Assessment Design

Digital Portfolios and So Much More . . . (Ep. 112)

Digital portfolios are an incredible tool for both learning and advocacy, but they are also intimidating if you don’t know what you’re doing. Today, Nic’s conversations with three different experts will help you and your students begin to navigate the world of online portfolios. Full Episode Transcript Below.

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Nic: Today we’re going to dive into digital portfolios in the art classroom. I was thinking about that huge, huge idea of digital portfolios and I thought of Artsonia right away I thought of using Google Docs or Schoology and Seesaw and I thought, “Oh my gosh, this is just a bigger subject than I’m willing to take on all in one podcast.” So what I decided to do was break it into separate podcasts and today we’re going to be talking about one platform, which is called Seesaw. It is an app that students can use and teachers can use, and it’s the one that I use actually in my classroom the most.

So I decided that we were going to talk about just this one app today. We might talk about others in future podcasts, but Seesaw is going to be our main topic, and we have an expert from Seesaw itself, as well as two other educators and myself talking about how we use Seesaw in our classroom on a regular basis to create a digital portfolio, and so much more. This is Nic Hahn and this is Everyday Art Room.

As I mentioned, we’re going to talk to a couple of people today on this podcast and let’s get started with the app itself. So some of you may have heard of Seesaw, but some of you might not be under the understanding of what Seesaw really is. So I wanted to bring an expert from Seesaw company itself to give us just a very quick insight as to what Seesaw is and how it is used in some classrooms. We will start talking to some other educators after we hear from Miss Angela Gadkey. All right. Thank you for joining us today. We’ll just start out by having you introduce yourself and your role with Seesaw.

Angela: Yeah, I’m Angela Gadkey and I lead the community team here at Seesaw. I was a kindergarten teacher for 15 years, and I used Seesaw in my own classroom for two of those years and saw the tremendous effect it had on my students and families. So really I’m here to support teachers all over the world to get started with Seesaw. So that means looking at resources that they need, doing professional development, just kind of exploring it from that teacher lens and really giving feedback to our product team as well.

Nic: Yeah, and I’ve sat in some of your presentations before, and that is quite accurate. You really do have that teacher perspective, that classroom perspective. I would say teaching kindergarten, you have the art perspective as well to a certain degree.

Angela: I know. In college, my professors were like, “Why aren’t you going to be an art teacher?” And I was like, “I kind of will be.”

Nic: Yeah, yeah, it’s true. It’s true. I’d say kindergarten is the closest to all levels of art. But, okay, so because you’ve been … You worked a quite a while ago, how long have you been out of education?

Angela: So this is my fourth year out of the class, but I never hang up my teacher hat, I just-

Nic: That’s true. That’s true.

Angela: I’m teaching teachers now and get into classrooms, especially my colleagues, my teacher colleagues, I’m like, “I’m coming over.” Get ready. Here we go.

Nic: No. Yeah, and you’re absolutely right. I’m sorry about that. But here’s the deal. This is why I want to bring this up is that you said you used it in your classroom for two years, so that’s roughly six years ago.

Angela: Yeah.

Nic: This tool has developed itself immensely in that amount of time. Can we talk about the hardware changes and then how that will really affect art education?

Angela: Yes. That’s a perfect segue, Nic. So really the creative tools are the heart of the Seesaw experience for students. We really this year wanted to focus on how can we make that experience even better, how can we empower students even more and give them the ability to really demonstrate and share their learning. So in the latest version of Seesaw, the new updates that were released in June, we’ve really rebuilt a lot of our creative tools from the ground up and really even optimize them for all devices. So you don’t have to just be using iPads, it works awesome on Chromebooks, any device you have in your classroom, you can work with Seesaw.

So a couple of the things, when you look at, for example, we call it our creative canvas. So inside that creative canvas, in that drawing tool, students can … Obviously they can start with a photograph. So they can be taking a photograph of their art, but we offer the ability for students to add multiple layers of annotation to it. So it can record their voice, they can draw on that, they can add labels, they can add various shapes. They can obviously even start from scratch on the canvas and just create with the various creative pens that we have. We have highlighters, and we have a glow pen and lots of different colors.

Also, new with this update is the ability to add multiple photos to the canvas. So prior to this update you could only have one photo on the page at a time if you’re starting with a photo. But now you can add multiple photos as well. So when I think about inside the art classroom, so much of the creating is also a process, right?

Nic: Right.

Angela: So thinking through how can students even capture that process or stages of the development of a project or a piece that they’re working on. And the newest release, hot off the press, is actually multi-page, which is a premium feature in Seesaw. And that allows students to create a post that has up to 10 pages in it, which will be altogether, basically, in one post.

