Going Google at my School: Part 7 – Student Portfolios

Like all good events, had I completed a self assessment survey before and after the Google Teacher Academy (GTAUK13) I attended in December 2013 I would have given myself a 8/10 on the way in and 3/10 on the way out such was the astonishing creative use of technology to enhance learning amongst my cohort.


Stephanie Ladbroke was a team leader at the GTAUK13 having been a Google Certified Teacher (GCT) for a few years. Stephanie lead a session where she shared the technology her class had used for projects. The particular project that has stuck with me is a rainforest project her primary class carried out. The project culminated with a local company changing the packaging they used. The technology used is a footnote as all it did was enable exceptional learning. This is what the role of technology in education should be.

I mention this because it is the moment I realised that at secondary school, we had to do more to make sure that if we inherit students from classes like Stephanie’s we built on the amazing work they have done in primary school. I am implementing e-portfolios for next year to try and make sure we do this.

What is an e-portfolio

An online electronic collection of evidence of achievement and learning

The portfolio of work for our students will be maintained via a Google Site owned by each student and viewable to teachers. I chose to use Google sites as it is within our suite of tools as part of our Google Apps for Education (GAfE) account. Work created in Google Drive can be easily inserted into a page, hence leading more teaching staff to choose for their students to utilise the Google tools available and enhance collaboration.

Learning portfolios are not a new concept, but with the availability of devices, internet access and the ease with which sites can be created and maintained by people with no coding ability, collecting evidence of learning electronically seems a sensible choice, could save a lot of paper too! For a state secondary school in the UK the portfolio is meant to be student-led and we want it to be something they are proud of that can be used throughout their time at secondary school and even beyond for employment.

For the students to be motivated I feel we need teaching staff to refer to it regularly and plan their curriculum and schemes of work with the portfolios in mind. To this end I was able to meet with the heads of faculty to discuss the portfolio and ask for them to feedback to me on what they wanted the students to use it for in their subject. With the vast array of pressures on middle leaders I was pleasantly surprised with the level of support and interest though I wish I could have started the conversation earlier to allow them more time to digest and think of how it could work for them. It will be important to open regular dialogue with staff as the first year of portfolios goes on.

The portfolios are being rolled out with our new students in year 7 (11-12 year olds) and each subject has been asked to allocate at least one project in the year which the students will be expected to add to their portfolio and hence the teaching staff will need to focus on the students using Google tools to complete the project.

Rather than have the students create a site from scratch the feedback from faculties allowed me to create a template on which the students can build.

Advice to schools beginning this process:

Engage with staff and students as early as possible and create a group who can ensure the portfolio is supported by the leadership of the school and that it has a clear purpose for your school that is relevant to learning and the vision of the school. Try to get a range of staff to support the initiative, ideally ones with skills sets different to your own.  

The Template

For every different context a different set up could work. As a secondary school the consensus was for the subjects along the top. Other options that were discussed were to have main headings that related to achievements, leadership and life/employability skills. Below is the final template layout. The wider skills that we as teachers aim to develop but don’t get measured on are in the centre.

The front page design is a Google Drawing with links from each part to pages on the site.
The front page design is a Google Drawing with links from each part to pages on the site.

In discussion with the faculties some requested that their pages be pre-populated with project information ready for the students. Others saw a opportunity to collect some useful information from the students, such as our Languages faculty who had a Google form in their page to find out the language skills of the students joining us in September. We were able to do this by introducing the students to their sites on induction day.

Advice to schools beginning this process:

I did all the editing myself, in hindsight I should have used our digital leaders and other staff by adding them as collaborators on the Google Site I used for the template. If you are able to get one member of staff from each faculty to edit their page of the learning portfolio or even one student per page that would save time and make it a more collaborative effort as possibly increase the buy in from a wider section of the school population.

Creating the sites

Once the template is complete, each student needs a copy to call their own. My initial plan was to get them to create a site from the template, which is not too complicated but would need some clear instructions in the session. Luckily I know Oli Trussel, a UK maths teacher who is great at using Google scripts. He created a couple of scripts for me that allowed me to create and share the sites with the students via a Google Sheets. This meant that the students had a site waiting for them. By using an add-on in the same Google sheet I was able to email the link to their site to each student allowing me to introduce them to their email as well as their site.

Once created the students could get to their site by going to Sites once logged in but I chose to use the add-on Yet Another Mail Merge which allows you to write a draft email in your Gmail referencing columns in a Google Sheet. This meant I could send an email to every student with their site address in. This was how they would get to their site, which introduced them to their email at the same time.

Advice to schools beginning this process:

Drop me a line if you would like a copy of the Google sheet Oli and I worked on to create the Google sites for the students. With more time I am sure something more elegant could be created but if you want to create a large number of sites in relatively little time this will do it.

Induction Day

In the UK it is traditional to have a day in the summer term towards the end of the academic year where the students joining the school in September attend for a day to meet their form class and get used to the school. In previous years we use the day for them to spend time with tutors and attend a few lessons in different subjects. I approached the assistant head who is responsibly for the transition of students from primary to secondary so we could introduce the students to their portfolios on induction day.

Induction day was yesterday! The students were issued with their logins and passwords on paper and were then scheduled for one hour in the computer room where they were lead through the process below:

  1. Login to network (we operate a Microsoft network at our school)
  2. Login to the learning portal (our name for their Google login page)
  3. Open an email (first school email for most of them, though a lot have a personal one…)
  4. Go to Site and complete MfL survey
  5. Add a page “My Primary Learning” and write about their best primary learning experiences
  6. Share the site with form tutors and heads of house

I have colour coded our progress from the day. I was generally pleased as almost all students logged in (apart from a couple who got in to our school on appeal and their names weren’t in my list when I created the sites) , must follow those up! I personally ran two sessions and colleagues ran the other six. Informal feedback is positive but at this early stage I can draw no conclusions on the impact.

Measuring the Impact

There are a variety of ways in which I would like to monitor the impact of the learning portfolios, but I need to stay focussed on the purpose

  • Gather information about our new students that can better inform our teaching and development of the students.
  • Portfolio is valued by staff and students as a learning tool
  • Increases the use of the Google Apps tools amongst staff and students

The last one seems a little cynical but I strongly believe the tools can enhance pedagogy and learning if used consistently well across out school so I do not mind using the portfolios as a vehicle to help staff engage with the Google Apps tools.

The range of measures will be

  • Usage statistics for Google Apps and particularly the learning portfolio sites
  • Feedback from teachers, students and parents across the next academic year
    • Staff will be asked about usage, barriers, training needs and to share best practice
    • Students will be asked about usage and whether they value it via a number of Likert scale questions.
    • Parents will be asked if their child has shown it to them and to rate the quality of the work.
  • Evidence of teachers adjusting their teaching based on information in the learning portfolios
  • Report grades compared to previous cohorts (though only relevant if other measures are positive)

I would greatly value input from any education academics on the research aspect and measuring the impact. Indeed if anyone would like to add to the research related to learning portfolios I would be happy to work with them using our initiative as a case study.

Advice to schools beginning this process:

While research can inform decisions it also relies on you having a free year to get through the information and you may still be no further forward in your decision making. Case studies that match your circumstances would be a more efficient way to gather evidence for decision makers if you need to convince them of the worth of learning portfolios.

At the Google teacher academy I was fortunate to meet with a number of teachers who have e-portfolios working well in their schools.

However, I defer to one of my heroes, Grace Hopper who said:

“It is often easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission”

This philosophy has served me well so far!

I am sure I will be able to update our progress next academic year in a blog post or if I get the opportunity to present it might be something worth sharing.


Ben Rouse



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