Portfolios help students collect and reflect on their achievements.

A portfolio is a collection of artefacts, or evidence, accompanied by self-reflection. They encapsulate a student's development, growth and progress.

While they're often used in art and design education, portfolios also have applications in other disciplines.

Paulson, Paulson, & Meyer (1991) define a 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.”

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

When to use a portfolio

A portfolio is effective as:

  • an archive of the learning items a student has produced
  • a way for students to document and track their learning over time
  • a way to support reflective learning and discourse around learning.

Advantages and limitations

  • 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
  • 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

Things to keep in mind

When developing portfolio assessments:

  • Make sure the structure and requirements of the task are aligned with the learning outcomes.
  • Ensure you provide 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.

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