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Most definitions and descriptions recognise ePortfolios as “a collection of ‘works’...that represent physical evidence of achievements” (Mason, Cochrane, & Owen, 2008, March 02). For example, in the UK, ePortfolios tend to be informed by the notion of personal development records (PDRs) (Dearing, 1997), and are considered to be evidence of accomplishments, as well as an archive of associated reflections, which can be used to package and present learning and achievements (Richardson & Ward, 2005). Depending on the pedagogy and approach used in education, ePortfolios have the potential "using Web 2.0 principles & tools, [to provide] a multi-faceted forum, with areas for collaborative development, private reflection, & showcasing of achievements" (Owen, 2009).


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Conceptualising ePortfolios

Thinking about how learners and educators use / experience ePortfolios, it is worth considering how they might be described conceptually. The idea of an ePortfolio as ‘performance’ can be developed to capture and illustrate the following notions:

  • Back stage: Collection of ‘projects’ – some half-finished, some ready for the next production, some still in the concept phase, some abandoned
  • Apprenticeship: Learning the ‘language’ and ways of being of a discipline (back stage and rehearsals; peer and tutor feedback – spend time as an apprentice, ‘sweeping, painting scenery, learning the vocabulary’)
  • Types of ePortfolio: Development & process (backstage & rehearsal); showcase/professional (final performance; multiple owner (the cast, director etc); working (combination of all the spaces)
  • Private / public space
  • Building trust/rapport and community
  • The performance as a production within and for a range of communities (see this diagram for more detail)
  • Rehearse as a group as well as an individual
  • Start to rehearse. Feedback from director/peers (work collaboratively to interpret a script)
  • Personality and creativity: interpretation of the script (role/assessment/rubric)
  • Audience: Who are they? Appropriacy. Don’t always know (global)
  • Dress rehearsal/first night: iterative feedback loop

Some of these points may be stretching the analogy a little :-) , but it seems to pull together the potential of what an ePortfolio might be, and also stresses the need for scaffolding and support – you wouldn’t expect someone to become a fully fledged actor with it!!

The point I built from was that most definitions and descriptions recognise ePortfolios as “a collection of ‘works’…that represent physical evidence of achievements” (Mason, Cochrane, & Owen, 2008), but they all seem rather esoteric and dry. The human element and sense of everything happening in communities often appears to be missing.

Why use ePortfolios? Purposes for and types of ePortfolios

Six key purposes have been identified for ePortfolios (Abrami & Barrett, 2005; Hallam et al., 2008; Ward & Grant, 2007; Zeichner & Wray, 2001):

  • Presentation (showcase of ‘best’ work and accomplishments either during study or in the workplace); 
  • Learning / process (includes guidance around reflection, analysing, thinking critically, making connections, identifying problems, and learning over time); 
  • Appraisal / assessment (evidence to demonstrate specific learning outcomes to an ‘authority’);
  • Personal development (used for registration, certification, professional development, and career progression, and usually involves a review process, action plan, and recognition of required professional criteria);
  • Multiple-owner (enables a group or organisation to represent research, projects and growth); and
  • Working (includes some or all of the characteristics identified in 1-5 above – hosted in a tool that facilitates flexible accessibility/privacy to discrete elements of the ePortfolio. Specific elements could for instance be selected from a working ePortfolio to create a presentation ePortfolio).

Some questions about why you might want and use an ePortfolio

This presentation by Nick Rate provides some great questions around the what, how and why of ePortfolios. While the focus is using ePortfolios with students, the questions are relevant to anyone who is keen to develop an ePortfolio

Put together by Solent University in the UK, the video below illustrates a couple of reasons for using ePortfolios, and why you might want to create one.



There are key questions you are likely to want to address in your education institution if you are considering implementing an ePortfolio initiative. These questions are designed to get the ball rolling for thinking about ePortfolios - or to develop a school's thinking if the students are already using them - Thinking about ePortfolios for your school? Questions - 

Recognition of Prior Learning and Lifelong Learning

Two fundamental aspects of ePortfolios are lifelong learning, and Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) - both of which take into account formal and informal learning, do not disadvantage those with different types of literacy other than academic, and can also be culturally inclusive.

  1. Portfolios and ePortfolios A new employability tool Career Portfolio Manitoba
  2. Recognition of Prior Learning The language of skills & knowledge • RPL = a way to determine what a person knows and can do • RPL can be used for: – access to education (advanced standing) – career planning & professional development – access to employment • a Portfolio is a product of RPL • an ePortfolio is a digital portfolio

Don Presant's Slidescast (ePortfolios for employability), although specific to Manitoba in Canada, is a great introduction to RPL. As well as providing an excellent example of informal, self-directed learning in the form of James Croll, the presentation also provides some excellent guidelines for developing your own ePortfolio.

View more webinars from dpresant.

For a more in depth exploration of what ePortfolios are you could also visit the following sites: 

For more links to resources around ePortfolios please click HERE.



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ePortfolios by Ethos Consultancy NZ is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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