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e-Portfolios Using Google Tools


You can use a variety of Google tools to develop online e-Portfolios for your professional work, for teaching, and for student work. The advantage of using Google tools is that they are free, easily available, and familiar to most of the people who will view your e-Portfolio. Since they are free, students can continue to access their work off campus (unlike the case when proprietary software or private servers are used). e-Portfolios can be very powerful tools for sharing student work with teachers, parents, college admissions officers, and potential employers. They can also be used by professionals to disseminate research results (including research that is in progress) or to share materials developed for teaching (my website is an example of an informal e-Portfolio for that purpose).

What is the purpose of your e-Portfolio?

The first question to ask is whether you plan to use e-Portfolios for assessment tools or showcases. The way you design and manage e-Portfolios will be very different depending on their purpose, and you may find yourself creating multiple systems if you have multiple purposes.

If you wish to use e-Portfolios to archive student work for assessment, you can set up private folders in Gmail, Google Drive, Google Maps My Places or a private Google Site to serve as the archive. Everything that you add to the archive will have a date stamp, so if work is added at the time that it is submitted you will have an automatic time/date record to help you compare student artifacts produced at different times. If you archive the work in a private account you can prevent students from viewing work contributed by others, and you can prevent students from updating or changing their work so that their e-Portfolio will provide you with an authentic record of improvement over time.

On the other hand, if you wish to use e-Portfolios as a showcase of your work or the work of your students, you will want to focus on the best quality artifacts that are produced and allow improvements over time. In this case you may wish to give students control or access to their e-Portfolios and invite them to update their work. If you are using Google Apps for Education accounts, or if students are 13 and over (with permission) you can allow students to create their own e-Portfolios and act as curators of their own work. Ideally, students should be able to take their work with them when they graduate, and use their e-Portfolio for school and job applications. e-Portfolio showcases can take the form of a Google Site, blog, Google Earth Gallery, Sketchup 3D Warehouse, YouTube Channel, or Picasa Web Album Gallery. Since you can all control the access by setting the sharing preferences (private, public, or limited access either through sharing with other Google Accounts or through a link) you can decide who can view, edit or comment on the e-Porfolio.

Examples of student work

Student Google Presentations created offline in Microsoft Powerpoint and uploaded to Google Drive

Student Google Documents created offline in Microsoft Word and uploaded to Google Drive

Photo Albums using Picasaweb

Student YouTube Channel
This is a channel that was started by Elle when she was 10 and her sister Audrey, who was 12 at the time. It is supervised by their mother, Dr. Cindy Timmerman, but the two girls are responsible for creating all of the content.

Google Maps/Google Earth

Student Blogger

Google Sites e-Portfolios
Native American Science Curriculum student work examples (scroll to the bottom of the page for student generated Google Sites)

Getting Started

This overview focuses on the use of various Google Tools to create different types of e-Portfolios. It assumes that you have a basic understanding of Google Tools-- below are the Google Help websites if you need more background information about particular tools before you get started.

A note about browsers: we have found that the default browsers on most computers, Explorer (PC) and Safari (Mac), are not being adequately supported by Microsoft and Apple, and as a result they have a lot of glitches that will cause you headaches. In fact, when working with large numbers of students it is common to have more than half of the problems they encounter be caused by using either Explorer or Safari. You should download a "modern browser" and install it on your computer before using Google Tools- both Google Chrome and Firefox are free browsers with vastly superior functionality. (Ironically, you may find that Firefox is the more stable browser for building Google Sites and other products.)

You will need to Create a Google Account in order to access all of the tools discussed below (with the exception of Google Earth and Sketchup). This requires that you be 13 or older, unless you are part of a Google Apps for Education account. If you are working with younger students and don't have a Google Apps for Education account, you can have students create content offline in Microsoft Office and then upload student work to your Google Account (either as private files or with permission in public showcases). You can also have students create maps in Google Earth and 3D models in Sketchup, since their content will be stored offline on their computers. You can then collect the Google Earth kml file and the Sketchup model file and create an archive or showcase in your Google Account.

If you are working with younger students you may wish to consider developing a system to collect student work in digital format to simplify archiving and sharing files (for example, with parents, school administrators, or perhaps on a school or class website). If your school has a computer lab that allows students to have their own folders on the hard drive, saving student files is simple; but if not you may want to use a flash drive to collect student files (we purchased flash drives for each of the Middle School students in the KCK Saturday Academy, and the flash drives are attached to each student's name tag which is turned in at the end of the day).

Once you create a Google Account you will have access to all of the Google Tools through your dashboard. You can access your personal dashboard by going to https://google.com, signing in, then clicking More>Even more on the tool bar. This will provide you with a dashboard of all of the Google Tools that are available to you and an easy way to access all of your files in each of the different tools.

If you are unfamiliar with various Google Tools there are excellent resources created by Google to help you to learn more:

Using Gmail

If your students have email accounts (either personal accounts or through Google Apps for Education) one of the simplest ways of collecting and archiving student work is to have them email you their work as attachments. This however creates a potential problem-- how do you organize a large number of emails from different students without cluttering your inbox and taking a lot of time to sort through them? You can automate the process of sorting and organizing by using labels and filters in your Gmail account. This will allow you to organize student emails according to different criteria (student name, class, project, etc.) and to automate the sorting of incoming emails to make them easy to view and retrieve. How to organize gmail

