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Electronic Portfolios

In courses that are project-oriented, traditional assessments like tests may not match the course goals or objectives. A portfolio, to be viewed by the professor, fellow students, a committee or future employers, may be a better fit. Some departments require their students to use an electronic portfolio to gather materials over the course of their school career; for example, one project or paper per class, and others might require students to use the portfolio for several projects from the same course.

Pieces in a portfolio are most effective when they are accompanied by a reflection by the student, giving the context for the item, the conditions under which it was created, its strengths and how it might be improved. They should also be clear about their intended audience — is it future employers? Fellow students? The instructor? The intended audience will change what needs to be shared and the tone of the reflection.

Electronic portfolio systems range from free systems (usually these need to be set up on your own server) to commercial systems that charge a fee per user. A student portfolio of their work, on a Web page they created for themselves, may also be considered an electronic portfolio.

As with most technology and posting of personal information, privacy should be considered when using a portfolio. While grades may or may not be posted on the system, many electronic portfolios allow instructors to send assignments back to students for revision, not allowing an item to be posted until it meets specific standards.

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Words of Wisdom

  • Give students a rubric for the content that will be put into the portfolio, so they know what is expected. A rubric also gives students feedback on what to change if their work does not meet the quality level required to be added to the portfolio.
  • Coordinate choosing a system with your technology coordinator. There may already be a system in place in your department or institution, or there may be very specific requirements for the kind of system they'll support.
  • If you choose a commercial system, determine whether the University, school, department or students will be paying for it. Talk to other professors and see if their courses have a need for the portfolio, too, so that the students can get more out of their investment. Let students know if they will need to pay for the system at the beginning of the semester, when they're allotting funds for textbooks and other school materials.
  • Open the portfolio system on time, allowing students plenty of time to get their assignment(s) in. If students will be creating their own, give them plenty of time to create the Web pages.
  • Demonstrate the process of submitting the assignment to an existing portfolio. If students will be creating their own, be sure they have clear instruction on basic Web design.
  • If possible, reserve a computer lab and have the students submit the project with you present so you can solve problems as they come up.
  • Choose a system that is easy to use. No matter how easy you find it to be, it will be difficult for some students to navigate.