“Who owns the learning?” #DigitalPortfolios

Today, very little of the work we give students in school provides them with a sense that they are making a contribution to anything other than their own educational progress toward graduation.

In Alan November’s 2012 book titled, “Who Owns the Learning?“, he states the following:

Today, very little of the work we give students in school provides them with a sense that they are making a contribution to anything other than their own educational progress toward graduation. Indeed, once the grade is recorded, a huge amount of student work is thrown away. It has no more value. Now that we have powerful, easy-to-use design tools and a capacity for worldwide publishing, we have an opportunity to restore the dignity and integrity of a work ethic with redefining the role of the learner as a contributor to the learning culture.

This thinking was evident in my development of our digital portfolio project. As more and more educational technology companies try to break into the “portfolio” market, they seem to be more concerned with where the data is stored, then the students actually having access to keep their information.  Both should be considerations, but we often are more concerned on how we report to parents than we are about students developing and contributing learning that we have ownership over.

As we thought about helping staff feel safe with students putting their thoughts out there, while also ensuring students would have ownership over their learning, we decided to go with a blogging platform (specifically Edublogs but this will work for any WordPress hosted domain).  I have written extensively on the use of blogs as digital portfolios (please feel free to click to learn more about this process), but one of the considerations I haven’t share was how students would be able to take everything they have done in this space and create their own domain at any point, either during of after their time in learning.

What the hope of the project is a student will be able to share their learning their entire time in school, so you can see them (and they can see themselves) develop over time.  At the end of their time with their portfolio in school, they can go into their blog and do the following.

  1. Go to your WordPress Dashboard.
  2. Under “Tools”, select “Export”. It will then download an XML file.
  3. Open your own domain.
  4. Go to the WordPress Dashboard and under “Tools”, select “Import”.
  5. Upload the XML file.
  6. Done.

The point of this post is not to “sell” you on Edublogs or WordPress, but more focused on a few questions:

  1. How do you create a space where if something goes wrong educators feel comfortable that they have “control” and can intervene if necessary?
  2. Are your “digital portfolios” something that are created simply for school, or something more meaningful that the world could have access to see if the student chooses?
  3. Is the process of moving from one space to another, something simple enough and can be done by the students themselves?

As you move forward with your own projects, these are questions we should be asking to be proactive, not have students create years of work, only to delete or have under the control of the school.  If that is the case, the learning was never theirs in the first place.


  1. Matt Renwick said:

    Nice post George. I appreciate the explanation of this specific topic about ownership of student learning, and how it has taken on multiple meanings in today’s connected world. The directions for starting a blog and the reflective questions are also very helpful.

    November 24, 2015
  2. Lee Shupe said:

    Thanks for sharing, George. Showcasing growth in learning and about learning (and ourselves as learners) may be more valuable in its own right than I have really believed. You’ve got me doing some new thinking…

    November 24, 2015
  3. I totally agree! In my own research of electronic portfolios in K-12 schools as well as higher education, I find the issue of student ownership (and thus intrinsic motivation) is facilitated with technology tools that students can eventually own. Whether we use blogging tools or Google Apps, our ePortfolios in education should contribute toward a learners’ “lifetime personal webspace” and not be locked into proprietary “silos” provided by most commercial providers. Some examples of institutions using “Web 2.0 tools”: Seattle Pacific University College of Education; Salt Lake City Community College (General Education portfolios using a variety of student-owned sites), High Tech High schools (San Diego area).

    November 24, 2015
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