Assessment and Feedback

Day 1: What is portfolio learning?

To coincide with the launch of ePortfolios at the ANU, we’re excited to offer this introduction to how and why they can be used in tertiary teaching. If you are at ANU, we encourage you to take a look at our ePortfolio and the user guides. Now over to Aliya! – Janene & Katie.

Portfolio learning – What is it?  

Written by Aliya Steed, ANU Online

Image source: Figure 1: Portfolio, Photo by Dan Strange (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Welcome to Day One of this espresso course on ePortfolios. Portfolio learning is not a new idea, but the opportunities and tools for using portfolios in higher education have been expanding in recent years.  Digital or e-portfolios are making it easier and more accessible for teachers and institutions to use portfolios, even with large groups of students. In this short espresso course, we will find out what portfolios are, how and why you may want to use them, and look at some of the issues you may encounter. 

What is a portfolio or e-portfolio? 

A portfolio is an organised and annotated collection of artefacts which documents learning and development over time.  Artefacts can be in any format or media: they might include selections of writing, images, videos, audio, excerpts, reports, data, illustrations, websites, links and so on.   

Portfolios almost always include some reflection in the form of annotations, reflective journals, narrative or some type of meta-cognition (“thinking about thinking” – read more here). Through reflection, the learner demonstrates their thinking and understanding of their work, experiences or the artefacts themselves.  According to Butler (2006: 2), “In fact, it is the reflections on the pieces of evidence, the reasons they were chosen and what the portfolio creator learned from them, that are the key aspect to a portfolio”.  

A digital or e-portfolio refers to one that is housed online or electronically, facilitating the storage, sharing and presentation of a potentially large collection of artefacts, over an extended period of time.  Common e-portfolio systems used by Australian universities include Mahara and PebblePad among others, as well as homegrown systems. 

Image source:
Image source:

These systems typically provide a means to: 

  • Create, publish and share web pages, 
  • Discuss and give feedback 
  • Store digital artefacts 
  • Link to other systems (such as Learning Management Systems) where other data or artefacts may be stored (JISC 2008: 6) 

Using a digital portfolio has the advantage of flexibility and scalability compared to a traditional, paper-based portfolio, but there are issues around privacy, access, ownership, and trustworthiness of digital artefacts which we will explore later in this course (Trevitt, Macduff and Steed 2014: 74).  

Why use portfolios? 

You may have heard of portfolios as something an art or design student might use to collect examples of their work.  This is one purpose of a portfolio – used to “showcase” or demonstrate the students’ best practice.  However, portfolios can be used to support a wide variety of personal, professional and academic development purposes. The chart below gives some examples of common uses of this tool.   

Learning portfolio  Documenting learning over time  Development of thinking, transformation 

Eg. PhD student 

Credential portfolio  Provide evidence for certification   For professional registration 

E.g. teaching degree 

Showcase portfolio  Provide examples of best practice   Applying for employment e.g Photography students 

Different types of portfolio (Adapted from Butler 2006: 2).

Barrett (2004) highlights the following purposes for e-portfolios (as summarised by Pachler & Daly (2011): 

  • As assessment tools to document the attainment of standards (a positivist model – the assessment portfolio) 
  • As digital stories of deep learning (a constructivist model – the learning or process portfolio); and 
  • As digital resumes to highlight competence (a showcase model – the best works/marketing/employment portfolio). 

More than just a collection of stuff – benefits of portfolios 

 The importance of portfolio is in representation, rather than just collection.  The artefacts are deliberately collated and curated by the student to represent something about their work. Putting together a presentation or product requires students to engage in “rich and complex processes of planning, synthesising, sharing, discussing, reflecting, giving, receiving and responding to feedback”, increasingly considered valuable “since the process of learning can be as important as the end product.” (JISC 2008). 

Butler (2006:3) outlines the following benefits of e-portfolios including that they: 

  • Yield evidence of learning 
  • Help to focus student thinking and facilitate reflection 
  • Document a learner’s progress over time 
  • Develop and enhance students’ communication and (organizational) skills  
  • Provide a way of identifying and recognizing prior learning.   

