Why use ePortfolio?

What is ePortfolio?

ePortfolio is an electronic portfolio. Just as a resume is all about an individual, an ePortfolio is an ensemble of one’s writing, images, video, research data, and other types of artifacts, all threaded together in one online space. There are many ePortfolio platforms available, including DigicationEpsilen, and Mahara, to name a few designed for educational purposes.

ePortfolio for reflection and showcasing

ePortfolios are great spaces for students to reflect about academic learning, to record academic writing, and to present select pieces to build a portfolio that tells a multidimensional story about their academic development or achievements. Other applications of ePortfolio include posting research projects (in the sciences or the humanities), presentations, publications, certifications, blogs, wikis, columns, extracurricular activities, community work, and service learning experiences. In this way, ePortfolios are versatile tools for showcasing work and demonstrating expertise.

ePortfolios place students at the center of the portfolio creation process, since they create the structure and the content of the portfolio themselves. Students can also continue developing their ePortfolios upon graduation, using them to document growth in their chosen career. (After all, the portfolios are supposed to be about the individuals!) Also, given their online format and their connection to a variety of social media, ePortfolios are a good way to connect with professionals of similar expertise or interests. Many ePortfolio systems have “access key” or other similar locking mechanisms that allow the ePortfolio owner to decide when to share what artifacts with whom.

How are ePortfolios different from course management or assessment systems?

Nowadays many educational technology companies are developing products that have the capability to do just about everything.  For example, some ePortfolio platforms can also host courses and perform assessment, some course management systems come with an ePortfolio module, and some assessment systems are linked to courses and an ePortfolio module. This reminds us of the “all-in-one” copier/fax/scanner machines from the 1990s, which were appealing for their multifunctionality, but were flawed in that typically they were great at only one (or sometimes none!) of the functions.

Likewise, in the early 2010s, we’re witnessing a fad of “all-in-one” online platforms that are said to do everything—but inevitably have weaknesses along with their strengths. A system based on course management may or may not permit students continuous access to previous assignments or collaborative work they had contributed to the class.  An assessment-based system is often geared toward data reporting by a program and again students may or may not be able to continue to use their previously uploaded work to showcase to the public past achievements. And an ePortfolio system may not be the most efficient way to deliver course content and collect certain types of coursework from students.

How to get started

So how do you, as a faculty member, get started with ePortfolios? Before you even decide which platform to use, ask yourself:

  • Am I looking for a way for my students to assemble work demonstrating their progress in a course or showcasing their abilities (or “best work”) at the end of a course?
  • Or am I instead interested in collecting data for an institutional report of some sort?

There are other critical aspects to consider ahead as well:

  • Is it important for students to keep access to the ePortfolio indefinitely?
  • Will students be required to pay a fee to maintain an account?
  • Are there requirements for my program, department, or division?
  • Where do I send students to get help?
  • How do I get help?
  • Is the platform user-friendly?  Will it drain my students (and me!) so much that their learning (and my teaching) might be compromised?

Where do I find help?

In higher education, possible places to find ePortfolio information and help on campus include:  the Center for Teaching and Learning, IT Department, and Divisional/Departmental office.  If you are a member of Queens College, please do not hesitate to contact the Center for Teaching and Learning to inquire about faculty seminars, workshops, events, and more.  We have an ePortfolio team to provide faculty one-on-one consultation and student mentors to visit classrooms to talk to students.

Visit us online: http://www.qc.cuny.edu/QPortfolio  or email The QPortfolio Team at QPortfolio@qc.cuny.edu

“The future is electronic”

So, what is ePortfolio? Tyler Rivenbark at CTL tells it in a jingle:

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Making Up Time Lost to Hurricane Sandy

This semester has been disrupted by severe weather in unprecedented ways, making the four brief weeks left before finals busier than ever. A handful of faculty have already contacted the Center for Teaching & Learning seeking ideas for ways to make up instructional time lost to Hurricane Sandy. We thought we’d share more broadly the advice we have been giving, remind you how to contact us (scroll down), and provide an online space where you can ask questions, share your own good practices, or voice any concerns you may have.

Revisions to Academic Calendar, Fall 2012

Figure 1: Revisions to Queens College academic calendar, fall 2012: infographic disseminated by the Dean of Math & Natural Sciences

Given the revisions to the academic calendar disseminated on November 8 by Provost Stellar (see also Figure 1), some of you will be moving class content or activities out of class, some of you will be holding classes at times your students were not anticipating, and some of you will be doing a combination of both of these.

If you are considering moving some of your instruction out of class, the Center for Teaching & Learning Instructional Technologists are here to help you strategize and get started.  There is a plethora of activities you and your students can engage in outside of class to help fill in the gaps left by the missed face-to-face periods.  These activities break down into two distinct categories: synchronous (you and the students working together at the same time), and asynchronous (working together — or individually — on your own time).  Below are some tool categories and examples to help you start developing such catch-up activities:

Asynchronous activities:

Discussion boards:  Ask your students to discuss a topic in an online forum. Blackboard has robust discussion board functionality. (Tutorials are here, “Communication and Collaboration” section)  If your class doesn’t use Blackboard, consider an externally hosted discussion board, like ProBoards. Discussion boards work best for groups of students that aren’t too large, and with open-ended questions.

