E-portfolios for personal learning

This text was originally published in the June 2015 edition of ‘e-technology‘ prepared for the Australian Council for Educational Leaders and has been modified to suit this post.

E-portfolios for personal learning.

For decades on end, students in schools have been completing assignments for their teachers. Too often, these were seen only by the teacher, assessed, and then returned to the student. Often they were kept in student tubs, lockers, bags or filed under ‘bin’. Sometimes, if the student was lucky, the work was displayed on a wall or in a hallway. Teachers collected work samples as a way of informing and reporting to parents, and very rarely, taught students how to build their own portfolios of work.

With many modernised educational institutions using less paper, and the rise of digital technologies in our classroom, student work has become more easily shareable, accessible by many, and more easily organised. Consequently, teachers are turning to the use of electronic portfolios – or ‘e-portfolios‘ – for their students; which have the potential to cause a huge shift in how a teacher assigns, collects and assesses student work, as well as how students, themselves, engage in the learning process.

An e-portfolio is an electronic record of student accomplishments; displaying student progress within a range of subject areas. The use of a portfolio brings various possibilities of collecting evidence of student learning. It allows opportunities for students to engage in a workspace for thinking, develop meta-cognitive skills, and create a passionate space for engaging in personal learning.

Having any type of portfolio (either electronic or paper-based) encourages self-regulated learning to occur. It can also be a powerful tool in terms of assessment for, as and of learning. When students own a portfolio of their learning journey, it helps give identity to who they are and understanding themselves as learners. It is also a great way of showcasing developmental learning and achievements.

Where the ‘e’ comes into it’s own with electronic portfolios, is the way in which technology helps remove barriers. Through portfolios that are stored on digital platforms, they can become interactive to multiple viewers or collaborators, as well as stored or accessed without physical limits. No longer do work samples, assessments and reflections have to be stored in a folder that resides with the student, but can be curated in a digital portfolio, thus multiplying the benefits of personal learning.

In my experience, implementing e-portfolios (Year 3&4 and Year 5&6as part of our personal learning program has helped strengthen relationships between peers, teachers and parents alike; with regard to our children’s own journeys at school.

In the past, students and teachers relied heavily on storing mountains of paper to show the progress of learning. These would include assessments, reflections, goal-setting journals, and evidence of outcomes. They were stored in a folder or in student tubs: therein lay the problem. That folder was limited to one place in space and time, to be accessed, most likely, by only the student and teacher.

However, since digitising existing ideas of personal learning and encouraging the development of stronger meta-cognitive skills in our students, we can now securely share and celebrate a student’s journey, with everyone in the school community; students, parents and teachers alike.

Utilising this method has changed the purpose of a traditional paper-based portfolio of learning. By using an electronic platform, the communication of the journey of a student needn’t be limited to the 4 walls of the classroom, but instead, can include the whole village which supports that child. Students realise the value of sharing to a meaningful audience, telling with pride, their experiences during the learning process. They can communicate it to a community of people who care. This in turn, I believe, lifts the standard of the communication used in the e-portfolio, as well as motivating students through the processes of learning.

The students, parents and teachers all play their roles in the development of student learning at school, and this is no different when it comes to e-portfolios. Students themselves want to be proud of their achievements, parents want to see evidence of learning and academic progress, and teachers seek documentation to support successful achievement of educational standards.

This article discusses the use of e-portfolios in Primary and Secondary classrooms, and provides guidance for introducing e-portfolios with your own students.

Dictating the portfolio

Before embarking on the path towards e-portfolios, one should think carefully as to who or what is dictating the structure and purpose.

Is it the student? If so, were they to have complete ownership of the portfolio, one would hope that their personal interests would rise to the occasion with their passions being clearly visible. The e-portfolio may include space for goal setting, provision for evidence of progress, as well as an outlet for self-reflection. It would be evident that the e-portfolio caters for true choice and voice in learning, if given a level of autonomy.

Or is it the school? There might be influences coming from traditional ideas of teacher assessment upon students. Understandably, as teachers have certain requirements they need to meet, this could be a space for it. It may be an avenue where standards and achievement outcomes are reported on. It could include achievements of both academic or personal in nature. It may even be a part of graded assignment, or a requirement for graduating.

Neither student nor school influences are more important than the other, but I do think that a balance needs to exist. Whilst students choice and voice can only be a good thing, the use of an e-portfolio is also a good opportunity to include school required documentation; particularly if it allows other students, teachers and parents in the community, to have viewership of that child’s journey. Moreover, in the years to come, it might prove to be a meaningful collection and narrative which encapsulates the learner’s developments and memories of their time at school.

The e-portfolio is a collection that should be treasured and cared for. We hope that, at the end of their primary years, our students take their e-portfolios forward, even continuing to use it as a space for development, sharing and celebration.

Process versus Product

As well as the influences of the e-portfolio, some consideration should also be given to the processes and/or products at play during the teaching and learning cycle.

If the portfolio is used during the process of learning, one could expect that such a portfolio take on the use of a workspace. It could include a journal, a transactional space for learning, or a chronological archive of drafts or samples that are relevant to the learning process. There might also be an opportunity for students to receive ongoing feedback during the process from the teacher or from peers.

