Scholarship of Teaching and Learning


Portfolio Definition

A portfolio at the K-16 education level is essentially a collection of a student's work which can be used to demonstrate his or her skills and accomplishments. According to the Northwest Evaluation Association, a portfolio is "a purposeful collection of a student's/faculty/department's/institution's work that exhibits the respective's efforts, progress, and achievements. The collection must include the respective's participation in selecting contents, the criteria for selection, the criteria for judging merit, and evidence of self-reflection" (Paulson, Paulson, & Meyer, 1991). The various categories of portfolios were delineated by the American Association of Higher Education. Regardless of the type, certain general principles guide a portfolio's development and assessment. An overview on the creation of a portfolio is available for your perusal.

Administrative Portfolios

The linked article, Adopting the Administrative Portfolio: A New Use for a Popular Assessment Tool, deals with the adaption of the more common "teaching portfolio" to the administrative environment. The article is from the January 2002 AAHE Bulletin and is by Peter Seldin and Mary Lou Higgerson.

Electronic Portfolios

The following modified information is from Barrett & Gibson's (2002) Directions in Electronic Portfolio Development.

Definition of an Electronic Portfolio

An electronic portfolio uses electronic technologies, allowing the portfolio developer to collect and organize portfolio artifacts in many media types (audio, video, graphics, text). A standards-based portfolio uses a database or hypertext links to clearly show the relationship between the standards or goals, artifacts and reflections. The learner is reflections are the rationale that specific artifacts are evidence of achieving the stated standards or goals. Often, the terms Electronic Portfolio and Digital Portfolio are used interchangeably; however there is a distinction: an Electronic Portfolio contains artifacts that may be in analog form, such as a video tape, or may be in computer-readable form; in a Digital Portfolio, all artifacts have been transformed into computer-readable form. An electronic portfolio is not a haphazard collection of artifacts (i.e., a digital scrapbook or a multimedia presentation) but rather a reflective tool that demonstrates growth over time. (Barrett, 2000)

Most of these definitions include the word collection; collections of work can be folders, or scrapbooks or portfolios. What differentiates an electronic portfolio from a digital scrapbook or an online resume is the organization of the portfolio around a set of standards or learning goals, plus the learner's reflections, both on their achievement of the standards, and the rationale for selecting specific artifacts, as well as an overall reflection on the portfolio as a whole.

Although there are a number of challenges to electronic portfolios (Carla Piper's Dissertation on Electronic Portfolios in Teacher Education), the benefits of eveloping electronic portfolios for individuals etc. include:

  • minimal storage space
  • easy to create back-up files
  • portability
  • long shelf life
  • learner-centered
  • increases technology skills
  • through hypertext links it is easier to make argument that certain standards are met
  • accessibility (especially web portfolios) (Kankaanranta, Barrett & Hartnell-Young, 2000)

Electronic Portfolio Development Process

Creating an electronic portfolio can seem daunting, but it becomes less arduous if viewed as a series of stages, each with its own goals and activities, and requiring different types of software. The author derived a framework for electronic portfolio development from two bodies of literature: portfolio development in K-12 education and the multimedia or instructional design process. These complimentary processes are both essential for effective electronic portfolio development. Understanding how these processes fit together and how standards or goals contribute to electronic portfolio development, teachers gain a powerful tool for demonstrating growth over time.

Creating an electronic portfolio can develop teachers' as well as students' multimedia technology skills. The multimedia development process usually covers the following stages (Ivers & Barron, 1998):

  • Assess/Decide. The focus is on needs assessment of the audience, the presentation goals, and the appropriate tools for the final portfolio presentation.
  • Design/Plan. In the second stage, focus on organizing or designing the presentation. Determine audience-appropriate content, software, storage medium, and presentation sequence. Construct flow charts and write storyboards.
  • Develop. Gather materials to include in the presentation and organize them into a sequence (or use hyperlinks) for the best presentation of the material, using an appropriate multimedia authoring program.
  • Implement. The developer presents the portfolio to the intended audience.
  • Evaluate. In this final stage of multimedia development, the focus is on evaluating the presentation is effectiveness in light of its purpose and the assessment context.

Each stage of the portfolio development process contributes to teachers' professional development and students' lifelong learning. Danielson and Abrutyn (1997) lay out a process for developing a portfolio:

  • Collection - teachers and students learn to save artifacts that represent the successes (and "growth opportunities") in their day-to-day teaching and learning
  • Selection - teachers and students review and evaluate the artifacts they have saved, and identify those that demonstrate achievement of specific standards
  • Reflection - teachers and students become reflective practitioners, evaluating their own growth over time and their achievement of the standards, as well as the gaps in their development
  • Projection (or Direction) - teachers and students compare their reflections to the standards and performance indicators, and set learning goals for the future. This is the stage that turns portfolio development into professional development and supports lifelong learning.
  • Presentation - teachers and students share their portfolios with their peers. This is the stage where appropriate "public" commitments can be made to encourage collaboration and commitment to professional development and lifelong learning.

