After Queen Margaret College introduced a one-to-one laptop programme last year, the roll-out of student e-folios has been an obvious – and successful – next step, writes Richard Knuckey.
Our student laptop programme is well embedded now at QMC, and is proving to be a huge success in terms of improved student learning outcomes, engagement, collaboration, and creativity. The decision to adopt the use of student e-folios was a natural progression but also one based on a clear rationale to provide:
· A single space where students could easily select, assemble, present, reflect-on, and ultimately share a wide range of learning outcomes with their peers, parents, and teachers;
· A means whereby teachers could electronically distribute courses or units of work, resources, or single tasks on an individual student-by-student basis, thus reducing the amount of photocopying, text and exercise books required; and
· A means by which teachers could assess individual student work electronically, and enable them to provide immediate feedback at any stage of a task without the student needing to physically hand anything in.
We were already using OneNote and, after seeing a demo at ULearn last year, it was decided that this program would be a very effective application for student folios.
Setting a foundation
All students from Year 6 to 9, approximately 250 of them, as well as every teacher, have a Toshiba laptop with OneNote installed. At the start of the year, an e-folio template is made for each year level from 3 to 9 (the school provides shared netbooks for Year 1-5 students). Each year level template has sections for goal setting, a self-assessed Learner Profile Attributes scale (the International Baccelaureate equivalent to the New Zealand Curriculum Key Competencies), an activites/commitments/‘to-do’ organiser, etc., as well as sections for each of the classroom subjects that the students are learning.
These can have unit subsections and pages organised with content. This can include things such as workbooks, tables, images, diagrams, links to online learning sites, reference material, assessment tasks, and so on. Basically, it’s going to have to have everything that the student might need during the course of the year. More pages and content can be added by teachers or students during the year but, at the outset, the goal is to scaffold the development of the folio as much as possible in order to set a foundation before the student.
Syncing between laptop and server
If a subject teacher prefers not to provide any material at the start of the year, blank unit subsections are provided and students simply organise that section with snippets of their best work from each unit. (For example, this could be a piece of writing, a scan of some artwork, a composition, or photos from a PE lesson). Departments select material that’s compulsory to include in the e-folios to enable moderation across all classes.
Once a draft template is made for each year level, these are made into class sets, named individually, and hosted on a local server. Students then launch their e-folio on their laptop, thus enabling content to sync between their laptop and the server. Teachers open their students’ folios from the server, and the system is ready to go. Whatever the student writes/adds will appear at the teacher’s end and, conversely, whatever comments, feedback, additions are made at the teacher’s end will appear at the student end. Additions make the student’s name appear in bold, so a quick scan can show who has accessed their folio.
The main advantages
The benefits of this system are evident both practically and pedagogically. Time and money is saved by both teachers and students as photocopying and printing is drastically reduced. Student progress in the folio can be monitored in real time, as syncing between the student and teacher versions is immediate, and teacher feedback on progress can be given whenever required. Students need only their laptop for completing work, and teachers need only their laptop to mark or provide feedback to a whole class of students. The folio can be edited and added to anywhere, any time, even without an internet connection (though, of couse, this is needed for syncing). Learning can be expressed in a variety of media as required: written in directly, pasted in or ‘printed’ from another program, or scanned from a hardcopy via a network copier. The familiar MS Office editing ribbon means that text can easily be formatted, highlighted, or linked to an online space, plus a range of vector drawing tools are available. In addition, neither teacher nor students are restricted to written feedback, as OneNote allows for one click inserting of pictures, and recording of audio or video though the laptops’ microphone and webcam.
The nature of a one-to-one laptop programme means that student learning can take many forms and be stored in many different places. With an e-folio, parents curious about their daughter’s achievement need only look in one space on her computer to see a summary of her efforts. Importantly, with the use of OneNote, form teachers and deans can get a quick snapshot of a student’s output, which can prove valuable for report writing or for sharing during parent interviews.
Where to from here?
There are two options for sharing OneNote folios. Currently, QMC is opting for hosting on a local server. A disadvantage of this is that while content can be added to the folio at any time it can only be synced when the teacher’s or student’s laptop is attached to the school wireless network. Also the OneNote folios are not immediately transportable ‘live’ when the student leaves school.
A possible option for future consideration is syncing the folios through the cloud using the Microsoft Live@edu service, although, like all cloud computing, this method means that performance is largely determined by internet speed. In addition, the browser version of OneNote doesn’t have the full functionality of the local Office version.
Alternative means of generating e-folios have been investigated, and Weebly has been used effectively by a number of teachers for presenting and sharing work. Pre-School and Year 1 and 2 students are obviously far more comfortable with touch-screen technology than a netbook and the iPad app, Creative Book Builder, has proved an excellent tool for e-folios at this level.
It’s important to note that the use of e-folios is only one of many teaching and learning tools that Queen Margaret College teachers adopt in the classroom, and all students are still required to complete plenty of tasks using traditional handwriting and spelling skills. However, given the ease with which OneNote enables both teachers and students to contribute to the format, arrangement, content, and presentation of an e-folio, it remains a very good option for those who want to use this technology.
Richard Knuckey is HOD E-Learning at Queen Margaret College in Wellington.
© INTERFACE Magazine, October 2012