Depending on their intended purpose, portfolios might focus more or less on the “process” of learning versus the “product” which is produced, as illustrated in the following image: 

Image source: Barratt (2004)

In theory then, portfolios should be a good fit with higher education, where students are increasingly expected to learn to exercise judgement, engage in self-directed learning, demonstrate their capacity for independent and critical thinking, and learn to deal with an unknown future (Trevitt, Macduff and Steed 2014).     

Now that we have looked at what portfolios are and what their purpose and possible benefits might be for learning, in the rest of this course we will examine some examples of how portfolios are being used in universities and explore what might contribute to their success, as well as the sorts of issues and challenge which may arise in practice. 

Activity.  You are invited to consider the following questions and post your thoughts in the comments below. 

  • Have you used a portfolio as a learner or a teacher?  What did you find worked well ?  What were the challenges? 
  • Can you see a place for portfolios in your discipline ?   
  • How could / does your institution use portfolios ? 


  • Butler, P. (2006) A Review Of The Literature On Portfolios And Electronic Portfolios (eCDF ePortfolio Project). October. Palmerston North, New Zealand: Massey University College of Education (Retrieved 5 August 2017, from:
  • Lorenzo, G. and Ittelson, J. (2005) “An Overview of E-Portfolios” Educause Learning Initiative Paper 1, July. 
  • Maharg, P.  “E-portfolios:  professional learning and experience”, presentation available at: 
  • Murphy, S. “Portfolios and curriculum reform:  patterns in practice”  (1994) Assessing Writing 1 (2), 175-206. 
  • Pachler and Daly (2011) Key issues in e-Learning:  Research and Practice.  London: Continuum. 
  • JiSC report – Effective Practice with ePortfolios – Supporting 21st century learning 
  • Trevitt, C., Macduff, A and Steed, A.  “[e]portfolios for learning and as evidence of achievement:  scoping the academic practice development agenda ahead” (2014) Internet and Higher Education 20, 69-78. 

28 thoughts on “Day 1: What is portfolio learning?

  1. Hi Everyone
    I have just been brought into an on-line post-grad course during Week 3 to provide students with some feedback on their ePortfolios. It is my first experience with ePortfolios so it has been quite a steep learning curve for me, but certainly has provided an excellent guide to how the students might be feeling about learning to use this new tool. I think it would be of great benefit if they had had some exposure to the program in their last course of study, which, of course, might be more likely to occur in future as the use of portfolios grows. There certainly seems to be an expectation on the part of some students that moving from one ANU course to the next should have equipped them better to handle the technology in this on-line Masters program.

    So far, what I like least about it, is that my comments are released to the students in real time, which means that unlike feedback on other assessment items, I can’t release it to all students at the same time.

    I look forward to learning a lot from this coffee course.

    Kind regards

    1. Thanks for your comment, Christine. I agree with your point that ePortfolios can certainly present a steep learning curve both for students and for teachers – being able to engage over multiple courses can make this easier. The tool not being transparent or not doing what you expect certainly makes it harder. ePortfolios technologies may well be less mature than say, learning management systems, as technologies also. As communities and usage develops, I would expect to see tools that allow for many more options and settings.
      Welcome to the course and I will look forward to seeing more of your thoughts over the next couple of days.

  2. I’m trying to think how we might use portfolios in physics. It would be fantastic if we could get the students to have a more reflective and self-directed approach to their learning. In principle, replacing the normal formative assessment with a portfolio and asking students to present evidence that they’ve mastered the key learning goals of the course and that they are reflecting on what they are doing, would be fantastic. But these students are used to a very prescriptive learning environment, where they are only assessed by being given mathematical problems to solve. Most would have absolutely no idea how to reflect on their learning – I’d be bombarded with questions along the lines of “what do I have to write here?” and “What are the grading criteria?”, and “Do I need to mention xxx?”.
    A portfolio might help them realise the lack of reflection in their practice, but it pre-supposes the very reflective skill/metacognitive ability that I’d like it to help develop.

