How can I use portfolios?

How does it align with the module learning outcomes? Does it assess or practice skills and knowledge that are key to the discipline?

Consider your learning outcomes.  A portfolio may not be the best way of assessing only foundational knowledge or understanding, as it requires more skills and a higher distribution of student effort. It is more suitable to practical, critical and creative thinking. 

Given the complexity of skills and knowledge tested, it is usually best to assess a portfolio later in the module or programme.

It is not usually a good idea to have more than one portfolio across the programme given the amount of work required by students and teachers.

Will it be formative or summative? If summative, will I give opportunities for practice? How? When will it occur in the term/module? What will the weighting be?

A portfolio can be formative and summative, but it has the flexibility to be used in both ways. For example, individual pieces of work can be marked formatively at different stages of the module and the final product marked summatively at the end. This provides opportunities for practice and feedback, especially if the portfolio will be quite heavily weighted.

A low weighting can frustrate students if they have directed intellectual and emotional efforts towards its completion. Messages sent to students by having a 10% portfolio and 90% exam are that their time is best used memorising information for the exam.

How will I mark it? Will I grade it? What criteria will I use? How will I give feedback?

You could grade all artefacts separately and calculate the grade that way or mark the portfolio as a holistic piece of work. The former is more time consuming and has the potential to increase strategic or surface learning as students focus on grades of individual pieces of work.

Quality Assurance Agency requirements for final year UG programmes often require a longer term project. A portfolio can fulfil this.

Generic college criteria might need to be adapted to appropriately assess the skills elicited in a portfolio.

Portfolios can provide opportunities for students to engage with criteria, through their own self-evaluation and through peer feedback. Perhaps consider creating a self-evaluation form for students to complete as part of their reflection.

How can I set it up?

For e-portfolios there is a variety of literature, case studies and operational support available online, especially for using Mahara. See for example ‘Effective practice with e-portfolios’ (Jisc, 2008),  Birmingham University’s account of implementing an e-portfolio (Jisc, 2012).

At King’s CTEL have produced video guidance on getting started with Mahara. They are happy to answer any questions or provide bespoke support.

When choosing or setting up an e-portfolio, consider and discuss with your department or CTEL:

  • How can students maintain access to the portfolio after the end of the module, and after graduation?
  • On external sites, how can deadlines be equitably observed?


How will I address potential challenges?

Do I need to make any modifications for accessibility/inclusivity? Can I build these into the design?

Not all students reflect willingly, as they might feel aspects of their personality are being judged. Consider offering students the choice of how to reflect, or make the reflection part formative.  Another alternative is to require the reflection for completion but not grade it i.e. it will not be weighted but they must complete it in order to receive a grade for their portfolio.

Students could be given the option of choosing from a range of different assignments to form artefacts for their portfolios. This allows for students with different abilities to not be disadvantaged.

Students may need support in using technologies for portfolios. provides training and support, and CTEL may be able to provide guidance on a bespoke faculty basis.

Do I need to make any modifications for large cohort sizes? Will it be time consuming to set up or mark? Is there anything I can do to address this?

A portfolio may not be the best assessment in large cohorts as they are time-consuming to mark. However, modifications can be made.

  • Assess individual pieces separately throughout the module, and ask students to relate them to each other in the portfolio.
  • In a progress portfolio, weekly quizzes and exams can also be included.
  • End-of-module assessment does not have to be given extensive written feedback, BUT the nature of portfolio assessment means that the students are likely to be disgruntled if it isn’t, given the effort required from them.
  • Mark the portfolio holistically rather than weight individual pieces of work.
  • Consider making the assessment pass or fail rather than graded.
  • Include elements of peer-evaluation and/or peer marking for individual pieces of work that contribute to the portfolio.

Double marking can be challenging both in terms of time and reliability.  It is important to conduct standardisation prior to marking  with one or two sample portfolios.

How will I introduce it to students?

Students might have anxiety about a new form of assessment and be concerned about how it will be marked. Assignment briefs need to be clear and specific and criteria must be prominent on KEATS and discussed with students (see exemplars).

When introducing the portfolio assignment, talk through with students the purpose and how it relates to the learning outcomes and assesses core skills required by employers and researchers. Referring to the portfolio at certain points throughout the module helps to reinforce their understanding of its value and clarify any questions that emerge.