Introducing ePortfolios – Six Things to Help You Get Started- Katherine Lithgow

graphic by Carey, Penny Light and Kirker
ePortfolios and Integration

Our new learning management system, LEARN, includes an integrated ePortfolio.  EPortfolios can be used to help students make connections to learning experiences regardless of where those experiences occur. They can help students document their learning, see how they are developing over time, and make plans for future growth.  EPortfolios provide a space for students to reflect upon what they have learned in the classroom, in the workplace or in community and social environments, and provide evidence of how they have been able to apply skills and knowledge learned in one setting to another setting.

Since we’ve adopted LEARN this past year, there has been a significant increase in the number of instructors (and students) interested in using ePortfolios. Once instructors have decided they would like to use ePortfolios, the next question is often “So how do I go about incorporating the use of ePortfolios into my course or program?  What do I do next?”

Here are six things you can do which will go a long way to help ensure the best learning experience for both instructors and students using ePortfolios in a course or program. (Based upon presentation by Lithgow, K. and Penny Light, T. (2012). Six Degrees (or so) of Integration: What Students Have to Say about ePortfolios. Presented at the Association for Authentic, Experiential and Evidence-Based Learning (AAEEBL) Conference – “ePortfolios as a Catalyst for Connections: Celebrating the Curious, Creative and Capable Learner.”, Boston, MA.)*

  1. Introduce ePortfolios and Expectations Early
  2. Give ‘em Grades
  3. Provide Feedback (Early and Often)
  4. Respect disciplinary context
  5. Encourage meaning making
  6. Acknowledge that ePortfolios are a different way of providing evidence of learning


Unpacking the Process

  1. Introduce ePortfolios and Expectations Early– Let your students know as early as possible in the course that they will be using ePortfolios.       Outline what they will be expected to do and how the ePortfolios activities      will help them achieve goals and outcomes for the course or the program.  This can be done in a number of ways.  Show an example or examples of previous students’ work (with permission, of course!).  Show them an example of an ePortfolio  presentation that you’ve created which models your expectations.  Provide a rubric or statement of  expectations.
  2. Give ‘em Grades – Although we  would like our students to be intrinsically motivated, the reality  is the  majority of our students are motivated by marks.  The ePortfolio activities should be an   integral part of your course or program, not an add-on.  The mark assigned should reflect that this is a worthwhile activity.   ePortfolio activities which are most successful in terms of student buy-in and student learning are those where the time and effort expected  of the students is reflected in the weighting of the activity in the final  course mark.  The least successful and the least valued ePortfolio activities are those that are voluntary or are assigned minimal or bonus marks.
  3. Provide Feedback (Early and Often):      Incorporating reflective activities into the ePortfolio is an integral part of creating an ePortfolio presentation. Reflection is a learned  activity; receiving constructive feedback from classmates, instructors,  TA’s and mentors helps the student develop the capacity to reflect critically.   You can create opportunities for students to get feedback by having them submit their work in progress midway through the term.  Divide the students into small groups and have them peer-review      each other’s work-in- progress using a rubric or guideline of expectations      which you’ve provided.  This gives students the opportunity to see other examples and exposes them to  different perspectives. When students provide constructive feedback to others, they can consider ways to improve their own work prior to the  final submission.
  4. Respect disciplinary context- Students will see value in the ePortfolio activity when they can see how it will help them develop within the discipline.  The activity has to allow them to use the language, skills and knowledge of the discipline.  They have to understand how the activity will help them achieve program goals and outcomes.
  5. Encourage meaning making (making connections-reflection) – Give your students permission to make connections to other courses, other disciplines, to their work experience, volunteer experiences, and social and community environments.  Ask the students to explain what they’ve      learned and how that learning is personally meaningful to them. Create a      learning environment which provides them with a ‘safe place’ to share this      with classmates, mentors and instructors. Encourage them to examine what they’ve learned in their academic and non-academic environments and how that impacts their learning as a whole.  Ask them to reflect on past experiences-   what have they learned? How will this affect future actions?
  6. Acknowledge ePortfolios as a threshold – Asking students to explain what they’ve learned, provide evidence to support what they’ve learned, and demonstrate how they have achieved learning outcomes and goals you’ve set is not something students are accustomed to doing. Incorporating multimedia to  demonstrate this is very different than asking students to write an essay      or answer a multiple choice test.  Students are accustomed to getting things ‘right’, rather than being rewarded for focusing on the process of learning- part of which ncludes making mistakes. Providing early and often feedback helps them reassure them that they are on the right track or gives them the opportunity to get back on track.  Providing examples  of ePortfolios from previous students (with permission!), or showing how you, the instructor, have completed a particular section of the ePortfolio, provides guidance and structure that students will need when hey are first introduced to ePortfolios.  Provide a template or some sort of  structure in the early years- decrease this over time.  Take some time in class to review the  ePortfolio functionality to address technology related concerns.

Trent Batson has proposed the following definition – “ePortfolio technology enables learners to manage the complexity and variability of learning designs and opportunities in formal and informal settings in order to gather evidence of their resultant deep learning.” T. Batson. (2012, Sept.18).  Definition of “ePortfolio”. [Web log comment]. Retrieved from

Interested in learning more?  Don’t hesitate to contact me

*Influences on our work include:

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

Cambridge, Darren, Eportfolios for Lifelong Learning and Assessment, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2010.

Chen, H.L, and T. Penny Light, Electronic Portfolios and Student Success: Effectiveness, Efficiency, and Learning, Washington: Association of American Colleges and Universities, 2010

Huber, M., and P. Hutchings, Integrative Learning: Mapping the Terrain, Washington D.C.: Association of American Colleges and Universities, 2004.

Rodgers, Carol, “Defining Reflection: Another Look at John Dewey and Reflective Thinking,” Teachers College Record, 104, 4 (June, 2002): 842-866.

Yancey, Kathleen Blake, Reflection in the Writing Classroom, Logan, Utah: Utah State University Press, 1998.


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Katherine Lithgow

As Senior Instructional Developer, Integrative Learning, Katherine Lithgow facilitates ePortfolio and Integrative Learning initiatives, supporting instructors across campus with the design and implementation of activities that help students integrate learning in academic, workplace, community and social environments. Prior to joining the Centre for Teaching Excellence, Katherine taught Cytology at The Michener Institute for Applied Health Sciences. She received her BA from the University of Toronto, and a Master’s in Educational Technology from UBC. In what seems like another life, Katherine worked as a cytotechnologist graduating from TMI’s Cytology program.

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