    1. Hi Paul. Thanks for joining us. Physics (and perhaps other similar disciplines) certainly provide a tricky context for ePortfolios. I think your analysis of your students is spot on: –
      – being used to a prescriptive learning environment,
      – not being familiar with reflection / metacognition and
      – being used to more mathematically focused assessment.
      I would add that many may not be very comfortable with writing lengthy reflective text and (mainly?) being first years may also lack confidence in their understanding of what University learning is all about as well as wondering about the relevance of the whole thing ?
      I suspect if you were going to give it a go – it’d be worth thinking about:
      – Focusing the reflection on a bigger theme or problem or purpose – perhaps which each mathematical problem can contribute to solving (like in the MOOC?) ie. using some gamification principles
      – Find ways other than text – video / audio / images? eg. Get them to make a recording visually explaining a concept to another student — perhaps with a short annotation describing what they’re explaining ?
      – Working at the major / program level – can they use it to collect key physics concepts over a series of courses? Reflection starts off very basic “what ARE X key ideas? why have you chosen these? ”
      – When do you notice students do start to develop more sophisticated ideas about the discipline – ie. wrestling with the idea that concepts are not fixed, answers are not always straightforward? Pitching it later?
      – Maybe modelling – keep one yourself? Or invite PhD students to keep one and share it? I think it can be a real “aha” moment for students to understand that their mentors have messy, half thoughts and that it takes time to sort these out into the coherent lectures and thoughts they often hear.
      – Absolutely not using the word “reflection” – so uncool.
      Both the development of the skill – and also valuing it as relevant and contributing something to their learning – at least in a fledgling way would be important for it to work.

    2. Paul, I expect physics students are much like computer science: used to finding the solution to a well defined problem, with the answer in a precise impersonal notation.

      I think we need to provided STEM students with a very structured environment for an e-portfolio, so they have lots of little well defined tasks to accomplish.

      But I am not sure how well “reflective writing” can work with STEM students. While I have passed a course requiring it, I felt (and still feel), I am mostly just mimicking the behavior expected.

      In any case, I think we do have to tell the students what we want them to write, what the grading criteria are, what should be in there and what not. We need to do this in the *program* requirements before they enroll. Otherwise I have heard of students taking as long to do their portfolio as the rest of the program, thus doubling the length of their studies.

      ps:, I showed my supervisor my first attempt at an e-portfolio and they laughed saying: “You have references!”. I was bewildering to discover that I was not to have any references in my e-portfolio. This was the opposite of the years of work I had done up to that point, where every assertion had to be supported by evidence. But at least I found this out early, on the first draft of the first of seven sections of the e-portfolio.

      1. Interesting issues. My reply is very tentative, but thought I’d set it down before I climb aboard a plane… First two general points, and a longer excursus on reflection then a possible way out of the dilemmas. As I say here ( , summarising what I said at the launch), ePortfolios are highly protean, and they are so because, rather confusingly, they have come to describe both a container and the documents within that container. Second, and I think I said this at the event too, reflection is only one form of writing that an ePortfolio can contain. ePortfolio-as-container could contain everything that a student produces, has found valuable, wants to keep hold of, etc., and there’s more on that on my blog above.

        First, though, we need to start with two fundamental problems that reflective learning gives us — the first to do with the uncertain referential status of the word, the second to do with time.  Part of the problem with reflection is the confusion around the word: it’s a noun that describes a process as well as a thing.  It describes how we think (but remains unclear how we go about that) and it also refers to the product of that thinking, the reflection that’s set down on paper or in pixels.  There is thus a difficulty: at any point, what are we referencing, the process or the product?  This lexical difficulty gives rise to another.  When we teach or facilitate reflection, we’re almost invariably talking about helping students with process, helping them to process experience.  And we judge the quality of the reflecting process by the reflective product. How else can we do it, we might wonder, since there’s no evidence of the reflecting other than the reflection.

        Actually, there are other methods, derived from composition analysis, from which we could gain deep insight into reflection. In the 1970s in the US, composition researchers were faced with the same problem. Scholars such as John Bereiter, Linda Flower and Marlene Scardamalia solved it in part by drawing upon the methods of Rogerian counselling, and psychiatric literature, and having writers record their spoken thoughts as they write, which composition scholars called verbal protocols. The resulting data streams are quite resource-intensive to mark up and understand, though of course much richer in understandings because two almost simultaneous channels, speech and writing, are used to capture both action and thought-on-action.  What the technique proves, though, is that the reflecting that a person carries out in his or her head may not be caught very well, or at all, by the reflection that is the product on the page which, as soon as the writer starts to write, is subject to multiple forms of revision and re-analysis in the process of drafting. Indeed the process of writing calls into question the very idea of something called a reflection that we can point to and say that is the actual reflection: veracity, truthfulness to experience becomes almost impossible to verify.  

