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How do we decide which e-portfolio to use

Page history last edited by Jacquie Kelly 11 years, 11 months ago

How do we decide which e-portfolio tool to use?

This section outlines a summary of how choices were made in the institutions involved in the study. The choices were

  • Choose an existing tool or develop a new one.
  • Choose local or external hosting.
  • Choose Open Source or Enterprise.
  • Choose a purpose-specific tool or an ‘expansive’ tool (one that has the potential to be used across a range of purposes).


None of the participating institutions supported student-chosen tools - students were expected to use the e-portfolio tool/s adopted by the institution. However, policies adopted at Thanet College  are enabling the support of a wider variety of tools meeting different purposes as part of a drive towards greater flexibility and personalisation in technology use for both staff and students.


Choices were influenced by alignment and cost, and these considerations are inter-related.


'Alignment' refers to ways choices are influenced by what is in place already and factors that influenced choice are outlined below.  

  • Alignment with the purposes for which the tool was to be used.
    • For some, identifying clearly their priority purpose(s) led to the realisation that a suitable tool did not exist: This spurred the independent development from 2005 of a range of institution-specific tools by some of the study participants, for example: University of Wolverhampton (development site of PebblePad); University of Newcastle (ePet); Dumfries and Galloway College (WordPress based tool); Massey University (Mahara); Curtin University (iPortfolio); Queensland University of Technology (student eportfolio).
    • Keen to address the full range of their needs, another institution might decide to adopt more than one tool . For example, Thanet College use four different tools, i.e. PebblePad for staff professional development and as a reflective e-portfolio for some higher level courses, Mahara for student-initiated use, a mapping e-portfolio for NVQ courses and Infolio for students with learning difficulties/disabilities.
    • Looking similarly at a diversity of possible purposes, another institution might opt for Open Source tools which could be developed further to match the full range of needs. For example, Dumfries and Galloway College chose to develop a tool based on WordPress, while Birmingham City University chose Mahara and invested in developing the tool's 'views', making this enhancement available to the wider Mahara user community.
    • An investigation to map the needs of the institution to the functionality offered by a range of commercial e-portfolio products could lead to the choice of a mature Enterprise tool. For example, the University of Bradford undertook a formal evaluation of a range of tools and chose PebblePad, the University of Edinburgh recently chose PebblePad after a lengthy procurement process.
  • Alignment with the current VLE (and other systems, e.g. student management).
    • Some WebCT/Blackboard users started using the related e-portfolio tool, but in many cases moved on to other solutions, either developing an in-house tool or adopting PebblePad once it became more mature. For institutions using the Moodle VLE, a tendency to adopt Mahara is clearly evident, particularly where the service was externally hosted and Mahara was included. 
  • Alignment with technical expertise.
    • Institutions have had to assess capacity from a number of angles and the extent and availability of their in-house technical expertise:
        • to integrate the chosen tool with existing technologies
        • to install a tool on local servers (a tool offering external hosting was preferred in some situations)
        • to carry out developments on an Open Source tool. (Where an institution was already committed to Open Source, the necessary expertise was already in place or cost savings resulting from an Open Source product enabled the use of external developers for customisation and branding - see the Southampton Solent University and Birmingham City video case study interviews.)
  • Alignment with existing ‘pedaogogic expertise'.
    •  Where experience of using a particular tool already exists, either amongst a subset of users or in relation to a subset of the tool's functions, the existence of this expertise can have beneficial impacts on wider take-up and the provision of support for both staff and students. For example, Thanet College's use of PebblePad for staff professional development was seen to be supportive of its use with students. This strategy of prioritising the building of 'pedagogic expertise' not only develops staff confidence and competence in using the tool, but, more importantly perhaps, deepens understanding of how it can function within teaching and learning processes from the inside. In related examples, Mahara was made available for student-initiated use at Southampton Solent University and Birmingham City University. In both cases, students' familiarity with the social networking aspects of the tool leveraged rapid take-up – they readily used the e-portfolio tool to engage in forming groups and working collaboratively. The choice of an 'expansive' tool seems advantageous in some implementation situations, where familiarity with one aspect of its functionality or application can lead staff and students to try other features and open up new opportunities for learning. These examples provide the basis for favouring one sophisticated tool that offers some level of familiarity to users and can be adapted for different purposes rather than opting for several specific tools for specific purposes.


