Digital Meaning-Making: A Collaborative e-Portfolio Project

Executive Summary

The project will infuse Electronic Portfolios with issues-based learning experiences. This dynamic and student-centered project creates a learning-community in which students collaborate on a multi-media problem/solution presentation, with a focus on research, digital literacy, and aggregation.

Project Description

Students need to be creators of content. They should not simply take in all that we, as teachers, dish out. They need to pull together pieces of knowledge that relate to the task at hand, be that reading a novel, analyzing a math problem, or seeing the cause and effect of the war in Iraq. This connection-making creates an authentic learning experience for students. What our project aims to do is bottle this experience into Electronic Portfolios, which are then presented to other students via Digital Storytelling, Skypecasting, PowerPoint Sharing (Slideshare), and Wikis both in our classrooms and around the world, thus giving birth to many more authentic learning experiences. This project, an inherently collaborative, creative, and dynamic venture, will focus our students upon Societal Issues that are important to their lives and big enough to hold their interest for more than one class period. The students become intrinsically motivated to aggregate research and make products that can be both shared worldwide and assessed classroom-side. The two phases of this project, research/creation and presentation, allow students to fully utilize 21st century resources. They will collaborate and cite sources using Google Notebook, collect web resources using, put together their arguments using Powerpoint; Google Documents; and their personal blogs; and they will post their digital artifacts to an Ourmedia server. They will then present their Societal Issue Proposals, projecting their images, movies, and words onto the walls of both classrooms and minds. Thus, creating a truly authentic learning experience.

Grade level(s) impacted

7th and 8th

Impacted students

120 (in the first year)

Project subject area(s)

Science, Math, Language Arts, and Social Studies

Specific Math and Science Rational

The focus on Societal Issues allow both math and science to play an integral role in the implementation of this project. Each student group will be required to both research and analyze the relevant statistics for their topic using and other web resources. Swivel specifically allows students to pull together data from many different disciplines (poverty, numbers of computers per household, and statewide education reform for example) and analyze each discipline's affect on the students' topic. This provides an avenue for real-world application of math concepts, with an emphasis on finding solutions. The science element is equally authentic. Students will research and analyze applications of technology and science that have both helped and hindered the solution to their Societal Issue, such as the creation of drought resistant corn in sub-Saharan Africa or the building of canals to connect societies here at home.

Project scalability

This project is intended to be accessible by students, educators, and families in a larger community. Once established, this project can be expanded to include more societal issues, student presenters, updated, newer, and more collaborative technologies, and, of course, educators. And because all directions and lesson plans will be available online, all interested groups will have instant access to use the material as necessary. This project is transferable, editable, and collaborative thus allowing both students and teachers to reflect -- in an ongoing fashion -- on the success of the project.

Student Impact and Assessment

The Student Will Be Able To:

  • Identify and succinctly state a societal issue that is personally meaningful.
  • Research the Issue
    • Identify Cause and Effect relationships of the Issue.
    • Dis-aggregate relevant data from and make meaningful conclusions from such data.
    • Analyze and Editorialize factual information.
    • Find historical significance of factual information.
    • Write personal reflections based upon Issue's many facets.
    • Create a research online notebook for collaborative notes and works cited documents to be found.
  • Create an Issue Proposal
    • Produce multi-media problem/solution presentation using MemoryMiner, PowerPoint, or Wikis which includes:
      • Video Introduction of Issue that talks about why their Issue is an important one.
      • Video Reflection on current research (mid-way through project).
      • Video Culmination highlighting important elements of their proposal.
      • Audio Field Notes utilizing podcasting (
      • Image Collection with attribution to establish significance and meaning of words.
      • Written Editorials summarizing research.
      • Written Reflection of current research. (Ongoing)
      • Written Annotation of significant images.
      • Written Data Analysis.
  • Present the Issue Proposal
    • Clearly convey the Issue to a group of students, parents, teachers, and other stakeholders in a presentation format.
      • Open up their Proposal for present and future collaboration and revision.

Measuring Impact on Students

Our measuring tools will implement a Project Rubric (from, Enthusiasm for Learning Matrices, Pre- and Post-Assessment Data, and ongoing evaluation tools (student and teacher reflection pieces). Along with established content-specific common assessments, the pre- and post-assessment material will focus on collaboration skills, digital literacy, and aggregating ability. Our "control group" will consist of students in the remaining teams (or, Neighborhoods) in our building who will be taking similar, content-based, common-assessments. We will evaluate all data in mid-year and end-year reflection sessions to make additions and implement revisions to the project.

Technology in the teaching process

As Chris Lehmann of the Science Leadership Academy says, "Technology should be like oxygen: ubiquitous and necessary." We know what simply having an LCD projector in a classroom can do. We believe in the power of editing documents and lesson plans on the fly, visually displaying concepts, and taking one set of classroom notes to be printed out for everyone at the end of class. This technology would revolutionize the way that we can conduct direct instruction, discussion activities, and higher level thinking exercises. We would not have to use overheads or leave great web resources unexplored. Having an LCD projector in each teacher's classroom allows our teachers to display their thoughts and reflections as they have them, not the next day or the next week after a copy of something has been made. This simple step of attaching a projector to a capable computer with presentation capabilities makes this one computer seem like 32. This step breaks new ground in the fertile minds of our students by stimulating the increasingly visual learning style of our students. The other tools available through this grant only enhance this ability to present in a visual manner. Although the projector provides the platform for presentation, the digital camera, scanner, and tablet PC provide the content. The project teachers would be able to create interactive how-to's, visual exemplars, and manipulative resources that would refine project goals and learning concepts for students. They would also allow us to document our project in a way that would not otherwise be possible, creating digital artifacts of student learning via digital camera and chronicling ongoing assessment through the tablet technology. Through the Acedemy of Discovery Model, this technology would fundamentally change our information collection and presentation systems, both for the better.

Measuring impact on teaching

Our group will utilize a readily accessible and easy-to-use, online survey tool (e.g. Zoomerang) to regularly measure the impact that this project is having on our classroom practice. This data can then be parlayed into conversations about which teaching styles and methods work best for this project. It will also let us establish a culture of collaboration in talking about creating a classroom learning environment, increasing student engagement, and fine-tuning our pedagogical processes.

Teacher Collaboration through the Academy of Discovery Model

Our project requires both synchronous and asynchronous collaboration. Although our group will meet in person at least twice a month on this project, our main avenues for collaborating will be through a lesson planning wiki, project evaluation collaborative document (Google Documents), and consistent e-mail communication. These asynchronous methods allow our group to continually add to and revise the project instructions for our students. It also provides a place for discussion of individual classroom procedures (the discussion pages are attached to every lesson plan). Making changes to the project this way allows both students and teachers to stay on the same page with the project's progress. The collaborative evaluation document allows all teachers to continually update their observations and conclusions about the project's successes. Thus, no single teacher is responsible for evaluating the project, but rather each teacher has a hand in making the project the best it can be.