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Electronic Portfolios: Emerging Practices in Student, Faculty, and Institutional Learning

Edited by Barbara L. Cambridge (volume editor) and Susan Kahn, Daniel P. Tompkins, and Kathleen Blake Yancey (section editors)
240 pages
ISBN: 1-56377-050-4
$34.50 (paper)

Reviewed by

Ce Ce Iandoli

Coordinator of Assessment and Program Reviews, Professor, Design and Industry
San Francisco State University


As a faculty member who teaches both writing and design, I have relied on portfolios throughout my career. Initially, I used them for my English composition courses as a place for students to house their initial drafts, subsequent revisions, and final outcomes. Each student's portfolio was an inclusive one that became more valuable over time for two reasons: It was the locus for private conversations scribbled in margins, and later it served as concrete proof of the student's progress over time.

When I began teaching design, my students' portfolios became more expansive and demanding: students chose which artifacts were included, and that act required self-reflection. Although their portfolios still required visual drafts and revisions of their work throughout the semester, other features enriched the entire process. In combination with their initial decisions about deciding what to include and exclude, students now present their work publicly; peers offer feedback; and guest critics opine about their work out loud. Since students must articulate their thought processes en route to their final solutions, the design portfolio is a stand-in for the student's mastery of the discipline, an emblem of his/her originality, a glimpse into the student's capacities as a professional.

Most portfolios--whether institutional or individual--function much like the two examples I mention here. In both examples, the process of collecting, choosing, and discussing the contents of the repository/portfolio leads, optimally, to personal insights. A publication published by AAHE, entitled Electronic Portfolios, elucidates the value of creating a repository for thoughtfully chosen work that has been digitized and made accessible online to large audiences (generally a university community). But, it also illuminates something more compelling: the long-term value of housing institution-level materials, faculty-level projects, and students' learning portfolios to create an infrastructure that compels all university participants to think carefully, and in concert, about the ramifications of their work. The actual creation of such a portfolio also necessitates professional growth in technological literacy and currency in new media.

What are the key assets of digital portfolios over paper versions? Like most multimedia, digital portfolios offer non-linear access to an onlooker, transparency (no one else mediates what you see), interactivity, and the capacity to enliven the material by integrating video and audio. They are also portable and have powerful storage capacity. Conversely, the downside of this medium is that it can offer too many facts, with too little wisdom. And the bells and whistles of the medium can overtake the substance of the material.

Despite the importance of this topic, Electronic Portfolios has three overarching flaws. First, the book was published two years ago when justification for the value of electronic portfolios was still needed. Today, the justifications that open each major sub-section seem unnecessary, overkill. Second, faculty's presumed familiarity with the use of digital technology is now a given. Thus, much of what the book purports to teach us is no longer remarkable; in fact, the book's opening chapter on students' portfolios is already outdated. What seemed remarkable then is now de rigueur. Third, the book is terribly redundant. Many of the features embodied in student, faculty, and institution-wide portfolios overlap with each other.

Thus, Electronic Portfolios is most useful when it describes particular projects or the value-added results that occur as people consolidate their work, build new venues, and construct new knowledge. The book is divided into three major sections: (a) student portfolios, (b) faculty portfolios, and (c) institutional ones. The hope is that if an entire university endorsed portfolios, then common goals would be illuminated, all of which would create a more cohesive university agenda and learning community.

Student-based portfolios offer evidence of learning that cannot be scrutinized within the perimeters of a typical course. Students can show multiple examples of their work simultaneously, across a range of time, which is contextually rich when the assignment, the grading rubric, and the rationale for the student's choices sit alongside the final project. It allows students to "make sense out of something they have assimilated but do not yet understand" (p. 4). Most reporting practices disallow deep explanations; the portfolio offers students such an arena.

The most useful aspect of this chapter was not a rationale for the use of portfolios, but class-level examples of its use at various universities. For example, it's now commonplace for many universities (Kalamazoo, Stanford, Dartmouth) to have students piece together their education into a summative whole of internships, courses, and summers abroad. Live chats, threaded conversations, and students' video outcomes can be archived. Computer simulations where teams converse online, receive confidential data, analyze the data, and make new decisions offer the same recursive process that professional work demands in real time.