Combining both the Multimedia Development Process and the Portfolio Development Process, five stages of Electronic Portfolio Development emerge:

1. Defining the Portfolio Context & Goals:

In this first stage, the primary tasks are: Identify the assessment context, including the purpose of the portfolio. Identify the goals to be addressed in the portfolio. This important step sets the assessment context and helps frame the rest of the portfolio development process.

Knowing the primary audience for the portfolio will help decide the format and storage of the formal or presentation portfolio. Before making any decisions about the development software, identify the resources available for electronic portfolio development.

2. The Working Portfolio:

This stage of the electronic portfolio development process occupies the longest span of time and is the stage often called, "Becoming a Digital Packrat!" Knowing which goals or standards you are trying to demonstrate should help determine the types of portfolio artifacts to be collected and then selected. Select the software development tools most appropriate for the portfolio context and the resources available. Just as McLuhan said, "The medium is the message", the software used to create the electronic portfolio will control, restrict, or enhance the portfolio development process. Form should follow function as well, and the electronic portfolio software should match the vision and style of the portfolio developer.

Use whatever software tools are currently being used to collect artifacts, storing them on a hard drive, a server, or videotape. Set up electronic folders for each standard to organize the artifacts (any type of electronic document) and use a word processor, database, hypermedia software or slide show to articulate the goals/standards to be demonstrated in the portfolio and to organize the artifacts. Identify the storage and presentation medium most appropriate for the situation (i.e., computer hard disk, videotape, local-area network, a WWW server, CD-ROM, etc.). There are also multiple options, depending on the software chosen.

Gather the multimedia materials that represent your achievement. You will want to collect artifacts from different points of time to demonstrate growth and learning that has taken place. Write short reflective statements with each artifact stored, to capture its significance at the time it is created.

3. The Reflective Portfolio:

This stage of the electronic portfolio development process usually precedes evaluation reviews (for summative portfolios) or employment applications (for marketing portfolios). In the formative portfolio reflections typically occur at significant points in the learning process, and are added contemporaneously as noted in the previous stage. Reflection on one's work is requisite if the portfolio owner is to learn from the process.

Here are three simple questions to ask which clarify this reflective process (Campbell, Melenyzer, Nettles, & Wyman, (2000) based on Van Wagenen and Hibbard (1998):

  • "What?"
  • "So what?"
  • "Now what?"

To use these questions, the student would first summarize the artifact that documents the experience, in order to answer the question "What?" Second, the student would reflect on what he or she learned and how this leads to meeting the standard, which answers the question "So what?" And third, the student would address implications for future learning needed and set forth refinements or adaptations, in order to answer "Now what?" (p.22)

This process of setting future learning goals turns electronic portfolio development into a powerful tool for professional development. That's why the "Now what?" question becomes important. Semi-public commitments to professional development goals can become motivation to work on those areas. As Kay Burke (1996) insists, quoting Kenneth Wolf (1996), a professional portfolio system invites "teachers to become the architects of their own professional development." (p.37)

4. The Connected Portfolio:

To some degree, this stage is unique to the electronic portfolio, because of the capability of the software to create hypertext links between documents, either locally or on the Internet. At this stage, create hypertext links between goals, work samples, rubrics, and reflections. Insert appropriate multimedia artifacts. Create a table of contents to structure the portfolio; use the outlining capabilities of either Word or PowerPoint, or the graphical organizing AND outlining capabilities of Inspiration.

The choice of software can either restrict or enhance the development process and the quality of the final product. Different software packages each have unique characteristics, which can limit or expand the electronic portfolio options. It is important to select software that allows easy creation of hypertext links, to be able to link evidence of achievement to the goals and reflections and identify patterns through this "linking" process.

The process of creating a portfolio with hypertext links contributes to the summative assessment process. When using the portfolio for assessment, the transformation from "artifacts" to "evidence" is not always clear. Linking reflections to artifacts makes this thinking process more explicit. The ability to create links from multiple perspectives (and multiple goals) also overcomes the linearity of two-dimensional paper portfolios, permitting a single artifact to demonstrate multiple standards (i.e., national technology standards, our state's teaching standards).

Use the portfolio evidence to make instruction/learning or professional development decisions. This process effectively brings together instruction and assessment, portfolio development and professional development.

5. The Presentation Portfolio:

At this stage, record the portfolio to an appropriate presentation and storage medium. This will be different for a working portfolio and a formal or presentation portfolio. The best medium for a working portfolio is video tape, computer hard disk, Zip disk, or network server. The best medium for a formal or presentation portfolio is CD-Recordable disc, WWW server, or video tape.

Present the portfolio before an audience (real or virtual) and celebrate the accomplishments represented. This will be a very individual strategy, depending on the context, and an opportunity for professionals to share their teaching portfolios with colleagues for meaningful feedback and collaboration in self-assessment. This "public commitment" provides motivation to carry out the professional development plan of a formative portfolio.

Evaluate the portfolio's effectiveness in light of its purpose and the assessment context. In an environment of continuous improvement, a portfolio should be viewed as an ongoing learning tool, and its effectiveness should be reviewed on a regular basis to be sure that it is meeting the goals set.

