Over the last twenty or so years, the use of the ePortfolio as a tool for learning and teaching has been discussed and deliberated. Mostly because it was an existing technique before online technologies were in play at any institution. The reference to the ‘e’ was to denote between the paper based versions that professional bodies required of their practitioners. The aim of these paper based versions was that as part of a qualification (nurses, health workers, social workers, engineers etc) all required evidence of learning. That they developed ideas and showed good practice, along with a reflection on their work. These were then used to assess competence or to assess maintaining confidence in their skills. When the technology became available the interest in transferring these paper based portfolios to be online increased and some institutions beagan to explore how they might be able to enable their students to use online tools, securely and transferably.
The following is my take on what has happened in the world of ePortfolios over the last 17 years since I have been working with them in various institutions and organisations who have asked me about their use and value.


Documenting learning was a key term used to describe the purpose of an ePortfolio. This comes in many different forms and can be for groups as well as individuals. The key element was that the ePortfolio could be used to capture the development of learning, as opposed to being a host for already completed work. Much later on there was interest in keeping a showcase of completed work to impress future employers or as a display case for LinkedIn or a personal blog.
Whereas nowadays there is much more ‘read/write’ technology, in the early 2000’s the web was limited and the capacity and bandwidth meant that there were restrictions on how interactive they could be. Discussions about the use of blogs, Pinterest, Padlet etc as an ePortfolio tool are not strictly conducive to an ePortfolio as they may not be able to be used in a way that facilitate privacy or sharing easily with the reviewer.

Academic Integrity

An ePorfolio used to be able to be part of course, or a programme where students could place individual items in various stages of development. Depending on the role of the portfolio (and discipline). Artists could provide sketches of their work and show the development of a piece with annotations and feedback from the academic to help them improve. The final exhibition of work was the output but the fact that the students had developed a collection of pre-planning and could show their development was an important part of the authenticity of their work. The staff who had been feeding back throughout the process were able to verify that student as they could see the dveelopment. This was also useful for QA processes.

Platforms and use

Their uses depend on the discipline and the purpose. According to Helen Chen and Tracy Penny Light (gurus of ePortfolios) they see the use of eportfolios is to help students to identify what they know, how the know it and then use the new knowledge they have from their studies to apply that to the ever changing world. Sounds profound and not all subjects are that inclusive (maybe thats whats wrong with the world today?!) However, teaching using eportfolios is a skill if you are doing more than asking students to stick something in a respository etc (hence that is why you get people saying they used Dropbox or other places as a collection.
If the aim is to showcase the best work, then use a blog/Pinterest etc as previously mentioned. The ‘aim’ of use is very important and as with any educational technology, don’t use a massive high powered/overly complicated tool to do a simple job. Depending on the purpose, the use of it can be very different.
There is never a one size fits all for a platform. Pebblepad is very much like the traditional portfolios for professional qualifications and has worked well for Nurses etc. This is because it was designed with this in mind and features work books etc. There are also blogs and supposed mechanism for pulling in feeds from other systems. I had an account and couldn’t make it work when I did my MSc and it didn’t connect with the things I used already which I thought was a fatal flaw.
I tried - which focussed on social media use and missed the point of the development of learning, the idea being that you pulled in your social media and that created the content. The only thing I got out of it was endless emails from them and notifications that was a real pain to turn off (Now appears to be part of Canvas!)
- very visual based but again made with the idea of showing the world what has been done rather than academic content. It also displayed Badges but tied you into their system rather than using the IMS Global Badge standard (originally the Mozilla backpack).
Was a startup when I first worked with them but then they were bought out by Cengage who didn’t have a clue what it was for or how to use it. I worked with them to show them what it could do but I don’t think now they have put much resource into developing it, which is a shame because it was good. Easy to use, visual and linked to documents (google docs/ shared docs etc) and could be used with templates to ask students to create specific tasks which could be graded inside the system. (Edit: Have now been discontinued by Cengage)
: As long as we have Moodle. Much better than it was, but still not entirely obvious to students how to use it. It is also held within the institution so that when someone leaves they will have to export what they have done to another system (possible a case for setting up a blog to enable lifelong learning) As this is the tool we have then it probably would be the best thing we can use to show how this idea of documenting learning could happen.