So they can then … There’s a lot of creation that can happen with multi-page as well, which is really exciting for students. When I think about all the new creative tools and I know you always like to connect this to the national core standards and you’re looking at visual arts and your thinking, “Creating, presenting, responding, connecting.” And I hear those four words and immediately my brain says, “That’s Seesaw. That’s what we’re all about.”

So when I think about all those different strands, and I’m looking at … One of the standards is refined and complete artistic work. I think about responding and using vocabulary and being really thoughtful about what you have even created in those amazing hands-on materials that are apparent and in great quantity in any art classroom or studio. So I think what’s exciting is that students have so many abilities within your spaces in your studios to create with lots of hands-on materials, but bringing that into Seesaw offers that additional level of reflection and expression with voice, with drawing, with drawing and recording at the same time to really add that additional layer, which I think really unlocks more opportunities.

Nic: Well it does reach our multiple learners too, because here we might have a student who doesn’t have the physical ability to create at the level of other people, but when they articulate it in voice or drawing or writing it can give deeper meaning to it.

Angela: Exactly. I love that you bring up that. It removes barriers. So if you’re thinking of even a pre-reader or writer, or even a student that they’re phenomenal and art and maybe they struggle in other aspects academically, let’s let them really shine and show all of their abilities, with some tools that help them along the way.

Nic: Oh my goodness. Well, I’m using it right now. I’m absolutely adoring it. We’re going to hear from two other art teachers, one that is working in the secondary level and one that’s working at elementary level as well later on in this interview here, or in this podcast this week. But I thank you so much, Angela, for just being in and chatting with us today, giving us a little bit of an insight on Seesaw’s new tools.

Angela: Yeah, and I think, Nic, one more thing before we head out here, I think the component too to kind of call out is the connection to families as well. And I see Seesaw saw as a really huge tool to advocate for your program and for all the work that is happening in your classroom, in your art studios, in your art spaces, because a lot of that doesn’t … Isn’t easily communicated outside of your room. I think it’s just such a great opportunity to really share the power of art education and creation with families outside. So I think that’s a whole nother topic.

Nic: It sure is. It sure is. But you know what, we’ll get into that a little bit with our guests as well. But, like I said, I thank you, I love that we had an expert from Seesaw that was able to take the time to chat with us. Thank you.

Angela: Thanks.

Nic: Okay. Hopefully that gave you a little bit of an insight into what Seesaw is and how it can be used. And I just, I am a huge fan of it myself because I have been asked to use it in my classroom by my district, and it is so perfect for art education I can’t even handle it. So I do use this in my classroom as young as kindergarten, and I have them using it in many different ways. We take pictures of process, we take pictures of our final artwork. Sometimes I just scan the room and send a note. It’s almost a little update of the classroom, and get the pictures of the students actually in action and working.

I can explain to my parents very quickly what is happening in the classroom so that they can understand the process better and that final product will be more meaningful because they understand the concepts that were covered, the process of making it, how intense the students were when they were working. It’s just a really good way to give a view to parents about what’s happening in the classroom.

Just to give you a little bit more insight on the app itself, it’s almost like Facebook for a classroom. It’s like an individual message for parents. So I say Facebook because it’s a private page, we’ll consider it to be a private page between you, the teachers, the students in the classroom and the parent and you can kind of decide who has access to the information being distributed. So think of it that way. This app is just a communication tool between home and the students in the classroom.

I use it constantly, but I want to bring you to some other art teachers in this world who use it in their classroom as well. So we’re going to go straight into our next interview right here. All right. Vicky Wilson is another art teacher who uses Seesaw in her classroom, and I’ve been watching this on Twitter and Instagram. She’s active on social media, but I wanted to discuss with her exactly her favorite ways of using Seesaw in the classroom. Welcome, Vicky.

Vicky: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Nic: Yeah. Okay. We were talking briefly just a few minutes ago about using Seesaw to show process. Can you tell us all a little bit about that?

Vicky: Absolutely. I find Seesaw to be really useful in the art room, not just in the moment for the students to record how they’re working because obviously you can use the video and the photo features, so I encourage them to use it as they’re working through a process. Often we use it to reflect on next steps that they’ll need to take so that the parents get a snapshot into what they’re doing in each session, not just the final product. I also really love to use it at student led conferences where the students can log into their accounts and talk through the steps that they’ve taken to get to those beautiful artworks that the parents see at the exhibition.

Nic: So are you also sharing it with the parents as they’re posting or are you waiting for a conference where the parents come in?

