Assessment and Feedback

Day 2: How can ePortfolios be used in higher education?

Evidence and examples – How can ePortfolios help achieve varied learning objectives?

Written by  Jill Lyall and Rebecca Ng ANU Online

Yesterday we briefly discussed portfolio learning and its potential for a fundamental shift from traditional teaching and learning practices at universities. Now the question is: what do they look like? Today we’ll look at some examples of how ePortfolios have been used. 


Which of the options below would be the most useful for your teaching practice? Select 1 or 2 of the examples for ePortfolios listed below and investigate the links and resources included. How might you apply it? Tell us about the approach to ePortfolios that would suit your discipline.

Beyond assessment: Melding learning and professional development 

An ePortfolio provides a means for assessing students for their learning over an extended period of time, whether undergraduate or postgraduate, within a course (subject) or across a program (degree). It helps students bridge into the real world of work in their particular profession or industry, allowing them to showcase their achievements and self-promote in their field of endeavour. Here, ePortfolios become more than just assessments: they are part of a student’s personal and professional development.  

Example 1: Capstone  

Morreale et al. (2017) demonstrated how ePortfolios can be integrated into a capstone subject. The Association of American Universities (AAU) institution launched a new course to help junior (or third) year undergraduate students develop transferable higher-order thinking skills and guide them in their future educational and career endeavours. The pilot group was asked to upload examples to demonstrate achievements relating to individual learning; to complete an essay; and to summarise the impact of the course on their intellectual development. Results showed that the use of ePortfolios promoted reflective practice and improved technical skills amongst students. Instructors were also impressed by the variety of submissions and depth of narratives and insights provided by students. Overall, feedback on the use of ePortfolio in the course was overwhelmingly positive.  

Screenshot of ePortfolio R.Ng 2017

Example 2: Reflective essay

Originally an essay, this has been re-worked as an ePortfolio page (see screenshot to the right). It demonstrates the ease of breaking up texts with images and using HTML formatting to emphasise certain arguments. Unlike paper essays, ePortfolios provide versatility for learners to express their ideas clearly and creatively through incorporating visual cues.

Example 3: Assessment of Problem-Based Learning (PBL)  

ePortfolio is an ideal tool for a program level capstone assessment but decisions such as when particular points of assessment will occur, what form they will take, how they will be graded, etc., need to be carefully considered. These issues are comprehensively covered in this excellent journal article by Maastricht University lecturers, who use a programmatic assessment approach in their PBL model, using ePortfolio.

Example 4: Addressing a standards framework  

It is generally agreed that the framework for and outcomes of ePortfolio need to be clearly articulated – learning objectives, graduate outcomes, or competencies, etc. Here’s an example of how a university implemented ePortfolio around standards: Mindful Collections: Purposeful ePortfolios Planned Across an Undergraduate Degree.

Metacognition: Developing awareness of our own learning  

Metacognition is the recognition and awareness of our thought process. ePortfolios can be used to develop metacognitive skills and increase students’ awareness of how they learn, their learning habits, strengths, areas for practice, and ability to analyse and assess research materials. Activities such as journaling, curation, and continuous assessment enable students to reflect on their past and present work, their learning experiences and development in their own thinking processes.  

Example 5: Teaching close reading of texts   

This article describes an exercise in a history course at Bronx Community College where critical understanding of texts was developed using a tool called “conversations” within the “Digication” ePortfolio platform. This tool allowed users to highlight and comment on text in a document, and to respond to comments. It was used to develop active learning, reflection, metacognition, and integrative learning.

Example 6: Reflective practice, professional development   

Jill (co-author for this post) has kindly shared her portfolio assembled for the Associate Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy (AFHEA) application. Here she showcases both reflection and writing to prescribed competencies through journaling and curation.

Image source

Example 7: Reflection Journals  

As we discussed yesterday, ePortfolios are a great tool for students to do journalling and reflective work. For an example of how this might work, here is a series of reflection journals by students at the University of the Arts London.

Providing evidence of competency 

Many professional areas in higher education now require graduates to include some form of applied, work place learning or internship as part of their tertiary education. ePortfolio is frequently used in Work Integrated Learning (WIL) programs for students to document the skills, knowledge and achievements they gain through these experiences. These are often organised to comply with a framework of outcomes specified by the accrediting body.   

Image source

Example 8: Addressing key competency criteria and a CV 

This is an ePortfolio from Plymouth State University which showcases how a user can address key competency criteria while creating an employer-ready CV.

ePortfolios often achieve an amalgamation of rather than individual learning objectives, that is both a success factor and challenge of ePortfolios. If integrating ePortfolio as a part of your formal assessment, especially at program level, careful thought and planning for implementing needs to be considered. These issues will  be addressed in tomorrow’s post.    




