Education

Student Portfolios Online In A Real-Life Ecosystem

Positioning Blogger For Formative Management

Some countries like Canada have begun to adopt—on a large scale—formative assessment using the portfolio assessment system. That’s the good news! However, these systems often come with legacy technology, such as cardboard three-ring binders and pen and ink worksheet printouts. Meanwhile, the rest of the country, including the students themselves, has moved on in terms of technology. They carry cell phones and are totally at home online with filling in forms, finding information, and sending texts galore on these and on social media. The use of clunky, dilapidated folders does not square well with reality.

In 2010 or thereabouts, I started using the blogger/blogspot platform, offered for free by Google, to host a teacher’s blog for the class. When Canada moved to a portfolio-based language assessment, I adapted the blogger platform to host the new assessment system. It was a challenge to convince the administration that this practice was entirely within the guidelines of the government’s new initiative. The language of guidelines was broad enough, but mindsets took a little longer to expand and adapt to this technological application.

Student Portfolios

The first challenge of course was with the teacher. Thankfully, learning the blogger platform was not as difficult as the WordPress software. Yet it afforded all the useful functions that were necessary for the portfolio-based assessment system. Login was easy enough using the existing Gmail protocol, but one had to learn to navigate the new blogger.com platform. What was easy was the posting of posts, which was similar to the use of Microsoft Word which everybody had been on over several years already. What was new was the metalanguage required for the blogger environment. Gadgets, pages, themes, layouts, and several of the features had to be learned from scratch. Today, thankfully, there are lots of YouTube videos and instructionals available for all aspects of blogging.

The most useful feature would be the gadget called “blog list.” Renamed “your classmates’ portfolios,” this would be where all the student portfolios were hosted. Whenever somebody updates their portfolio with the required artifacts, that listing would rise to the top of the blog list. This had the welcome effect of stoking competition and comparison among students, who often wanted to make sure that their blog would be visible and so would be motivated to update it with their artifacts. For the teacher, it was easy to spot the latest submissions and enter their comments into the feedback. Other useful features would be up on the pages, which would include classroom policies, covering punctuality and field trip protocols, or, for example, an alumni board with a feedback mechanism, and a page of resources on the four skills of language learning (namely, listening, speaking, reading, and writing).

Each student would have their own portfolio/blog. This would be an extremely useful feature in the real world, compared to closed quizzes that they would never use again. Some of the students have gone on to use their blog knowledge in business and teaching. That’s what a free and open platform affords. Again it was a rare student who did not already have a Gmail account. This made it easy for everybody to get logged in right away, and those who didn’t know how to could easily have a friend help them register and get all caught up. Because the skills developed included all four language skills, students were exposed to and guided in the use of word processing, audio recording, video playing, and other online technologies completely relevant to their everyday life in the modern world. For instance, they would practice recording themselves on vocaroo.com. They would learn not only how to record and save their practice voicemail messages, but also how to paste the link onto another document to share it. They would learn how to read or elicit from their friends’ comments material for each of their artifacts posted.

There were some downsides, of course, to using the blogger platform for assessment and classroom management. One of these was that students leaving the class could delete their blogs from the blog list. The school would then have no evidence of the portfolios created by these students. Another disadvantage to this platform was that it was completely open, and anyone with a link to the teacher’s blog would have access to all the students’ blogs. So I would often emphasize to students not to put their confidential information on their blogs. On the plus side, students would take ownership and responsibility for the security and maintenance of their own portfolios. They could access it from anywhere, whenever they were online. I remember one student from Uzbekistan, who would be late every day due to personal circumstances. However, Mariam would always start doing her artifact assignment remotely from the bus on the way to school. She would upload her artifact from her iPhone on her SIM data, and then saunter in, smiling, into the class when everybody else was still working on that same artifact. It was impossible to get mad with her for being late.

Those days of teaching immigrants in Canada are now in the past; I have moved on to other fields. Other solutions have been found since then for the formative assessment platform electronically. But the blogger platform is still free and completely accessible to everybody in other contexts. I still recommend it in my CALL training courses to budding teachers and tell them that Alphabet, the parent company of Google and the blogger platform, is still going strong. It’s something that they can still rely upon in their classroom.

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