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Our kids work very hard at school, creating original artifacts that they are proud of. Wouldn’t it be great if collecting, organizing, commenting on, and displaying certain pieces of a child’s work started in kindergarten (or earlier) and continued through high school? This may sound like an administrative nightmare, but with current tools and a willingness to be proactive (teachers, students, and parents), our students could amass an incredible body of work, knowledge, and skills that would not only be something to look at, but help them view the tremendous amount of progress they really make throughout their school years.
There is much literature and conversation now about ePortfolios, with some software programs devoted to this task. But some people (including me) advocate for a more creative approach, one where the student assumes ownership and creativity. Helen Barrett, a leading authority on ePortfolios has created an excellent visual on the differences between a workspace and showcase portfolio: http://electronicportfolios.com/balance/index.html, which she calls “Balancing the Two Faces of ePortfolios.” She describes a Portfolio as Workspace, which I like to call a “Learning Log,” and Portfolio as Showcase, or what could then be labeled “Portofolio.”
As I already mentioned, the tools are available that will enable students to begin the process of creating a Learning Log, a workspace of their learning experiences.
Here is my top 5 List of Applications for Learning Logs (all of them are free, none of them are specific ePortfolio software applications, and all include ways to subscribe through RSS):
- WordPress: Yes, WordPress is a blogging software, but what better way for learners to start documenting what they are doing, reflecting upon their progress, getting feedback from others (comments), and displaying their work. The free-web based version works great for creating a Learning Log, a workspace where learners can collect, reflect, and display their work. WordPress blogs can be made public or private, with the ability to even make individual posts private or password-protected. You can add other users to your WordPress blog, add pages, customize it, and use categories to organize the work. In fact, you can now make a blog look like a website!
If you want your students to have their own domain name, then sign up for one and install the server-based version of WordPress, http://wordpress.org. The advantage of using a server-based version is the ability to customize it even more, through the various plugins offered by WordPress. Plus, the student can have their own domain, something that will be more and more common with our learners.
- Blogger: Blogger (owned by Google) is considerably easier to begin to learn, has most of the tools needed to organize a very good Learning Log, but lacks the assortment of themes and other customization of WordPress. However, if your student decides to move to another blog, most of them can be exported to another blogging platform. So, yes, you can export a Blogger blog to WordPress. Phew!
- Google Sites: This is really a wiki, a website where others can collaborate. However, it could very easily be used to organize learning and artifacts. Google Sites includes all sorts of templates that can be adapted for a Learning Log. Or students could create their own layouts. Sites includes great themes, easy ways to upload content to a “File Cabinet” page, “lists” pages, easy ways to embed other Google Apps, and many other ways you can collect, organize, and present work. Like blogs, Sites can also be made public or private.
- Wikispaces: This is a very professional-looking and robust wiki. Remember, a wiki is nothing more than a website that you can create with others. The wikis I am including in this post include visual editors, which means you don’t have to know any wiki markup language or html to post to them. Plus, wikispaces offer free and NO ADVERTISEMENT wikis for K-12 educators: http://www.wikispaces.com/site/for/teachers
- Google Wave: You’ll need to get invitations for this service, but as it expands it will become more available. A student could create a wave or any number of waves to record notes, write reflections, insert artifacts, and of course, drag other people into his/her wave for commenting and editing. We are just beginning to see how waves can be used, but I wanted to mention this here, for consideration and discussion.
The reason my list starts with blogging platforms is simple: I feel that students might be more inclined to reflect and even write more using a blog, since blogs by nature are online journals. Lack of posts is very evident when visiting a blog, unlike a wiki or website. A blog needs to be current to be interesting and entice others to read it. So, naturally, I like blogs to entice students to keep posting. When you write a blog you feel OBLIGATED to continue writing and writing well. It’s the nature of the blog beast.