ePortfolios: Journeying to Digital Utopia

Posted on February 16, 2008


I’ve been captivated by online portfolios for quite some time. Having a life’s work—or even a portion of it—compiled in one location would be, well, awesome. Having taught English in four different school districts over the last fifteen years, my stuff is spread out everywhere: in three-ring binders and boxes in my attic, in loose piles in the trunk of my car, in file cabinets and boxes and binders in my classroom, in websites scattered across the web, in files stored on my laptop, my jumpdrive, my school computer. To create a digital desk, where I could organize my lesson plans, the many units I’ve created, all the hand-outs and rubrics I use on a regular basis would not only improve my efficiency—no more crawling through the attic, digging through boxes, binders, and files–but would be supremely satisfying. To have all this compiled in a neat and tidy, visually appealing, easily navigated site has been my dream. Creating this digital desk was my goal when I first created this blog. Then, reality hit. Fifteen years worth of stuff.  Where do I begin? As I so often do when I’m beleaguered by a seemingly insurmountable task, I pushed the portfolio drawer of my digital desk aside and kept it for another day. But here I am, back again, refusing to be sighing somewhere ages and ages hence, determined to travel this route—this route to digital utopia.  I have, however, descended from my original lofty ambitions and decided to start with what I’m currently doing. I’ll tackle the archives later. Even this is proving to be a challenge. Over the last few days, I’ve revisited my del.icio.us links (here, here, and here—some day I’ll organize these), searching for a place to begin. Helen Barrett has been my guiding inspiration. She’s devoted more than a decade to researching portfolios, and of special interest to me, led the REFLECT Initiative, “a research project to assess the impact of electronic portfolios on student learning, motivation and engagement in high schools.” An article in Education World sums up five steps Barrett has identified to developing an effective portfolio:

  1. Selection: the development of criteria for choosing items to include in the portfolio based on established learning objectives.
  2. Collection: the gathering of items based on the portfolio’s purpose, audience, and future use.
  3. Reflection: statements about the significance of each item and of the collection as a whole.
  4. Direction: a review of the reflections that looks ahead and sets future goals. 5.  Connection: the creation of hypertext links and publication, providing the opportunity for feedback.  

Before launching into constructing a portfolio, Barrett contends the first essential step is to determine the purpose of the portfolio. Barrett defines three common types of portfolios, her three nicely summarized in the Education World article:

  •  the working portfolio, which contains projects the student is currently working on or has recently completed. 
  •  the display portfolio, which showcases samples of the student’s best work. 
  •  the assessment portfolio, which presents work demonstrating that the student has met specific learning goals and requirements.

According to the ED article, The School of Education at The University of Alaska provides another definition for portfolios:

A portfolio is a purposeful collection of student work that exhibits the student’s efforts, progress, and achievements in one or more areas. The collection must include student participation in selecting content, the criteria for selection, the criteria for judging merit, and evidence of student self-reflection.

I want my own portfolio to serve multiple purposes: to showcase my best work, to demonstrate my proficiency as an educator, to archive my life’s work (gulp!). I want to reflect on my work and practices. In fact, the reflection aspect is what separates portfolios from mere digital archives of work.

I’ve decided to journey with my students through this portfolio creation. Throughout the fourth and final quarter, my AP English Language students will create their own portfolios using WordPress. To begin our journey, I’ve created a portfolio page on our class wiki. The page presents more questions than answers. Together, my students and I will decide how, exactly, we’ll design our portfolios, how much of Barrett’s WordPress portfolio structure and content ideas we’ll adopt or adapt, how we’ll evaluate their efforts.

I’ll keep you updated on our travels.


My utopia diction implies portfolios can lead us to perfection, to a final destination. I realize the journey is perhaps more important than the destination and that, in reality, we may never actually arrive at an ending locale. Afterall, none of us knows what attractions will lie on the road ahead. Portfolios can, however, help us to catalogue and reflect on our journey.

Posted in: eportfolio