E-learning with web 2.0


E-portfolio_2_(Flickr).jpg E-portfolios have come to prominence in education as a way of providing a record of students' progress and showcasing their work. Confusingly, the term may be used to refer to at least three distinct - and fundamentally different - types of collections of material. An e-portfolio may be:

- a constructivist learning tool (sometimes also called a PLE)
- an assessment tool (displaying key work from a PLE for assessment purposes)
- a CV-building tool (displaying key work from a PLE as an online CV)

Nowadays, many educators refer to e-portfolios intended as constructivist learning tools as PLEs: these are online spaces where students can track their progress by recording all their work, including drafts, feedback, and even mistakes from which they've learned. The term e-portfolios may then be used in a more restricted sense to refer to the display format of PLEs, where a selection of a student's best work is presented for assessment purposes or as an online CV.

Using the definition above, an e-portfolio is a collection of documents, often in multiple media, demonstrating the achievements of an individual. Educational e-portfolios may be generated wholly by learners themselves, or may be partly generated by teachers and institutions. They are usually regularly modified and updated during the period of study. It's becoming more and more common for e-portfolios to draw in material from other web 2.0 services like social sharing sites (with students linking to their Flickr photosharing or YouTube videosharing accounts, for example) and to incorporate RSS feeds (with students building in feeds from their blogs or Twitter microblogging accounts, for example).

However, e-portfolios are not a web 2.0 "tool" as such: though there is dedicated e-portfolio software available in the same way as VLE software, it is possible to use a variety of different platforms to host e-portfolios. E-portfolios can be built on websites, blogs, wikis or social networking sites, or may even make use of aggregator tools like FriendFeed, Hi, I'm or Spokeo to pull together an individual's work from across the web. Two relatively new and very easy-to-use aggregator services are Flavors.me and Symbaloo (for a video about the latter service, see the PLEspage). Another option is Dropr. If e-portfolios are used as online CVs, it's possible to make use of dedicated CV software like CeeVee or VisualCV (as listed under E-tools: Document templates).

As far as dedicated educational e-portfolio platforms are concerned, you'll find a list of mostly commercial e-portfolio software in the Regis University Electronic Portfolio Project. Examples of free e-portfolio software include Elgg and Mahara (which works well with Moodle); commercial examples include ePortfolio and PebblePad. As noted above, it's not necessary to use dedicated e-portfolio software. Your choice of platform will depend on the purpose of the portfolio; the type of presentation desired; and the level of security needed. Dedicated e-portfolio software does, however, have the advantage of easily allowing different views of a student's material, making it easy to maintain a PLE (containing all of a student's work) alongside a true e-portfolio (displaying a selection of the best work).

Further information about e-portfolios may be found on the website of the National e-Portfolio Symposium (Australia), in the JISC brochure Effective Practice with e-Portfolios (UK), and on Helen Barrett's blog E-Portfolios for Learning. For suggestions on what to include in an e-portfolio, see also Helen Barrett's How to use WikiSpaces to create an interactive electronic portfolio.

Good examples of e-portfolios can be seen in the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative E-portfolios archive (while it is no longer updated, it contains links to many useful resources). See also the student e-portfolios at the St Olaf College Center for Integrative Studies or a sample teacher education portfolio at the State of Iowa Teaching Standards Teacher's ePortfolio.

- ► more - For academic and journalistic references about e-portfolios, see the E-learning references page. You'll also find current information in the E-learning tag cloud.

Credits: The image above left is available under a Creative Commons licence from Plearn's Photostream on Flickr; the original can be found here. The discussion of the different functions of e-portfolios draws on Helen Barrett's blog, E-Portfolios for Learning.

Contact: There's no such thing as a finished wiki. Like all wikis, this one is a work in progress and there will be changes from time to time in organisation, content and links. However, don't let that stop you from contacting me at any time with comments, suggestions or questions.