E-Portfolios and Their Uses in Higher Education

E-portfolios are valuable tools to aid in students’ academic growth and their transition into the career landscape. The use of e-portfolios before, during, and after higher education continues to rise, as does the number of exceptional e-portfolio platforms. This article provides an overview of what e-portfolios are, how they benefit students, faculty members, and employers, and how to choose the right e-portfolio platform.

What Are E-Portfolios?

An e-portfolio refers to an “electronic portfolio”: a digital collection of evidence and artifacts that represents the knowledge, skills, and accomplishments of an individual or group (Lorenzo & Ittelson, 2005). These artifacts can include a variety of resources such as documents and files from successful projects; proof of competencies and skill advancement in the form of certificates and badges; and relevant experiences and achievements.

Depending on the purpose of the e-portfolio, the creator often makes his or her work widely available and then shares it with instructors, fellow students, or potential employers or clients. An e-portfolio is a window into an individual’s past, present, and future that showcases his or her lifelong learning and a commitment to continued improvement.

Clemson University (n.d.) categorizes portfolios into three main types:

  • Showcase portfolio: Highlights achievements
  • Learning portfolio: Demonstrates the learning process with a focus on feedback
  • Assessment portfolio: Used to assess students’ competency on certain standards or topics

Both students and professionals might use showcase portfolios, while learning and assessment portfolios are more common in educational settings. The next few sections will look at how e-portfolios are implemented in different fields.

Who Uses E-Portfolios?

The use of e-portfolios has expanded to most of the education and career world. This ranges from K–12 education, to undergraduate and graduate programs, all the way up to professionals through corporate training and employment mobility. The earlier and more consistent the use of e-portfolios begins, the more substantial their effects can be.

E-portfolios are useful across a variety of disciplines, not just traditionally visually oriented ones like studio art. For example, business programs value the reflection and self-regulated learning aspects of a well-maintained portfolio, and portfolios give students the opportunity to represent their personal and professional growth beyond traditional academic systems (Morales & Soler-Dominguez, 2016). Likewise, nursing programs value competency-based assessments that provide proof of understanding, as well as showing links between theory and practice based on experience and demonstrable skills (Garrett, MacPhee, & Jackson, 2013).

Academic Uses of E-Portfolios

Metacognition and Goal Setting

E-portfolios can be very beneficial in the promotion of metacognition: an awareness of one’s own learning and skill development. The ability to assess one’s own strengths and weaknesses and reflect on one’s progress is a skill inherent to building an e-portfolio as students add new artifacts to their collection and review old ones. This record of personal and professional growth allows them to analyze their learning over time, increase knowledge retention, refine short-term and long-term goals, and gain insights they might have missed if they hadn’t tracked their progress in such a manageable and visual way (Miller & Morgaine, 2009).

Academic Advising and Feedback

Often, we think of e-portfolios being a tool that only students and instructors use. However, they can also be useful in academic advising. Portfolium (2017) details the following benefits of using e-portfolios in conjunction with academic advising:

  • Interactivity: Ideally, e-portfolios will be accessible to students and advisors at all times. That way, advisors will be able to monitor students’ progress and performance in real time. Depending on the platform, students and advisors may also be able to communicate via the e-portfolio’s chat or comment features.
  • Performance tracking: Many times, academic advisors may only have a list of grades to help them review students’ performance in their classes. With e-portfolios, advisors can have a more holistic understanding of how students are doing in their academic journey.
  • Planning: E-portfolios allow academic advisors to make more in-depth recommendations to help students meet their goals. For example, if a student is struggling, an advisor can review e-portfolio entries to determine what resources would most help the student, or if a student is performing well, an advisor might be able to point the student to a course that will help him or her sharpen those skills.
  • Portability: Because students should ideally be able to take their e-portfolios with them from year to year or even school to school, academic advisors can use e-portfolios to assess students’ progress even if they’ve never communicated with a student before.

