfolios. I think it's great that teachers will see what students are doing in other classes as they look at the portfolios. This is sharing at its best.

Future questions for discussion include: What do we have students put in the eportfolio? How can we use it as an authentic assessment of student learning? How should our school approach the privacy issues so we can open our student eportfolios and blogs to the world and gain a global audience?

How about you? Is your school doing eportfolios? What tools are you using? What have been your successes and challenges?


Anonymous said...

Hi Heather,
This post is exactly what I have been looking for! My school is creating gmail accounts for student usage and I would like to take the opportunity to create student e-portfolios. How do you use the Google sites to give feedback? I guess I don't know how to organize the "works in progress" and the final products. I want the students to collaborate and help one another, but I don't how to go about it all. Do you have any e-portfolio organizational tips? Thanks!!

Anonymous said...

Hi Heather,
Thanks for the post! My school just got gmail accounts for student usage and I would like to use the opportunity to create student e-portfolios using Google sites. How do you organize a student site to include both "works in progress" where I can give feedback and other students can collaborate and "final products"? I don't want the sites to become confusing and disorganized. Thanks for your help!

ee said...

I have just begun eportfolio creation with my 6th graders. We set up the sites and began with a video and survey on "digital citizenship." The first steps towards creation are on my Moodle site in checklist form. I am looking for good examples of created sites to get more ideas for organization.

Heather Dowd said...

Hi khamstra,

I apologize for not replying sooner. I'm not good at keeping up with a blog!

If the students make you a member of their Google Site, you will be able to leave feedback as comments on each page. As far as organizing "in progress" vs "final"....hmmm... We have actually changed our minds about using Sites as an eportfolio. We are now pursuing using Blogger blogs for this for the same reason that you mention. A blog is more of a formative assessment. It is always a work in progress. When we are ready to make an eportfolio, we want students to look through their blog posts and reflect on their learning. Then by using labels or by make a separate post/page, they can link the blog posts and write a reflection. I want to write a blog post talking about this soon.

Heather Dowd said...

Hello ee,

We are just at the beginning of using eportfolios, so I don't have any examples that show things for every class across grade levels. Last year, a couple RLA (reading and language arts) teachers used Google Sites to make an eportfolio for student led conferences. Here is an example of one of those. It shows the template we tried using.

As I said above, we've changed our minds about eportfolios and are now pursuing using blogs instead. Blogs let anyone leave feedback, not just members of Sites. And blogs seem to be easier to use with middle school students. I plan to write a blog post soon about it.

Mikawho said...

Hi, Heather. Thank you for sharing your experience. I am a technology apps teacher and am a part of our district's Google polite program. We are in the process of rolling out Google Apps for Education to our whole district. Our goal as a pilot it to trouble shoot and understand the apps before we roll it out. I think I am going to have my students create an ePortfolio using Google Sites. Have you thought about using the announcement page within a Google Site as a blog? You can open up each "blog" (announcement) posted to feedback from others. Others can also subscribe to this page. What are your thoughts? I want to make sure I am making the right decision in going ahead and using Google Sites.

Mr Knox said...

Hey Heather, thanks for your thoughts regarding ePortfolios. Here at SFS, we have been doing this for a few years, and have developed a fairly solid model in the process. Though we use Google apps for just about everything, however, we have opted to use Weebly instead of Google Sites, mostly because it is far simpler for students to use and ensures that there are few technological glitches to navigate.

Of course this has proved to be a rather contentious issue, with some of our teachers wondering why we aren't using Google Sites when we do just about everything else there. What do you think? Is it more beneficial to students to focus on the actual portfolio components? Or should we also be taking the time to help them better learn the more challenging, but certainly more powerful Google Sites?

Heather Dowd said...

Hi Mikawho. We did think about using the "announcement" page as a blog, but we couldn't find a way to allow for comments on the posts. Perhaps this has changed since we last look at it? After our experience last year, and my experience visiting with people from a couple of other schools doing similar things to us, we decided to go with Blogger blogs for our portfolios of learning. We still use GSites for various projects like our 8th grade service learning project, but to document day to day learning, we are encouraging the use of blogs. I'd be happy to talk more about our decision with you if you'd like. I don't think there is a wrong just depends on your needs as a school.

Heather Dowd said...

Hello Mr. Knox. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. We can never please everyone, can we? It is simple to put everything in Google since that's where we all work. BUT, I have to opinion is that if Weebly allows students to focus on the portfolio components and reflecting on their work without being distracted by the technology, then Weebly is the better choice. This is part of the reason we decided to go with blogs as portfolios instead of GSites. I can understand the other side though...learning how to build a nice looking site in Gsites does give students good skills they can apply to blogs or any other web site they build in the future. But, I think when building a portfolio, the most important thing is reflecting on learning. What do you think?