Creating and using ePortfolios
This Guide can support and enhance your learning, employment prospects, and career management. Please read the Guide below before creating and using ePortfolios. Please pay a particular attention to the section on 'Personal Data Protection' addressing the issues of privacy when sharing personal data online. When you build your profile, please consider every piece of information as to whether it is appropriate and safe to share, and who might have access to the information you place online.
Log-in with your student ID number at WueMahara: https://mahara.uni-wuerzburg.de/legal.php
Maria Slowey and Tanya Zubrzycki
Higher Education Research Centre, Dublin City University
1. What is a Portfolio?
A portfolio is an ‘organized collection of documents or artifacts that can be used to demonstrate knowledge, skills, values, and achievements, which contains a commentary or exegesis to explain the relevance, credibility and coherence of each artifact or document, and where necessary provides information about standards of performance’ (Cooper & Love, 2007, p.270). Technological advances have facilitated the emergence of electronic portfolios, frequently referred to as ePortfolios. Some potential advantages ePortfolios may have over paper-based portfolios include: the use of more diverse materials; easier navigating and editing; the ability to show how the artefacts evolve over time; as well as the possibility of inviting feedback from peers and teachers (Scully, O’Leary, & Brown, 2018, p. 2).
In the literature, contents of a portfolio are often described as ‘artefacts’. The word ‘artefact’ comes from Italian ‘artefatto’, from Latin arte ‘by skill’ (ablative of ars ‘art’ + factum ‘thing made’, from facere ‘to make, do’ (Online Etymology Dictionary, www.etymonline.com).
However, what really matters is the learning.
‘Creating an e-portfolio involves skills essential for 21st century learning – organising and planning material, giving and receiving feedback, reflecting, selecting and arranging content to communicate with a particular audience in the most effective way.’ (JISC, 2019a)
ePortfolios differ from CVs in two important ways, as they usually will include:
- a reflective element, and
- a dialogue element (Ravet, 2010).
The desired outcome of ePortfolios is the ‘generation of a useful product that serves as comprehensive evidence of the learner’s skills and competences and can be shared with others’ (Scully, O’Leary, & Brown, 2018, p. 9).
Depending on the circumstances, ePortfolios can be used in different ways and for different purposes: The desired outcome of ePortfolios is the ‘generation of a useful product that serves as comprehensive evidence of the learner’s skills and competences and can be shared with others’ (Scully, O’Leary, & Brown, 2018, p. 9).
- as part of an undergraduate or postgraduate module,
- for assessment,
- to support employability,
- for lifelong learning.
Potential benefits of ePortfolios were captured in a study by Eynon, Gambino and Török (2014), suggesting that students who created ePortfolios had higher GPA's and higher retention rates from one semester to the next than control groups.
2.1 Determine the primary goal of your ePortfolio
There are three primary goals which define the audience and hence the relevant format, content, and tools.
- Showcase Portfolio: examples of work/achievements to support employment applications;
- Assessment Portfolio: for summative assessment or evaluation, to receive a grade;
- Learning Portfolio: drafts/unpolished work (Scully, O’Leary, & Brown, 2018, p. 2).
There are a number of reasons to use ePortfolios:
2.2 Explore INTALL materials
INTALL materials can be explored for criteria for working in the field of adult learning:
- Job Profiles of Adult Educators, comprising tasks and responsibilities, qualifications, skills, and potential employers;
- Skills of Adult Educators
- Employment stories of Adult Educators
2.3 Review possible tools for building an ePortfolio
A number of tools exist for building ePortfolios. You should ‘own’ your portfolio, which assumes autonomy by choosing: (1) the artefacts to include and (2) the technological platform to create them, which should facilitate, not interrupt, the process of portfolio building (Scully, O’Leary, & Brown, 2018).
However, it is important for you to be aware of privacy implications, which must be considered when choosing a tool. So you would be well advised to explore the platform used at your ‘home’ university.
For example, a number of universities use a system called Mahara, which at the time of writing this guide is provided to organisations (who would then set it up for individual use of people at the organisation, e.g. students, lecturers, etc.) at no cost as open source software, under the GNU General Public License version 3 or later. The system is modular in design to maximise flexibility and extensibility. More details can be found at the link https://mahara.org/view/view.php?id=6. This is the platform used, for example, at Dublin City University, Ireland.
