Five Ways to Use ePortfolios for Reflection


Please show me innovative teaching strategies I can actually use!

As educators, we are often seeking new and exciting ways to engage our students, only to find that our teaching load leaves little time for focusing on the more innovative approaches. This dilemma is compounded by efforts to provide evidence of student mastery as program-level expectations inevitably outgrow traditional assessment methods. ePortfolios offer an opportunity to address both of these problems at once. In fact, in 2016 the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) added the use of ePortfolios for reflection in the learning process (“ePortfolio pedagogy”) to a list of high-impact practices, based on growing evidence of its connection to elevated performance, increased satisfaction, and greater levels of overall student persistence (Watson, Kuh, Rhodes, Light, & Chen, 2016).

Why use ePortfolios for learning?
Portfolios have historically been used in educational settings to collect evidence of various experiences that reflect an individual’s academic journey. However, physical portfolios are limited in their audience, scope, and relevance across contexts. Some of the benefits of ePortfolios include:

  • The ability to share content with multiple audiences regardless of location
  • Options to set specific levels of access for various types of viewers
  • Flexibility to navigate content in an assortment of ways rather than being limited by the linear nature of a physical collection of resources
  • The opportunity to illustrate connections between ideas and experiences using hyperlinks to related online content (e.g. articles, websites, images, and videos)
  • Encouragement of deep reflection and integrative learning through the curation and sharing processes (Reynolds, Patton, & Rhodes, 2014; Penny Light, Chen, & Ittelson, 2012; Eynon, Gambino, & Kuh, 2017).
  • The power to quickly display dynamic examples of assignments, internships, study abroad experiences, and research projects to prospective employers.

ePortfolios are especially effective when paired with other high-impact practices, such as first-year experiences and capstone courses. On the other hand, implementation over time and contexts (integrative learning) is an important aspect of any high-impact practice, especially when creating a cumulative collection of artifacts that represent the development of skills and experiences within an ePortfolio (Kuh, 2008). This means that using ePortfolios for reflective experiences makes sense at almost any point in the academic journey. It is helpful to scaffold strong ePortfolio skills by providing clear guidance and creating opportunities for students to hone their abilities to reflect on learning and develop well-designed ePortfolios.

Sounds great, right? So where and how can you get started? Here are five ways to use ePortfolios in the classroom:

  1. Course presentations. Individual assignments that incorporate the use of ePortfolio work can encourage academic reflection in deeply meaningful ways. Rather than asking a student to write a final essay, consider the impact of having them visually represent their learning process using a variety of media and artifacts in an ePortfolio. In many cases, this non-linear approach could be an even better fit for intended learning outcomes than traditional assignments. Be sure to encourage students to reflect on the impact that developing a digital persona can have on them personally, academically, and professionally. Does the message match the audience? Does the web presence generated by their ePortfolio match who they are, and who they hope to portray themselves as?
  2. Group projects. The constructive nature of group-work is enhanced through the use of ePortfolios, especially when students are encouraged to share ideas, design choices, and best practices with each other along the way. Is there room within your course for a reflective assignment that asks students to brainstorm solutions as a group and package that information, along with supportive research or other media elements, for a specific audience? What would that project look like if submitted in the form of a group ePortfolio?
  3. Faculty-student mentorships. After a class has ended, there are often opportunities for students to continue to benefit from reflective practices. Faculty-student mentorship programs provide a structured approach for supporting those efforts. Consider pairing students with a faculty mentor who can help guide them through the development of an ePortfolio that demonstrates their learning across contexts. How do those experiences relate to individual aspirations? How do they relate to national or global initiatives that align with the student’s interests and goals? It can be difficult for students to cultivate these meaningful relationships on their own, so structured programs that are developed and facilitated by faculty or advisors often have the biggest impact.
  4. Advising tools. The creation of a full ePortfolio often extends beyond the timeframe of an individual course or academic term. In fact, the ability to explain how learning in one context relates to experiences in another is considered a highly integrative and transformational practice when implemented over time and in multiple settings. Leverage longer term advisory relationships with students as an opportunity to support their development of comprehensive ePortfolios. It is also helpful to start small and build up to the more advanced skills required for selecting appropriate artifacts and illustrating complex or detailed connections between very different contexts.
  5. Informal assessments. A large amount of information can be gleaned from the results of reflective ePortfolio work. At the course level, take a moment to identify which learning objectives are strongly reflected in the representations offered through student ePortfolios. Which of your intended outcomes are weakly supported? How might these insights influence the design of your course moving forward? These same questions can be asked at a program level as an indication of how well students have been prepared for careers in the field. This information can also provide the opportunity to realign teaching strategies to ensure that materials, assignments, and assessments accurately reflect your goals for student learning.

Kuh, G. D., (2008). High-Impact Practices: What They Are, Who Has Access to Them, and Why They Matter. Retrieved from

Reynolds, C., Patton, J., and Rhodes, T., (2014). Leveraging the ePortfolio for Integrative Learning: A faculty guide to classroom practices for transforming student learning. Stylus Publishing LLC: Sterling, VA.

Eynon, B., Gambino, L. M., and Kuh, G. D., (2017). High-Impact ePortfolio Practice: A catalyst for student, faculty, and institutional learning. Stylus Publishing LLC: Sterling, VA.

Penny Light, T., Chen, H. L., and Ittelson, J. C., (2012). Documenting Learning with ePortfolios: A guide for college instructors. Jossey-Bass: San Francisco, CA.

Watson, C. E., Kuh, G. D., Rhodes, T., Light, T. P., and Chen, H. L., (2016). Editorial: ePortfolios – The Eleventh High Impact Practice. International Journal of ePortfolio, Vol 6 (Number 2). Retrieved from

Yates, K. B., (2009). Electronic Portfolios a Decade into the Twenty-first Century: What we Know, What we Need to Know. Peer Review: Emerging Trends and Key Debates in Undergraduate Education, Vol 11 (Number 1), Winter 2009. Retrieved from

Heather Tobin is an instructional designer and adjunct at the University of Denver.

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