Too often, conversations about digital portfolios center on the tools: how to save, share, and publish student work. Mastering the technical component of digital portfolios is critical, and students do need an opportunity to showcase their work to a broader audience. However, when we let the process of curate > reflect > publish serve as the sole focal point, digital portfolios become summative in nature and are viewed as an add-on at the end of a unit, project, or activity.
For digital portfolios to be truly valuable to both teachers and students, they need to provide insight into not only what students created, but also how and why. If the ultimate goal is to develop students as learners, then they need an opportunity for making connections to content as well as the overarching learning objectives.
If done well, portfolios can aid students in metacognition (PDF), reflection, and ownership of learning (PDF). If done poorly, students and teachers may feel like portfolios are a waste of time. While some see portfolios as excellent qualitative measures instead of standardized tests, we know that the subjective nature of portfolio assessment can make it an unreliable comparison between schools.