What is it? 

A portfolio is a collection of student work (artefacts) collected and presented in a paper-based or, where appropriate, digital form. It is suitable for most genres of work and therefore most disciplines. Clarke and Boud (2016) categorise portfolios as: the showcase portfolio, which demonstrates a collection of students’ best pieces of work; the working portfolio, which shows all the completed work of students as part of a course; and the progress portfolio, which is used to assess students’ development over a period of learning.  Portfolios are common in disciplines where there is a professional practice element, including but not limited to education, nursing, medicine, law and engineering.  Creating a portfolio is time-consuming for students so if you intend to set it as a formative assessment, the purpose(s) must be made clear to students to motivate them to invest that time.

Why would I use it?

  • Students are given choices about how they organise their work  and some control over their own learning in what they choose to present. This involves making reflective judgments, which fosters the ability to make judgments about the quality of their own work rather than being dependent on teacher judgment.
  • In a progress portfolio or working portfolio, students can include plans, outlines and drafts of written work (as appropriate for the  discipline) to show their progress.  A progress portfolio can reduce plagiarism as students need to depict their own individual processes.
  • Individual pieces of work can be marked formatively, increasing opportunities for feedback and helping students understand criteria to judge performance.  Self- and peer-evaluation can be included as part of portfolio work. This increases opportunities for feedback, and reduces teacher marking burden.
  • They are authentic in preparing students for workplace environments where such collections and demonstrations of work are required. It can also form part of assessment of internships, service learning and clinical placements.

Known issues: 

  • A portfolio may not mitigate surface learning if it is simply a collection of different genres, all summatively assessed and with no opportunity for revisions, leading to a sense of over-assessment. This can be addressed by encouraging students to demonstrate connections between different artefacts in their reflections. 
  • Students might want to rely on teacher judgment to select their best pieces of work (although this can be facilitated in a dialogic way in tutorials).  If students choose individual pieces for the portfolio for themselves, the more benefits are derived from the portfolio.
  • For courses where there is a lot of essay writing, and to encourage reflections on transitioning from A level to university-style writing, teachers might prefer a processfolio (Pearson, 2017), which examines one essay with how students depict their journey to produce it.

How has it been used?

The portfolio is suitable for most pieces of work.  Artefacts can be individual pieces of completed work or they can be things which students have done to produce one completed piece of work.

  • A definitive guide to key considerations when using portfolios as assessment is provided by the Higher Education Academy (Advance HE):
  • Mahara is a King’s digital portfolio service which allows students to organise and present different media very flexibly. CTEL offer guidance on how to set up and use Mahara.
  • You may allow students to choose their own technology, including external platforms such as WordPress or Weebly. However, King’s may not be able to support these.

Teresa MacKinnon from Dublin City University talks about her experiences with efolios in this podcast. 

King’s pioneering Liberal arts programme (A&H) uses Mahara for group portfolio tasks – see George Legg’s case study on the level 4 Lives of London module

How can I use portfolios?