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4 Steps for Getting Started with Student Digital Portfolios

by Lila Daniels on February 25, 2014


Not sure how to get started with ePortfolios for your students? Here’s what you need to know.

Even before the concept of student portfolios was formalized, teachers collected and shared student work. They used writing folders during conferences or displayed science projects for open house. As the digital era has taken hold, portfolios have become a method of assessment and the collection and sharing of work has become much more common.

two students with computer shutterstock_145895360

Student portfolios gained traction in traditional classrooms in the early 1990’s and have co-evolved with educational technology over the course of thirty years. Digital technology and access to the Web make creating meaningful portfolios easier than ever — a good thing given the increasing demands on educators’ time.

Still, many are unsure of how to make the leap into digital portfolios. Going digital may feel too daunting given everything else on your plate. Here are four steps to help you get started. These are focused more on an individual teacher helping students get started with a portfolio, but with some changes, these ideas can be adapted to a large scale roll out across a specific subject areas, grade level, academic program, or entire school.

Step 1: Pick Your Platform

This is probably the hardest part. Unfortunately, there is no single platform that will work for all teachers or all classes. This is because no single portfolio works for every teacher. Some teachers prefer the blog method. They create essentially a class portfolio online. This is a great way to communicate with parents and a good method for those working with younger students.

Other teachers have students create their own blogs, Web sites, or online portfolios. They turn the controls over completely — from the design to the content. They make creating the portfolio part of the learning and assessment process. Perhaps obviously, this works best with older kids who have good access to technology.

The most important thing to do is to evaluate your needs before you go searching for a place to park your students’ precious work.

You’ll want to consider:

  • Ownership: Who can add or post things in the portfolio?
  • Sharing: Who gets to see it? This is very important if you want your students to be able to direct potential employers there.
  • Other devices: Will it work with the educational technology you already use?
  • Cost: Some sites will require you to purchase additional space to upload audio, video, or any large files.
  • User friendliness: If you don’t like it and they don’t like it, it won’t work.

No site or platform is perfect. The important thing is to find a site that meets your needs. Here’s a few sites to consider. Most of these are basically website creation tools.

  • (seriously – learn more here)
  • Google Sites (
  • Wikispaces Classroom (

If you’re considering doing this larger scale than just your classes, be sure to involve the right stakeholders.

Step 2: Have a Portfolio Population Plan

Once you know what you want it to do, and you know what platform you will use, it can help give the portfolio creation effort a structure. This will mean different things for different classrooms.

  • Time-based: Students contribute a collection of their work at the end of each month or unit. They continue to reevaluate, add, subtract items throughout the year.
  • Theme-based: Create portfolios bases on topics or themes that fit with your curriculum.
  • Skill-based: Focus in on a specific skill, like writing or public speaking portfolios.

How you set up your portfolios is up to you — having a plan is what will make it happen. Next, create goals for your portfolios — both individual and class goals. Without goals and structure, portfolios become a hodgepodge of artifacts and assessment is much more challenging. If you are really serious about seeing your students make the most of this, build it into their assessment.

Step 3: Turn Over The Keys

This depends on the age of your students. It may or may not make sense to create something that can ultimately take over. Not every teacher will be inclined to cede control of student portfolios, and it may not make sense for every class or every kid. However, if you can, you should.

Portfolios teach students to evaluate and compare their own work, as well as how to compellingly present it. These are important skills that may come in handy sooner than you think. Some colleges and universities have begun to take more innovative approach to applications. Veering away from test scores, colleges are taking a more holistic view of the student. MIT, for example, already encourages prospective “artists, makers and musicians” to submit portfolios that showcase their talents and interests.

Step 4: Learning to Share, Sharing to Learn

If you have permission to share student content (a very important consideration!), and it is easy to do so via URL links, help students get a head start and feel a sense of accomplishment by sharing! Most of today’s students are digital natives, especially our millenial teenagers. They are steeped in the culture of sharing. They tweet and text and ‘like’ their way to an understanding of their universe.

By going digital, you are speaking to them in their language. And, by sharing their work — via blog or web site — you are in connecting their classroom experience to their digital world.

Some Dos and Don’ts to Keep in Mind

Digital Portfolio Dos

  • Do consider including projects, evaluations or statements to “bookend” the portfolio.
  • Do include photographs, video or other media when appropriate
  • Do take the opportunity to highlight your students “other” intelligences — like music and art and movement

Digital Portfolio Don’ts

  • Don’t make student photos or videos available on the web without the express written consent of parents and/or students (depending on student ages).
  • Don’t toss in the kitchen sink — make students pick and choose the best examples of their work
  • Don’t sacrifice the good for perfection — work that shows growth is just as important to include as that which is A+ material

These tips can help you get off to a good start with student portfolios in your classroom. You may have a few suggestions of your own, and if you, we’d love to hear them – comment and share :).

*Image courtesy of




Lila Daniels is a freelance writer living in Vermont. She previously worked in higher education publishing and as a high school teacher. She contributes to several websites, including

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