The Digital School Portfolio Software(c)
The Digital School Portfolio has evolved as a unique aspect of the School Change and Inquiry Program. It is used within the program's Inquiry Initiative to assist a school in telling its own story: that is to provide an account of its work and performance - an account that is broad, deep, and coherent, as well as being accessible both to those most immediately involved with the school, and to the public. In accomplishing this, the Digital School Portfolio also provides a strategy for a professional community's sustaining inquiry into its own work, and a continuing focus upon the critical concern of that community: student learning, progress and achievement. A commitment to the essential enterprise of schooling, teaching and learning, and to the daily work of a school as a learning community, provide the broader context within which a Digital School Portfolio is developed.
The Digital School Portfolio endeavors to achieve an accurate representation of the work and performance of a school. As such, it is an expression of a school's accountability. Not only its public accountability to students, their parents, its encompassing communities, the school district, and the state, but also its professional accountability to teachers, administrators, and others within the wider education community. Essentially, the Digital School Portfolio is one aspect of an attempt to address the challenges of public accountability, including accountability to those who fund and control a school, while simultaneously developing a professional accountability to colleagues, and to other educators.
The process of constructing a Digital School Portfolio needs to be a collaborative one, involving teachers, administrators, students, parents, and members of the school's encompassing communities. The process needs to be integrated with processes of inquiry which teachers and administrators have become proficient at using; which reflect a knowledge and understanding of the key characteristics of a broad range of practice; which are appropriate to a school's particular circumstances, and which are rigorous.
There are three vital stages in the construction of a Digital School Portfolio. The first stage involves focussing the inquiry on the work and performance of a school; inquiring into that work and performance; reviewing each piece of evidence that emerges, and, thereafter, reflecting upon it. The second stage involves distilling the complete evidence to clarify what it encompasses; questioning what has been learned; securing broad agreement as to what is most important, and, only then, defining the sum and substance of this collective perspective. The third stage involves drafting the essence of the story to be told, recording it, editing it, and, finally, communicating it, in a way that is both publicly and professionally accessible and intelligible. Ultimately, through engaging fully in each of these three stages, a school can become an inquiring community, and prepare to become, a knowledgeable, and known, community.
"It is amazing what nonsense a man can conceive
when he thinks too much alone."
- John Keynes
Developing a Digital School Portfolio is not an enterprise for an individual, or a small group; it is an enterprise for an entire school community. Responsibility for the coordination of the enterprise, however, does need to lie with an individual coordinator, working with a small team, who, together, need to accept the responsibility for engaging the entire school community in the process of inquiry that underpins any Digital School Portfolio. Further, they also need to accept the responsibility to lead the portfolio's detailed development, including its editing.
The business of a school is not the production of a Digital School Portfolio; a Digital School Portfolio, however, can support the business of a school, most especially by providing an accurate account of the actuality and substance of the school's work and performance. Providing such an account, however, is a complex and challenging process. It is critical, therefore, that each of the three stages outlined above is fully engaged, and the temptation to rush ahead, especially to the final stage, is resolutely resisted! It is only when the evidence of inquiry has been amassed, and a collective perspective has been achieved, that the final stage of drafting, recording, editing, and communicating can begin in earnest.
The Digital School Portfolio is focussed on three components; teaching and learning; student learning, progress and achievement, and schools as learning communities (See diagram, "Components"). In turn, each of these components is broken down into four elements: teaching and learning into instructional strategies, learning environment, learning technologies, and the management of teaching and learning; student learning, progress and achievement into assessment of student progress and achievement, learning standards and curriculum design, student work, and support for student learning; and schools as learning communities into community engagement, human resources, mission and organization, and school culture (See diagram, "Elements"). These components and elements also form the framework for the inquiry process that provides the evidence to be presented through the medium of the Digital School Portfolio. The value that the portfolio adds to this framework is that apart from enabling the evidence to be presented using a range of technologies, it also permits relationships between the various components and elements to be readily explored to a degree that would be impractical otherwise.
