Jessica Rapisarda

An Introduction to e-Portfolios

Perhaps you’ve used a traditional portfolio in your classrooms, and you’d like to explore ways to change up the routine. Some of you have not, perhaps, used a portfolio at all, but are curious how it might help in your classroom. And some of you may just be wondering what an e-portfolio is exactly or why your teacher has assigned you such daunting project. Whether you are a portfolio veteran or a newbie, a teacher or a student, you will discover new ways to approach and use e-portfolios. In this post, I will explain the difference between a traditional portfolio and the types of e-portfolios.

What Makes an e-Portfolio Different?

Within the context of education, both traditional and e-portfolios typically contain a collection of a student’s best work, spanning a semester or an entire period of study (2 to 4 years). Before I can convince you to join Team e-Portfolios (our mascot is a cursor arrow), I need to explain how the two portfolio types differ.

A traditional portfolio is a hard-copy portfolio. They are often associated with art students, who have, in the past, been forced to schlep giant portfolios, brimming with hard copies of paintings or sketches, around campus. Traditional portfolios can be quite useful when a photo or scanned version of a student’s work will not do the work justice. The latest iPhone may not adequately capture the color of the acrylics or the delicacy of the brushstrokes. However, for almost any other work product–writing, research, designs, proposals–hard copies are unnecessary. In fact, for some work products–videos, recordings, code–a hard copy is not even possible.

An e-portfolio is an electronic portfolio, a soft copy, a digital form of a portfolio. However, there are different types of e-portfolios, and some are better than others.

File Folders

In classrooms that have embraced e-portfolios, the students’ work is typically housed in file folders containing Word documents or photos. Sometimes the work is housed in file folders stored in the cloud, using Google Drive, OneDrive, or a similar storage system. These portfolios are often intended to show how a student has progressed and grown over the course of their studies. An English professor, for example, might ask that a student reflect on his/her growth as a writer by reviewing the first and last writing samples in a portfolio. 

Educators certainly find the portfolio very helpful because it provides concrete evidence of students’ progress or lack thereof. However, for students, especially those with a major outside of art or English, the portfolio may, at best, be deemed helpful for the duration of a particular course, or, at worst, be seen as another task to be completed and shunted aside.

Student website

Rather than a file folder, which is a collection of documents or images without context, a website can contain information about the creator (an About Me page and/or a resume). A website also gives the student the opportunity to explore layout, to choose colors, to embed video or audio, to house work from multiple subjects in one place while still, if necessary, segregating different subjects by creating pages or menu options. And, of course, a website can be made public, so that employers or universities can view the student’s work.

The student website expands the scope of the traditional portfolio and even of the file folder version of the e-portfolio. Unlike the other two portfolio types, a student website can begin at a certain time and exist in perpetuity.

It takes the concept of the portfolio and expands it to include usefulness in more subjects. For example, students studying business can use the website to explore branding and content management. Students studying math might explore how algorithms affect their SEO (search engine optimization) scores.

A student website can showcase not only progress, but also specific examples of a student’s best work. Students can add or remove content, changing the site to suit their specific needs. In fact, I sometimes use the term “living resume” instead of “student website.” 

And, yes, terminology matters. Perception matters. Think of health care. When polled, most Americans supported “the Affordable Care Act.” But those same Americans, when polled, did not support “Obamacare.” Same thing. Different words. I considered calling these sites “Living Resumes,” but I was concerned that title may not have enormous appeal to instructors, who must educate, rather than help students apply for jobs. But to the students, a resume has much greater appeal than a portfolio. A living resume, to a student, is something that can help them, not only in the classroom, but in the job market or when applying to a college. These student websites (living resumes) will not only expand learning opportunities across all fields of study, they will also provide universities and employers with concrete evidence of students’ experience and expertise. 

We all know stories of, or have lived through, applying for a job that requires experience. Yet, to gain experience, the applicant needs to get that job. It’s a classic catch-22. Whether students apply to a university or apply to a job, these students will be asked to provide evidence or examples of their work. Transcripts are typically not enough to differentiate one applicant from another. But a living resume can allow universities and employers to put a literal face to a name, to get a sense of a student’s personality. And, most importantly, the work products that a student chooses to feature on the website, whether those products are essays, artwork, business proposals, or research, show experience that can set a student apart from other job or college applicants.