        This causes serious problems in assessment.  We might say that this is surely true of all the assessment we perform of student work, that it depends on words-on-page to evidence mental processes.  I’d argue it is different.  If we assess an essay, we’re assessing the product, not the processes that give rise to the essay (we deal with that, or ought to, in helping students to learn good writing skills and styles, to develop legal reasoning, statutory interpretation, and so forth).  ‘Write an essay on sovereignty in the EU’ was an essay title I was asked to write on as a student (and how poignant it is now to think about that, for a Remainer…) brings to it quite a different set of judgmental tools than a command to ‘Reflect on your professional skills in this program’.  

        The second problem to do with reflection is that, as the word implies, it is about the past. Actually there are two sub-problems here. First the past is of course not often fixed in some form of record (or if it is, it’s a record that’s invariably fragmentary) and which requires instant interpretation if we are revisit the past in our thoughts.  When we reflect we’re dealing with interpretations of the past, always creating or recalling narratives about past events, people, conversations, knowledge, emotions, and so on.  It’s a process of historical and narrative interpretation, a form of reconstruction that is powerfully determined by the purpose to which we want to put the past. Purpose determines construction. If as Heraclitus says we can’t step into the same river twice, this is true of dipping into the river of our own memories.  The second problem to do with the pastness of reflection is that it doesn’t reference the future to any great extent. How the reflection on past action relates to the future is unclear from the reflective narrative itself.  This is in part because of the status of the genre. The focus of this reflection on the past is not to create, eg, a narrative that will persuade others of its originality or its truth to fact or its interpretive power, or even in its fictive, illustrative or recreative power, such as novels, or autobiographies or historical narratives may do for us.  Its focus is the production of an introspection that describes itself.  It is self-referential.

        Instead of reflection in general, I’d argue for the development of disciplinary-based reflective practices. If physicists or comp sci’s are socialised by their disciplines into specific forms of academic and professional writing, why not adapt them? Tom describes good examples below. One way of describing reflective practice for STEM might be that it’s a form of meta-commentary or metadata on text, activity, thought, and developing forms, examples and activities around that.

        And I’d argue for the development, too, of a future-looking emphasis on *formation* that includes but goes beyond reflection. Formation points to something much more substantial, and something that is in the world.  Formation-as-process leads to something that is built or done or experienced.  It’s also more future-oriented, something that is continuing through the present into the future. It’s not self-referential – there’s a construct there, the self, which is certainly not quite as immanent in the world as, say, a computer, but can identifiably exist in time and through time.

        Formation also has another and ancient sense, that of identity or ethical formation, the creation of a space of reasons for doing something in certain ways.  There are ways in which formation is heavily normative – one thinks of established religion, for instance, with its codes of behaviour and its embedded social codes in marriage, family, rituals of birth and death, etc. Or of a professional practice, with its modes of practice and associated ethical codes. But normativity is not a necessary function of formation, which is more fundamental than that. Indeed formation of identity often means questioning moral order and form, trying out modes of moral argument, observing and trying on the professional, economic, cultural value-sets of many bodies in society.

        So for a doctor or a physicist or a computer scientist formation might be one way of embodying disciplinary-relevant reflection. Another technique might be the development of a X + humanities approach, in the same way that medicine has developed medical humanities. See for instance the excellent Centre for Medical Humanities at Durham University, , co-directed by Jane MacNaughten, whose work I recommend not just because she’s a fellow Scot, but because she intertwines breathtakingly (literally – see her latest project) interdisciplinary work that is one long absorbing reflection on what it is to be human – seen through the professional eyes of a medic.

        Anyway that’s more than enough from me…

    3. Hi Paul,

      I’ve got a suggestion for making portfolios and reflections relevant:
      – Select a few meta-cognitive skills that are suitable for the level of the course and that can be well taught within the constraints of your course. List these learning objectives among the rest of the more physics-related objectives.

      – Explain the meta-cognitive skills separately (at different times in the semester) and provide examples of their application. Also provide examples of how you would describe your application of that skill in a portfolio.

      – Have the students complete their physics-based work and have them explain their thought process (write a reflection) in terms of one of the metacognitive skills. In describing their thought process, they may discover errors in their knowledge of physics.

