Charles Sturt University
Charles Sturt University


A hard or a digital portfolio (also known as an e-portfolio) is a collection of artefacts/evidence that encourages students to participate in reflective learning to encapsulate their development, growth and progress. Paulson, Paulson, & Meyer (1991) define portfolio as “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 contents, the criteria for selection, the criteria for judging merit and evidence of self-reflection.” In this way a portfolio is a collection of artefacts, accompanied by student reflection. While it is often used in art and design education, it also has application and value to other disciplines.

Davis, & Ponnamperuma, (2005) in their article titled “Portfolio assessment”. have elaborated on the six questions (why, what, how, when, where, and by whom) that need to answered while considering portfolio assessment.

A portfolio can be delivered in the following ways during the COVID-19 situation as an alternative to a paper-based final examination:

  1. Non-time limited final assessment—often known as a ‘take-home’, the task is not performed under ‘exam-like’ time constraints and is provided to students at least several days before the due date. A common platform for submission of such a task is EASTS.

Pros and cons of portfolios as an assessment task

Some advantages:

  • Portfolios enable the demonstration of a number of learning outcomes.
  • Can have various parts that align with content areas.
  • Allow students to both demonstrate learning and reflect on it.
  • Can be structured to integrate learning across content areas.
  • Can address learning across a period of time.
  • Are a personalised form of learning.
  • Have a high degree of student responsibility

Some limitations:

  • Can be difficult and time consuming to create and to assess.
  • Have to be well structured to enable fair and reliable assessment.
  • Requirements and scope need to be very clear.
  • Need to be focused on content rather than presentation- there is danger in a focus on creativity and presentation becoming more important.
  • There is some risk of plagiarism in the inclusion of items

When to use a portfolio

A portfolio is effective as:

  • An archive of student experience, when students produce a number of learning items
  • It relates to a learning story ie. it enables students to document and track their learning over time
  • A way to support reflective learning and the development of discourse around learning

Guidelines for designing portfolio tasks

  • Make sure the structure and requirements of the task are aligned with the learning outcomes.
  • Ensure there is advice about what to include and how to manage those inclusions.
  • Be clear about the length and scope of the portfolio - have an upper limit.
  • Consider use of the portfolio in future professional life and select a format to fit this future use.
  • Have examples of the type and format of portfolios you are expecting and of the level of reflection or commentary that may be required; a template may also be useful.
  • Design an assessment rubric that guides students in the portfolio development and is easy for markers to use

Additional resources

QUT Australian ePortfolio project - Queensland University of Technology

Assessing by Portfolio - UNSW

Assessing with e-Portfolios - UNSW

E-Portfolio - Berkeley University