While once only for art, advertising and architecture, portfolios have transformed into a 21st century digital liberator, now one of the most essential tools in education and fastest-growing segments in the EdTech industry.

How to develop lifelong learners.

Stanford professor Carol Dweck says that throughout the 20th century the “now” learning environment has conditioned students to think that problems must be answered succinctly and immediately. The prevailing expectation has been “there is one path and one right answer and if you don’t get it right, you’re wrong.” So, when students don’t get it right the first time, their conclusion is they have failed. The results are devastating on confidence and motivation. 

Dweck says the shift education must make is to create a “yet” mindset. In other words, when a student is confronted with a problem, the student must understand that finding a solution involves a process. And while they may not yet have the answer, they are discovering a process that will lead to the answer. Most importantly the student discovers their process. The fundamental change in pedagogy is the shift from “get it right the first time” to “haven’t yet discovered it.” It is the essential process of discovery that builds confidence, motivates curiosity and ultimately leads to what educator and researcher Angela Duckworth defines as the key to success: grit (defined as an “indomitable spirit”). In other words, gritty students don’t give up.

The introduction of digital portfolios to 21st century education provides a seismic shift in learning and teaching. Digital portfolios allow students to uniquely express themselves and establish their personal, problem solving path. They serve as a window into the mind and heart of the learner. Teachers can see how students arrived at a conclusion and then engage with them in practical ways. This process of learning is active, detailed and provides a “not yet, but getting closer” mentality which promotes curiosity to higher learning. When students can break down their work into manageable steps and reflect on each of those, actively engaging their mistakes and misconceptions, there is a fundamental shift that occurs. Students begin to learn that it’s not about immediately getting the right answer, but rather learning the process of understanding. Most importantly, digital portfolios emphasize process, feedback and reflection, which develops self awareness and a lifelong motivation to learn.

How to tell the difference? The problem with GPAs, test scores and transcripts.

The traditional high school or college graduate validates their competency as a student with a few primary indicators: GPA, test scores and transcripts. GPA reflects the level of a student’s general competency using a numerical scoring device. Traditionally, this scale is believed to indicate future success as a learner. However, what has become evident over time is this number is actually very inaccurate when it comes to predicting long-term competency as a productive human being. SAT/ACT tests don’t do much better representing the true nature of a student’s ability, either.

While the ability to take a test well may reveal a certain level of familiarity with a subject, these tests do little in predicting future success. Privileged students are tutored and practice for years before they actually take the test. Tests are “super scored,” so the students who can afford to retake the tests do so as many times as they need to in order to achieve the desired score. Success in these standardized tests is determined by a student’s ability to take the tests quickly and accurately. Slower, more processed-minded students are penalized for taking too much time, resulting in poorer scores.

Despite all the testing, transcript and GPA deficiencies, another common problem with these indicators is the amount of shockingly similar GPAs and transcripts. Countless high school graduates flood the college admissions boards every year with identical profiles. How can administrators and potential employers differentiate between applicants? 

Image of school graduates

The solution? Digital Portfolios.

Once again digital portfolios come to the rescue. The truth is, not all 4.0 GPAs are created equal. Digital portfolios are a great differentiator among seemingly equal candidates. The visible proof of detailed work makes a significant difference in determining true competency. A digital portfolio follows the student through their education and provides support and examples of learning styles throughout the student’s life.

As education prices rise and competition increases for prestigious universities, shouldn’t there be more to show for all this time, effort and cost? Shouldn’t there be a way for students to represent their body of work in an accessible, effective way? With the emergence of the digital portfolio, the ability to “show” work is simple, portable and manageable for every subject. 

While good grades, test scores and diplomas may applaud certain kinds of accomplishments, they are not sufficient indicators of true competency and long-term success. All across the globe, there is an emerging demand that requires more than a mere number. Proof of competency through the power of digital portfolios is a fabulous solution. 

Digital portfolios propel education into the 21st century. They foster creativity, encourage lifelong learning and provide a detailed view into the minds of students, while simplifying and modernizing the teaching process.

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The bulb Team Think Tank