Cost was rarely overtly mentioned by contributors to the study. Some of the implicit cost issues were as follows:

  • Cost considerations are commonly conflated with alignment issues. For example, the choice of Mahara by users of Moodle was assumed to be cost-‘free’ – though in fact, if it was externally hosted in the UK, it was already being paid for within the institutions' payments for external hosting of Moodle - this was the case for Newham College.
  • Where any tool was locally hosted, the cost to implement this came out of existing resource.
  • Open Source choices could require a commitment to technical development costs and this was the case for Birmingham City University and Dumfries and Galloway College.
  • All technology implementations need technical help-line support for both staff and students. The costs of developing this and of providing staff training were rarely mentioned by participants in the study. Where effective online support materials were developed for a tool, this work tended to be initiated and carried out by existing, expert staff and the cost absorbed.
  • The 'Implementation Process' strand of the study highlights the importance of the central team that leads and supports these developments. This key resource is a real cost that has been supplemented by most participants in the study through involvement in projects funded externally, e.g., HEA, JISC, Becta. The study revealed that these supplementary sources of funding have clearly leveraged institutional development and promoted cross-sector sharing of good practice in this area.


Cost benefits  

This discussion has not included an indication of the cost benefits of e-portfolio implementation. Although the vast majority of cases within the study had not carried out any formal analysis, there was evidence of administrative time-savings over paper-based systems - for example, use of mapping e-portfolios for NVQ courses at Thanet College. Benefits such as improvements in retention and progression were reported - for example, University of WolverhamptonThanet College and Dumfiries and Galloway College. Benefits of e-portfolios are documented in the study within the formal evaluations at the Universities of Wolverhampton and Bradford and Southampton Solent University as well as elsewhere in the literature, for example Joyes et al (2010), Cambridge et al (2009), JISC (2008b) and Hartnell-Young et al, (2007). However the study reveals that cost benefits analyses have not so far underpinned the commitment in most institutions to implement or sustain the use of e-portfolios. For futher information about measuring cost benefits see the Benefits of ICT Investment  Toolkit (JISC, 2010) and the  Efficiency and Effectiveness matrix (Hornby and Laing, 2003) which, though it focuses on assessment, has wider application.



Cambridge D, Yancey, K & Cambridge, B (2009) Electronic Portfolios 2.0 Emergent Research on Implementaton and Impact. Sterling, VA: Stylus.

Hartnell-Young, E., Harrison, C., Crook, C., Joyes, G., Davies, L., Fisher, T., Pemberton, R. & Smallwood, A. (2007). The impact of e-portfolios on learning. Coventry: British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (Becta).  http://dera.ioe.ac.uk/1469/ [viewed 20 June 2011]

Hornby W. and Laing D, (2003) Efficiency and Effectiveness in Assessment. http://www4.rgu.ac.uk/files/EFFICIENCY%20AND%20EFFECTIVENESS%20IN%20ASSESSMENT.pdf

JISC (2008b). Effective Practice with e-Portfolios: Supporting 21st century learning

http://www.jisc.ac.uk/media/documents/publications/effectivepracticeeportfolios.pdf [viewed 20 June 2011]

JISC (2010) BIILS: Benefits of ICT Investment – Landscape Study An Evaluation Framework and Toolkit http://www.jisc.ac.uk/media/documents/programmes/strategicmanagement/BIILS%20Project%20Evaluation%20Toolkit%20-%20Revised%20-%20Version%203.pdf [viewed 20 June 2011]

Joyes, G., Gray, L. & Hartnell-Young,E. (2010). Effective Practice with e-Portfolios: how can the UK experience inform implementation? Australasian Journal of Educational Technology 26(1) 15-27. http://www.ascilite.org.au/ajet/ajet26/joyes.html [viewed 20 June 2011].


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