      I really like Aliya’s ideas and would like to build on one of them: “– Find ways other than text – video / audio / images? eg. Get them to make a recording visually explaining a concept to another student — perhaps with a short annotation describing what they’re explaining ?” The addition that I suggest is to invite discussions or debates among students in any format. That is, once a student has posted their explanation, have another student (perhaps by assigning pairs) respond and continue the exchange in the hopes of arriving at a new understanding of the physics concept. The student who is stronger is more likely to convince the weaker student about using correct methods than vice-versa. This idea is supported by the book “Five Easy Lessons” ( which offers fantastic ideas about how to teach physics. I was taught by a professor who applied the ideas in this book. His class on electromagnetism is the course where I worked the hardest in all of my science studies, and where I finally felt that I was learning something and beginning to think like a scientist.


  3. I have been using in my Master three basic strategies. The first one is bookmarking in my browser (Chrome) every link that I find interesting and important to my degree. I do this in a directory form, so I have folders (directories) for many subjects and I try to organize the links I find accordingly. The second strategy is to have log books, which are basically text files with my discoveries and reflections about the things that I am learning. So, when I finally figured out how to solve a determined problem, I always try to document my finds. The third strategy is to organize my weekly meeting with my supervisor in a form of a wiki (dokuWiki). There, I show what I have done and what are the plans for the next week. I think these strategies are helping me to finish my degree in a reasonable time because my memory is limited and reinventing or remembering how I have done something is a very time-consuming activity. Organizing my work around a week time is nothing new and it is how Agile projects are managed. Puting all these things together is something that I thought would be a good idea and now I have realized someone had thought it first.

    1. Hi Claudio. Those sound like some great strategies you are using. It reinforces the idea that portfolios are not new and there are lots of different ways to put together a portfolio. It doesn’t have to use a particular tool or approach. The tools we use should really enable and support the processes we are undertaking. Thanks for your comment and I hope you enjoy the rest of the course.

  4. Hi everyone,

    I am fairly new to using a portfolio. I am currently enrolled in a Grad Cert in Tertiary Education. Evidence of teaching and learning scholarship is to be presented using a Mahara portfolio based on a template provided. The template reflects the course learning outcomes. So far, I have found it straightforward to use. I do find it difficult though to work out where to “put” things sometimes and how to design my dashboard to reflect my authentic self. I have also found it difficult to find good examples of how Mahara is used for similar purposes.

    There are clinical units within the Discipline of Nursing that use Mahara as a repository for students to provide pre-placement requirement evidence and reflective pieces. I think it could be useful for students to document learning throughout the course which could develop into a professional portfolio on graduation.

    I think a portfolio would be a great way to share experiences, reflections and work amongst colleagues as we move toward a co-teaching model in a new curriculum. I also wonder if some form of academic peer review could take place for teaching and learning scholarship activities.

    I cant’ wait to see how others are using portfolios at the moment and what challenges they face.

    Kind regards,


    1. Thanks for your comment, Courtney. Education and Nursing are two disciplines (and professions) which have been at the forefront of using portfolio learning – it’s really interesting to hear about your experiences putting together your own portfolio. I have also found it difficult to find good examples of how Mahara is used – I think it may be because the privacy issues around ePortfolios can limit how much they can be shared.
      Kind regards, Aliya

  5. Hi all,
    My degree was in design so portfolios are standard. When I studied, we’d make up a physical portfolio to show potential employers. Now I assume it’s all digital. It’s usually made up of examples of your work and descriptions of the project. Often it’s common to include your resume in the portfolio. The portfolios would probably be laid out in a program such as InDesign.

    I am new to the ANU, however in my last role I was in government and we tried to use discussion boards for staff as we had staff located in 20 offices around Australia. It wasn’t that successful so perhaps engaging students online using a ePortfolio could be more successful. I think users always need something out of any new digital platform they engage in as a lot of people often use many social media platforms already.