Prior to entering the evidence of inquiry represented within the collective perspective into the Digital School Portfolio, careful attention needs to be given to any patterns inherent in the evidence, to its organization within, and across, the various components and elements, and to the most appropriate media to be used in its communication. Attention to these matters will lead to an infinitely more accessible and intelligible Digital School Portfolio. The Digital School Portfolio Development Guide, together with the Storyboarding Kit that accompanies the Digital School Portfolio Software, should both be of use in this aspect of a portfolio's development.
The features of multimedia technologies make it possible to create a remarkably rich representation of the collective perspective that is crafted from the evidence of inquiry. Moreover, these very same technologies also enable a school to revise its representation in the light of new evidence. Whether crafting an initial representation, however, or revising one in the light of further evidence, clarity as to precisely what is being represented is crucial. The what of a story is paramount, and in the context of the Digital School Portfolios being developed in Chicago, the what relates not only to a representation of a school engaged in inquiry, but also to a representation of a school trying to change, to improve. The story is, thus, of a journey - a journey on which each school has traveled with at least one partner, the MacArthur Foundation-funded project with which it works. Clarity, therefore, as to the role, or roles, which this project has played in the course of the school's journey, exemplified through the evidence of inquiry, should be one of the Digital School Portfolios connecting aspects.
In portraying the evidence of inquiry through a Digital School Portfolio, text, data, graphics, photographs, audio and video can all be employed. Decisions as to which media is the most appropriate for different pieces of evidence, and to precisely how it might be incorporated, will benefit both from experimentation over time, and an understanding of the emerging science of the organization of information, information architecture.
While the medium is most definitely not the message with a Digital School Portfolio, it is, nevertheless, important that adequate time is allocated to exploring something of the potential of multimedia technologies, prior to making the initial, critical decisions relating to which technologies to use with which evidence. The effectiveness of a portfolio will be shaped not only by the appropriateness of the medium used, but also by how it is used. The importance of aligning what with how is a key aspect in the creation of a Digital School Portfolio - a key aspect that should not be underestimated. The equipment list included at the end of this section details something of the range of hardware and software which is available to support this task, and the "Helpful References" document (45) in section eight includes two texts related to information architecture.
There is no "right" way to construct a Digital School Portfolio. The experience of constructing one, however, drawing on the experience and evidence of inquiry, the voices and perspectives of those who know a school, and the discipline of authorship, of "telling your own story," - using the richness of multimedia technologies - has been designed to add value both to the process of inquiry, and to the learning of students, teachers, and administrators.
Once constructed, a Digital School Portfolio can provide a school faculty with a vehicle to explore their work in depth, not only amongst themselves, and with their peers, but also with the wider community - a community which can now be much better informed as to the actuality, substance, and performance of the school. In addition, the portfolio will provide the faculty with a springboard for yet further focused inquiry. In incorporating a process of structured inquiry into their work, and in constructing a Digital School Portfolio which supports them - often for the first time - in interrelating different aspects of that work, faculty can begin to craft the culture of review which is so essential to continuous improvement. Moreover, they can begin to communicate their work much more effectively, even within their own community, and especially with the wider public and professional communities. Further, they will be engaging in a form of professional learning which holds the promise of impacting positively on the work of their students, as well as on their own work. Finally, the planning in which faculties become involved can now not only be informed by a knowledge of their work, which was previously largely inaccessible, but also can more easily engage members of a school's encompassing communities, especially parents.
The Digital School Portfolio aspires to contribute to the development of a firm foundation upon which a school and its encompassing communities can begin to mold solutions to the complex issues that must be overcome if all students are to achieve the ever higher standards of learning now being demanded of them. The knowledge that is developed in the course of creating a Digital School Portfolio is the knowledge which shapes learning, transforms thinking, informs action, and forges improvement.
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