Electronic Portfolios for Educators

Jerry P. Galloway

Georgia Southern University

Abstract:    A review of literature on the trends toward electronic portfolios for today’s educators.  A critical discussion is presented on the value, use and contents of portfolios and the technological formats.  Current literature on specific advantages and disadvantages of electronic portfolios is examined and a synopsis is provided making a case for electronic media formats.

Literally all future teachers must be computer literate with Internet and web-based skills (NCATE, 1997; Provenzo, 2002) and all should have an electronic portfolio.  While there is a distinction between the needs of teachers, preservice teachers and school principals, portfolios are of current interest for all educators.  Some portfolios might be considered unique to teachers’ needs while others might be more applicable only to students.  Most concerns about portfolios are or should be of interest to all educators.

Frequently, a lack of understanding or knowledge of computing prompts teachers to compromise or settle for something less than ideal technological achievement.  And, without reliable or sound leadership from advisors and faculty, inexperienced teachers are likely to weaken or undermine their goal of an electronic portfolio.  Warner and Maureen (1999) suggest that by developing an electronic portfolio, teachers will learn important computing skills and knowledge that can directly impact integration into the classroom.  They believe students will be motivated to develop electronic portfolios for assessment.

A study examined the work of 28 school principals (Devlin-Scherer, Devlin-Scherer, & Couture, 2000) by examining their internship portfolios containing evidence of completed instructional and managerial tasks.  Portfolios included material on the intensity of activity involvement; program evaluation and implementation, and managerial leadership; classroom observation and teacher conferencing; job shadowing/professional development; and independent leadership.  Portfolios proved to be a useful tool for data collection and analysis.  There is of course an obvious value in record keeping and archiving important documentation.    While most educators are following the trend toward professional portfolios, whether or not they are developed or packaged in an electronic format is controversial and not widely accepted.

Structure and Content

Bullock and Hawk (2001) describe four necessary aspects of a portfolio:  (a) demonstrated purpose, (b) target audience, (c) evidentiary products, and (d) reflections.  They point out the importance of addressing standards such as the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) or the Interstate New Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (INTASC).  These national movements toward performance-based assessments of teachers have resulted from the lack of increase in student achievement.  This lack of student performance and the national call for reform in education as resulted in a national trend to make educators more accountable.  The portfolio is an obvious choice for documenting competencies and performances for assessment.

Bullock and Hawk (2001) detail three types of portfolios:  Process, Product and Showcase.  The Process portfolio documents development over time.  Used to assess changes for a period of time, a Process portfolio shows the progression of integration into teaching.  They describe this notion in terms of very specific examples such as a reading program or in teaching writing as if such endeavors or initiatives would each have separate Process portfolios.

The Product portfolio seems directed toward a specific goal with established criteria.  That is, a specific goal would drive the content and assessment of the portfolio.  All such portfolios in a given setting or environment would be similarly structured and would be examined according to the same criteria for the same objective.  This seems a rather restrictive definition of portfolio but can serve as a model for portfolios in general considering that one’s portfolio is still used for a particular purpose, such as getting a job or promotion.

The Showcase portfolio is clearly the most quality-driven of the three, showing one’s best work.  The evidentiary materials in the portfolio, the general content and focus of the portfolio are up to the developer rather than being fashioned around established criteria.  This makes the Showcase more personal and individualized.  The fact that the Showcase portfolio contains the so-called best work seems like a moot point considering that any portfolio would presumably strive for the same content quality.

 In searching for a job, they suggest the Product and Showcase portfolios.  This seems obvious but still leaves a question as to whether to target the portfolio toward established, known criteria anticipating a specific type of assessment (Product portfolio) or instead to show off one’s best features, skills and accomplishments that may be more general, individualized and personal (Showcase).

Portfolios might be organized around a set of principles or standards.  As an organizational system for portfolios Norton and Wiburg (1998) report seven domains of learning: (a) effective expression and communication, (b) self-awareness and self-esteem, (c) taking responsibility and preparing for the future, (d) social interactions and effective citizenship, (e) critical thinking and problem solving, (f) cultural and historical involvement, and (g) valuing and ethical decision making. (p. 237-238).  While different institutions each develop their own language, these notions are not unique and might serve well as a structure for the organization of portfolios.