Further Resources:

The following video Dr Helen Chen from Stanford University points out that one uniqueness of online portfolios is their ability to shape student’s intellectual identity – what it means to be a learner and how this knowledge guides students through their tertiary education and careers. Part of formation is led by reflective practice where students learn about their personal, academic and professional selves in the process of curation required when putting an ePortfolio together.  This video is about 5 and a half minutes long.

References and Readings: 

  • AAEEBL (2017). AAEEBL ePortfolio Review, The Association for Authentic, Experiential and Evidence-Based Learning, from
  • Getman-Eraso, J. & Culkin, K. (2017). Close reading: Engaging and empowering history students through document analysis on ePortfolio, International Journal of ePortfolio, 7(1), pp. 29-42. 
  • Morreale, C., Van Zile-Tamsen, C., Emerson, C.A. & Herzog, M. (2017). Thinking Skills by Design: Using a Capstone ePortfolio to Promote Reflection, Critical Thinking, and Curriculum Integration, International Journal of ePortfolio, 7(1), pp. 13-28. Available:
  • Munday, J. (2016). Mindful Collections: Purposeful ePortfolios Planned across an Undergraduate Degree, in pp. 117-134 ePortfolios in Australian Universities, Rowley, J. (ed). Singapore: Springer.   
  • Van der Vleuten, C.P.M., Schuwirthm L.W.T., Driessen, D.T., Baartman, L.K.J. & Van Tartwijk, J. (2012). A model for programmatic assessment fit for purpose, Journal of Medical Teacher, 34 (3), pp. 205-214.   
  • Van Staden, C. (2016). A Learning-oriented framework for integrating ePortfolios in a post-graduate module in distance education, The AAEEBL EPortfolio Review, 1(1), pp. 36-53.  

15 thoughts on “Day 2: How can ePortfolios be used in higher education?

  1. I think “reflective essays” could be really useful in biology classes. A valuable skill in any discipline is the ability to clearly communicate your research, and I think this looks like a really good way to do that. I can envisage setting students essay assignments and having them produce pages like the example. It would then be interesting for the students to share their work with their peers, and receive feedback. My only caveat would be hoping that the actual process of of using html formatting would not be too steep of a learning curve.
    I also think “Example 5: Teaching close reading of texts” could work really well in my discipline in several ways. One example: I can picture students working together interactively to review journal articles in an ‘ePortfolio Conversation’ and then maybe reporting back on interesting findings and questions at tutorials. Such a method may actually work well for many types of group-based learning.

    1. Thanks for your comment Angela. I find the process of writing an essay in ePortfolio interesting. When I was trying to convert my essay into a page, I had to think about how to organise my arguments into sections, how to use visuals cues appropriately to improve the aesthetics of the page, etc. Presentation and, to a large extent, self-expression became important. The ability to share, give feedback and collaborate is definitely a plus in ePortfolio platforms such as Mahara (which ANU uses). With regards to HTML, most ePortfolio systems make it quite easy for organising texts, images and artefacts. HTML seems to come in only when you want to custom design your ePortfolio – Jill’s ePortfolio is a great example of not using HTML but still looking really impressive! – Rebecca

    2. Angela, I suggest making a point of telling students not to use complex HTML formatting for reflective essays, as it is about what the student writes. Having students get used to composing with the default font, supplied heading levels and in-line images is a useful skill. Most of what they write in their career, be it a research paper or a blog posting, will be loaded into a system which imposes a style. Any complex formatting they use will have to be stripped out to apply the house style. This approach works well with Mahara: I found I could compose content in one instance of Mahara at one institution, then copy and paste it to another, with the fonts, headings and colors magically changing.

  2. I think all of the options are useful in a sense. For research students, using eportfolio as a tool for developing a Reflection Journal can be particularly useful where they can keep a record of their progress in between the meetings with their supervisors.

    1. Thanks for you thoughts, Narjess. I agree, the ePortfolio platform groups some tools that would be quite a good fit with this style of interaction. Do you know any cases of it being used in this way?

  3. * Which of the options below would be the most useful for your teaching practice?

    I would like to say “all options”, but “Addressing key competency criteria and a CV ” is most immediately applicable.

    * How might you apply it?

    My ANU TechLauncher students have to prepare an application for a real job, highlighting what they did in the course, for 20% of their course assessment.

    * Tell us about the approach to ePortfolios that would suit your discipline.

    Computer people like everything in neat boxes, so it helps to give them a carefully structured set of requirements and a step-by-step process to complete it. Give them a blank page and say “do whatever you want” and they will be paralyzed with indecision. 😉

    The TechLaucher students are required to do a one page cover letter, a statement addressing selection criteria (200-250 words per criterion), a two page CV and up to two supplementary pages. Even that sounds like too much free-form material to me. For technical jobs, I doubt that anyone reads the cover letters, they would just look at claims against criteria. Providing supplementary material would likely count against you, assuming anyone noticed it was there.