Wikis:  Have your students write up group-based notes about a reading assignment or something discussed in class using a wiki. You could try the wiki tool in Blackboard, but externally hosted wikis like Wikispaces have richer features and better functionality.

Blogs: Blogs are another online space where you and your students can have asynchronous discussions or share writing. To engage students in a discussion, all you need is a single blog page (created by you), with comments enabled. Blackboard has a no-frills blogging tool, but we recommend you try QWriting blogs, powered by WordPress and supported by the Center for Teaching & Learning; contact Rob Garfield if you want to try QWriting.

Tests administered and assignments collected online: Blackboard has excellent tools for administering tests and for collecting work from your students, all tied in to its gradebook, which facilitates getting feedback to your students quickly. You can read about this in our tech tip, A Blackboard Roadmap — scroll down to Tests and Assignments. A tutorial on Blackboard tests is here. More information about Blackboard assessments is here under Tests, Surveys, and Pools.

Lecture capture: You can capture the lecture you planned to give in person and share it with your students online, for them to view at their convenience. You can then use that lecture as the starting point for an online (or in-class) discussion. For more information about this way to teach, check out a Tech Talk from March 2011, on Ways of Podcasting. Here are some tools you could use to capture your lecture for later re-broadcast:

Record yourself directly in YouTube. A big advantage (compared to other tools like Adobe Connect and Collaborate — see below, Web conferencing section) is the quick set up and small learning curve. There’s no need to download or install any software. This page provides a brief intro.

Save a PowerPoint file with narration as a movie and upload it to YouTube. Animated transitions like pop-up bullet points will not be retained, but if you are a regular user of PowerPoint, you might find this process not too difficult. Here is a tutorial on this topic.

VoiceThread is a tool that allows students to upload slides for others to comment on with audio or mark up tools. Cool feature: you can access the New York Public Library digital collection for images!

WavePad audio can be used to record and share audio asynchronously. You can record your voice and upload the audio file to Blackboard or to iTunes U in Blackboard. iTunes U set up is as easy as clicking on the tool in Course Tools and then clicking the Enable button.  For setting up a course page in iTunes U, you can consult iTunes U documentation.

Synchronous activities:

Synchronous collaboration spaces: It’s generally complicated to convene students outside of class at a predetermined time, but if you can get everyone to agree on the time, you can try a space that allows same-time collaboration, like Google Docs and Chrome Remote Desktop.  Web conferencing tools like Adobe Connect and Blackboard Collaborate (see below) also offer screen sharing and virtual Whiteboards to focus your class’ attention on a shared space.

“Real time” texting: Virtual Chat (text) programs give you a simple, lightweight way to interact with students in “real” time.  Blackboard has “Virtual Office Hours” (in the “Collaboration” Tool).  Instant Messenger programs (like iChatAIM and Google Talk) can also be good solutions.  If your classes and/or students are using Epsilen for ePortfolio, the chat function is very easy to use via course or group shell.  Contact Rachel Stern if you need assistance on the Epsilen chat function.

Web conferencing:  If you will be holding a class at an unanticipated time (e.g., those of you with Thursday classes meeting on December 13 and those of you with Wednesday classes meeting on December 17), consider webcasting your class live and recording it. (We know of faculty who tried this on the Friday after the hurricane, with excellent results.) Students unable to come in person can tune in virtually, and students unable to tune in virtually can watch the recording later. Here are some tools you can use to do this:

If your class is already on Blackboard, we highly recommend you try Blackboard Collaborate. This is a new tool in Blackboard that allows you to capture and broadcast your screen, plus video and audio, as well as record for later viewing. Learn how to create a session in your Blackboard course here. Click here for more on Collaborate’s web conferencing features.

You can also try Adobe Connect. Click here for a tutorial on setting up an Adobe Connect session. Contact Jean Kelly to ask about getting an account.

Other tools for webcasting (not all of which allow recording) are: SkypeOovooJustin.tvGoogle Hangouts, and Internet radio applications like spreaker.


Ready to give one of these a try? 

Some of the tools listed above are hosted by CUNY or Queens College, but others are not. Some of these outside tools will require students to create new accounts. To our knowledge, none of these involve fees for their basic functionality, but some may require payment for advanced functionalities. Check into these things before you ask your students to use them. Also remember to keep things simple, for both your students and yourself.


You are NOT Alone

The Center for Teaching & Learning is here to help you figure out the best approach for you.  Please don’t hesitate to email us at ctl@qc.cuny.edu or call (718) 997-4650, with any questions you have about the aforementioned tools or to set up an appointment with an Instructional Technologist. (When you contact us, tell us: your name, your course, and the technology/platform/approach you are interested in — if you know.)


Share with your Colleagues

If you have any questions you want to ask about any of this or practices/experiments you want to share with your colleagues, please post your suggestions in the comments. And don’t hesitate to respond to anyone who does comment.