If the portfolio is used for presenting learning or achievements, then it may take on more of a narrative. It could have a varied purpose or audience, from sharing work with classmates, to opening the portfolio to the wider community, or even to inviting viewership and comments from a global audience. Learners might display their work in a variety of ways, such as documents, photos, videos or other creative display formats. Teachers could assess students against standards or outcomes, and use student reflections and showcases as evidence of achievement.

Once again, neither e-portfolios that take on the process, nor product, is more important than the other. What is important however, is how the e-portfolios are effectively used to enhance teaching and learning. Moreover, there is no reason why elements of each could not be used within an e-portfolio with students.

Content is king

In addition to text, most electronic platforms can be used to link and enrich multimedia.

Examples of this might be: a video that students make for a project, a screencast demonstrating new found knowledge via a demonstration or explanation, an audio recording of self-reflections, or annotated photos. Incorporating these is a great way of bringing authentic student voice, showing evidence captured during the learning process.

As the saying goes, ‘a picture tells a thousand words’. Images or videos which capture the trial and errors of an experiment, the iteration process of a document, or the award received at assembly, can not only reveal insights, but create lasting memories. Visual media also allows for those students who are not as comfortable with writing, to be able to include videos or other media as part of their learning process.

Authoring for whom?

Students love an audience, but when using electronic mediums with students, privacy protection and age-appropriate safeguards, should be of the utmost importance. If portfolios are viewable beyond the classroom, it would be worth considering putting in place a review or moderating process. Minors should be conscious of their digital identity, and should never post identifiable information online. However, Secondary teachers may use blogs which are open on the web as student e-portfolios, as a vehicle to teach and encourage positive digital identities online, in an educational context.

The right tools for the right job (empowered students)

When considering which tools will be used for student e-portfolios, 3 major elements should be addressed.

1) Storage – Where will documents, files, artefacts be kept? Will the storage medium allow viewing, interaction or collaboration if necessary?

2) Reflection – How will students reflect on their learning? Does the tool allow a space for commentary on a frequent basis? Is it easily manageable? Will it need to be reviewed before being published?

3) Communication – How will students showcase their learning? Does the tool allow text, images and various files to be meaningfully organised? Can it be shared securely with the people who need to see it?

The tool or platform which is selected may encompass all of these things. Students and teachers may use a variety of tools and apps in order to store artefacts, reflect on their learning, and communicate it to a wider audience. Below are a list of questions which will help clarify the use of the technology to store, reflect and communicate learning:

  • Can student work be made public or private with ease?
  • Can students view and comment on each other’s work?
  • Can the teacher provide feedback?
  • Are the portfolios easily transferable from year to year, as the students move through the school?
  • Can the student access their work and export it when they leave the school?
  • Does the platform allow for multiple and common file types?
  • Are there any costs associated in setting up the platform for students?
  • Can a teacher create a supervising account and generate accounts for the class? Or does the student have to do it for themselves? (Is there a minimum age to sign up?)
  • Can the tool be integrated into existing Learning Management Systems?

Another consideration is in relation to the range of electronic devices that students will have at their disposal. For example, if students have daily access to an internet browser via desktops or laptops, then tools such as Wix or Google Sites, which operate effectively in these environments, may be a good option. On the other hand, if students have a personal mobile device in the classroom, these web-based options may not be suitable for mobile platforms, and teachers may opt to use a platform with a mobile app such as Blogger or Evernote.

Forms of e-portfolios using digital tools

Below is a list of tools (mostly free) which can be used for student e-portfolios. Some offer educational versions which have benefits for classroom management

Shared notebooks or folders – One of the easiest ways to develop an electronic portfolio is through an online notebook collection or a folder of artefacts. Microsoft Onedrive or Google Drive can be used to store and share files which are accessible from multiple locations and devices. Note taking tools such as Microsoft Onenote, Evernote or Three Ring can act as digital books which include annotations, reflections and links to artefacts.

Collection of pages – Tools such as Glogster, Livebinders or Wikispaces can allow for students to organise their ideas into one place, using pages. Microsoft Powerpoint or Google Slides could even be used in the earlier years, as a simple place for students to add weekly reflections, achievements and samples of work.

Personal websites – Building on from the idea of pages, organising a portfolio of learning in the form of a web site, can make organising content into categories and curriculum areas very easy and highly visual. Weebly and Wix are two great website builders that are suitable for older students, as these website platforms require users to be 13 years or older. The exception to this is Google Sites, which can be created legally with Google Apps for Education accounts.

Student blogs – Blogging platforms such as Kidblog, Edublogs, Ning, Blogger can be highly interactive, and are powerful for their social and interactive features.

What to do with paper?

Whilst teachers and students are now consuming increased amount of digital content, there is still place in the classroom for the paper, pencil and pen, or even the art brush.

