Since this unit focuses on using technology to improve writing instruction in the English language arts classroom, it is logical to include a discussion of electronic portfolios. There is an initiative across states to have Twenty-First Century Competencies Portfolios, which are electronic copies of student work over their four years of high school. More than a mandate, though, electronic portfolios encourage student participation and achievement.
There is work around the nation on using electronic portfolios in English classrooms. One educator, Elizabeth Beagle of Virginia Beach, uses them to improve writing in her classes. Her research and that of professor Kathleen Blake Yancey focus on framing electronic portfolios for success. Yancey focuses on "collection, selection, reflection, and projection" ("Electronic…" 2004) in student portfolios. In other words, students compile their work throughout the year, choose the pieces that best reflect stated objectives, reflect on successes and areas of growth, make necessary improvements, and present their work as the portfolio. Educators report feelings of collegiality with their students, rather than harsher turn-it-in and get-a-grade assignments. With an electronic portfolio, students and teachers can have an authentic dialog about student work. The framework suggested by Yancey is necessary for seeing this through. It is important to note that an electronic portfolio is not an online deposit for papers. It is thoughtful, reflective, and evolving.
Struggling learners will benefit from electronic portfolios. Elizabeth Beagle, in a paper from 2004, listed the following as benefits of electronic portfolios for students: "Easy management, Faster revision/editing, More creativity, Skill acquisition, Audience concerns" (Beagle, 2004). Collected work is easily managed online because students do not need to keep track of numerous papers and drafts. It is all stored online. Revision and editing are completed more easily due to the recursive capacity of word processing. Greater creativity steps in when students are allowed to spend time on their own to embellish their sites with fonts, colors, and images. Some students, according to Beagle, did not even consider their writing on the computer as "work." They found it to be fun. The skill acquisition is clear here because students are willing to spend more time on their work, which, if directed correctly, leads to higher achievement. Also, while it is not best practice to tell this to students, the Smarter Balance exams require word processing, so repeated and meaningful use of these programs will benefit students on these high-stakes exams. Finally, the audience for online work can be broadly defined. Students may feel greater pressure to do well if they know that their peers will be judging their work. They may work harder to create new and better pieces if they know that future teachers will be able to see their work with ease. Additionally, they will be able to link their portfolios to social media sites, thus enabling them to share their work with peers voluntarily. Their parents will also be able to see turned in work as well as comments and revisions. Parental involvement is paramount to student success, making this just one more reason why digital portfolios improve student learning.