I hope that someday I’m asked what schools were like in 2013. I’ll tell stories of the quaint ways we did things. People will be amazed that classrooms had actual blackboards with real chalk, just as I was when my grandma told me she learned to write on a slate (the original tablet in the classroom).

However nothing will confuse my future audience more than report cards. I’ll explain that twice a year teachers sat down and reported on everything that happened over the previous five months of school. They added up all of a student’s marks, assigned a grade for each subject with lengthy comments and then sent it home on paper. They’ll stare at me with blank faces and ask “Why?” just as my sons did when I told them that I only had three TV channels to watch as a kid.

We used to wait for information. Newspapers came out daily; your favorite singer or band released an album once a year (if you were lucky) and magazines were mailed bi-weekly or monthly. Now information is an ever flowing torrent, available 24/7. News channels and social media provide instant news coverage, music is downloaded in seconds and magazines are websites viewed on iPads. Soon the old ways will be completely gone.

That’s why I’m confident these are the last days of report cards. Paper report cards that students carry home in envelopes are an anachronism. Parents and students don’t wait five months for information about anything. Why should they wait to learn about their child’s learning? We can provide up to date, rich multimedia information to parents whenever and however they want it. And we will.

“Video killed the radio star” but what will kill report cards? This is what you’ll see after a short ride into the future in the “Educational Delorean”:

  • Teachers and students use personal digital devices in the classroom. When learning happens it’s recorded on the device. This could be video (student does something), audio (student explains something), pictures, digital documents or written observations. Teachers and students tag the learning with the relevant expectations, add comments and save it on the server.
  • The student receives feedback from the teacher and others, reflects and reviews. When learning is ready to ‘publish’ it’s evaluated and added to the student’s portfolio.
  • The student’s digital portfolio is shared with parents and anyone else the student chooses. Automatic notifications are sent whenever something is added or parents can subscribe to a periodic digest. Parents or others add comments, ask questions, or just click “Like”.
  • When the reporting period ends the student and teacher select the best work for sharing, write reflections and curate the work. Parents add comments. Growth is easily seen because previous work is already in the portfolio.

Rather than old style, “once a term”, reports cards, parents and students have immediate evidence of student learning with rich multimedia content.

I know this will happen because we’re already so close; we just need to connect the dots and for parents to start demanding it.

Teachers are already creating rich electronic portfolios for students using tools like Evernote and personal digital devices. My school is one of the first users of a new tool created by Pearson Canada called “Capturing Learning in the Classroom” (CLiC) (Introduced at ECOO#12) developed for the kindergarten classroom. Teachers use video, pictures and words to create “learning stories” on digital devices, upload them and share them with parents. I understand Pearson is already developing a version for kindergarten to Grade 8.

When teachers hand out those envelopes at the end of this school year they can be forgiven for being a little nostalgic. After all, it may be the last time.