Using digital media for your e-Portfolio
e-Portfolios are an important part of many learners' academic life. This advice document introduces the concept of an e-Portfolio and explains how digital media can be used effectively.
There are many definitions of what constitutes an e-Portfolio. Looking at the commonalities in a range of definitions gives us a simplified definition: an e-Portfolio is a number of independent digital artefacts that are grouped together to demonstrate a range of skills and competencies of the creator.
This definition is further clarified by our sister service JISC infoNet, who have an in-depth infokit on the topic of e-Portfolios and define it as:
... an e-portfolio is a product created by learners, a collection of digital artefacts articulating learning (both formal and informal), experiences and achievements. Learners create 'presentational' e-portfolios by using e-portfolio tools or systems. As part of this production process, learners can be inherently supported to develop one or more key skills such as collecting, selecting, reflecting, sharing, collaborating, annotating and presenting - these can be described as e-portfolio-related processes
Our advice document focuses on the use of digital media as a tool to support the processes element of an e-Portfolio.
- An e-Portfolio will consist of a combination of products, tools/systems and processes
- An e-Portfolio can have multiple purposes (e.g. personal development, evidence and/or reflective)
- e-Portfolios can contain a range of artefacts including digital media
- An e-Portfolio is usually created and viewed online
An e-Portfolio may be created with more than one type of audience in mind. Below are the most common audience types:
- Learner – mostly likely the creator who is responsible for maintaining and creating content. The learner may be using an e-Portfolio for a number of uses including personal development and formal assessment
- Teaching staff – likely to give direction as to the e-Portfolio design and types of content required
- Employer – may view the e-Portfolio for assessing the student and/or the e-Portfolio (may form part of a work-based learning course where the employer wishes to check progress)
Format of an e-Portfolio
Referring back to the earlier definition of an e-Portfolio, an e-Portfolio is a tool or system with a series of processes that produce a product. Each component of an e-Portfolio will now be outlined.
Tools or systems
It is worth noting that almost anything can be used within an e-Portfolio and that some of these outputs may form an e-Portfolio in their own right. For example a PDF document may serve as a piece of evidence but could be used as the e-Portfolio itself if appropriately designed. Once a tool or system has some content from the student it becomes a product.
Features of popular e-Portfolio tools
File/document store – allows the embedding or storage of a range of file types and documents including digital media
Access control – provides permission (or not) to access various parts of an e-portfolio
Feedback mechanism – supports the ability to provide comments and feedback
Submission for assessment – students will need to upload work or evidence including digital media
Notification of changes – provides updates on any changes or submissions
Integration – allows the e-Portfolio to integrate with other systems such as a VLE
Popular tools or systems include:
An open source e-portfolio tool that can be used on its own or integrated with the Moodle VLE system.
The Mahara website provides examples demonstrating how Mahara can collect and organise an e-portfolio.
An e-Portfolio tool that can also be integrated with the Moodle VLE system.
Examples demonstrating some real-world uses of Pebblepad as an e-portfolio tool can be seen on the Pebblepad examples website.
Google Sites is a free web service that allows you to build and share web pages. It is sometimes used as an ad-hoc e-portfolio tool.
The Electronic Portfolios with google Apps example demonstrates how various Google tools can be used to produce a e-portfolio.
Blogging services (e.g. Wordpress)
There are many web services that can be used to build a custom e-portfolio. Wordpress is one of the most popular and free open-source blog tools that can be used and/or customised for e-portfolio use. The JISC Effective Practice with e-Portfolio’s publication (p22) includes a case study of how Dumfries and Galloway College have used Wordpress for their e-Portfolios.
Processes and using digital media
Each of the sections below were identified in the definition, and here are some examples of how digital media can be used to support that usage type.
Collecting and selecting
Learners can create digital sketchbooks of examples of digital media artefacts that may form reference for future additions to show evidence of their work. For example:
- Producing multimedia galleries that may be arranged in an order to show progression of results or learning over time
- Collecting user-generated digital media content from informal spaces: these artefacts may be used as evidence of interpretation
- Video screencasts or an audio recording may be used by the student as a tool to provide commentary for the decisions made or critical thinking during a piece of work
Digital artefacts may be spread widely over the web for multiple purposes including sharing. Technologies like RSS can be used to push and pull content within the e-Portfolio and other locations. Examples of sharing include:
- Using media sharing sites such as Flickr, participating in an online community but reusing for e-Portfolio purposes (e.g. evidence of learning, submission of course work)
Both teacher and student can use a range of digital media and techniques for reflection and feedback purposes including:
- A collection of the iterations made to produce digital artefacts can be shown to demonstrate the progression of a finished resource
- Audio or video (screencast) can be used to provide reasoning for decisions and show proof of reflection
- Audio and or video feedback may be used by both teacher and student
For examples of the use of digital media for feedback, visit The Media Enhanced Learning Special Interest Group (MEL SIG) for a range of guides, research and examples.