Post the portfolio to WWW server, or write the portfolio to CD-ROM, or record the portfolio to videotape.

Electronic Portfolio Development Tools

In addition to the stages of portfolio development, there appear to be at least five levels of electronic portfolio development, each with its own levels of expectation and suggested software strategies at each stage depending on technology skills of the student or teacher portfolio developer (Barrett, 2000). No digital artifacts. Some video tape artifacts.

  • Word processing or other commonly-used files stored in electronic folders on a hard drive, floppy diskette or LAN server.
  • Databases, hypermedia or slide shows (e.g., PowerPoint), stored on a hard drive, Zip, floppy diskette or LAN server.
  • Portable Document Format (Adobe Acrobat PDF files), stored on a hard drive, Zip, Jaz, CD-R/W, or LAN server.
  • HTML-based web pages created with a web authoring program and posted to a WWW server.
  • Multimedia authoring program, such as Macromedia Authorware or Director, pressed to CD-R/W or posted to WWW in streaming format.

As shown above, here are many strategies for developing electronic portfolios, and they appear to fall under two general approaches: the common tools approach or using off-the-shelf software, and the customized systems approach which involves designing a networked system or buying a proprietary software package or online service. Common tools approach: Portfolios are developed with reflections and artifacts that more closely emulate the traditional 3-ring binder. The portfolio is structure is imposed by the learner or the software for maximum flexibility and creativity. There is a relatively low cost for equipment or software, but there may be a higher cost for training. Student can continue developing their portfolio once out of the educational system.

There are some very good commercial electronic portfolio programs on the market, although they often reflect the developer's style or are constrained by the limits of the software structure. Many educators who want to develop electronic portfolios in the classroom or for themselves tend to design their own, using off-the-shelf software, or generic strategies. The most common tools are: relational databases, hypermedia "card" software, multimedia authoring software, World Wide Web (HTML) pages, Adobe Acrobat (PDF files), Office Suite software, multimedia slide shows, and digital or analog video.

Customized systems approach: Portfolios are also developed as online record-keeping systems that can be used to collect reflections and artifacts. They are usually highly structured using an online database, leaving the learner with limited flexibility and creativity. There is a high cost for equipment, network server and software development. There may be a lower cost for training, depending on system design. One concern is whether the students can continue developing the portfolio once they are out of the educational system.


There are many tools that can be used to develop electronic portfolios over the stages that have been outlined in this article. The value added of creating an electronic portfolio should exceed the efforts expended, and teachers should approach their use of technology conservatively. Keep the process simple by using familiar software as you get started. Above all else, the electronic portfolio should showcase learner achievements, and growing capabilities in using technology to support lifelong learning.

Choosing an E-Portfolio Package

  • Security issues
  • Technical requirements
  • Technical support
  • Cost (initial & maintenance)
  • Templates (student, faculty, course, department, creativity, flexibility)
  • Hosting capabilities (internal, external)
  • Collaboration opportunities
  • Feedback/Reflection capabilities
  • Reporting abilities (data)

Commercial E-Portfolio Vendors

Examples of E-Portfolios for Professionals and Practitioners of Higher Education

Teaching Portfolios

Developing a teaching portfolio involves using the principles and guidelines noted above. Additional information to assist you in this process include a reflection guide, content list, checklist, and references.


  • Barrett, H. (2000, April). Create Your Own Electronic Portfolio. Learning & Leading with Technology Vol. 27, No. 7, pp. 14-21
  • Burke, K. (1999). How to Assess Authentic Learning. Arlington Heights, IL: Skylight Professional Development.
  • Burke, K. (1997). Designing Professional Portfolios for Change. Palatine, Illinois: IRI/SkyLight Training & Publishing
  • Danielson, C. & Abrutyn, L. (1997) An Introduction to Using Portfolios in the Classroom. Alexandria: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
  • Fogarty, R. (1998). Balanced Assessment. Arlington Heights, IL: Skylight Professional Development
  • Hartnell-Young, E. & Morris, M. (1999). Digital Professional Portfolios for Change. Arlington Heights: Skylight Professional Development
  • Herman, J. L., Aschbacher, P.R., & Winters, L. (1992). A practical guide to alternative assessment. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
  • Kankaanranta, M., Barrett, H., & Hartnell-Young, E. (2000). Exploring the use of electronic portfolios in international contexts. Paper submitted to Ed-Media Conference.
  • Linn, R. L., and Gronlund, N. E. (2000) Measurement and Assessment in Teaching. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill
  • Wolf, K. (1999). Leading the Professional Portfolio Process for Change. Arlington Heights, IL: Skylight Professional Development
  • Worthen, B. R. (1993, February). Critical issues that will determine the future of alternative assessment. Phi Delta Kappan, pp. 444-456.


Rubrics may be used to assess a portfolio. Areas in the sample rubric look at media, design, content and professionalism. Dependent upon the purpose and audience, the portfolio rubric could be guided by a variety of criteria including accreditation standards, program outcomes, promotion and tenure guidelines.

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