Digital Portfolios

Could this be the end of an era?  For as long as I’ve taught visual arts, students have begun each semester by decorating their portfolios according to a theme that I have chosen (or they have negotiated).  I have always enjoyed this activity because it allows me to assess what skills my students possess with certain materials, but it also eases us all into the rhythm of our classroom routine.  Honestly, it also gives me a bit more time to learn their names too!

When I was in high school, my art portfolio was huge.  Two pieces of Bristol board stapled together at the edges, stuffed full by the end of the semester.  When I began teaching, the size of my students’ folders wasn’t quite so big because I wanted to minimize the amount of money I spent on something that simply held their projects.

As the years passed, I noticed that many of the art history projects were completed using the computer, so the large visual essays didn’t need storage space any more.  Collage & sculptural materials couldn’t be stashed neatly into our lovely folders either.  Small paintings done on thick paper were fine, but acrylic paintings on stretched canvas also proved to be problematic.

Portfolio interviews have also been challenging; time spent (by students) organizing and finding all projects and their accompanying write-ups could be better used on other tasks.    It would be much easier to review their progress throughout the semester if all their information was easily accessible and presented in an organized fashion.

A final concern regarding the physical  or hard copy portfolio does not apply to all students, but to those whose interests in art encourage them to consider post-secondary studies or careers related to their talent.  Presenting one’s art projects, whether an 18X24″ charcoal drawing or a 3′ plaster sculpture, can prove to be problematic.  Paper can be torn, materials can be smudged, and sculptural appendages can be broken (a concern of transporting art for exhibition alone is enough to cause a few grey hairs and worry lines)!

What is the solution?  This year we’re moving on… to digital portfolios!

Ian Sands, who teaches art at Apex High School, has organized his students’ blogs here.  The mere fact that students can present their art to the world is great, but when they have a chance to explain and reflect on their projects, they have enhanced the experience for their viewers.

George Couros has also taken some time to consider the possible effectiveness of digital portfolios on student learning.  In his Digital Portfolio Project post, opportunities, assessment and citizenship are just a few considerations that are mentioned as his district embraces technology in education.

Today, all of my grade 12 students finished constructing their blog templates using Blogger (through Google).  Although it’s just the beginning, it’s exciting to consider how they will use their digital portfolios.  It’s nice to have access to their work any time I need it (especially for those late-night report card writing extravaganzas), but it’s also great to know that their parents have the chance to keep up with their progress as well.

We’ll still use folders to collect the artworks that students produce, but times are changing, and it’s nice to know that we’re moving forward.



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