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Defining e-portfolios

Page history last edited by Ros Smith 12 years, 2 months ago

Defining e-portfolios (Why a single definition is elusive)


The lack of a single defintion for e-portfolios can be a cause of confusion amongst those unfamiliar with them. To understand this it is useful to start by considering the functions of e-portfolios - the following builds on an outline of these in the Effective practice with e-portfolios publication (JISC 2008). e-Portfolios can have:


  • A presentational function. 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 or ability’ (Sutherland and Powell, 2007). They can have tools that support the processes involved in developing the 'presentation' such as capturing and storing evidence, planning and setting goals and reflecting.
  • A personal repository function. References to the term in policy documents in England (eg Department for Education and Skills, 2005) indicate that e-portfolios are part of a personal online space, where learners can store their work and record their achievements (a repository function). They can also access resources such as personal course timetables and digital resources relevant to their own study.   
  • An interactive function. e-Portfolio systems can incorporate tools to support dialogic and collaborative processes such as linking to other learners, tutors, mentors, or employers in order to gain feedback on developing work or to share 'presentations' either as part of a job or course application or for assessment purposes.


Figure 1 is a useful representation of the links between the different functions of e-portfolios.



Figure 1 Understanding how e-portfolios work (Adapted from Hartnell-Young et al 2007)


However, from a learner perspective e-portfolios can also have a developmental function: ‘The e-portfolio is the central and common point for the student learning experience… It is a reflection of the student as a person undergoing continuous personal development, not just a store of evidence.’ Geoff Rebbeck, e-Learning Coordinator, Thanet College.


These functions enable e-portfolios to be used in different contexts for different purposes which are considered in the Purposes of e-portfolios section.



Department for Education and Skills (2005) Harnessing Technology: Transforming learning and children’s services

Hartnell-Young, E., Harrison, C., Crook, C., Joyes, G., Davies, L. & Fisher, T. (2007). The Impact of e-portfolios on Learning. Coventry, UK: British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (Becta).

JISC (2008) Effective practice with e-portfolios http://www.jisc.ac.uk/effectivepracticeeportfolios [Accessed 7 March 2012].

Sutherland, S. and Powell, A. (2007). CETIS SIG mailing list discussions [www.jiscmail.ac.uk/archives/cetis-portfolio.html] 9 July 2007. [Accessed 7 March 2012].



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