QVfolio: Making Student Thinking Visible with E-Portfolios


Anne Xie, Courtney Francis, Roger Strang, Tianmi Fang

Introduction & Open Portfolio Problem Statement

Students often leave school with little more than memories, grades, and some products of their coursework (such as essays and completed projects) to refer to later. Quaker Valley Middle School (QVMS) wants to change this by helping students create e-portfolios that make their thinking visible, so students, parents, and teachers alike can refer to and reflect upon students’ learning over the years.

Maker Ed Open Portfolio Project

The use of open portfolios aligns with the needs and challenges of the Quaker Valley School District and the Project Zero initiative they have undertaken. Through a Q&A session with Stephanie Chang from Maker Ed and our analysis of the Maker Ed Research Brief Series, we became acclimated to the challenges of using open portfolios. Those that resonated with us throughout this project include challenges to the technical ease and timing of documentation, motivating and guiding students through the documentation process, and helping stakeholders – students, parents, and teachers – find value in capturing and sharing their learning process.

Open Portfolios at QVMS

Although the 8th grade English Language Arts teacher and 6th-8th grade Technology Education teacher we worked with at Quaker Valley Middle School have unique classroom cultures and cover very different subject areas (pictured on left:  English Language Arts classroom, pictured on right: Technology Education classroom), they shared similar needs and challenges related to the student e-portfolio.

The teachers we worked with are forward-thinking and have a clear grasp on the goals for their classroom. However, they are challenged to help students make their learning visible, because their students lack an efficient documentation and organization process that empowers them to “own” their learning. Our partner teachers’ needs and values focus on: making thinking visible, student autonomy and ownership of the portfolio, and a simple, seamless, and student-friendly portfolio experience.

Problem Statement: QVMS is looking to create a seamlessly integrated & easy-to-use portfolio experience where students take ownership of the documentation, curation, sharing, and self-reflection of their work to ultimately showcase their learning, interests, and accomplishments over time.


To help students make their thinking visible as well as support student autonomy and ownership of their learning and portfolio, we aimed to create a portfolio-building experience that: provides students the appropriate level of support to confidently pursue creative ideas that reflect their personal identity, integrates real-time documentation and self-reflection seamlessly into students’ workflow, and provides students scaffolds to document their learning process and make their thinking visible.

Design Concept

Using our insights from user research and prototyping, we came up with a final design that met the needs of our two partner QVMS teachers and aligned with our vision: QVfolio, an emerging e-portfolio system that provides a seamless and engaging experience to make students’ thinking visible (for students, teachers, & parents alike) with a user-friendly platform and insightful prompt system to support students as needed. We have also included a concept video which demonstrates our proposed implementation of this final design: a combination of prompt cards to support students as needed during the portfolio-building process, a mobile app that allows students to caption, tag, and reflect on their evidence as they capture evidence of their learning, and a website that supports students in creating a graphic organizer representing their mental organization of their classwork.

Concept video:


What you see here is a result of our work done in the Learning Media Design course (Fall 2017) at Carnegie Mellon University taught by Professor Marti Louw & Francis Carter.

Our partnership with both QVMS teachers, Joe and Schuyler, was invaluable to our design process. Throughout this process, our two partner teachers were very accommodating to our inquiries and classroom visits. They provided helpful feedback that allowed us to finetune our design moving forward during each stage of the design process.

Due to the constraints of our course and limited time at QVMS, the task we gave students during our two prototyping sessions was simple and retrospective: “Tell us a story about your experience in this class.” We asked students to share a story of their learning because we knew they could generate ideas to work with based on memory. To truly test the design of our solution, we would have students creating e-portfolios throughout the school year during their project process. This would enable us to know more fully how the e-portfolio solution we designed affects their project process.

Overall, we learned a lot about portfolio practices in the context of a public middle school. If given further time with this project, we would like to explore prototypes focusing on the subsequent phases of e-portfolio process (curation, sharing, and final reflection) to design a more complete open portfolio solution. Thank you to Quaker Valley School District, our partner QVMS teachers Schuyler and Joe, Prof. Marti Louw, Francis Carter, and the maker and education communities for supporting us throughout our design process! Hopefully, we have made our thinking visible and helpful for your own open portfolio practices.

Our team and partner QVMS teachers after our final presentation (from left to right): Roger, Schuyler, Anne, Tianmi, Courtney, Joe


Process Book

For more information, please see our team’s QVFolio process book at: https://annexie.design/files/QVFolio%20Process%20Book.pdf

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