Create. Share. Engage.

Ricardo Elizalde: See the whole student and their learning journey

September 27, 2023 Mahara Project and Ricardo Elizalde Season 1 Episode 28
Create. Share. Engage.
Ricardo Elizalde: See the whole student and their learning journey
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Dr Ricardo Elizalde is a Digital Learning Partner at San Francisco Unified School District and has been working with portfolios for over two decades. He creates portfolios for himself and supports students and teachers create them in his school district.

We talk about his personal portfolio experience, how he assists people in his learning community, and also creates department level and group portfolios.

Click through to the episode notes for the transcript.

Connect with Ricardo on Mastodon


Subscribe to the monthly newsletter about Mahara and portfolios.

Production information
Production: Catalyst IT
Host: Kristina Hoeppner
Artwork: Evonne Cheung
Music: The Mahara tune by Josh Woodward

Kristina Hoeppner 00:05

Welcome to 'Create. Share. Engage.' This is the podcast about portfolios for learning and more for educators, learning designers, and managers keen on integrating portfolios with their education and professional development practices. 'Create. Share. Engage.' is brought to you by the Mahara team at Catalyst IT. My name is Kristina Hoeppner.

Kristina Hoeppner 00:27

Today I'm speaking with Dr Ricardo Elizalde. He is a Digital Learning Partner at the San Francisco Unified School District focusing on portfolios and storytelling. Ricardo contacted me via Mastodon and offered to share how his learning community, both students and teachers in his school district, use portfolios. This is the first time that we actually meet so I'm stoked to learn more about your portfolio journey, Ricardo,

Ricardo Elizalde 00:53

Thank you, thank you.

Kristina Hoeppner 00:55

Ricardo, tell us a little bit about yourself. What do you do as Learning Partner? How did you get into that?

Ricardo Elizalde 01:01

I've been a teacher for over two decades. And about seven or eight years ago, the Department of Technology within San Francisco Unified School District was hiring Digital Learning Partners to join their team. I joined the team and after some stops and starts, I got into a bit of a groove where we had teachers develop media, and we got into kind of my expertise. I had been using portfolios for a long time. There was no real language for digital portfolios yet at the district level. And so gradually, we started building these professional learning communities, and we started introducing the topic, and meanwhile other departments were also introducing the topic.

Kristina Hoeppner 01:45

What does a Learning Partner to on a daily basis? Is that somebody like a learning designer or instructional designer?

Ricardo Elizalde 01:53

It's kind of like an instructional designer; we do many things. At the beginning of the year, we're busy making sure that all the students in the class have computers, and everybody's set up. I have a group of 16 elementary schools that I support. At the heart of it is leading small groups through professional development series, and sometimes it is focused on developing portfolios and also media making.

Kristina Hoeppner 02:18

That's a wide range of skills and responsibilities that you're having here.

Ricardo Elizalde 02:23

It's a little vast.

Kristina Hoeppner 02:24

Ricardo, your doctorate in education focused on bridging the digital divide and connecting the digital opportunities in informal education settings, libraries, after school programs, to the more formal settings. Were portfolios already involved at that time?

Ricardo Elizalde 02:43

Portfolios preceded that quite a bit. I learned about portfolios in my third year of teaching at the second school that I taught at. The whole staff at my school had gone to get professional development over the summer on developing portfolios. The beautiful thing was, is that you're a new teacher to this space, and everybody had this focus on developing portfolios with students, and they were paper portfolios, right? And they were stored in a file cabinet. So you would have to go find them, and then you'd have like this eighth grade kid looking at artefacts from two years ago. And, you know, reminiscing about his teacher from way back when, and it was just kind of a joy to see.

Ricardo Elizalde 03:23

But the other thing they did was the eighth graders had to present their portfolio to the community. And by community I mean, they brought in parents, they brought in the security guards, they brought in the janitors, they brought in everybody. Each kid had a classroom that they went to. So maybe it was five kids in one classroom with about 12 adults, 13 adults. If it was an instrument they wanted to perform, if it was a report, they wanted to show if it was maybe even a puppet show that they wanted to present, a piece of the puppet show or reading, they would do these showcases at the end of the year in order to get that graduation requirement and walk across the stage. It really built community. It really forged community in a lot of ways because everybody was having the same experience. And they had this language that they talked about these reflections that they had about the work that they've done.

