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How Digital Portfolios Can Promote Equitable Student Success: 5 Factors to Look For in an Equitable Solution

Striving for equitable solutions helps ensure all students are equipped with the resources, tools, and opportunities they need to learn.
Bryan Carvalho
January 30, 2020

Digital portfolios have become increasingly popular in education in recent years. They are online collections of student work that can showcase their learning and progress over time. Digital portfolios provide a number of benefits for students, but they are particularly valuable for promoting equitable student success. Here are some of the key benefits of digital portfolios in this regard.

Benefits of Digital Portfolios for Equitable Student Success

Individualized Learning

Digital portfolios allow students to demonstrate their learning in a way that is unique to them. Students can choose to showcase their strengths and interests, which can help to promote a sense of ownership and investment in their learning. This individualization can help to level the playing field for students who may not excel in traditional forms of assessment or who may have different learning needs.

Increased Engagement

Because digital portfolios offer students more agency in their learning, they can be a powerful tool for promoting engagement. When students are able to choose the work they want to showcase and how they want to present it, they are more likely to be invested in the process. Additionally, the use of multimedia in digital portfolios can make the work more engaging and interesting for students.

Improved Authentic Assessment

Digital portfolios can provide a more comprehensive view of student learning than traditional assessments. Because they showcase a range of student work over time, they allow educators to see patterns and growth in student learning that may not be apparent in a single test or assignment. This can provide a more accurate and holistic view of student achievement.

Increased Equity

Perhaps the most significant benefit of digital portfolios is their potential to increase equity in education. Digital portfolios can provide a level playing field for students by allowing them to demonstrate their learning in a way that is unique to them. Additionally, digital portfolios can be accessed from anywhere, which can help address issues of access and opportunity for students who may not have the same resources at home as their peers.

College and Career Planning

Digital portfolios can also help to prepare students for college and career success. By showcasing their learning and achievements in a digital format, students can develop valuable digital literacy skills. Additionally, the process of curating and reflecting on their work can help students develop the critical thinking and self-reflection skills that are necessary for success in higher education and the workforce.

Five Things to Look for in an Equitable Solution for Digital Portfolios

When implementing digital portfolios in the classroom, it's essential to consider the impact of technology choices on student success and equity in the classroom. While some teachers may prefer to let students choose their own portfolio tool, this can create unexpected barriers, particularly for students who lack access to technology or have different levels of technological expertise. For instance, students without technology or tech-savvy family members at home may struggle to complete assignments outside of class. In addition, using different tools can lead to subconscious biases in digital design and create disparities in how students' work is perceived.

When assessing a digital portfolio tool, there are five critical things to consider:

1. Mobile-friendly app or website

Students who do not have a computer or laptop may still have access to a smartphone or tablet at home, meaning having a mobile-friendly option to complete homework could be vital to their success.

For many students, their smartphone is their best device for school work including essays and applying to colleges.

2. Accessibility standards

Ensure the solution you’re exploring meets digital accessibility standards (such as those created by the ADA), including, but not limited to: Captions on videos, text-to-speech integrations, and more.

Here’s a great resource from the Center on Technology and Disability for education leaders.

3. Clear language

Make sure you’re choosing an app that meets students where they are. A tool designed and written for university students, for example, may have complex language and functionality not needed for your grade eight students. You can use tools like the Hemingway App to get an estimate on the readability level of the ‘welcome page’ or set up of a product you’re considering.

4. Ease of use

Ease of use is always important.

When considering a level playing field, any tool where students can get by on their own and capture learning in a versatile way is critical. If documenting learning and uploading files is time-consuming or tricky, students will be less likely to use the product as often as you may appreciate.

Depending on the class you teach, you may need to look for different levels of complexity. Special education classes, K-3, and high schoolers, each would have different requirements to consider.

5. Free for students

Last but not least, ensure you provide an option that is free for students. Any tool that requires your students to pay out of pocket for access or even gives them an opportunity to pay for upgrades or customizations could give students with more disposable income more opportunities to make a stunning digital portfolio.

To promote equitable access to technology, educators must implement clear guidelines for expectations, encourage reflection, and standardize a single tool across the classroom. By doing so, all students, regardless of their background or access to resources, can have an equal opportunity to showcase their learning. SpacesEDU is one digital portfolio solution that meets the criteria for equity and offers a range of features that cater to the diverse needs of students. By embracing technology decisions that prioritize equity, educators can create a level playing field for all students and ensure that they have the tools they need to succeed.

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Capture the moments where growth happens with portfolios your students actually want to use
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