    1. Thanks for the comment Asha. Portfolios are certainly suitable for some courses more than others – design is one of them! InDesign is a great platform and it seems you can now use Adobe’s “Publish Online” tool to share the document – I wonder if you know any students who have done that and what their experiences were? ePortfolios could be good for group discussion and collaboration – let us know if need help with setting this up using our Mahara ePortfolio ( – Rebecca

  6. One way I found very useful in the learning process is to reflect on one’s own learning in a sense that after studying or attending a lecture, the student rewrite what they have learned in their own words excluding stuff that is trivial to them as an individual with their specific education background and highlighting points that took more effort to understand and the details they had to consider to understand the subject.

    As a PhD student in theoretical Computer Science/ Mathematics, I started documenting my research progress toward the final year of my studies in a personal eportfolio. I found it very helpful to get organised and to recognise the priorities. Also, it was extremely helpful to develop a consistent literature review.

    I believe, eportfolio could be used as a tool to supervise research students when students can reflect on meetings and the supervisor can monitor their progress.

    1. Hi Narjess, being a PhD student myself, I can relate to your experience. I started using a WordPress blog (no ePortfolios at my university or ANU then) to document some of my reflections on readings, ideas and theories as well as frustrations and problems I encountered throughout my PhD so that I can bring it to my supervisors when I meet with them to discuss my progress. Although I didn’t share this blog with my supervisors, I found it extremely useful in consolidating and organising my thoughts – especially after 3-4years. But I did (and still) have some concerns with privacy and copyright. I wonder if you have similar experiences? Thanks for sharing! – Rebecca

  7. Have you used a portfolio as a learner or a teacher? What did you find worked well ? What were the challenges?
    I have used a portfolio (although not an e-portfolio) to document my teaching experiences so far. I guess the overall process is the thing that works well, in and of itself, because it forces you to reflect on what you have achieved so far and would you would like to achieve moving forward. The challenges related to organising material in a logical way (e.g., chronological may not always be best) and working without feedback (e.g., does it actually make sense, is it actually a good representation of my achievements…).

    Can you see a place for portfolios in your discipline ?
    Yes, absolutely. I can see it being a particularly useful way to document the PhD-supervisor relationship so that both parties can keep track of the research progress. I can also see it as being a useful way for students to organise and track their learning, and of course, I have already used portfolios to keep track of my teaching experiences. I’m sure there are many other uses too!

    How could / does your institution use portfolios ?
    I’m not aware of anybody using portfolios in my institute, but that doesn’t mean they don’t! I’m sure they could be used in HE learning (e.g., for Honours, Masters, Doctoral students), as outlined above.

  8. * Have you used a portfolio as a learner or a teacher?

    Yes, as a student of graphic design I had to prepare a portfolio in an A2 sized folder (which I still have it propped up under my desk). This was to show this to prospective employers. I looked at mine and decided I was not a graphic designer. 😉

    For Recondition of Prior Learning (RPL) in a Certificate IV in Training and Assessment I submitted a bundle of paper on work I had done. This was stapled to a form, where the assessor ticked each item off. I found it annoying that there was no electronic support for this.

    More recently, for an MEd, I had to prepare a Capstone Portfolio. This had to use no more than 5 examples of work to show evidence of 47 competences in 6 categories (Hoven, 2015). This was done with Mahara, which was then presented via Adobe Connect. Unlike the graphic design portfolio, I looked at this one and decided I *was* an educator. 😉

    Last term I tutored ANU Techlauncher students who had to prepare a reflective e-portfolio for 30% of their course assessment. This was with Mahara.

    * What did you find worked well?
    The graphic design portfolio was clear and simple as to its purpose: it was a digital resume.

    The MEd portfolio was less clear: it was an assessment tool (required to graduate) and a digital story (I included a narrative of my journey as a teacher). It took me several attempts to come up with an approach my supervisor was happy with. To help with this I was taking a course on e-learning tools, which included the pedagogy of e-portfolios. But more helpful was reading fellow students e-portfolio (we were each required to read and comment on two others). I realized that my troubles, as a student, were common to others.

    One troubling aspect was that other students related details of their personal relationship problems and mental illness. I did not feel comfortable relating such personal details, especially in a document which might become public.

    * What were the challenges?

    The ANU Techlauncher portfolio was a difficult mix of assessment, digital story and resume. Computer Science students are not trained in reflective writing. The exercise has been revised this semester, reducing the amount of assessment (down to 20%) and recasting it in the form of a job application, which STEM students can relate to.