Kristina Hoeppner 04:15

That is wonderful to hear because a number of universities also have those showcases where students get the opportunity to present to a community be that peers, mentors, in your case it is wonderful to see that they really brought the entire community and also gave parents a chance to see what their kids had done.

Ricardo Elizalde 04:33

They really made a celebration of it, too, you know, It's like the whole school closed down. The sixth and seventh graders went home and the school was just you know, these 100 kids or whatever. They all had a place to be in. Yes, very celebratory.

Kristina Hoeppner 04:46

Now from that very early paper based portfolio experience, you've of course gone on to more of a digital track at some point. How have you incorporated portfolios into your own teaching?

Ricardo Elizalde 04:59

At that school, I did a puppet show. It was a puppet show of creation myths. And so we had all these kids building these sets and these puppets. Then we put it on at the end of the year, and I filmed it. And we took pictures of the puppets. My question was always 'So how do you store a puppet in the file cabinet?' There was no home for that experience exactly. If I wanted the kids to reflect a couple of years later on that experience, I always thought, well, these artefacts, they need a home. 

Ricardo Elizalde 05:31

So I pursued my Master's in Instructional Technologies. And that was kind of the impetus behind it, it was like, 'Okay, I'm gonna build something that will be that home.' So I found Mahara. As my Master's project for my classroom, I built a Mahara portfolio project - portfolio space. And so my students built their portfolios within the system, and they housed their artefacts there as well. It's kind of a combination of both media making, reflection on that media making, and having a space to hold that information.

Kristina Hoeppner 06:02

How did your students take on that challenge of creating that digital portfolio? How could you convince them to do that?

Ricardo Elizalde 06:09

It was pretty funny because, you know, kids are pretty sharp, right? These were high school kids. I made all these videos in order to instruct them on how to use the platform. One girl, one day, she told me, "I'm not sure why you made all these videos. It's pretty easy to use the platform, you essentially wasted your time making these videos." [laughs] They were into it, they were into creating these spaces for themselves and having a space to go to that was kind of like the home of their academic persona because we have all these digital homes, right? But it's really important to forge a home of the academic self.

Kristina Hoeppner 06:46

That way they have everything in one place and can point people towards, right? 

Ricardo Elizalde 06:51

That's true.

Kristina Hoeppner 06:52

What type of portfolio would you call the one that your students, your high school students created? Would it be a showcase portfolio or more of a learning portfolio where they reflect a lot or really where they present to the outside world what they had done?

Ricardo Elizalde 07:06

I think it was a combination of both. I think I wanted the reflection to be intact in there, and I also wanted them to share it [laughs]. So it was a combination of both: reflective portfolio and a showcase portfolio. And I know that they're different, but for me at that time, they were one of the same.

Kristina Hoeppner 07:24

Often I find we do see the combination of different portfolio types rather than a pure form or something like that because there is that overlap, even if it is just a reflection. 

Kristina Hoeppner 07:33

Ricardo, in your post on Mastodon, you mentioned that you work with students and teachers creating portfolios. So what sort of portfolios do your teachers create?

Ricardo Elizalde 07:44

As a teacher, one portfolio that I've created in the past, it was the PBS Media Literacy Educator. I got a series of eight microcredentials. One is critically analysing media, assessing student media, implementing media projects in the upper grades. And each of those takes context, like, 'Who are you doing it for? What is this? And why are you doing it?' The artefact plus a lesson plan, and then finally a reflection at the end. The PBS Media Literacy folks did not ask me to do it, I kind of wanted to put all of this information in one space so that I could look at it later and really make connections as to where I'm growing as an educator, where I continue to grow as an educator, even after more than two decades doing this. That's the kind of portfolio that I make for myself that I want to make for myself. 

Ricardo Elizalde 08:36

For teachers, essentially, the kind of portfolios that I have them make is - we teach them a tool, a media making tool, they make an example for their students, and they in turn, share that example with their students, and then they come back and reflect on the process. Currently, this year, I'll be working with the ethnic studies teachers, and we're developing a portfolio of their professional development through media making and their reflections. 

Ricardo Elizalde 09:05

What we're doing also is building a department portfolio. What that is, essentially is a website where all the teachers' pieces will be linked. You'll be able to touch on the teachers' work and go to their portfolio, but it'll all be housed so that the Ethnic Studies Department in San Francisco Unified has like a catalogue of work that they could show the next teachers coming in.