The Indiana University Northwest School of Education (2002) also use a conceptual framework build around these standards or outcomes:  (a) communication skills, (b) higher order thinking, (c) instructional technology, (d) learning and development, (e) culture and diversity, (f) instructional design and delivery, (g) classroom management, (h) assessment and evaluation, and (i) professional development.  There are of course some notions in common such as culture, learning, critical thinking, and communication.  Clearly, any number of organizational systems may be employed but the trend is to document competencies and to organize evidentiary artifacts around a conceptual framework.

Electronic Portfolios

A very useful and important source of information about electronic portfolios answers the questions: what, why and how (Prince George’s County Public Schools, 2002).  They obviously take electronic portfolios seriously as they are part of what they call an Electronic Learning Community.  This school district in Maryland distinguishes three types of portfolios:

The Documentation portfolio (somewhat different from Bullock and Hawk’s Process portfolio, above) is described more or less as a working portfolio with everything from drafts to completed work.  Even simple notes or incomplete materials would presumably be part of such a portfolio.  This would include a wide collection of materials without regard to an artifact's particular role or purpose in creating a focused identity.

The Process portfolio (analogous to Bullock and Hawk’s Product portfolio, above) documents a learning process showing how the student works toward learning goals.  The student's reflection is an important part of such a process and would likely include materials (journals, logs, etc.) that show document such reflection.

The Showcase portfolio (similar to Bullock and Hawk’s Showcase portfolio, above) is product oriented and would be intended “for summative evaluation of students' mastery of key curriculum outcomes." (online: see What are some different types of portfolios?).  This portfolio is described as particularly suited to technology-based products as completed works.

Advantages and Limitations

Almost 10 years ago, technology-based electronic resumes were already present and taking over the hiring process (Kennedy & Morrow, 1994; Quible, 1995).  They even confirmed that the technology had been around since the early 1970’s.  They described Applicant Tracking Systems as there was no wide-spread use of internet and personal web pages and they provide a rather obvious list of pros and cons related to technology.  Clearly, technology has long been recognized as changing the methods and materials of the job market.

Contrary to teachers in practice, there is little if any real opposition to creating electronic portfolios in the literature.  While many educators themselves may be hesitant to come to the electronic world and may be unskilled and apprehensive about using technology to develop and maintain a portfolio, literature is generally very supportive.  The use of portfolios for principals is even discussed electronically (National Association of Elementary School Principals, 2002) in an online forum.  Anyone from the public can go online and comment on portfolios and participate in the open forum.

One of the earliest documents addressing electronic portfolios in a relatively modern format, Purves (1996) details both pros and cons in their development and use.  While the advantages are many, the limitations are typical of most articles and address methodological issues common to virtually any use of technology.  They are captured in the simple issue of becoming computer literate.  That is, if one doesn’t know how to scan a document, manage computer files, or doesn’t have access to the necessary equipment then obviously there would be difficulties effectively developing and managing an electronic portfolio.  This simple reality tends to drive the content of so-called cons or negative aspects of electronic portfolios.

One concern rarely addressed, Purves discusses the question of ownership in venues where the use of company equipment mandates corporate ownership of all products generated with that equipment.  This can occur in the corporate world if a resident scientist develops a new product or makes a valuable discovery involving the use of corporate equipment and resources.  Usually, the corporation would have a vested interest (usually financial) in pursuing a claim over such product or discovery.  While there is no clear legal solution for mere computer files and data of little or no financial value, it’s something of which everyone should take note.  The practical impact of this problem for portfolios seems minimal and would not likely impact most educators.

Norton and Wiburg (1998), like most authors on electronic portfolios, describe the advantages of an electronic portfolio such as including the ability to track alternative development paths with a single set of materials, easy editing and updating, and promotes browsing.  McNulty suggests that an “electronic portfolio is not just the digital version of the filing cabinet where [material] is collected and catalogued” (p. 21).  Electronic portfolios are continually consulted for work revisions, to reference previous work, to evaluate progress and more.  The advantages of electronic portfolios are many (Galloway, 2001; McNulty, 2002) and are easily accepted by “techies” but apparently, as discussed above, not so for many who still resist technology in education.

