Asking Better Questions

I have a passion for digital portfolios. I think that if we look at doing them in a way that is across grades, subjects, classrooms, and a shared platform in different teacher classes, they can be transformational to a school, district, and more importantly, to the learning of our students.

So I am often frustrated when the first question that I hear regarding digital portfolios is about the technology, not the learning. “What platform should we use?” is usually the main focus, instead of, “How will this shape learning in our classrooms in a way that we are not doing currently?”

The simple shift here is having the learning shape what technology a student uses, not the technology shaping what learning can be done by the student.  Obviously, there is room for both as a “digital” portfolio can do many things that paper cannot (media, information over the years in one place and easily searchable, etc.).

For example, when I first looked at portfolios, I thought about “learning portfolios” versus “showcase portfolios.”  From a previous post:

When I started to look at what was the best place to start a digital portfolio, we looked at two types of portfolios; a learning portfolio and a showcase portfolio. Here is the easiest way to differentiate the two in terms of student learning:

Learning portfolio – If a student were to take a video of them reading in four consecutive months, you would see all readings over time to see development and growth.

Showcase portfolio -If a student were to take a video of them reading in four consecutive months, they would pick the best one from the four samples.

Because of that, I focused on using blogs as a portfolio, even though blogs were not set up as a “portfolio.”  The learning helped shaped the way we used the technology, and eventually, the technology can transform the learning to do something we couldn’t do before. The order here is imperative.

For example, here is an image regarding “8 Things to Look for In Today’s Classroom“:

If you took those 8 things, how could you bring those elements alive in a digital portfolio?

Here are two examples:


Voice How do we create an opportunity to create a digital footprint, through different mediums (video, audio, written, visual, etc.) it allows them to share their voice in ways, and on topics, that are meaningful to the learner?
Choice How will students share their work, both in and out of the curriculum, which allows them to take different pathways in their learning?  This could range from how students share their learning (assessment as learning), or even, what students choose to learn.

Could you figure out elements of learning for the other six that could be exemplified by a digital portfolio? If you can, what platform would THEN best serve the learning?

As I write this, I struggle with a “chicken and egg” scenario. I know I am biased on what can be done with a digital portfolio because I have done it myself. I know the technology can shape what we do in learning. What I am trying to work through in my head is asking, “What platform should we use?” the equivalent of “What apps should I download on my iPad?” It limits a focus on a bigger picture and narrows in on the technology, not the learning.

I had the opportunity to listen to Will Richardson recently, and he said something that I will paraphrase (and maybe messing up) that stuck with me:

“I don’t know the answers; I am just trying to ask better questions.”

If we start with trying to ask better questions instead of immediate answers, we seem to be starting in a much better place.

Source: George Couros