Ricardo Elizalde 09:31

So about two years ago, I was back in the classroom, and I essentially had my students do the same thing. It was great. We built a class website, the 'Community of storytellers', I think I called it, and each kid had a space on the website that we built. You could go and you can see their portfolio but this was our classroom community, right? In turn, when I got back to my job because I had a little bit of hiatus from this digital learning partner job for a year, I brought that classroom project to we have some thing called digital learning facilitators, which are one or two or three people at a school that come to us, get professional development, they in turn share that with their staffs, and we have them reflect on that process. We also did that with every one of them last year. 

Ricardo Elizalde 10:15

For my Department of Technology, we created this website of all these different artefacts that teachers have created and their reflections on the different pieces. Some of those pieces of work were phenomenal. My one colleague who I went to her school several times, I led a little bit of professional development with her, she got some more information elsewhere, we led her group of students, and she was so amazed at how the students just were thrilled at developing these portfolios. I did like a little podcast, it was a photography project.

Ricardo Elizalde 10:50

Actually, let me back up a little bit. Because when I talk about portfolios, I gotta tell you that we lead these professional learning communities, and so we had teachers come through with us. And a couple of years ago, the Ethnic Studies Department invited me and a colleague to go to USF to hare Zaretta Hammond speak. She spoke about the power of portfolios. She spoke about her Ready for Rigor framework and how portfolios kind of touched on the different parts of her Ready for Rigor framework. The Ready for Rigor framework has four parts. One is awareness of who you are as an educator, building learning partnerships, how do you help students process information, and then what kind of community of learners do you have in your classroom, what kind of learning environment are you setting up? 

Ricardo Elizalde 11:34

I noticed that portfolios touch on each of those pieces in the Ready for Rigor framework. So I developed kind of a course for educators called 'The culturally responsive digital learning portfolio'. It was a series of about five workshops. In turn, you do the workshop, and then you go and support the teacher with this work in their classroom, then they come and they build a portfolio of sorts.

Kristina Hoeppner 11:58

That is wonderful because it goes beyond just the teacher portfolio or the student portfolio because by creating those overarching portfolios for a department or collate all of those student portfolios, you can see more of how they might also influence each other, and you can showcase the work that the students have done, but also the teachers. Are any of these, of course, I have to ask, since a lot of people always want to look at examples and want to know how somebody has done something, what portfolios, students create, what portfolios teachers create, are any of those portfolios public?

Ricardo Elizalde 12:32

Well, they're kind of just available for the school district, but I could share the podcast that we did. It's called 'Stories from the digital learning field', and I can share that with you.

Kristina Hoeppner 12:42

Yeah, let's include that for our listeners and any other resources that you might be able to share so that it just illuminates things a bit more of what you're doing at San Francisco Unified. Do you use a reflective framework with your students and / or teachers?

Ricardo Elizalde 12:59

On Edutopia I found 40 reflection questions a long time ago, and I use it over and over again. It's just like 40 questions: 10 are backward looking, 10 are forward looking, 10 are inward looking, and 10 are what's everybody else doing [laughs], like reflecting on what the process is of the rule of your environment. I just find those questions really valuable in how they help students reflect. And I've used them with both teachers. I've used them with PE teachers. I've used them in culturally responsive portfolio workshops. I've used them with students. Generally it gets them going and reflecting on the pieces.

Kristina Hoeppner 13:39

Because they have that question available. 

Ricardo Elizalde 13:42

Yeah, but I still think the reflective part needs a little bit more help, but that document is pretty strong document.

Kristina Hoeppner 13:48

Am I assuming correctly then that you as Digital Learning Partner support your students and teachers in doing better reflections and learning more how they can get better at that? Is that part of your job there?

Ricardo Elizalde 14:01

That is part of my job. It doesn't always get to that point, maybe a little bit later in the journey, but it is part of the journey.

Kristina Hoeppner 14:08

What perceptions do actually students and teachers have towards portfolios? Is it always smooth sailing that they take you up on the invitation to get started on that or do you have to convince them a bit more?

Ricardo Elizalde 14:20

Teachers elect to come to the party, right? Teachers select whether to take my course or not. Groups of teachers invite me in because they kind of want to do something with portfolios or with media making. What I dig about students is that there's always - and we should do this more for teachers, but we don't - we have an 'About me' page for students, and that seems to draw them in; where they get to share about themselves. They get to share about what they like to do outside of school. 

