Tuesday, 28 May 2013

E-Portfolios: GSites v. Kidblogs

The concept of the e-portfolio has been around for some time. A place where students can store, access and display their work. It has the advantage that work could be accessible from any machine with internet access. Virtual Learning Environments aka Learning platforms were heavily promoted by the UK Government with schools being provided with the facility free for the first three years. The hope was that schools would be so reliant on their learning platform they would continue funding them after the introductory period.

Then along came Google Apps for Education.
As far as I was concerned its functionality wiped the floor with our VLE - and for free...
Offering an online alternative to MS Office as well as free websites and email, combined with the ability for groups to collaborate in the creation of a range of media it was, and is, the perfect vehicle for learning the skills needed to using media as tools for communication.

For some years I have been creating Google sites websites on specific themes with links, video, audio, slides etc. This site about digital storytelling is the most elaborate and complete of those. When I started my new job in September I needed to re-think my approach. At a Middle School public examinations caused only a few ripples. At a High School a clear course structure is an vital piece of the armoury and I was to be teaching Creative Media as part of a Technology carousel - not ICT once a week. So I set about writing my "dream" course in learning to use digital media creatively (see my Badges page).

It was clear from the start that students needed e-portfolios to collect their work not just for the accessibility reasons mentioned above but since a large proportion of our output is time-based.  Google Sites was the obvious choice. I set up a template for them to use, since teaching them how to create a site was not my immediate priority. I built a wiki where students could post a link to their e-portfolios to encourage and support a participatory culture. Our Google Apps Start Page was full of links to a range of apps and sites.  I made a Howtube site where I posted tutorial videos to support student independence.

Then it seemed that disaster had struck, when our service provider blocked Google Sites.

I've posted elsewhere about my feelings at the time. But, once I'd got over my own problems with this, it was apparent we still needed an e-portfolio. For a while I considered Evernote - brilliant but it didn't quite fit the bill. After some research I decided on using Kidblogs. Easy to set up, free and relatively familiar - since it's built on WordPress. I've been blogging regularly for a few years and I know a thing or two about blogging. It has a really well thought-out system of permissions. So I created logins for all the students I would be teaching and sat back, fingers crossed...

The first advantage was immediately apparent - we had blogs, we could start Quadblogging - David Mitchell's brilliantly simple idea to ensure an audience for student's blog posts. I signed up over Easter and we're teamed up with three other schools - in the UK, USA and Australia.

One of my main initial concerns was that the plethora of posts would make it difficult to access key items for assessment - striking the balance between developmental, reflective learning and representing or showcasing achievements would be a problem. But I'd forgotten about tagging,' and Kidblogs also offer the teacher and student a simple system of categorisation. Used together they allow ready access to the posts which represent milestones in the process of design thinking.  The home page for your class blogs displays the latest publications, where it's simple to scroll down the list of the latest publications, commenting as you go. Google Apps (and Evernote) can be linked to Kidblogs so that media created in Google Apps can be simply added to a post. Currently this isn't working for me - though I suspect I'll need to delve in my GApps settings or quiz our Support technicians. 

Best of all though is the enthusiasm engendered by the social nature of blogging. As several students have said how much they like reading other people's posts and the comments made on theirs. 

I've been extracting good blog posts: copying the HTML and pasting them in a showcase blog I've called First Class Posts (geddit). This gives a site which I can make fully public and a collection of exemplar posts for discussion with students. One change in practise that blogging has inspired, is the way badges are awarded - I'll be posting about that soon. 

My biggest surprise though, is that, as a self-professed hater of marking, I actually quite enjoy commenting on student posts. Can someone explain this?

The animation above is extracted from the excellent short film: "Dangle"