    1. Thanks for your thoughtful comment Tom. I think it is interesting that you mentioned students being “paralysed with indecision” – one of things we wanted to include was a “caution section” because we have found time and again (in both literature and our experience) problems with getting students to do a piece of assessment or reflective journal without direction or guidance specific to EPortfolio (I’m sure our next post will highlight this more). I’ll link a video to your comment discussing this more in detail tomorrow but it is fascinating how at times we think technology can reduce workload while improving standards (in this case teaching and learning experiences) but in fact, a lot more thought, consideration and preparation is needed to get these technologies to work as intended. Thank you again for your comment – Rebecca

  4. Hello,
    I think if students were going to start to do layouts of images and texts, some teaching/guidance would need to be done regarding aesthetics. Perhaps limiting what fonts can be used and sizes of images, etc may be good guidance, otherwise if layouts aren’t great, this may give the impression the work is not good. And also something to be considered would layout every be marked as part of the assessment?

    1. Thanks for the comment Asha. That’s an interesting thought – should layout be marked? From my perspective, I think it is part of presentation. Going back to some of the issues Aliya brought up in Day 1, one important consideration when using ePortfolio is understanding if the tool is suitable for the task. And so I wonder – since ePortfolio is a personal learning environment that encourages creativity, self-expression, reflection, etc., should these be marked on and more crucially, how? One way of managing this perhaps is giving students specific examples to follow or as you say, restricting them to specific layouts and fonts (you can do this under skins). Thank you again for your thoughtful comment – Rebecca

  5. I think reflective essays, capstone, assessment of problem based learning and reflective practice for professional development would be most useful for nursing. These could be applied to many units across the curriculum. In particular, the capstone units could use an ePortfolio in many ways to allow students to demonstrate reflective practice, professional development and conceptual understanding of content. This would also be of benefit to students as a way of presenting themselves for employment in graduate programs.

    I do love Angela’s suggestion about using the portfolio as an opportunity for peer review and discussion!

  6. Which of the options below would be the most useful for your teaching practice
    For my examples 6 and 7 would be the best

    How might you apply it?
    At the moment I have a reflective learning journal where students need to reflect on concepts that they learn in class and analyze events that they experience in light of this concepts. I think using an eportfolio would be a more flexible way of presenting their information that will allow them to show case their learning

    Approach in my discipline
    I teach in the area of leadership and management where there are often many different related ideas that students need to learn and make sense of – including how they fit together. Using eportfolios appears to be a good way for students to collect information/artifacts on these concepts and them map out how they all fit together at a latter date

  7. For teaching, I would encourage my students to use Example 7, Reflection journals. I receive many complaints that economic or finance textbooks are easy to read, but when it comes to “work on your own”, the students do not know where to start. In our area, there is a huge gap between understanding and application. I think it is a good idea to ask the students to explain in their own words. It could help them to literally master the mechanism behind the stories. Besides, we drew a lot of diagrams in this semester. The Reflection journals are flexible with graphs.
    But for myself, I think Example 6, Jill’s application is fabulous! I’d like to try that format in my own application if possible.

  8. I can see many of these uses of an ePortfolio applying in my area. I mentioned the use of ePortfolio to assist in completion of a capstone course in yesterday’s post. I would see examples 3, 5, 6 and 8 also being particularly relevant in Law. Already students are completing a range of these tasks throughout their program of study and an ePortfolio would be valuable in pulling them together. Teaching of close reading of texts would be particularly relevant in first year courses, whereas a CV and key competency criteria, professional development and work experience reflections would be very useful as students are becoming ready for practice in the legal profession.

    Interesting point raised by Asha about visual layout and these skills needing to be taught, and Rebecca’s response about whether this element should be assessed. I agree that visual literacy in students is important and the use of exemplars being available for students to guide their creative choices would be helpful.

    1. Hi Melinda, visual layout and the skills required to build something like that are a particularly interesting and challenging aspect to ePortfolios. It makes me think of an occasion when I had students create their final assignment as a video – some students were very experienced video editors, but many were not and they felt disadvantaged by this type of assignment. Facilitating students to learn technical skills to complete their assignments becomes a bigger and bigger challenge as more “non-traditional” types of assignments are used. I’m hoping we can discuss this further in future courses on digital literacies and assessment 🙂

  9. Thinking through the examples listed above, I wonder whether Example 2, Reflective essay, could be used to track ‘knowledge’ journeys – progress from week 1, what my first thoughts were when i started this course, to week 12, what I now know about the topic. I really like the idea of challenging students by asking them to pick an issue area or a theoretical approach that they have radically changed their minds on over the course (or say, something that surprised you about the perceptions of fellow students on a topic), and then to plot out the ‘artefacts’ – the diagrams, the case studies, the readings, maybe even new stories, that catalysed a change in opinion of the student (or of the group, as perceived by the student). I’m just super curious about what ‘things’ can provide the trigger to change thought patterns. Would be interesting to ask teachers to also do the same thing…

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