Ricardo Elizalde 14:48

There was this one 'About me' page from one of my student's portfolios a few years ago, where she shared all her digital illustrations. She had a caption about how long it took to do these drawings, and she had four hours, seven hours, 11 hours. I wouldn't have known had I not asked her to create this 'About me' page about herself.

Kristina Hoeppner 15:12

We get to know so much about students or any learner really creating portfolios through what they share through the artefacts, through the evidence, and then also the reflections of course, right?

Ricardo Elizalde 15:23

Yes, yes, yes. 

Kristina Hoeppner 15:24

So in Episode 23 of our podcast here, Stephen Harlow from the University of Waikato in Aotearoa New Zealand talked about his journey with digital storytelling and how it has influenced his work in portfolios. Ricardo, you are also working in storytelling, how does storytelling fit into your portfolio practice?

Ricardo Elizalde 15:47

Well, you're essentially telling the story about yourself, right? Your story of your academic self. It does touch on what I do. I think the podcast piece was chiefly storytelling and telling the world about what we're doing here in San Francisco Unified. I think really, the reflection is where you kind of tie everything together, where you are threading your story together by the reflection and by the connections that you're making. 

Kristina Hoeppner 16:12

Do you have any tip to help with telling your story by a student or a teacher of how you typically approach it, which helps you to make sure that you're not just listing events, but that you do get into that reflective state?

Ricardo Elizalde 16:28

Always to have like a model for the teacher to run through the model themselves. If you're asking the student to create a specific artefact, that you create the artefact with the tool that you're inviting them to use, and that you also reflect so that they can see what you've done and what you've created. I think that goes a long way in having like foundational knowledge, you also have this model, and we all have this to bounce our ideas from. 

Ricardo Elizalde 16:54

Then you have to have it so that they can look at it on their own time, too, not just sharing the slide once but having it housed somewhere where they can access it later if they need to access it later. I think that's a good tip for folks, is to have a model, and you create the model yourself as an educator.

Kristina Hoeppner 17:13

Modeling, and then students can mirror what had been done and they have an exemplar available.

Ricardo Elizalde 17:19

It is great if it's like the educator has one, and then you have a student one as well. So they could see, you know, they can have two places to look.

Kristina Hoeppner 17:27

So you've been working with portfolios now well over two decades, Ricardo. What trends have you observed over the years?

Ricardo Elizalde 17:35

You know, it went away for a little while, and then portfolios seem to come back. Because when I first started teaching, they were a big part of the school that we were at, and then they seem to go away for a bit, and you know, 15, 20 years later, we're still looking at them as an authentic way to see what people know.

Kristina Hoeppner 17:55

Why do you think portfolios have come back? Or why did they go away in the first place?

Ricardo Elizalde 18:00

I'm not sure why they went away. It was always part of my practice. So it didn't necessarily go away from me. But we go down all these different roads in education. There's some ideas that stick, and I think portfolios helped to see the whole student, the whole person and their learning journey.

Kristina Hoeppner 18:19

I guess, also, portfolios are coming back because we want to have more reflective practitioners and people once they join the workforce and really look into what have I done and how can I do things maybe differently or what do I want to keep in my practice? 

Ricardo Elizalde 18:33


Kristina Hoeppner 18:34

So what would you like to be able to do with portfolios that you haven't really been able to do yet fully?

Ricardo Elizalde 18:41

I've learned it from your podcast, actually. And it's those chatbots. I want to use the chatbots that help build reflection in the portfolio. We're looking at AI, but let's see how it works, right? Let's see how we can use it as a tool for deeper reflections perhaps. I somebody is stuck, and you know, their reflection pages, just those four questions that I've asked them, they haven't done anything with it, maybe they can do a little bit something if there's a chatbot that'll nudge them in the right direction. And I'd really like to see how that works.

Kristina Hoeppner 19:11

I definitely encourage you to check out Riff from Leticia Britos Cavagnaro that is the episode that you're referring to because that is so very easy to set up since she does have the reflective framework of 'What? So what? Now what?' included already in the prompt so that as teacher, you ask the students a question to get them started, and then the bot comes up with the reflective questions to guide the student through more introspection. 