Examples of potential use in SHS for ePortfolios:

Documenting learning to show development over time: In our History of Art department they offer students an optional activity where the students can create an exhibition. Originally, they ask students to write up what they would do, including details on the use of fonts for their brochures and ultimately ending up in a real life cardboard model of the exhibition. One of the issues was that they do a briefing session with the students and advise them on the right tones, colours and texts to use and are often disappointed to see much of their advice has been ignored. I have suggested the use of an eportfolio to help guide students to their final completed exhibition as a virtual exhibition using SketchFab and 3D worlds, alongside the use of an ePortfolio to do it so that the academic can advise across the term on their progress (ensuring any misconceptions around use of fonts etc are adhered to avoiding any disappointments!)
In Archaeology they have professional skills for Archaeologists where they have created a word document. The non digital version was a booklet that was completed on site. This could be used for drawings etc. An ePortfolio could be used to capture the images (annotated on site through mobile apps etc) and then uploaded etc.
Geography also has similar professional skills , all relating to the idea of documenting learning. In these last two examples, the use of a portfolio would be complimented by the use of open badges. These are used to highlight these specific professional skills, keeping track of these and using the ePortfolio as the evidence base.
Our new VD Ed (Cathy Elliott) is using Mahara for her Politics of Nature course which is fab. She is very inclusive and worth exploring. Not sure how its going or how she is preparing the students though.


There could be (depending on the learning design) a really deep understanding of the discipline and themselves as a result of the process (reflection is a mainstay of eportfolios for teaching and learning) Depending on the discipline and the purpose it can be a way of helping students to see how far they have come, for them to prove their level of understanding and be able to show how they got there (as mentioned previously about the academic integrity aspect.
Students would value them as they are more than a one of piece of work. If they are able to get useful feedback and if they complete their work along a set of touchpoints across a Term, then all is well. It also means that there is continous interactions and engagement with the students.


It is a lot of work. Sometimes they have to do it (Professional etc) but sometimes they leave it all to the last minute, especially if they have never done anything like this at all. If their entire experience of assessment has been an end of module exam or quiz etc then having to produce work across a module might be quite a shock to the system.
A way of countering that would be for them to produce something like a simple ePortfolio of who they are, videos of themselves etc (almost like an instagram story) which gets them used to using it and for them to express themselves a little bit. When this has happened in the past (Chapel Hill did this) then it did a few things:
Identifed skill level (digital literacies)
Indicated at risk students. They discovered that on the whole, students who didn’t mention family or friends when they were given this as a early task, were at a higher risk of dropping out/mental health issues etc and so were flagged to Personal Tutors for a checkin to make sure they were OK.
Helps to develop a sense of community
Another option is to talk about this as a way of independent learning, where they use feedback explicitly before they are at UCL to provide a transition to their student life to help them break free of old ways of working.
For staff: Different way of working for academic teaching staff, who may have little or no support to do this or may have not done this themselves etc.


The usual way of assessing a student is between a very small, internal audience which endorses (or not) the work that has been produced (in an exam/coursework essay) which we then give a grade for. We collate these together and the student gets a final award and by virtue of our quality mark (stamp of approval, aka degree certificate and transcript) we state that they are worthy and no one else sees their work. If you use an ePortfolio there is potential for this to be made available to a much wider audience, including employers/peers etc which means that the work is more likely to be of a higher standard. This way, a student could ‘show’ what they have done, how they got there and what they understand about something, rather than presenting a certificate that shows they know about International Relations for example. Depending on the use, the audience could be future employers, respected others than allow someone to shine.
Many certficates and awards are given declaring so and so has a studied the following and has met the criteria for x. But they didn’t all do it in the same way and it allows those with creativity, critical skills etc to demonstrate their competences, personal to them.

Open Badges and ePortfolios

Katy Coleman (was at Deakin) produced this which I have found useful. Basically, discreet sets of evidence around a topic help to identify the aspects of the portfolio to show competence. It is like a target for the audience. The key thing for me is the value to the student and the use of evidence to see what they did. So now they are not just saying I can do this because they have an award from UCL, but they can show you what they did. And each person will be able to demonstrate their own version or interpretation of the tasks.
It is very hard work and not all students are as able to do this as others (basically because they have been institutionalised). But it is an equaliser and seems to allow for more inclusive practice than just dishing out grades and giving useless feedback!

Skills development

As I am deeply interested in skills and development one of the main attractions to teaching with eportfolios in the ways I have mentioned above is the development of authentic, real world, applicable to now etc skills. Critical thinking skills, digital skills, reflection etc all can be part of the value package for students when they are involved in different ways of learning. Their learning has a different purpose when it is continuous (rather than an exam at the end).
The University of Waterloo Competency Project produced a nice diagram to show how competences are developed and connected:

Resources and literature

(2012) Light, T.P., Chen, H., Ittelson, J.C. Documenting Learning with ePortfolios: A guide for College Instructors; Jossey-Bass, San Francisco
- The Association for Authentic, Experiential, & Evidence-Based Learning
(very good now retired but worth looking at)
of ePortfolios in HE
(details of a talk but not the link, if you are interested I can ask my friend who works at UNSW for the link if she can find it!)

Want to print your doc?
This is not the way.
Try clicking the ⋯ next to your doc name or using a keyboard shortcut (
) instead.