E-portfolios have come to prominence in education as a way of providing a record of students’ progress and showcasing their work. Confusingly, the term may be used to refer to at least three distinct – and fundamentally different – types of collections of material. An e-portfolio may be:
- a constructivist learning tool (sometimes also called a PLE)
- an assessment tool (displaying key work from a PLE for assessment purposes)
- a CV-building tool (displaying key work from a PLE as a digital CV)
Nowadays, many educators refer to e-portfolios intended as constructivist learning tools as PLEs: these are online spaces where students can track their progress by recording all their work, including drafts, feedback, and even mistakes from which they’ve learned. The term e-portfolios may then be used in a more restricted sense to refer to the display format of PLEs, where a selection of a student’s best work is presented for assessment purposes or as a digital CV.
Using the definition above, an e-portfolio is a collection of documents, often in multiple media, demonstrating the achievements of an individual. Educational e-portfolios may be generated wholly by learners themselves, or may be generated partly by teachers and institutions. They are usually regularly modified and updated during the period of study. It’s becoming more and more common for e-portfolios to draw in material from other web 2.0 services like social sharing accounts (with students linking to their Flickr or Instagram photosharing accounts or YouTube videosharing accounts, for example) and to incorporate RSS feeds (with students building in feeds from their blogs, or their Twitter microblogging feeds, for example).
It should be remembered that e-portfolios are not a “tool” as such, but rather a concept which may be realised using a variety of tools, platforms and apps. They may be constructed in the following locations:
- There are e-portfolio platforms available within the major institutional LMSs. These are convenient for enrolled students to use but may not offer full web 2.0 functionality and connectivity, and may place limitations on students’ flexibility to export and repurpose their work after graduation.
- There are dedicated institutional e-portfolio platforms which may be linked to LMSs. Well-known examples include the free, open source Mahara and the commercial PebblePad. If linked to LMSs, these can be convenient for enrolled students to use, and they generally have more functionality than e-portfolio platforms built into LMSs. Such dedicated e-portfolio software often has the advantage of easily allowing different views of a student’s material, making it easy to maintain a PLE (containing all of a student’s work) alongside a true e-portfolio (displaying a selection of the best work); this may also be possible to some extent on e-portfolio platforms within LMSs. However, institutional e-portfolio platforms may still not offer full web 2.0 functionality and connectivity, and may still place limitations on students’ flexibility to export and repurpose their work after graduation.
- There are many e-portfolio creation and hosting services now available, ranging from free through freemium to fully paid services; those which allow free creation of e-portfolios include Dropr and FolioSpaces. If e-portfolios are used as online CVs, it’s possible to make use of dedicated CV creation and hosting services which, again, range from free through freemium to fully paid services; services which allow free creation of CVs include CVmaker, Canva’s Free Online Resume Maker, and VisualCV. Such services allow students greater freedom and flexibility while giving them more responsibility, but some may have costs attached if users wish to access more advanced functionality.
- It is possible to build e-portfolios manually on web 2.0 platforms like websites, blogs, wikis or social networking sites, or to make use of aggregator services like Symbaloo to connect a range of web 2.0 services (for a video about Symbaloo, see the PLEs page). These options allow students maximum freedom and flexibility, but they also require them to take much greater responsibility for their own e-portfolio designs, structures and content.
Ultimately, the choice of an e-portfolio platform will depend on a variety of factors including the purposes intended; the presentation formats available; the level of security needed; and the degree of freedom and responsibility to be given to students.
Further guidance on building e-portfolios may be found in the following sources:
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