Vicky: No, we do share posts on a day to day basis with parents, and we get lots of positive feedback and comments from those parents, but we also actually include iPad use in our student-led conferences when parents visit twice a year and the students can use that to talk through what they’ve been learning and their growth in the art room.

We did that particularly with the artist trading card swap that you kindly organize every year. Really great for the students to be able to talk through how they made their trading cards, the process that was involved in that, and then the final card that was sent, because obviously they don’t keep that card to show their parents, and we had so much positive feedback. The parents were really fascinated to see how the students could talk back on the learning from the year. And again, we couldn’t do that without Seesaw. So I think it’s an amazing tool.

Nic: Isn’t it one of the best advocacies that you’ve ever had?

Vicky: Oh absolutely, absolutely. I mean, for me as well, obviously working in an international setting, we use the translate tool quite a lot. I have some parents that don’t speak English, so obviously it’s really powerful to be able to see those beautiful comments they’re making to their children. And quite often I’ll be able to answer back, and they can translate themselves too. So it’s like they’ve thought of everything.

Nic: Yeah. And can you go into that a little bit? I guess we didn’t really mention the setting that you’re in, and maybe talk about the device use, like what do you have? Do you have one to one? What is your setting right now?

Vicky: Sure, yes. I work at the United Nations International School of Hanoi. We’re a big international school with D-12. I work in the upper elementary, so I’m teaching art with grades two to five, and we’re very blessed with resources. So the students have one between two iPads in their homeroom. They each have a Chromebook, and in the art room we have 22 iPads. So we really are very lucky.

Nic: Okay.

Vicky: Yeah. So the students obviously use Seesaw in their homeroom and with all their specialist lessons. But it really is something that I include in just about every lesson. They’re either voice recording a reflection, they’re taking a video of what they’re making, they’re photographing their process. Because I believe very strongly that it shouldn’t just be the end products that end up on Seesaw. It’s just a great tool. I mean, also for learning styles. I can see there are some students that really like to write about their experience, others that like to talk about it, others that like to use the new create and reflect tools to draw an illustrate how they got to that next step. I feel like they’ve covered all bases.

Nic: Oh man. Vicky, you’ve got me excited. I’m just starting my year out right now and I haven’t even touched Seesaw yet, because we’re on day three tomorrow, but you have me so excited to jump in and start using Seesaw. Especially you mentioned some new tools, I’m finding that Seesaw continues to grow.

Vicky: Oh, it sure does. I feel like they really listened to teachers as well, because every time there’s made a suggestion, they seem to update as soon as they can. I think what’s happening this summer is fantastic. I’m loving the new creativity tools. I feel like they had art teachers in mind. I highly recommend people play around with the different pens. You can change the color, the thickness of the line. I mean, I’m actually including some digital art this year because of the Seesaw updates.

Nic: Oh, that’s awesome. Hey Vicky, I thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us today. We’re going to talk to a couple more educators, but thank you so much for taking the time.

Vicky: Thanks Nicole. And I look forward to hearing the podcast.

Nic: Now you’ve heard from myself and another elementary art teacher how we use Seesaw in our classroom, but I want to bring you one step further because a lot of times when you think about Seesaw, it’s in the elementary classroom or the elementary setting. It is definitely used in the middle and high school level as well. As part of this podcast, Everyday Art Room, we like to not only focus on our elementary, but also give that that bigger lens of what can be discussed in the elementary room can also be brought into our secondary level.

So we’re going to hear from a secondary teacher, a high school teacher right now, in how she uses Seesaw in her classroom. We also are going to speak to Anise Hernandez. She is a school teacher in Texas. Hi Anise.

Anise: Hi.

Nic: Now I know that you use Seesaw in your classroom. I’ve seen you post about it on Instagram. Can you tell me just a couple of ways that you’re using this with your high school students?

Anise: Sure. So I like to use it primarily as a digital portfolio for my students. Because I have very large classes, this makes it very easy for me to just click on their individual folders, and it makes grading faster, easier, more efficient. If the projects get lost, their picture is always on there. I also love the activity section for Seesaw because I’m able to give them daily activities. So at the beginning of class, they always have an activity on the board, and they know that they need to go grab an iPad or their phones to answer it. So I use this for reflective questions just to make sure that they’re grasping the content or they’re learning how to evaluate their own artwork, and just really think about what it is that they’re doing. And then I also love that I can upload my presentations and my lessons through them as well.

Nic: So let’s go back to the activities. If you’re not familiar with using Seesaw, an activity is … It can be a teacher produced kind of assignment, isn’t it? Is that kind of how you would describe that?

Anise: Yeah, teacher assigned assignment. Just something quick that they can do prior to the class starting.

