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Considering equity when implementing digital portfolio tools

How introducing a digital portfolio tool can level the playing field for student success
Bryan Carvalho
January 30, 2020

Student is writing on whiteboard

When speaking with educators about digital portfolios, some have expressed concerns about adopting one standardized portfolio tool for their classrooms.

Two of the common objections are:

  1. Having one set product limits the opportunity for creativity and customization, and;
  2. Part of the overall learning experience is selecting and learning to use new technology to create a digital portfolio

While learning new technology and encouraging creativity are both important, the free-for-all portfolio project can create unexpected barriers for some students.

Internet and technology at home

Tasking your students to come up with their own solution, such as licensing a website tool, can immediately disadvantage students who do not have technology or tech-savvy family members at home to support them.

One student may have a sibling who is a software developer, a new laptop at home, and a high-speed internet connection. However, their peer may not have internet or an up-to-date computer at home and be reliant on what they can get done in class.

In 2019, Associated Press data showed approximately 3 million students lack digital access at home: 17 percent of U.S. students do not have access to home computers and 18 percent do not have access to the internet at home (broadband or higher).

If students are limited to work on their digital portfolios only when they’re at school, they will have far less time to perfect the technology.

Subconscious biases in digital design

As much as we’d like to be different, we can’t help our own inherent biases. A digital portfolio that looks better and is more intuitive is going to impact the way we see the work within it.

Google research has found between 17 and 50 milliseconds is all the time it takes to form an aesthetic judgment of a website design.

In an art or web design class, of course, the portfolio presentation itself can be evidence of learning.

However, in most cases for K-12 educators, what matters is the evidence of learning contained within the portfolio.

Considering equity in technology decisions

A digital portfolio technology should serve as a vehicle for delivering evidence of learning, development, and reflection. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  1. Outline clear guidelines for expectations on how they can showcase their mastery to help reduce any technological disadvantages students may have.
  2. Embrace and encourage opportunities for students to reflect on their experiences, challenges, and opportunities putting together a digital portfolio.
  3. Consider standardizing one tool across your class to give all students the same stage to share their learning, regardless of the advantages they may bring to the stage.

Looking to evaluate a digital portfolio tool for your classroom? Jump ahead to “Five things to look for in an equitable solution for digital portfolios.

Bryan Carvalho

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