Gmail tutorials

Using Google Drive

Google Drive is another way to gather and archive student work. If students have their own Google Accounts (either because they are old enough to own their own accounts, or through Google Apps for Education) you can have them share files and folders with your account. When they are shared with you, the files/folders will automatically appear in your Google Account, allowing you to organize them into different folders for easy management and access. If students don't have their own Google Accounts, you can gather work created offline in Microsoft Office and upload it to your Google Drive. This will allow you to maintain a digital archive that can be shared with colleagues, administrators, and parents (and with students when they wish to acces their work in the future). It will also make it easy to create student showcases by embedding Presentations, Docs, Spreadsheets, Drawings, etc. into a class or school website (this is especially easy when working in Google Sites). How to organize your Google Drive

Google Drive tutorials

Uploading Microsoft Office files to Google Drive

This is especially useful for working with students who do not have Google Accounts, especially with younger students (see Google Safety Center for different strategies you can use to protect students online). Student artifacts created offline using Microsoft Office (Word, Powerpoint, Excel) can be uploaded into a secure Google Drive account for archiving as well as for use in Google Sites showcases. There are many reasons to store student work in a Google Drive account-- you can access it on all of your devices from anywhere (use the Google Drive App for smartphones or tablets) so you don't have to carry papers or posters around with you, you can share it with parents or other teachers/administrators, and you can create a long-term archive that doesn't take up file cabinet space in your office. 

Picasaweb and Google+

Picasaweb is an older application that is being merged with Google+. There are some aspects of Picasaweb that make it valuable (and are still lacking in Google+); for example, it is easy to make embeddable slideshows using Picasaweb, and if you have GPS embedded in your photos Picasaweb will automatically place the photos in the correct location on a Google Map. Because of the transition between Picasaweb and Google+ it is necessary to make sure that you are not being switched between them without knowing it (you may see a notice on the top of the page asking if you wish to return to Picasaweb when you have been switched over to Google+ without knowing it). It is very useful to be able to bulk upload jpg files into an album and to automatically create a slideshow from your jpg files. You cannot currently create a slideshow from uploaded jpg files stored as jpgs in your Google Drive, and if you use Presentations to create a slideshow within Google Drive you have to create each slide individually (you can't bulk upload a large number of photos at once and have them turned automatically into slides). This is a serious limitation and why I do not recommend storing jpg files in Google Drive if you wish to create slideshows. Although Google+ does allow you bulk upload your jpgs and to view your photos as a slideshow using their viewer, they do not give you the ability to embed the slideshow on your Google Site. This is also a serious limitation. For these reasons I recommend that you stick with Picasaweb for archiving your photos (at least for now) rather than using Google Drive or Google+.


Google Maps and Earth

In order to create and save a map in Google Maps you need to have a Google Account; however, you can create a save maps in Google Earth without a Google Account since your content is saved locally on your computer. This is great when working with younger students. Since both Google Maps and Google Earth use the same file format (kml) you can import a map from one to the other (some advanced functionality found in Google Earth may be lost when importing into Google Maps, but most student work should transfer). 

Google Maps 
Google Maps tutorials

Google Maps work by allowing you to create a content layer and overlay it on the base map. Your content is stored within your Google Accounts in Google Maps My Places; your content is not visible to others who view the base map. You can make your content public, and you can share your content with others, but it does not alter the base map. Your content can be downloaded from your My Places and stored on your computer or in an online archive, it can also be embedded into a Google Site. Unfortunately Google Maps My Places is extremely limited; you cannot sort your maps, there are no folders, and the only option available is a listing by date. Until Google improves My Places it is better to create other ways to store student maps using other Google Tools. That is the focus of this set of strategies.

Using Google Sites

Google Sites can be used to pull all of your work together in one place, as either a public showcase or a private archive. You can think about it this way: you create, upload and organize files in all the different Google Tools (Drive, Maps My Places, YouTube Channel, Picasaweb Albums, etc.) but then you have files spread out in several different places. How can you view everything in one place? You can make a Google Site for a showcase and use the insert gadgets to display Presentations, Documents, Maps, YouTubes, photo slideshows, etc. on the pages (just like the Google Presentation is inserted into this page below). You can also use a Google Site as an archive, and organize links to your Google Drive files, links to YouTubes, links to other Google Sites, links to Google Maps, etc. as well as kml files uploaded to the Google Site as attachments. Files can be organized into folders on a file cabinet page, allowing you to create separate folders for each of your students and place them in a class folder. This is a very powerful way to organize the "big picture" of all your work or all of the work submitted by your students. And since Google Sites can be made private, shared with a link, made public, or shared with a group of collaborators, you can control who has access to the Google Site.

Google Earth

Google Earth is an application that you download to your computer. The application accesses online base maps, but it stores all of the content that you create locally on your computer. The good thing about this is that student work will not be uploaded to the internet. The bad thing is that if you are using shared computers (as in a school computer lab) you need to have students download their map files (kml) to either their personal hard drive or a flash drive, and you should make sure all map data stored in My Places is erased before other users log on. If you don't have to worry about others using your computer, it is still a good idea to store your map files outside of Google Earth's My Places. The reason for this is that the more files you keep on your Google Earth app the slower it will run. 

Since Google Earth and Google Maps both use the same file format (kml) you can collect student map files created in Google Earth and upload them to Google Maps for viewing online (for example, in a map gallery on a Google Site). A more sophisticated approach is to create a Google Earth Gallery for your class, which is the focus of this strategy.


Using Blogger


YouTube Channel as e-Portfolio

YouTube is restricted by many school districts, and alternatives such as TeacherTube or SchoolTube are preferred by many K-12 educators. Because the theme of this overview is the use of Google Tools for organizing and presenting e-Portfolios, this discussion will be restricted to YouTube. Where it is appropriate, YouTube has the same advantages that the other Google Tools have- it is free, it is easily accessed and viewers will be familiar with it. Also, like Google Sites, Blogger, Google Earth Gallery, and Sketchup Gallery, it is searchable, which means that you can show "impact" by determining the number of viewers.

Create a YouTube channel