Other potential tools for ePortfolios can include ePortfolio platforms, content management systems, blogs, and web publishing sites (Ravet, 2010).
3.1 A useful example
A useful example of specific sections of a portfolio for students in adult education and lifelong learning is from the European Adult Education (Young) Professionals Learning Platform (AE-PRO, n.d.). The topics suggested below partially draw on the outcomes of this project.
2. Professional experience & career
3. Education & training
4. Volunteer work
5. International experience
6. Personal interests
3.2 Building an ePortfolio repositpry
There are four main stages in building the evidence for an ePortfolio.
Collect evidence of learning, knowledge, skills, and competencies.
- Select relevant evidence against known standards.
- Reflect on the reasons for choosing certain artefacts and on strengths and weaknesses.
- Connect with the audience and peers for feedback (adapted from Ravet, 2010, p. 57).
Each of these four parts are considered in more detail below.
3.2.1 Collect artefacts
The first stage involves collecting artefacts representing evidence of your learning, knowledge, skills, and competencies.
Examples of artefacts include:
- artefacts representing your best work,
- personal statements,
- links to relevant social networks,
- writing samples,
- photographs and videos documenting accomplishments,
- teachers’ evaluations of performance in a given area,
- skills and competencies.*
(Ravet, 2010, p.56; Scully, O’Leary, & Brown, 2018, p. 2)
* For skills and competencies, cross-checking with the INTALL profiles of adult educators can facilitate selection of most relevant artefacts.(Ravet, 2010, p.56; Scully, O’Leary, & Brown, 2018, p. 2)
The ePortfolio gives you an opportunity to describe skills you have acquired as part of the learning process, professional or extra-curricular activities. Reflect on where, when, and in what context you have developed these skills). INTALL profiles of adult educators provide further details on each area of relevant skills:
- Analytical thinking
- Active learning
- Learning/teaching strategies
- Critical thinking
- Complex problem-solving
- Social influence
- Emotional intelligence
- Relating with multicultural groups
- Communicating with others (orally and in writing)
- Active listening
- Planning and organising
- Acting ethically
3.2.2 Select relevant evidence against known standards
Evaluate critically all the evidence and artefacts and select those that are relevant for desired career paths and those that demonstrate impact in your field of adult learning.
Cross-checking with INTALL materials such as adult educators profiles can facilitate selection of the most relevant artefacts. Please refer to 3.1 of this guide for suggested portfolio sections.
Reflect on your reasons for choosing certain artefacts, as well as on their strengths and weaknesses. True reflection should evidence deep learning; with learners analysing the skills they have learned from a particular exercise, linking these to other aspects of their studies, and identifying how they may use the skills ‘for a lifetime, professionally, personally and civically’ (Jenson, 2011, p. 52).
3.2.3 Reflect on your choice of artefacts
There are a number of models for reflective thinking and writing. The Dublin City University (DCU) Reflective Writing Guide can be used as a resource to guide this process, as it lists a number of approaches for you to select the one that makes sense to you personally (the link can also be found in the References list). As the DCU Guide puts it, reflective thinking and writing as part of an ePortfolio involves exploring and explaining the events rather than simply describing them. One such approach is a reflective cycle by Gibbs (1988).
3.2.4 Connect with audience and peers for feedback
Engaging in dialogue about your ePortfolio is considered to be another distinctive feature for student portfolios. Various platforms may have a feature enabling you to discuss and receive feedback about your ePortfolio from your teachers, peers, colleagues, and others. This can be done, for example, by sending them a link to a particular portfolio you would like feedback on.
The benefits of this dialogical approach described in the literature include the opportunity to:
- receive friendly advice on how to improve your ePortfolio(s);
- reflect upon receiving feedback and make any needed changes (see section 3.2.3 ‘Reflect on the choice of artefacts’ above).