Part of the problem is certainly the mastery of technology still lacking among most educators.  Barrett (1999) details skills applicable to the development of electronic portfolios.  They involve file conversions, digitizing, scanning, graphic editing, CD mastering  - all highly technical competencies and beyond the range of most working educators.  The standards for educators often include only a token mention of technology.  Standards for school leaders (Interstate, 2002) mention technology only vaguely without any detail (Standard 3, Page 5).  Even where portfolios are specifically addressed for school principles (Ohio State University, 2002), the context ignores the need for electronic or technology-based content and presentation.  On the other hand, this may be changing if new generations of educators follow the new and aggressive standards for all beginning teachers in Texas (Texas, 2002).  Virtually all teachers will be expected to develop competencies with multimedia and technology and this should directly impact the trends toward electronic portfolios.

Aschermann (1999) gathered data on the required development of electronic portfolios stating that “The ‘notebook’ [traditional paper formats] portfolio no longer would be suitable for the new uses of the portfolio.” (p. 1791).  Aschermann sites a great deal of negativity across a number of issues and student concerns:

The last factor was the most alarming and yet very believable given a general resistance to adopting a technology-based professional lifestyle.  Web-based formats were considered the most desirable.  While some comparisons were made with CD-based portfolios as compared to online formats, portfolio backups, long-term storage and sharing ultimately required conversion to CDs.

Brown and Irby (2001) also outline the benefits and advantages of electronic portfolios as being ideal for self-assessment, reflection, and external evaluation.  They indicate that portfolios are ideal for providing feedback, for documentation and as a tool of career advancement.  They directly imply that electronic portfolios have all of the attributes and advantages of their paper alternatives with the obvious benefits of the electronic world.

In an earlier publication, Beverly & Genevieve also described electronic versions of portfolios in a variety of formats including Web-based, HyperStudio and PowerPoint  (Irby & Brown, 2000).  Various advantages of electronic media are covered as well as security issues.  A major point was that electronic versions are not only emerging as common and marketable, they can offer a competitive edge over non-electronic versions.

Formats and Automated Systems

Bullock and Hawk (2001) describe electronic portfolios in terms of either software generated or web-based.  This is rather a limited notion but consistent with many views about electronic portfolios.  While electronic portfolios are described as an essential element of the profession that could even effect getting a job, Provenzo (2002) also describes them in the limited context of web-page formats.  Electronic portfolios may be a product of multimedia authoring programs or presented as web pages.  Of course, web pages may also be generated through composing software or by more technical means.  However, Maddux, Johnson, and Willis (2001) indicate that “most teachers are not willing to expend the time and effort necessary to learn such programs [authoring systems] well enough to produce quality products” (p. 41).

While Barrett (1999) makes a good case justifying a web-based platform for electronic portfolios Galloway (2001) suggests additional formats and that electronic portfolios should not be limited to or viewed exclusively as web pages.  For a Microsoft Office user, where most if not all documents, products involving word processing, spreadsheets, PowerPoint, etc., can be hyperlinked for easy browsing in a point-and-click environment.  In this form, the portfolio artifacts may be the original documents themselves rather than regenerating materials into a web-based presentation.  Of course, an electronic portfolio can also be a composite of these various environments.  A portfolio service or portfolio generation tool will more likely impose a template environment rather than allowing the creativity of a personal approach.

Much of the current literature on electronic portfolios is reminiscent of writing two decades ago on the early presence of computers in education.  There are attempts to analyze and report the advantages and disadvantages, to justify or document the merits of this new feature.  The advantages of electronic portfolios are not unique to portfolios and are, for the most part, the same advantages common to all domains of technology.  This is also true of the disadvantages or limitations of technology.  They are not necessarily unique to the development of portfolios.

Since the earliest talk of computer literacy to the more modern notions of a computerized professional lifestyle, it has always been inherent in the notion that we must master the technology.  One might address the paper-world issues by saying that one has to learn to type, that binders, labels, tabs and other supplies have to be acquired, that packaging will have to be well-prepared, and even that one will have to have access to a 3-hole punch device, etc.  While we would not describe these issues of methodology and means as limitations per se, that is exactly the kind of discussion that arises around the use of technology.  While the notion of mastering technology is certainly an ideal – an extreme rarely if ever achieved – most educators who live a computerized professional lifestyle have more than the sufficient skills and knowledge to effectively manage files, transmit files, scan documents and often to design electronic presentations.  So, the so-called limitations or “cons” of electronic portfolios is little more than a prescription for computer literacy.  This is also true for the other articles covered in this document as they attempt to outline the pros and cons of electronic portfolios.


