How to implement digital portfolios: Tips from Madison City Schools

Three implementation tips from Daniel Whitt at Madison City Schools
Molly McCracken
February 18, 2020

This is a follow-up article to our profile on Madison City Schools, where we interviewed the district’s technology lead Daniel Whitt on why digital portfolios are pivotal to the future of education. You can read Part 1 here.

Madison City Schools has carved out quite the digital footprint for their ground-breaking focus on digital portfolios in the classroom. Representatives from the district have spoken at ISTE, written for EdSurge, developed a documentary, and generated a collection of open-source resources for their peers.

We spoke with Daniel Whitt from Madison City Schools in an interview. He shared some amazing takeaways you can use to get a digital portfolio movement started at your school:

Find your champion to lead the change

Whitt and his colleagues have made an incredible collection of resources they’ve shared for free online, but they recognize that simply creating content isn’t enough.

“School districts need to be taught how to do this,” he said, suggesting that any group of educators will need to find a ‘champion’ for digital portfolios.

“There has to be somebody who looks at leadership and says: One way that we see how you can use these resources is ‘X’.”

If you’re reading this and you’re thinking “I might be that person”, be sure to:

Start as early as you can

The process of creating digital portfolios can help develop a growth mindset and teach students reflection, but it can also get them in a ‘publishing mindset.’

The earlier students learn about the opportunities and the consequences of putting their work out into the world, the more comfortable they’ll be releasing the work they produce in the future, whether that’s a final thesis paper in college, a new tech app, or just hitting publish on a tweet or LinkedIn update.

“The earlier you start doing portfolios and exercising “show then reflect” as a process online, the more buy-in from adolescents and the more valuable this becomes over time,” said Whitt, who is currently focusing 90% of his energy on working with primary students.

“If we can start having students take ownership of their learning on a daily basis, then they’ve already been doing it for several years by the time they get to high school.”

See digital portfolios as more than a trend or add-on

One of the biggest mistakes schools can use is seeing portfolio is one more thing, a passing fad that gets stapled on top of everything else.

“To simply adopt digital portfolios and stack them on top of our old system is like attempting to run the newest operating system on the oldest computer—from time to time we will reap the rewards, but mostly we will just crash,” Whitt wrote in his EdSurge article.

To effectively integrate digital portfolios, educators and administrators must recognize portfolios as a tool for capturing and communicating student accomplishment and bake that within the way they’re already teaching.

No one has more time in their day to do extra work, if anything, we all have less time thanks to constant interruptions from the technology in our pockets.

But by building digital portfolios in at the core, as a way to document the great work already happening in the classroom, it can become a channel for learning that is as embedded into every day as your learning management system.

Have any more tips on how to implement digital portfolios? Let us know in the comments, or feel free to connect with me here if you’d like to be interviewed for an upcoming article.

Molly McCracken

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