    A challenge with the Techlauncher students, and which I faced as a student myself, is not leaving the e-portfolio exercise until the end of the course. This needs to be done from the start of a course, to get the most benefit from it as a learning experience. But unless there is scaffolding, as discussed by Hoven (2015), the average student will leave it all to the end.

    A challenge with both my own e-portfolio and Techlauncher was the tedium of keeping track of what had been completed. Mahara did not have this feature, so the student and/or the assessor had to keep a manual tally of which competencies had been reviewed and which completed. Where there are up to a hundred competences, with alternative ones in categories and multiple reviews, this is difficult. My hope is that Mahara’s SmartEvidence may make this easier.

    * Can you see a place for portfolios in your discipline ?

    Yes, I think portfolios could be key to integrating practical experience outside coursework into degree programs.

    * How could / does your institution use portfolios ?

    Some other part of ANU use e-portfolios, as Computer Science does, within a course for assessment.

    I would like to see portfolios used for-whole-of-program learning. My high tech fantasy is that a template would be loaded into the student’s e-portfolio when they enrolled in a degree program. This would list every competency they have to achieve to graduate. The system would be default show what courses could be done to achieve all competencies. But before considering courses, the student would go thorough their prior qualifications and experience with a supervisor, filling in competencies they already had. The student would then look at what they still had to do and plan how to do it, through work experience , research and coursework. When they had completed all requirements in the template they would be awarded their degree. All of the evidence would be retained, should any aspect be questioned and so the student could load additional templates to apply for industry certifications and professional memberships using the same evidence.


    Hoven D. (2015, January 7). ePortfolios in Post-Secondary Education: An Alternate Approach to Assessment. UAE Journal of Educational Technology and eLearning. Edition 1.

    1. Many thanks for your insights and sharing your experience, Tom. I hope we can work together on implementing SmartEvidence in the near future.

      I have a quandary myself around your comments about students becoming too personal or introspective. Initially, I feel that it is very valuable for students to be holistic in coming to understand their own thinking and learning, including a recognition of their mental processes (healthy, ill or otherwise) and the role other factors in their lives may be playing, including their relationships. Next, evidence indicates that there is great value in at least limited exposure to others, for a coaching and mentoring role, for the effects including correction, suggesting other lines of enquiry, and of valuing the process and the product. While this coaching and review may be provided by tutors and mentors (or counselors), there is clearly also value in using peer feedback here, including the value of the learning experience for the reviewer. However, most of us would need to feel we are in a very safe space before we submit ourselves to the vulnerability of this level of introspection, so a peer review element is liable to drive us to a less personal analysis, as you’ve suggested.

      In Wednesday’s post we mention that privacy is a tricky issue for ePortfolios. I don’t think there is a simple answer, other than the need to think carefully through the student experience of any activity we design. Mahara’s answer seems to be to give as much ownership and access control as possible to the student, but we can potentially undermine this by our submission requirements. I’d love to hear others’ thoughts on this, especially any solutions they’ve seen work really well.



  9. I have used portfolios as an engineer to illustrate my previous projects I have participated, which was more impressive than just a flat resume. I mainly used Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote to generate portfolios depending on the contents I planned to use such as graphs, videos, photos, texts and also the way to present it. I should say that Microsoft OneNote has strong functionality although it is not so common. Also I used the company’s website to upload new media and share via the net.
    However, I believe that I should really improve my skills in production of independent portfolios based on new platforms.
    Besides, I think the research groups of our school could have more exciting portfolio of their activities online, while now mostly based on texts and rarely photos. Additionally, I believe research staff’s personal website should be more illustrative in order to absorb attention to increase inter-disciplinary activities and more collaboration.

    1. Thanks for your comment Saeed. I think what you’ve said, especially the last paragraph, is very valuable and worth thinking about. For one, I’m reminded of the importance of understanding visual representation on different platforms – how we need to incorporate various styles of writing and presenting online (and not just cutting and pasting from more traditional ways of documentation, etc.). I also appreciate your idea of how we can encourage inter-disciplinary activities and collaboration. ePortfolios can be good for presenting and promoting the work we do to a broader audience. Within our Mahara system (, for example, we can also engage in group activities, reflection and discussion – this may pave the way for more multidisciplinary research and collaboration which I am very excited about. Thank you again! – Rebecca