Most modern multifunction printers now offer ‘Scan to Cloud’ functions, meaning that work samples, documents, thinking organisers or art pieces can be scanned and sent directly to Google Drive, Dropbox, Evernote or even to email accounts. Once the artefact has been digitised, it can then be included in the e-portfolio, depending on the platform.

If students or teachers have mobile devices or cameras at their disposal, these could also be used to capture images or videos of paper artefacts that could be included in the e-portfolio.

Steps to success

Prior experiences – Consider your own and your students’ prior experiences in using portfolios, web tools or social networks for personal and professional reasons. How do you, as teachers, currently use digital tools? And how do your students use them? Electronic platforms might be perceived as a ‘can of worms’ for educators, but the opportunities that digital tools bring to education should be embraced, not ignored!

Vision and purpose – Be clear as to what you wish to achieve by providing e-portfolios to your students. Determine the vision of how the electronic medium will help connect personal learning between all relevant parties. Clearly communicate those expectations to students, teachers and parents

Collecting artefacts – Determine the types of artefacts that will be collected, and how this will be done. If your teaching and learning cycle relies heavily on paper content, it would be worth investigating the move to digital mediums. Consider investing in technology for scanning paper-based content that you would like to be included in the e-portfolio.

Challenges – Think critically about the obstacles, such as student privacy, legality in using digital tools, and your existing ICT policy and documentation around the smart, safe and effective use of technology. Think about when and how e-portfolios will be updated, and from which device.

Professional Development – Create a PD plan for implementing by yourself or with your teachers. The New Zealand Ministry of Education have a fantastic resource available on their website titled ‘Digital portfolios: guidelines for beginners’. Explore the options available and decide on the tool or tools which will suit your intended purposes and access to technology. Learn and explore the tools, and consider inviting the students to be part of the learning process.

Assessment – Determine how the portfolios will be used for assessment during the teaching and learning cycle, and in turn, how you will evaluate your own effectiveness of the program.

Time and energy

  • Invest in an e-portfolio program that will:
  • allow for student identities to come shining through
  • encourage insightful reflections
  • provide the opportunity for students to make connections to prior, current and future learning
  • give the development of necessary contemporary literacies
  • show the story of deep personal learning.

Our experience with e-portfolios

(A presentation of this implementation can be viewed here)
As our school utilises Google Apps for Education, a decision was made to use a Google Site for each student e-portfolio in Years 3 to 6. Through Google Apps for Education, we were able to secure the portfolios to be viewable only to those in our school community. As students carry the same account from year to year, they can continue their eportfolio in the middle and senior primary years, accumulating into a portfolio of rich insights and showcase by the time they graduate. As students were already using Google Drive to work with files of different types, the Google ‘ecosystem’ allows students to embed items into their Sites with ease. Teachers are able to see the updates and activities occurring on each e-portfolio through the integration of Google Sites with Hapara Teacher Dashboard, a learning management system which integrates with Google Apps for Education.

A blank template which could be modified was provided to each student. This ensured that the e-portfolios would be consistent across the school and easier for the teachers to manage, but allowed the students to personalise their e-portfolio to their liking.

Existing elements of student’s paper-based personal learning folders were incorporated into the design. The site included 7 pages:

About me – a space where students can introduce themselves, reveal who they are, and share their interests and school and life experiences

Reflection journal – an announcement page that serves as a ‘mini-blog’: allowing students to post thoughts and reflections during the teaching and learning cycle

Goals – a space where students can identify long term and short term goals which are set between the student, teacher and parents at school interviews; providing evidence for the attainment in an ongoing manner

Achievements – a space where students can identify their proudest moments, in any curriculum area, over a semester basis

Showcase – a space where students can curate links to files, artefacts and media of completed projects, inquiries or learning activities

Assessment – a space where both students and teachers can provide evidence of student growth and progression based on assessments, feedback cycles and achievement of outcomes

Genius Hour – a space where students can communicate the progress of their Genius Hour projects: a passion-based inquiry, in which students have true freedom and creativity to learn about whatever they want, and present it however they desire.


Abrami, P., Wade, A., Pillay, V., Asian, O., Bures, E. and Bentley, C. (2008). Encouraging Self Regulated Learning Through Electronic Portfolios. In Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology. Retrieved from http://cjlt.csj.ualberta.ca/index.php/cjlt/article/view/507/238

Barrett, H. (2008). The REFLECT Initiative. In National Educational Computing Conference, 2008, 1-12. Retrieved from http://electronicportfolios.org/reflect/NECC08.pdf

Barrett, H. (2014). Electronicportfolios.org. Retrieved from http://electronicportfolios.org/

Ministry of Education (2015). Digital portfolios: guidelines for beginners [online] Available at: http://www.minedu.govt.nz/NZEducation/EducationPolicies/Schools/Initiatives/ManagedLearningEnvironments/MLEPublications/ePortfolios.aspx

Theodosiadou, D., & Konstantinidis, A. (2015). Introducing e-portfolio use to primary school pupils: Response, benefits and challenges. Journal of Information Technology Education: Innovations in Practice, 14, 17-38. Retrieved from http://www.jite.org/documents/Vol14/JITEv14IIPp017-038Theodosiadou0669.pdf