Over the last few years the prominence of, and interest in, e-portfolios in all sectors of education has grown, driven in part by national policy and lifelong and personalised learning initiatives. The picture has often been a complex one, with confusion over what an 'e-portfolio' is. More recently consensus is gathering, and clarity is being brought to the discussions, as our experience with using e-portfolio tools grows.

e-Portfolios - An overview

Why are e-portfolios important?

e-Portfolios are not a new concept. In various guises, digital presentations of skills and competences, online records of achievement and action plans with opportunities for reflection have been in use in education for nearly a decade. Tools and systems built for these purposes are now numerous. So what is new about e-portfolios?

There has been increasing recent interest in the potential of e-learning tools and technologies to support more learner centred and personalised forms of learning, prompted in part by national strategies for e-learning and initiatives in favour of lifelong learning and personalised learning. These have all prompted interest in the benefits that e-portfolios may bring to personal development planning (PDP) and to 21st century models of learning, teaching and assessment.

Drivers within educational institutions contribute to this increasing interest, around the need to retain students, the increasing recognition of the importance of reflective practice in professional disciplines such as healthcare, and the requirement for UK Higher Education institutions to have in place a PDP process by 2005/2006.

But most importantly we are interested in e-portfolios because there is emerging, often powerful evidence from practitioners  and learners of how e-portfolios can promote more profound forms of learning, as well their further potential in supporting for example transition between institutions and stages of education, and in supporting professional development and applications for professional accreditation.

What are e-portfolios?

'An e-portfolio is a purposeful aggregation of digital items - ideas, evidence, reflections, feedback etc. which 'presents' a selected audience with evidence of a person's learning and/or ability' [1] Various definitions exist of term e-portfolio. There is an emerging consensus that the term encompasses both product and process: 

Behind any product, or presentation, lie rich and complex processes of planning, synthesising, sharing, discussing, reflecting, giving, receiving and responding to feedback. These processes - which we refer to as 'e-portfolio-based learning' - are the focus of increasing attention, since the process of learning can be as important as the end product.

Descriptions of e-portfolio processes also tend to include the concepts of learners drawing from both informal and and formal learning activities to create their e-portfolios, which are personally managed and owned by the learner, and where items (or whole e-portfolio presentations) can be selectively shared with other parties such as peers, teachers, assessors or employers [2].

For further information, and an expansion on these definitions, please see the 'Effective Practice with e-Portfolios' publication and online infoKit (see below).

JISC's work in the area

 In addition to a range of project activity and studies around e-portfolio use, in 2011, JISC funded a wiki-based e-Portfolio Implementation Toolkit, developed by the University of Nottingham, which is freely available for use. The Toolkit has been designed to assist managers and practitioners considering large-scale e-portfolio implementation in a range of contexts, and includes 18 written case studies, five video Stories of e-Portfolio Implementation, and guidance drawn from the experiences of the participating institutions.

The key messages arising from these resources are synthesised in a short publication, Crossing the threshold: Moving e-portfolios into the mainstream (JISC 2012), launched in June 2012. The publication, aimed at managers and practitioners involved in implementing e-portfolios in further and higher education, outlines the key stages of a large-scale implementation and, using evidence from the e-Portfolio Implementation Toolkit and video case studies, provides an overview of what has been learnt from the two studies.

Effective Practice with e-Portfolios Publication

In addition, the Effective Practice with e-Portfolios (JISC 2008), one in a series of established JISC Effective Practice guides, focuses on the role e-portfolios play in the formative processes of learning – for example, by supporting dialogue with peers and tutors, evaluating and celebrating personal achievements and skills development, and, in the process, engaging learners – and professionals – in more profound reflection on their personal development planning (PDP) and continuing professional development (CPD). The guide investigates the concept of ‘e-portfolio-based learning’ from different perspectives – those of the learner, the practitioner, the institution, a professional body and a potential audience, summarising key points of guidance in each case. Request a copy of the publication

The online e-Portfolios infoKit was developed in tandem with the publication, and is a further source of e-portfolio guidance from JISC for the post-16 and higher education sector developed by JISC infoNet. This online resource covers the main drivers, purposes, processes, perspectives and issues around e-portfolio use and gives a valuable synopsis of JISC-funded projects on e-portfolios.

Since 2009,  a number of workshops have run across the UK, sharing the learning emerging from the JISC funded work and other examples of excellent practice with e-portfolios from across the sector. All presentations and activities are available from the workshops page.

JISC have also played a leading role in the development of the Leap2A e-portfolio interoperability specification. See the Leap2A site,  article and briefing paper for further information. 

Related

Further details

Recent events where JISC has presented its work
  • 'Researching and Evaluating Personal Development Planning and e-Portfolio', National Centre for School Leadership, Nottingham, 26th April 2010. Presentation and paper
  • Ascilite conference, Auckland, New Zealand, 7th December 2010. Presentation and workshop
  • Mahara conference University of London Computing Centre, 15 July 2009 Presentation
  • EIfEL ePortfolio 2009 conference, City University, 22nd - 24 June 2009. Workshop
  • 'Telling Stories' 2009, University of Wolverhampton, 11 June 2009. Workshop
  • NIACE conference, 26 March 2009. Workshop

Contact Lisa Gray, e-Learning Programme Manager if you have any queries.

Find out more about JISC-funded projects working with e-portfolios

 JISC and other key e-portfolio resources

 2. Sutherland, S. and Powell, A., 9 July 2007, CETIS Portfolio SIG mailing list discussions

 3. Beetham, H. (2005) 'e-portfolios in post-16 learning in the UK: developments, issues and opportunities'. JISC e-Learning Pedagogy Strand.