Portfolios are clearly an established part of an educator’s responsibilities.  However, educators are slow to accept technology as a part of portfolios.  Electronic portfolios are misunderstood or conceived in only limited terms, yet will also be an inevitable part of the future of our profession.  The scope of current literature on electronic portfolios is limited but does support the many advantages offered by technology.  Negative aspects of electronic portfolios amount to little more than a report of the difficulties and problems experienced by novice users of electronic media in any endeavor with technology.  That is, so-called limitations of technology are not specific to portfolio applications.  Electronic portfolios are on the rise and will eventually become the norm rather than the exception.


Aschermann, Jerry R. (1999).  Electronic portfolios: Why? What? How?  In: SITE 99: Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education International Conference (10th, San Antonio, TX, February 28-March 4, 1999). (p. 1790-1795).

Barrett, Helen (1999).  Electronic teaching portfolios. In: SITE 99: Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education International Conference (10th, San Antonio, TX, February 28-March 4, 1999).

Brown, G., & Irby, B. J. (2001).  The principal portfolio.  Thousand Oaks, CA:  Corwin Press, Inc.

Bullock, A. A., & Hawk, P. P. (2001).  Developing a teaching portfolio: A guide for preservice and practicing teachers.   Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc.

Devlin-Scherer, Wade; Devlin-Scherer, Roberta; Couture, John. (2000). The Principal internship portfolio: Evidence of instructional, managerial, and interdependent leadership.  Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (52nd, Chicago, IL, February 26-29, 2000).    ERIC Identifier: ED440073

Galloway, J. P. (2001).  Electronic portfolios (EP): A “How To” guide.  In Willis & Willis (Eds.), Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education Annual Proceedings (2001).  Published by the Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (Charlottesville, Va).

Indiana University Northwest School of Education (2002). The reflective professional: Conceptual framework. [Online].  Available: http://www.iun.edu/~edu/model.htm [2002, May 15].

Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium (2002). Interstate school leaders licensure standards. [On-Line].  Available:  http://www.mpa.cc/pdf/isllc.pdf  [2002, May 5].

Irby, B. J., & Brown, G. (2000).  The career advancement portfolio.  Thousand Oaks, CA:  Corwin Press, Inc.

Kennedy, J. L.; & Morrow, T. J. (1994).  Electronic resume revolution. Create a Winning Resume for the New World of Job Seeking.  NY: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Maddux, C. D.; Johnson, D. L.; & Willis, J. W. (2001).  Educational computing: Learning with tomorrow’s technologies.  Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon

McNulty, K. T. (2002).  Fostering the student-centered classroom online.  Technological Horizons in Education Journal, 29 (7), 16-22.

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NCATE (National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, 1997). Technology and the new professional teacher:  Preparing for the 21st Century classroom.  Washington, D.C.: National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education.

Norton, P., & Wiburg, K. M. (1998).  Teaching with technology.  Orlando, FL: Harcourt Brace and Co.

Ohio State University, School of Education (2002).  Principal portfolios for leadership and learning. [On-Line]. Available: http://www.acs.ohio-state.edu/urbanschools/principl/schoolwork7.htm  [2002, August 8].

Prince George's County Public Schools (2002).  Portfolio assessment. [Online].  Available:  http://www.pgcps.org/~elc/portfolio.html [2002, April 28].

Provenzo, E. F. (2002).  The Internet and the World Wide Web for teachers, 2nd Edition.  Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Purves, A. C. (1996).  Electronic portfolios. Computers and Composition, 13 (2), 135-46.

Quible, Zane K. (1995).  Electronic resumes: Their time is coming.  Business Communication Quarterly, 58 (3) p5-9.

Texas State Board for Educator Certification (2002).  New educator standards: Technology applications.  [Online].  Available: http://www.sbec.state.tx.us/stand_framewrk/pdfs/stand_techappall.pdf  [2002, August 8].

Warner, M., & Maureen, A. (1999).   Educational progressions: Electronic portfolios in a virtual classroom.  Technological Horizons in Education Journal. 27 (3). P. 86-89.


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