Nic: Okay. And you mentioned that they can get a phone or an iPad. So I’m assuming that in your classroom you have a few iPads available, but is it mostly bring your own device in your classroom?

Anise: Most of the kids like to have it on their phones just because they’re able to access it at home, which is amazing in case they’re absent. But I do have a few iPads that I can provide for those that don’t have the electronic devices to use in my classroom.

Nic: Oh, that’s great. And then you talked about it as a digital portfolio. So students are actually taking … That’s a requirement in your classroom, that they’re taking photographs of their artwork and then uploading it onto Seesaw for you to assess?

Anise: Yes, correct. So I’m trying to make it to establish a routine so that they know that when the project is due, that means they grab an iPad, they take a photo, and then they upload it. So it’s making them responsible, and they’re learning how to be responsible for their own work.

Nic: Correct. Okay. Oh, awesome. I love where this is going. Now, what was the last thing that you mentioned? It was the activities and … Go ahead.

Anise: It allows us as teachers to create folders for our students. So I love to create, as we’re going, a folder per project. So I’m able to throw my PowerPoint presentation on there, I put examples of the finished product. I also like to record video tutorials of myself doing the project for them, because I have a lot students that are a little shy when it comes to asking for questions or asking for help. And I love that they can just grab an iPad, go to the folder and then play the video and pause as needed. So everything is on there at all times.

Nic: That’s amazing. So all of your resources are in one location and they can access that at school, but also at home, correct?

Anise: Yes. So it’s perfect for students that are absent the day of the presentation because then the next day they come in and they kind of have a brief idea of what it is we did, so they’re not so behind.

Nic: Right. And are you dropping those like on a regular basis or do you have a folder all set up right away? Are you able to use that folder from year to year or class to class?

Anise: Yeah, so I make a folder per class just because they move at different paces. So prior to me starting the new project, I make sure that everything is uploaded already. So as I’m presenting I let them know, “Everything’s already on Seesaw for you guys to access.” And as I’m going throughout the week, as I start learning if they’re struggling with a specific thing, then I go and get more examples and I let them know, “Okay. I’m adding stuff to the folder. You guys can go on there if you need help with a specific step with a project.”

Nic: I really like that idea, because Seesaw is so quick at if you … If someone asks a question and you know that you have a resource sitting on your phone, a photograph or something, you can easily upload that within seconds and it’s available to all of your students.

Anise: Yeah, it’s perfect because I sometimes I’ll forget to change something and, “You misspelled my name.” And I was like, “Hold on.” In like two seconds I fix it.

Nic: That’s awesome. I agree. Wow. You are really using it to its full capacity. Let me ask you one more thing. Are you a Seesaw school? So does your school purchase or do you just … Are you using the Seesaw free edition?

Anise: So I am using … I started using the free edition, our school is not a Seesaw school, but after three years of using it, I became an ambassador with them. So I’m able to use the special perks that come with buying Seesaw.

Nic: Can you tell me about that process quickly? Just what does it mean to be a Seesaw ambassador?

Anise: So we have to go through a training–a web training–and we go through all the different ways that we can use Seesaw, how the students can use it, and then they open up the different little tabs, like skills. We can track the skills for our students. It’s really amazing. I mean, if your school is not a Seesaw school, but you’re using it every day, you can easily become an ambassador and be able to use all of these different features.

Nic: That’s amazing. Hey, thank you so much for the tips. We really appreciate it.

Anise: Thank you so much.

Nic: As I mentioned at the beginning of this podcast, we were just specifically talking about one app, which is Seesaw for digital portfolios, but this is not even close to the only app that you can use for digital portfolios. If you go to the Art of Education University website and type in digital portfolio, you’re going to see articles on Adobe Spark as a platform, Google as a platform. I see Flickr, there is of course Artsonia, which is amazing, amazing way to create a digital portfolio.

So this isn’t just the right answer. This is one answer. Do your research, get in there, check out, see what else is out there and see how it aligns with what you have at your school. Are students bringing in one-to-one devices? Are they bringing Chromebooks? What do they support? What do they not support? Try to figure that out for yourself as you investigate this idea of digital portfolios.

The Art of Education University always seeks out the best of the best. When we are looking to provide information to art educators, we are definitely looking for art educators who are practicing now, who have experience, who know the most about that particular niche. In this case, we were talking about Seesaw. I want to thank all of my guests who visited today and shared their knowledge and their experience of how they’re using Seesaw in their classroom, how they’re creating a digital portfolio, using this for assessment and advocacy, and just wanted to thank them greatly for providing this information for you guys to listen to. We will continue our conversation about art education next week here on Everyday Art Room.


Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.