Using different methods of instruction is always a gamble, but it is a chance I would rather take than not at all.  Lately, my students have been creating live portfolios to to demonstrate their understanding, show their lab work and discuss concepts learned in class.  Yesterday, we did a round robin in class and students were able to show each other their work.  I asked the students if I could share their work on the blog and they said yes. So, if you would like to see their work please check out this site with their portfolio links.

If you took a moment to check out their work, then I think you’ll agree that this was a gamble worth taking.  I made the switch because I was getting frustrated with the worksheets and conclusion question assessments. Students weren’t taking them seriously.  I think there is a time and place for worksheets and conclusion questions, but for this course they were doing more harm then good.  Students were more interested in “doing” their homework, than analyzing and evaluating their work.  No matter how well I worded the questions to get genuine thinking, I would get horrible responses.  It’s as though there is a great misconception out there that states, “Worksheets = Menial Task.”  If you are a worksheet lover, then you get my frustrations.  I have higher expectations of critical thinking and my students figure it out pretty quickly.

Part of me felt like I had to stick to my guns and keep grading the way I always did until they learned to adapt.  But the other part of me wanted to head-off the apathy; nip it in the bud.  In my pilot of using portfolios as a means of assessing understanding I learned a few lessons of my own.

1. By assigning public portfolios, students are more pressured to provide quality work.  

Here’s the the secret to my first lesson learned. While students feel the pressure of public criticism, you need to enlighten them on the actual audience viewing their work. Students are used to putting their work “out there” but not used to the having an “unknown” audience beyond that their peers.  Be sure to establish a professional presence with your students AND provide professional feedback.  You need to set up a community that will review the student work and provide comments for improvement.  This can be parents but students need interactions with professionals.  They need to feel the pressure of presenting their knowledge to an expert in the field.  You can pull the twitter community into the conversation and open the door to a network of “unknowns” to review your students’ work.

2. Public portfolios provide amazing opportunity to teach ethics and creativity.

I’ve had multiple discussions with my students regarding proper citations.  This was just one more opportunity to put it to practice.  When we first started out on our adventure, students were using photos and images they found online to supplement their work.  Over time, (and countless discussions) students began using their own images and pictures.  While it was a win for the citation dictator in me, it was even more of a win for my creative side.  Students learned how to create their won tables and charts, concept maps, photoshop, .gifs and Cinemagraphs.  I even learned a thing or two.  By the end we were all explore new ways to show our work rather than talk about it.

3. Providing feedback became digital.

Rather than evaluating the student portfolios at home (because, let’s be honest, who has a plan period these days?) and giving back rubrics of material student never read, we digitalized the feedback process.  During class, a student I would step out in the hall and screencast the review as we discussed where improvement was needed.  I then upload the screencast to a private video and the student could refer back to the comments.