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Getting started with e-portfolios

Advice on using e-portfolios by Patricia McKellar (UKCLE) and Karen Barton (Glasgow Graduate School of Law), developed as part of UKCLE’s Using e-portfolios in legal education project.

Go to: definitions | software | benefits | hints and tips | watch out for | case studies | resources
See also: Getting started with e-portfolios: advice for students, staff and employers

What is an e-portfolio?

The term ‘e-portfolio’ can mean different things to different people. At a basic level, descriptions fall into one of two categories – the e-portfolio product and the e-portfolio process:

  • the ‘product’ – the aggregated presentation of digital artefacts demonstrating an individual’s learning journey and future plans (‘artefacts’ can include evidence of achievement and learning as well as reflection on both formal and informal learning experiences)
  • the ‘process’ – creating an e-portfolio enables and requires learners to develop skills in collecting, selecting, reflecting, collaborating and presenting – skills which are recognised as essential to the development of personal development planning and lifelong learners

For example, a student on a clinical legal skills module would be able to save a digitally recorded client interview together with tutor comments in her e-portfolio. She may then use this artefact to enhance her interviewing skills or, along with other evidence, it could demonstrate how she has improved.

Some recent definitions of e-portfolios drawing on these two aspects:

“E-portfolios…are personal online spaces for students to access services and store work. They will become ever more useful as learners grow up and start moving between different types of learning and different institutions.

Secretary of State for Education and Skills, January 2006

“Lifelong and personalised learning policy drivers propose that all learners should be able to develop, record, repurpose and transfer a wide range of information about themselves electronically, as they progress through different levels and episodes of learning, training and employment.”

JISC briefing paper, March 2006

What software is available?

A number of tools and systems are available to facilitate the creation of e-portfolios:

  • most proprietary VLEs offer an embedded e-portfolio
  • open source social networking systems such as Elgg provide a means of collaborating and distributing information, containing many of the features of a dedicated e-portfolio tool
  • some dedicated tools following published e-portfolio standards and designed specifically for educational use are on the market – one example is PebblePad

Take account of cost implications when introducing e-portfolios – if your institution uses a proprietary VLE such as Blackboard then the built-in e-portfolio application will probably be available to your students at no extra charge. Open source e-portfolio applications are free to use, while other tools may make a charge varying according to the number of accounts required.

The benefits of using an e-portfolio

Benefits for learners include:

  1. The development of key skills:
    • reflection
    • collaboration
    • organisation
    • planning
  2. Adaptability of purpose – e-portfolios can be used for:
    • assessment
    • appraisal
    • accreditation
    • application
    • advancement
  3. Portability and ownership of personal learning.
  4. Integration of formal, informal and work-based learning into a coherent whole.
  5. Accessibility – learning can be demonstrated in the way most appropriate to an individual’s situation.

What you need to know

Law teachers who have used e-portfolios in their teaching say they:

  • make students’ work accessible from anywhere
  • enable students to be more creative
  • reduce the requirement for paper (handouts, submissions, feedback sheets…)
  • make the submission of work easier and allow for greater variety
  • ensure work is personal to the student (reducing plagiarism)
  • develop students’ IT skills
  • improve the monitoring of progress (struggling students can be identified more quickly)
  • allow the provision of templates to scaffold students’ progress
  • save students’ time in assembling and presenting work¨
  • save tutors’ in marking (both formative and summative)

‘How to’ tip sheet

E-portfolios can be integrated at module or course level. Consider these issues first:

  • What is the purpose of the e-portfolio?
  • This is a new way of delivering learning and teaching. Are your students prepared for a change in their learning culture?
  • Are your students already taking part in some form of personal development planning (a university-wide initiative)?
  • Have you already tried using paper-based portfolios in your teaching and learning?
  • Does your VLE support an e-portfolio system?
  • What are the training implications for students and for staff?
  • Who will support the e-portfolio at a technical level?
  • How will you train and support mentors?
  • How will you integrate the e-portfolio with the other forms of learning, teaching and assessment?
  • What happens to the e-portfolio once the module or course has finished?
  • If the e-portfolio is planned to be a tool for summative assessment you also need to consider:
    • cost implications
    • educational impact
    • feasibility
    • acceptability (for staff and students)
    • maintaining the reliability of assessment

Watch out for…

  1. The portfolio specification needs to be clear and simple.
  2. Remember that students find reflection difficult.
  3. The collection of evidence can be problematic.
  4. Give guidance and examples.
  5. Use and train mentors.
  6. Support conversation and peer support.
  7. Use forms and checklists to help avoid ‘empty box syndrome’.
  8. Regular reviews and feedback are essential.
  9. Allow alternative models and a range of assessment tools.
  10. Tailor activities and assessment to the students and to learning outcomes.
  11. Flexibility allows students to take ownership.
  12. One size doesn’t fit all.
  13. Some staff need a lot of support.
  14. Both staff and students need a lot of time to appreciate and understand all the potential benefits.

Examples/case studies

As part of UKCLE’s Using e-portfolios in legal education project four law schools piloted the use of e-portfolios:

A paper from UKCLE’s Learning in Law Annual Conference 2007 , E-portfolios within the professions, includes brief case studies on the use of e-portfolios in medicine and veterinary medicine.

Useful resources

JISC has produced two invaluable resources providing advice on getting started:

Other useful starting points include:

UKCLE resources on related topics:

Last Modified: 4 June 2010