Personal Data Protection
Personal data protection should be taken very seriously. The issues of privacy, and of who will have access to your ePortfolio must be decided upon at the start of the process. Please be aware that if you share information on the internet, it may not be easily removed and you may not have the full control in regards to who sees, copies, shares or edits it. For this reason, the ePortfolio structure described above is only a suggestion, and you are advised to use caution in all matters pertaining to your and other people’s personal data, and to aim for an appropriate balance between sharing information about your knowledge and skills on the one hand and retaining full control over your ePortfolio on the other hand. When you build your profile, please consider every single piece of information not only as to whether it makes a good impression but also if it is safe to share.
Please cross-check with INTALL materials for examples of the types of potential employers under each of the suggested job profiles in adult education.
We wish you all the best in finding a job in the adult learning field!
We would like to acknowledge the helpful contribution on ePortfolios made by Lisa Donaldson, Learning Technologist at Teaching Enhancement Unit, Dublin City University, Ireland.
AE-PRO (n.d.). AE-PRO portfolio guide: Support for creating a portfolio for staff of adult education. An output of a European Adult Education (Young) Professionals Learning Platform (AE-PRO) project funded with support from the European Commission.
Cooper, T., & Love, T. (2007). e-Portfolios in e-learning. In N.A. Buzzetto-More (Ed.), Advanced principles of effective e-learning (pp. 267–292). Santa Rosa, CA: Informing Science Press.
Donaldson, L. (2018). E-portfolio based assessment: Inspiring exploration & supporting evaluation for practitioners. DCU: Dublin.
Donaldson, L., Buckley, K., & O’Riordan, F. (2019). Designing your professional portfolio – Walking the walk with ePortfolios. Presentation at the Seminar. Dublin City University, Ireland.
Donaldson, L. (December 14, 2020). Training session on ePortfolios/Mahara for INTALL project. [Powerpoint presentation]. Dublin City University.
DCU Reflective Writing Guide (n.d.). ‘DCU Reflect’ ePortfolio platform. https://reflect.dcu.ie/artefact/file/download.php?file=41&view=13.
Eynon, B., Gambino, L. and Török, J. (2014). Completion, Quality, and Change: The Difference E-Portolios Make. Peer Review, 16(1). https://www.aacu.org/publications-research/periodicals/completion-quality-and-change-difference-e-portfolios-make
Gibbs, G. (1988). Learning by doing: A guide to teaching and learning methods. Further Education Unit. Further Education Unit. Oxford Polytechnic: Oxford. Available to download as an eBook from the website of the Oxford Centre for Staff and Learning Development, Oxford Brookes University (First Edition, 2013) at https://www.brookes.ac.uk/ocsld/publications/.
Hand, R., Bell, T. W., & Kent, D. (2012). Mahara ePortfolios: Beginner’s guide. 2nd ed. Packt Publishing.
Jenson, J.D. (2011). Promoting self-regulation and critical reflection through writing students’ use of electronic portfolio. International Journal of ePortfolio, 1(1), 49–60.
JISC (2019a). Getting Started with ePortfolios. https://www.jisc.ac.uk/guides/getting-started-with-e-portfolios.
Ravet, S. (2010). A guide to building a career e-Portfolio. In L. Malita & V. Boffo (Eds.), Finding the first job through digital storytelling: A guide to getting into the employment world (pp. 51-70). Timisoara: Mirton.
Scully, D., O’Leary, M., & Brown, M. (2018). The learning portfolio in higher education: A game of snakes and ladders. Dublin: Dublin City University, Centre for Assessment Research, Policy & Practice in Education (CARPE) and National Institute for Digital Learning (NIDL).
JISC (2012a). Stories of e-Portfolio Implementation: Southampton Solent University (focus on careers and student employability). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZGTFDY1Cf64.
JISC (2012b). The e-portfolio implementation toolkit: Thanet College: Effective Practice with ePortfolios (focus on continuing professional development and personalisation). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zhz-bBgl56k.
JISC (2019b). How to enhance student learning, progression and employability with e-portfolios: Case studies and guidance on e-portfolios for UK further and higher education. https://www.jisc.ac.uk/guides/e-portfolios.
WikiHow & Rosenberg, A. (2019). How to create a career portfolio. https://www.wikihow.com/Create-a-Career-Portfolio.