The planning, design and build of group work can be documented in many ways including:
- Screen grabs may be collected to provide evidence of progress
- Recordings are made of meetings and/or interviews
- Through screencasting
- Creating mashups of digital media resources, tools and techniques
Below is an example of a screencast
Annotation can be a good method for conveying understanding, and can be included in an e-Portfolio as evidence. Below are a few possible suggestions for uses:
- Images can be directly tagged with annotations, either on the actual image or using an online image service. Below is an image on the Flickr photo site with an annotation that provides background information about a part of the image
- Audio and video clips can be used to provide media specific annotations based on key points within a clip. There are emerging tools and services that offer this feature
- Screencasts can be an effective way to demonstrate on-screen annotations using text or multimedia depending on the sophistication required
Below is a short screencast demonstrating the use of an annotation being used within a screencast.
Please use this link if you can't see the video above or to open the file in a new window.
Ideas, project work and assessment may use digital media to assist a presentation or be used for evidence. Uses include:
- Examples of audio or video from a speaking event may be used as evidence to demonstrate a learner's communication skills
- Use of images, audio and video as part of the presentation itself, within another tool e.g. PowerPoint or as standalone. Below is an example of the use of video to demonstrate the contents of a sketchbook with commentary explaining the tutor's thought process from the University of Lincoln
Digital media on the web
Using freely available popular web services such as Google sites and Wordpress gives the student a platform to post evidence and the flexibility of the tools allows almost limitless customisation.
Support for digital media is decided by each browser manufacturer as technically HTML will allow any file type. Thus it is the browser that allows and prevents various file types from working. There are a number of well supported file formats which are highlighted below:
jpg – best suited for photographic type images
gif – best suited for graphic type images
png – similar to the gif file format in that it is best suited for graphic type images but also supports the use of 'transparency and lossless compression'
SVG – used for scalable vector graphics, allowing graphics to be created within web pages
It has never been easy to ensure 100% playback of video on the web within the browser, as there are a number of file formats and wrapper formats (wrappers can contain different file formats within them and are often used due to this flexibility) such as MPEG2 and MPEG4, SWF and FLV (flash), MOV and WMV. Each of which rely upon a third-party plug-in or player for successful playback.
In recent years Adobe Flash, both in its SWF and FLV file formats, has been one of the most popular choices for video on the web with Youtube and the BBC iPlayer as examples, both of which have MPEG fallbacks for helping to ensure compatibility. Other popular choices include using Windows Media (Windows Media Video file type), and Apple Quicktime (mov file format) file formats which play a range of video file types.
Since the advent of HTML5, video can now be directly played within the browser without the use of a third-party plug-in. However, each browser supports different video file types requiring any video to be encoded in multiple file types to ensure playback.
Even with the progress of video in the HTML5 specification it will be a number of years until browser manufacturers either agree a set of standard video file types or they choose to fork from each other.
At present the only reliable choice for ensuring the widest video support is to either use the new HTML5 audio/video tags with additional ‘fallback’ third-party plug-ins or to continue to only use third-party plug-ins unless more web users move to newer browsers with HTML5 audio/video support. Choosing which method to use will depend on what browsers and devices the majority of your audience currently use and is normally identified from analysis of visitors to a web page.
Building an e-Portfolio using a freely available web service does mean agreeing to a third party’s terms of service, potential lack of IT service support, and the risk that the service may be removed at any time.
Tip - correct referencing of material
There is no universally agreed method to cite web references but the following should be of use:
- Name of the web resource/article
- Provide the URL
- Date that web resource was accessed
- Author of resource if known
Cite similar references in the same manner e.g. Boneham (2010) 'RSS: web2practice', JISC. Available at: [URL] (Accessed: 29/11/2010)
e-Portfolios are products that can include a huge range of processes and uses for different audiences. The use of digital media can be particularly helpful for re-purposing previous content and for demonstrating different types of evidence such as work and grades that will evolve over time.
This document has touched on some of the common uses of digital media in e-Portfolio usage but our wide range of advice on the JISC Digital Media website should give you scope to adapt more uses as you see fit.
Finally it is worth visiting the JISC infoNet checklist for e-Portfolios as it is a helpful resource for cross referencing your workflow with the checklist to ensure that you have covered the major considerations.
Notes / possible reference
e-Portfolio based pedagogy for SMEs (Project)