Acrobat for Educators – Part 1.

E-portfolios are not a new idea and there is no shortage of tools out there which can be  used to create them. For me one of the major issues when looking at E-portfolios is that
it is sometimes unclear as to the purpose and audience for them. In some cases they are
used to collate and present work; for example to showcase design work. Many examples I have seem are actually little more than a repository for students i.e. a place students put work so that their teacher can assess them. While these can look great and might offer some convenience to the viewer I can’t help but think that potentially they can be more than that.   Acrobat has a number of features which I think work really well for students and teachers. Firstly it is easy to create; the importance of this should not be underestimated. All too often portfolios require complex set ups, and in some cases this takes ownership away from those who are actually going to use them. Next is the flexibility to work with file types; if my portfolio can only work certain files types or I need both the creator and the viewer to have the same software installed this takes away some of the ownership away.  Again this is an important principle, I have always been uneasy where students are told to use a particular tool to solve a problems

Portfolios system which use internet based repositories require files to be uploaded/downloaded on demand and with media rich projects with classrooms full
of students this also can restrict usage.  Acrobat portfolios can easily be created and
worked on locally but also provide a variety of ways of sharing.

Ownership is very important to way that portfolios can improve teaching and learning. An example of this is with something we call Tutor for Learning.  As a Head of House, I am responsible for monitoring academic progress of some 200 students in my school. I can read teachers comments and look at grades and that can help me to understand how a student is doing but this is does not always paint a full picture. So we arrange a meeting with the students and their parents; in this meeting the student leads a ‘learning  conversation’ talking through the highs and lows of the years work.  They can do so with examples of their work  drawn from all areas of the curriculum and it is here that the Acrobat portfolio is so useful. Each student owns their portfolio, controls what  goes into it. Of course these portfolios are potentially very different and for some subjects  e.g. food Technology or Physical Education the only way of keeping the evidence is to digitize it.  What’s more they can use the markup and commenting tools to reflect on their own work before the meeting. Often schools and teachers tell students and parents how they are getting on and here we have a tool with which  the students have the opportunity  engage in a more proactive understanding of  their own learning.

Another way that using Acrobat portfolios has helped us develop learning is that they can
provide a scaffold for students work without constraining them to a particular file type or format.  Students will work  projects of their own choosing and the outcomes might be very different for a student who is creating their own music video and one who is working on a spreadsheet for their Dad’s Business. The ability  to create flexible structures to scaffold projects is perfect. For example I can  create a folder called Planning. Inside this folder can add notes and guidance in  the form of PDF Documents, and forms for self evaluations. This still allows the students to decide the form and nature of the response they give while stilll giving them a structure to work within.

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