Kristina Hoeppner 19:41

So instead of having these 40 questions that the students need to choose from and might sometimes be overwhelmed, Riff really only shows one question at a time and guides the students through. 

Ricardo Elizalde 19:51

That's good.

Kristina Hoeppner 19:52

Certainly something to give a go because of course all of the Leticia's work is steeped in many, many years of research into reflection, and therefore you can take advantage of that.

Ricardo Elizalde 20:04

Yeah, it'd be nice to see how the ethnic studies teachers respond to. That's one of my plans to use with them this year.

Kristina Hoeppner 20:11

The other thing you might have seen, and I'll also make sure to link to that workshop recording in the episode notes is the session with Dr.Megan Mize from Old Dominion University. She recently facilitated a workshop on using chatbots. She's early on in her journey and so wanted to share the tools she's using, what she has learned, exploring with others, how they can make use of it. So I think that would also be a nice resource because she shows it hands on so that one can take it as a guidance to go through.

Kristina Hoeppner 20:42

Now, we are already coming almost to the end, Ricardo. It's been wonderful hearing from you how you got started with portfolios. And so in our quick answer round, there are three questions. The first one is 'Which words and typically it should be up to three, do you use to describe portfolio work?'

Ricardo Elizalde 21:02

I want to steal one from you if that's okay?

Kristina Hoeppner 21:05

You can steal away [Ricardo laughs].

Ricardo Elizalde 21:08

So I would say create, reflect, and build community.

Kristina Hoeppner 21:14

Wonderful. That really goes with what you had been talking about earlier that students and teachers create their own portfolios, but then also present them, share them with others, and make them known more widely.

Ricardo Elizalde 21:26

I'd like to add the build community, it's really important to use not just the digital space to share your stories, but also the physical space. In my classroom, the year that I was back in the classroom, we made sure that our bulletin board invited people into our digital space. There has to be some sort of transmedial element, maybe there's like a piece of artwork that the student drew, and so that's on a piece of paper and that gets posted and that's your invitation to go and see the story or go and look at that portfolio. It's nice when there's a transmedial element to portfolios,

Kristina Hoeppner 22:03

It is important to not forget that we should be engaging with people themselves and that not everything has to happen in the online space, but that sometimes a conversation might be better than posting a comment on a portfolio. Thank you for that addition.

Kristina Hoeppner 22:18

Now second question for the quick answer round. What tip do you have for learning designers or instructors who create portfolio activities?

Ricardo Elizalde 22:27

Always add an artistic component - sound, art, collages. Give the portfolio authors a chance to do an 'About me' page so they can share about themselves outside of your formal space.

Kristina Hoeppner 22:40

So that they can bring in their entire personality and are not just bound by the written word. 

Ricardo Elizalde 22:45


Kristina Hoeppner 22:46

Last but not least, what advice do you have for portfolio authors?

Ricardo Elizalde 22:50

Keep building. Keep making connections to other disciplines and other people.

Kristina Hoeppner 22:56

Thank you so much, Ricardo, for that insight and for reminding us that portfolios are not just about the digital space, that we should have conversations, that we should be showing of our things to others and invite them in in person and really talk through what we have learned. So thank you for sharing all of that. 

Ricardo Elizalde 23:17

You're welcome. My pleasure. 

Kristina Hoeppner 23:19

Now over to our listeners, what do you want to try in your own portfolio practice? This was 'Create. Share. Engage.' with Dr Ricardo Elizalde. Head to our website where you can find resources and the transcript for this episode. 

Kristina Hoeppner 23:37

This podcast is produced by Catalyst IT, and I'm your host Kristina Hoeppner, project lead and product manager of the portfolio platform Mahara. Our next episode will air in two weeks. I hope you listen again and tell a colleague about it so they can subscribe. Until then, create, share, and engage.

When did you get started with portfolios?
How have you incorporated portfolios into your teaching?
What were the reactions from students?
What portfolios do teachers create?
New initiative: Department portfolios
The Ready for Rigor framework by Zaretta Hammond
Do you use a reflective framework?
Student and teacher perceptions of portfolios
Portfolios and storytelling
Trends in portfolio practice
What can't you yet fully do with portfolios?
Q&A: Three words / phrases to describe portfolio work
Q&A: A tip for learning designers or instructors
Q&A: A tip for learners