Considering ePortfolios

As I have just been working on my 2014 professional planning for my new position, and reviewing my performance in 2013, I have been thinking a lot about the best way to document my activities and experiences, so when December comes around this year, I will have evidence of my engagement and examples of the new knowledge and skills I have acquired.  I think using an ePortfolio is a great way to document this, as well as provide a record of my skills I can use when applying to jobs in the future.

In August of last year I attended a workshop for PhD students about reflective learning.  One of the sessions was related to the use of Victoria University’s ePortfolio tool.  At the time I was unfamiliar with the concept.  I know have a bit better understanding of them – but having only just begun to create my own, i’m still an ePortfolio newbie!

Essentially, an ePortfolio is a web-based portfolio that allows you to document your personal, educational and professional experiences and achievements, reflect on them, and then share them with other people, such as managers, colleagues, potential employers, teachers, etc.

Your ePortfolio is more than just your online CV – you can use it to capture and reflect on your wider experiences and skills.  For example, I recently participated in the IFLA/ALA webinar “New Librarians Global Connection: best practices, models and recommendations.”  Just after the webinar concluded, I logged onto my ePortfolio, added it as one of my “Personal/Professional Development” experiences, summarised the salient points I had gained from the webinar, and wrote a brief reflection of what was relevant to my role and the points I took away from it.   It was a great way for me to capture evidence of my professional development – and relate the knowledge to my role.   Rather than just scribbling some notes in my notebook (which I usually do), I can know go back to my ePortfolio and have a record of the webinar, my thoughts on it, and what I took away from it.   Personally I think this is a great tool for students, academics and professionals who want to create a dynamic recording of their body of knowledge.

Not only can you document and record your concrete skills and experiences, but you can also document the “transferable skills” you have acquired through other activities.  For example, as a PhD student, I learned a lot about Information Behaviour in Laos.  I also learned how to form and defend independent conclusions, design plan, and implement a study, collaborate on projects, navigate complex bureaucratic environments, and communicate ideas effectively.  These types of skills are called “transferrable skills” because they can be transferred and applied in a wide variety of settings.  You can say things like “I have excellent interpersonal communication skills” etc. in a cover letter, but providing specific,measurableattainablerelevant and time-bound (SMART) evidence of your transferable skills in an ePortfolio may be a better way of demonstrating that skill.  That being said.. I’m not an employer and I have never hired anyone so I have no idea!

This image created by Victoria University’s Career Hub provides a good visual overview of an ePortfolio.


Regardless, I’m finding the ePortofilio a useful tool simply for my own personal sense of achievement.

There are different tools or providers that can be used to create an ePortfolio.  Mahara is an Open Source web application that was designed (in New Zealand!) specifically for creating ePortfolios.   Other tools such as PathBrite and WordPress can also be used.

I don’t have a specific recommendation – I have been using the Victoria University ePortfolio tool which I believe the Career Hub team developed in-house.  It’s not very visually appealing, and lacks import/export  capabilities and can’t store documents, only link to work examples or documents stored elsewhere on the web, however it’s very beginner-friendly and has helped me get started.  The New Zealand Ministry of Education has created this document that provides an comprehensive introduction to and overview of ePortfolios.   In it they provide this excellent table summarising some of the benefits of creating an ePortfolio vs. a traditional paper based portfolio.

Digital Portfolios Guidelines for beginners

Distinguishing features & advantages

Digital portfolio

Paper portfolio

Enduring Can deteriorate over time, susceptible to environmental degradation –moisture, sunlight, etc
Provides continuity and can be lifelong Often time-bound and discontinuous
Totally mobile Not easily mobile, transport can be difficult
Freely and easily reproducible A reproduction can be very time consuming and inevitably will not look as good
Fully searchable – instantly and always available to be searched Table of contents and possibly an index, requires physical presence. Can be slow to cross reference instances of a given ‘term’
Enables collaborative work Not easily and certainly not simultaneously
Can be a ‘live’ resource for others Could be a limited and time-bound resource
Easily reviewable by anyone, anywhere, anytime Needs to be physically present
Can be read, peer reviewed, or marked by multiple viewers simultaneously. I.e. it has a feedback loop Needs to be copied and then distributed to enable multiple viewers or markers
Allows different organisational ‘views’ of the one set of core resource material Fixed layout and format
The views represent different functions for the ePortfolio: progression, process, showcase, competencies, etc Different layouts are difficult to produce and are always (paper) media bound or may also contain discrete additional media samples
It may be linear, or hierarchical in structure, or neither, or both Structure is fixed
Allows learner/teacher interaction Not unless done within the classroom
Provides student voice – feelings and emotions Impersonal – generally does not reflect feelings and emotions
Improves the learner’s ICT literacy skills Improves finger dexterity in turning pages
Easily and always available for editing Not easily editable
Easily communicated to any size, type and location of audience Expensive to do so – needs copied and transported
Intended/designed to encourage reflective practice Can be, but more difficult to include reflections
Infinitely extends the classroom Must be physically transported and present
Anywhere, any time access Must be physically transported
A personal approach to learning that grows with the learner’s maturity Content and organisation mainly driven by teacher
Development focused Often tends to be assessment focused
The owner has total control of the sharing and commenting capability Once out of the owner’s hands she/he has no control over access or comments
Does not have to be in possession of the owner to be accessible and usable Owner could possibly provide remote instructions to direct a third party to access a document/book
Secure – difficult/impossible to lose or misplace Can be lost or easily damaged
Multi-media – text, charts, graphic images, sound, video and all combinations Paper-based media only – text, images, diagrams, charts. May have discrete additional media samples
Can include embedded files What you see is what you get
Can link directly and immediately to other references Manual references can be provided – often difficult and slow to follow-up

Note: A number of the above points in the digital portfolio column have the underlying assumption that sound ICT practices are being followed particularly in terms of security, privacy and backup. (New Zealand Ministry of Education, 2011).

I  think the opportunity to develop an ePortfolio ties in with another concern I have as an emerging academic – having a current and complete “research profile” available to potential collaborators, publishers or employers.  While most organisations will host a research profile for their staff on the organisational website, it often has to be updated through an administrator or some other bureaucratic process, and once you leave that organisation, the page is no longer available.  Hence I am in favour of academics creating personal research profiles in which you can list your research interests and publications.  Some tools such as Mendeley or LinkedIn offer this service integrated into other tools – however I think the ePortfolio is an excellent way to integrate your research, publications, experiences and skills independently of any organisation where you are employed.   Some ePortfolio tools also offer social media networking – as well as other features.

I’m considering moving away from the Vic Uni tool (even though they offer guaranteed free access to alumni for life) to another more flashy ePortfolio tool.  I may try out a few along the way… and report on them here.