Institutional Uses

University administrators can also benefit from the use of e-portfolios. According to Reese and Levy (2009), schools can use students’ e-portfolios to demonstrate that they’re meeting certain accreditation requirements or internal academic standards. In addition, department heads can use e-portfolios to evaluate their students’ strengths and weaknesses so they can make curriculum changes if necessary to help them better achieve desired outcomes. In this way, e-portfolios provide a strong centralized source for administrators to refer to when assessing students’ performance and the effectiveness of their programs.

Career Uses of E-Portfolios

E-portfolios give students another avenue to show potential employers their abilities. An academic transcript doesn’t always tell the full story of a person’s skill set, and e-portfolios allow people to fill in gaps and demonstrate soft skills that aren’t overtly apparent on a résumé (Ferns & Comfort, 2014).

E-portfolios are also an effective way to enhance the reach and utility of digital badges. Being able to connect earned credentials with a professional portfolio can be very valuable. Having these resources in one place allows peers and employers to match a name and face with the badges, achievements, evidence, and artifacts that indicate a promising candidate for hire or promotion.

In addition, e-portfolios are a great way for students to demonstrate learning pathways, or series of skills that students achieve by following a “path” of linked objectives or competencies. Similarly, e-portfolios are a great method of credential stacking to help students demonstrate increased rigor and competency in different subject areas.

Organizations can also use e-portfolios to aid in employee performance and collaboration, inspire organizational growth through professional development, and establish goals for leadership (Andriotis, 2017). According to a survey of 318 employers, 83% said that e-portfolios are useful in ensuring job applicants have the knowledge and skills needed to succeed in their company (Hart Research Associates, 2013).

Issues to Consider Before Implementing E-Portfolios

Although there are many benefits to using e-portfolios, institutions need to consider several issues to ensure their use of portfolios is effective. If instructors and administrators don’t think through these issues beforehand, students might end up with incomplete or inconsistent portfolios that will not benefit them educationally or professionally. Here are a few key points to consider:

  • Setting standards: If organizations or departments don’t set standards for portfolio artifacts beforehand, this can lead to inconsistencies and gaps in a portfolio, which leads to significant falloff over time. Therefore, it’s essential to have a vision for what belongs in the portfolio and quality standards for each artifact.
  • Timing: A common pitfall with e-portfolios is getting a late start, whether in one’s education or career. Starting at any point is better than not starting at all, but the earlier individuals begin building their portfolios, the more they’ll benefit from the records of long-term learning.
  • Cost: Some e-portfolio platforms are free, but others are not. Several variables may impact a platform’s pricing model, such as whether it’s an individual or institution-wide account, what services you want to use, whether the user is currently a student, and so on. Make sure you have a clear understanding of these costs before you pick a platform for your long-term needs.
  • Technology: Many institutions and organizations neglect to plan or offer the necessary training for students, faculty members, or employees to understand how to use e-portfolios to their full potential (Birks, Hartin, Woods, Emmanuel, & Hitchins, 2016). That’s why choosing an intuitive and well-supported e-portfolio platform is incredibly important. We’ll discuss how to choose the right platform in the next section.

How to Choose an Effective E-Portfolio Platform (With Examples)

To get the most out of an e-portfolio, the platform it’s hosted on needs to have some key features and functionality. Getting the basics right will encourage consistent activity, which is crucial to a successful portfolio.

  • Ease of use: Look for a platform whose profile-creation tools are easy to access and intuitive to use. Users need to be able to log in, make personalized changes, upload and add content, and update their profile information quickly and easily.
  • Shareability: The platform should allow users to determine how others may view and share their content. Users should also have the opportunity to connect with others for feedback and interaction to build their professional networks.
  • Permanence: An essential aspect of e-portfolios is permanence. Ideally, users should be able to build a lifelong profile that they can carry with them from any education level through a professional career.
  • Extra features: Additional features that add legitimacy and usefulness to an e-portfolio include digital credentialing and learning pathways.

