Considering ePortfolios? (Part 1)

Considering ePortfolios? (Part 1)

Part 1 of a two-part series.

ePortfolio Overview

Educators interested in improving teaching and learning increasingly find themselves assessing the role Electronic Portfolios (ePortfolios) will play in educating students for the 21st century. ePortfolios showcase  an archive of a students’ work that demonstrates their learning, gathering artifacts a student uploads to a central location to highlight the breadth and depth of educational experience in classes, or through extracurricular activities, work, and volunteer experiences. Potential artifacts include papers, presentation slides, videos, websites, and photos. Students can also include written reflections detailing how each artifact provides evidence of learning and growth.

ePortfolios help students develop critical thinking skills while providing clear evidence of those skills to institutions interested in assessing student learning outcomes. ePortfolios help students develop a wide range of competencies including:

  • digital literacy and multimodal communication skills [1]
  • improved writing ability and rhetorical awareness [2]
  • enhanced self-regulated learning ability [3]

Instructors who want to focus on the breadth of possible learning objectives, or just some, should consider three areas when adopting ePortfolios for teaching and learning: platforms, pedagogy, and assessment. As the technical lead and a co-instructor for the the Program in Writing and Rhetoric’s Notation in Science Communication, which culminates in an ePortfolio that must demonstrate expertise in science communication, I’ve helped develop and integrate our teaching practices with the ePortfolio technology we’ve chosen. In the process, I’ve developed a few insights for educators considering ePortfolios.

ePortfolio Platforms

If you are an instructor or administrator choosing an ePortfolio tool, you must carefully consider desired learning outcomes because different ePortfolio tools emphasize different learning goals. ePortfolio platforms roughly fall into three categories: Do-It-Yourself (DIY) options, Learning Management System tools, and ePortfolio-specific platforms.

DIY options include coding a website from scratch or using template-based website development tools like Wix, Weebly, SquareSpace, Blogger, or Tumblr. If you are primarily interested in developing students’ digital literacy and technical skills you might prefer DIY options, but these methods pose a challenge to institutions that want more archival and assessment capabilities in a centralized platform for the ease of use of instructors and campus technology managers.

To meet that need, some Learning Management Systems, including Canvas, have built-in ePortfolio tools. Furthermore, ePortfolio-specific platforms like Digication and Pathbrite—currently in use at Stanford—offer some degree of both centralization and DIY customization.

Other platform considerations are:

  • security and privacy
  • the ability for student to access their content after they graduate
  • the ability for students to easily create versions of their ePortfolio for different audiences
  • user interface design and usability/ease of use
  • the cost to the student or institution
  • the ability to archive final versions of the ePortfolio for posterity

Whatever the ePortfolio platform, no one method or tool alone guarantees that students creating ePortfolios will achieve the host of potential learning outcomes without sound and thoughtful pedagogical practices. Without smart pedagogy, ePortfolios risk simply being elaborate online scrapbooks, so how do you make them powerful transformative tools? Next time we'll talk about pedagogy and assessment with ePortfolios.

Megan O'Connor. Photo courtesy of Megan O'Connor.

Megan O’Connor is the Academic Technology Specialist for Stanford Introductory Studies.




[1] Blair, Kristine L., and Elizabeth A. Monske. "Developing digital literacies and professional identities: The benefits of eportfolios in graduate education." Journal of Literacy and Technology 10.1 (2009): 40-68.

[2] Gere, Anne Ruggles, and Naomi Silver. "The effects of ePortfolios on writing development for students in a writing minor."

[3] Alexiou, Aikaterini, and Fotini Paraskeva. "Enhancing self-regulated learning skills through the implementation of an e-portfolio tool." Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences 2.2 (2010): 3048-3054.

See Also

ePortfolios and Self-Reflection  Earlier post  by the same author

Student E-Portfolios


The Chronicle of Higher Ed reported on efforts to create an un-transcript that better captures students' learning and experiences at Stanford and elsewhere: