These days I am thinking a lot about digital portfolios. I have been looking at a lot of them, talking a lot about them and coincidentally, evaluating a lot of them. So that I don’t forget all of this by next Fall, I want to put my thoughts down and try to galvanize some of the lessons I have learned this semester.
I presented this project at the very beginning of the semester. I think this was overwhelming to some of the students, but my objective was to make sure they knew about their portfolio all semester. I knew some (or many) of them would put this off until the last minute, but I also knew some of the students would appreciate getting an early start. So, I discussed with them the purpose of a portfolio, and we also talked about digital footprints and job searches and other big ideas. Then I showed them some examples of different portfolios from former students using a variety of different tools. The last thing I had them do was open an account with the tool they wanted to use, then send me the URL of their portfolio.
|Google Sites||This is an easy tool to use. The interface is simple, and it is easy to find the features you are looking for. There aren’t any hidden features or misplaced menus, just a simple set of tools, layouts and themes to choose from. I have used this tool for several years as a way to organize my lectures, and it works great for this. File uploading is especially easy because it is done directly on the page rather than in a dashboard. You can choose to hide the attachments on each page, then create a link to them. Sites builds the menu as you create pages, so the navigation is almost a no-brainer. You can also easily embed videos, slideshows, images and docs from Google’s other services. If you a Google apologist, like me, you will find this very easy and convenient to use.||There aren’t really that many options when it comes to the look and feel of your Google Site. There are some nice themes, but there is nothing that really stands out or looks flashy (if that is what you are going for). As one of my students put it, “I want my portfolio to look cute.” Not exactly my objective when making a portfolio, but that’s important to some people. You are able to customize the appearance of the Google Sites, but it takes some time and a little HTML know-how. This is not something a lot of preservice teachers want to dive into.|
|WikiSpaces||Like Google Sites, this tool is incredibly easy to use. The interface is very similar to Google Sites, and there are a lot of widgets that allow you to add different media to each page. The file manager is quite different than Google Sites, but it is very easy to use. Each page also has a discussion section, so you can center conversations around each page, as well as see the history for the page. This is quite different than Google Sites, where most of this information is hidden. The History tool is nice if I need to see when a page was last edited (as in, after the deadline). I don’t make a big deal about this unless it is a major edit. Aside from being a pretty good portfolio tool, WikiSpaces is a great environment for teaching wikis and collaborative knowledge building. To demonstrate the power of collaborative knowledge building, I had my class collectively make this wiki in about 15 minutes.||Like Google Sites, this options for layout and themes are pretty spartan. Some people like this, including me, so it really isn’t a con. But the cuteness factor is pretty low. You can customize the website to some degree, but you will have to live with some of the layout features. You will also need to change some of the settings as soon as you create your wiki. The default setting is for anyone to be able to edit the site. If you are using this tool to create a portfolio, you will want to turn that feature off and make yourself the only editor.|
|Webs||This tool is where you start to trade ease of use for look and feel. The first two tools look very much like something you would expect from a wiki. Webs looks more like a professional website. You have a lot of options in terms of themes and layouts, and they all look very nice.||If you choose to use this tool, be prepared to spend some time messing around with it. I have done a lot of blogging, web design, web mastering, etc., so I was able to make sense of Webs pretty easily. My students, however, struggled with this tool. Once they spent some time with it, the interface started to make sense. I would not recommend this tool to novice web creators. Unless you upgrade to the paid service, you also have to put up with ads on your website. Personally, I wouldn’t want ads for reducing belly fat (pictures included!) on my educational portfolio.|
|Wix||Of all the tools, this one looks the best. Wix is built on Flash, so it looks very professional and, well, flashy. You are able to upload about any kind of file, and Wix has built in widgets to play and display media. The majority of my students were drawn to this tool because they look so good.||Intimidated by new tools? Not familiar with web design? Don’t choose this tool. It is NOT for beginners. I had many students choose Wix, and I was able to walk most of them through it. Some of them bailed out and went for Google Sites or WikiSpaces. You will spend a lot of time formatting and figuring out the layout. The end result is a fantastic-looking portfolio, but you will put a lot of sweat equity into it. The most frustrating feature in this tool, which is true of Webs as well, is embedding a YouTube video. By far, the clunkiest I have EVER seen. This is disappointing considering how well some of the other features work. I guess the developers ran out of steam.|
|Weebly||This tool is surprisingly easy to use. I am least familiar with it because I didn’t have any students choose it. This is how I usually master a web tool, by answering all of their questions. The interface is drag and drop, and even though some of the features (e.g., file uploading) aren’t very intuitive, the overall ease of use is a plus.||The free service does not include most of the cool features Weebly has to offer. They tease you with a host of widgets and options, but when you try to add them to your page you get a pop-up telling you they are only available for Premium customers. This might not be a bad idea for someone who wants to keep this portfolio around after the class (or graduation) is over, but I am realistic enough to admit that most of my students drop this project like a hot rock once they have a grade.|
So, there is a simple breakdown of tools you can use for a digital portfolio. This is not exhaustive, nor is it very detailed. But there is enough information to get someone started. I will still recommend Google Sites and WikiSpaces to my students, and I am pretty sure they will still choose Webs and Wix. They’re like moths to a porch light. The good thing is, the more of them that choose Wix and Webs, the better I will learn them and the better my support will be.
What tools do you use for digital portfolios? Am I missing anything obvious? Let me know!