Below are just a few recommendations for e-portfolio platforms available to individuals and institutions. The platform you choose ultimately depends on your specific needs.

  • Portfolium is an all-in-one platform that offers numerous features to better serve students, schools, and employers. Portfolium allows all users to share their online portfolios in a portable and reportable way. Students and alumni have unlimited storage and basic access that is free for life so they can use the platform as a permanent professional profile. Portfolium also offers services such as LMS integration, badges and accreditation with assessments, extensive support, and impressive accommodations for users who have disabilities. This is a robust platform that fulfills many requirements of an effective online portfolio.
  • Pathbrite allows users to build and share a customizable portfolio with intuitive tools and a more visual experience. It offers services such as LMS integration, and provides reports for assessments, outcomes, and actionable insights. Pathbrite works to provide guidance for students, instructors, and employers to get the most out of their portfolios. Individuals can start a profile for free, or the platform can be set up on an institutional level.
  • LinkedIn is a well-recognized and widely used site that focuses on networking with professionals. Creating a profile is simple and intuitive, with guided progression for optimal results. A LinkedIn profile is often viewed as an essential part of the transition from school to the workplace and offers many different opportunities to connect, share, and present oneself through an online portfolio. This is an industry staple for e-portfolios.

Conclusion

E-portfolios are valuable, versatile tools that have several pedagogical and career benefits. They allow students to reflect on their performance, receive feedback, and prepare their best work to show to future employers or clients. With the right planning and foresight, institutions can introduce a platform that allows students to build an e-portfolio over the course of their degree to enhance their learning and leave school with a practical tool to help them attain meaningful work and pursue their dreams.

References

Andriotis, N. (2017, February). The 6 benefits of ePortfolios and how to create them [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.efrontlearning.com/blog/2017/02/requirements-benefits-eportfolios-training.html

Birks, M., Hartin, P., Woods, C., Emmanuel, E., & Hitchins, M. (2016, May). Students’ perceptions of the use of eportfolios in nursing and midwifery education. Nurse Education in Practice, 18, 46–51. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1471595316300051

Clemson University. (n.d.). The what, why, and how of ePortfolios. Retrieved from https://www.clemson.edu/academics/programs/eportfolio/information.html

Ferns, S., & Comfort, J. (2014). Eportfolios as evidence of standards and outcomes in work-integrated learning. Asia-Pacific Journal of Cooperative Education, 15(3), 269–280. Retrieved from https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1113655.pdf

Garrett, B. M., MacPhee, M., & Jackson, C. (2013, October). Evaluation of an Eportfolio for the assessment of clinical competence in a baccalaureate nursing program. Nurse Education Today, 33(10), 1207–1213. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0260691712002043

Hart Research Associates. (2013, April). It takes more than a major: Employer priorities for college learning and student success. Retrieved from https://www.aacu.org/sites/default/files/files/LEAP/2013_EmployerSurvey.pdf

Lorenzo, G., & Ittelson, J. (2005). An overview of e-portfolios. EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative. Retrieved from http://www.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ELI3001.pdf

Miller, R., & Morgaine, W. (2009). The benefits of e-portfolios for students and faculty in their own words. Peer Review, 11(1), 8–12. Retrieved from https://www.aacu.org/publications-research/periodicals/benefits-e-portfolios-students-and-faculty-their-own-words

Morales, L., & Soler-Dominguez, A. (2016, June). A reflection on the use of ePortfolios in business studies programmes. Irish Journal of Academic Practice, 5(1). Retrieved from https://arrow.dit.ie/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1049&context=ijap

Portfolium. (2017). 8 ways ePortfolios benefit advisors and students [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://info.portfolium.com/blog/8-ways-eportfolios-benefit-advisors-students

Reese, M., & Levy, R. (2009, February). Assessing the future: E-portfolio trends, uses, and options in higher education. EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research, 2009(4). Retrieved from https://jscholarship.library.jhu.edu/bitstream/handle/1774.2/33329/ECAR-RB_Eportfolios.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

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