  10. I have seen portfolios used in the context of collecting experience for the purpose of accreditation. This was for Hotel management students, they had a 3 month placement and the assessment included a work journal, and submission of a performance report from their work placement supervisor. The hotel training industry is heavily reliant on validation from employers, and students have the responsibility of learning and demonstrating their understanding of standard tasks and procedures in line with the training package and workplace expectations.
    I am currently studying visual arts, and although the courses have not required the use of ePortfolios, I have started making a digital portfolio in addition to my paper one. After producing an example page for a video project we are doing for DESA1022, I shared this with my tutor, and received in principle support for using it in addition to my paper portfolio. As the paper portfolio encourages a tactile form of thought process, it would be hard if not impossible to completely digitise the process for most arts student, but I could see it working to record all text based material, photos of portfolio pages, links to videos and evidence of process.

  11. I teach a course on personal leadership which involves a lot of reflection and thinking about their own thinking. I don’t have much experience with eportfolios but I am very interested in learning more about how an eportfolio could be used effectively to help students in this context

    1. Hi David, that’s great! Perhaps you can share with us what tools you use to teach reflection? It’s always an interesting debate as to the value of ePortfolios and their relationship to portfolio learning.

  12. I have never tried ePortfolios before. But after reading this material, I find that the idea of portfolios is not new. Same with Saeed, I use Word, Excel, OneNote to record and organize my ideas, progress, and reflections. My supervisor uses Dropbox. We have folders for readings, meeting agenda, and meeting summaries. I’d like to learn more about this ePortfolios technology through this coffee course.

    1. Hi Sunny, certainly portforlio learning is not new – I remember the time when we needed hardcopy portfolios which really is a compilation of notes, completed artworks, etc. As with my response to David then, I wonder what the value of ePortfolios (as a dedicated platform and tool) is and its relationship with portfolio learning.

  13. I was introduced to Mahara ePortfolio last week at a PD session offered by ANU Online and I was impressed by what I saw. I previously had used a simpler form of digital portfolio (Seesaw) as a teacher in high school, which was useful for student sharing of tasks with groups, classes, parents and the teacher. Mostly I liked that I was able to provide simple and timely feedback on classwork, plus keep a record of student work across the term. The challenge I saw with this, and I suspect would be the same in higher education, were technical issues with access and understanding how to use the tool, for both teachers and students.

    In my area, Mahara ePortfolio is used in a small number of courses where students are required to submit (share) their ePorfolio at the end of the course as an assessable task. In a larger number of courses, ePortfolio use is encouraged throughout the program as a collection point for resources to assist the students in completing a final ‘capstone’ course. In each of these examples, Mahara ePortfolio is the recommended tool rather than compulsory.

    1. Hi Melinda, thanks for sharing – I had not heard of Seesaw previously. I’d love to hear more about how ePortfolios are used when they are only recommended and not compulsory – is there much uptake?

  14. I was surprised to see in the comments above that some of the concerns that immediately spring to mind when I read the materials for today had not been raised. It might be disciplines thing – eg that old ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ science divide. In political science, IR, diplomacy, disciplines like this, I see a real trend emerging that has been prompted by the ‘publish or perish’ phenomenon, and its corollary, the proliferation of online platforms where you can ‘publish’ opinion pieces and the like and this beefs out your CV. As a PhD student, I’ve spent 4 years fleshing out one big idea (and a framework that takes that idea into the real world). That’s my big thing. But if I wanted to, I could ‘publish’ on any question potentially as I am linked to the ‘ANU’ brand, which opens the door to the myriad of analytical websites, blog sites, etc etc. With the recommended two articles under my belt, (4 being optimal), one of which was written before I had really refined and polished my model, my ‘portfolio’ of work so to speak is actually not that crash hot in terms of quality. But its doing what it needs to for my next career steps, post conferral coming up soon I hope. Obviously a portfolio of two article – albeit with half a dozen international conference presentations also thrown in – fits quite nicely in my compact CV and across LinkedIn and I guess I’m trying to make two points here, one this push towards a culture of ‘portfolios’ might well drive to proliferation of poor quality outputs that will live on the internet and might become a hinderance down the track. Two, for some of us in the HASS area, the classic CV plus LinkedIn/Academia profile does the trick just fine, no need to go all fancy with a portfolio.

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