Similarly, the second section of Electronic Portfolios offers comparable opportunities for faculty to construct their own portfolios, typically a portfolio of their teaching practice or a course portfolio to share with other faculty members. A portfolio that provides evidence of a faculty member's teaching practices might include his or her own material (such as vitae, syllabi, essays about work, notes about current research) as well as commentary from others (which might include class visitation write-ups; students' ratings; collegial comments; course comparisons; students' letters, e-mails) and student products resulting from that teaching.

Course portfolios attempt to share details about the contours of a particular course. In a sense, they are a gift to the entire academic community, as they convert private acts of teaching into community property. Peers can also offer critical advice. Typically, a course portfolio includes course introductions, detailed course designs, explicit learning objectives, evaluation criteria used in class, teaching responsibilities/workload, and reflective essays on the portfolio author's teaching practices.

The institutional portfolio offers an overview of an institution's priorities and might include core learning goals, a strategic plan suited to the university itself, and suggestions for program improvement. While it extends the scope of faculty and student portfolios, it houses materials that demonstrate accountability and can stimulate internal improvements, and it places a spotlight on student learning. Like most forms of assessment the creation of the website itself is instructive. It mandates conversations and a broadened perspective on campuswide activities, and it integrates the university-wide mission with everyday activities of the faculty.

The Urban Universities Portfolio Project (UUPP) is offered as noteworthy example of the value of an institution-wide portfolio (footnote p. 157). According to the UUPP Web site, this project brought

together six leading urban public universities to develop a new medium: electronic institutional portfolios that demonstrate the universities' effectiveness to various groups of stakeholders. . . . The project has three main emphases: to enhance internal and external stakeholders' understanding of the mission of urban public universities; to develop a new approach to cultivating ongoing internal improvement; and to experiment with new ways of demonstrating and evaluating effectiveness and accountability in the context of mission. In all six cases, the distinctive characteristics, work, and accomplishments of these universities consolidated authentic materials, such as student work samples, with assessment data and reflective critique to show the outcomes the universities aim to produce.

CSU Sacramento's participation in this project offers a CSU-based example: http://www.csus.edu/portfolio/index.htm.

Throughout Electronic Portfolios, one message underscores all types of portfolio. The actual process of consolidating what one knows, choosing what matters in concert with one's peers, and thinking carefully out loud about what it all means, are, perhaps, the most crucial outcomes of each portfolio. Having integrated all these ideas, a university can finally integrate everything it knows. Like the film Rashomon (Kurosawa, 1951), one finally makes sense of the intricate, but separate pieces, of a university's work.


Bordon, V. & Thomas, T. (2001, June 26). A baker's dozen lessons learned about what it takes to develop and sustain electronic portfolios for program and institutional assessment. Retrieved December 18, 2003 from The Urban Universities Portfolio Project Web site: http://www.imir.iupui.edu/portfolio/lessons.htm

California State University, Monterey Bay. (1997, August 18). Glossary of CSU Monterey Bay terms. Retrieved December 15, 2003 from http://csumb.edu/general/glossary.html

California State University, Sacramento. (n.d.). University portfolio. Retrieved December 15, 2003 from http://www.csus.edu/portfolio/

Crippen, K. (2003, December). Rethinking course assessment: Creating accountability with web-based tools. Journal of Scientific Education + Technology, 12(4), pp. 431-438.

Edgerton, R., Hutchings, P. & Quinlan, K. (l993). The teaching portfolio: Capturing the scholarship in teaching. Washington, DC: American Association of Higher Education.

Knowledge Media Laboratory. (n.d.) Retrieved December 19, 2003 from The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching Web site http://www.carnegiefoundation.org/KML/

Kurosawa, A. (Director). (1951). Rashomon [Motion picture]. Japan.

Seldin, P. (l997). The teaching portfolio (2nd ed.).. Bolton, MA: Anker.

Young, J. R. (2002, February 21). Creating online portfolios can help students see 'big picture,' colleges say. Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved August 8, 2003 from http://chronicle.com/free/2002/02/2002022101t.htm

Posted April 7, 2004
Modified April 13, 2004

All material appearing in this journal is subject to applicable copyright laws.
Publication in this journal in no way indicates the endorsement of the content by the California State University, the Institute for Teaching and Learning, or the Exchanges Editorial Board. ©2004 by Ce Ce Iandoli.

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