Electronic Portfolio Design

We are taking a closer look at electronic portfolio design. We have an interesting situation at Catlin Gabel. The educational programs in our four divisions are autonomous and coordinated. Portfolio assessment is a standard feature of the instructional program in the beginning, lower, and middle schools. Teachers organize the annual rite in the beginning school and early years, and students increasingly take on the organizational and productive tasks of putting together the portfolio as they get older. After eighth grade, portfolio quickly drops off. The concept appears in the upper school mostly in the arts, when a few students assemble summative portfolios of arts work for college applications.

Electronic portfolios offer a new opportunity for PK-8 teachers to deepen their use of portfolio assessment and upper school teachers to give it a try for the first time. E-portfolios: Making it E-asy provides a tidy summary of three different portfolio types: developmental, reflective, and representational. Student portfolios may feature a combination of all three, but it is useful to consider the primacy of each type in one’s portfolio design. Our middle school faculty recently considered ways to make the reflective experience more authentic in the design of middle school portfolios.

Electronic portfolios are a new concept at Catlin Gabel. We have an opportunity to make several aspects of portfolio assessment easier. Electronic portfolios lend themselves to multi-year assessment, encouraging students and teachers to consider student work over a number of years. Electronic portfolios solve the problem of students taking their best work home, leaving the school without examples of their best work. Electronic portfolios facilitate the capture of different kinds of media, especially recordings of performances, such as in the arts. Electronic portfolios amplify the feedback process by allowing potentially anyone to comment on student work. Interestingly, the middle school teachers overwhelmingly prefer to keep the portfolios private between the student, the family, and teachers.

All along, I have been leaning toward Elgg to provide our electronic portfolio services. I want to host our electronic portfolio service, though there are a number of promising hosted services available (e.g., Digication). We are in the interesting position of potentially embarking on a 13-year electronic portfolio someday, which is a long enough time period to eclipse three generations of web software technology! We must maintain control over all of the data so that we may migrate it from one system to another when we decide to make a transition.

Elgg markets itself as an e-portfolio, blog, and podcast tool, but it has much less structure than “e-portfolio-only” software. The “Making it E-asy” article emphasizes that the tool should be as simple as possible, and I find that Elgg’s navigation confuses users often, especially when they move between community and individual resources. D’Arcy Norman spotlights Exe, which offers more e-portfolio-specific tools without overly constraining project structure. Of course, Drupal, the swiss army knife of online publishing tools, could be configured to provide the necessary portfolio tools and access permissions.

With six teachers from different divisions interested in piloting electronic portfolios, we will need to select a tool over the summer and train teachers and students to use it. This will be a modest pilot, in which we attempt to learn as much as we can about the strengths and challenges of electronic portfolios with our teachers and students.

Do you work at or know of a school that has successfully implemented summative electronic portfolios with students? I would love to know.


  1. Jeffrey Yan says:


    I am an educator and founder of Digication. I am happy to see that you read the article in T.H.E Journal about our work with Rhode Island School of Design and Hope High School. I wanted to take this opportunity to address some of your concern regarding hosted e-portfolio solutions because it is a common and very legitimate concern that educators and administrators at schools have for their data. Digication provides extensive support to schools which purchase our Admin Tool including the ability to export data from our system as often as needed. We additionally provide the ability for schools to download the e-portfolios as static html files for offline viewing. I’d love to tell you more about it if you’re interested.

    – Jeff

  2. rkassissieh says:

    Thank you for the response, Jeffrey. In my experience, it is difficult for a commercial vendor to export data from a database in a fully normalized manner that may then be successfully imported into another system. Does your export tool produce fully normalized data? How does it handle attachments? Do you export the database structure as well as the data itself? Without good answers to these questions, I would be concerned about the usefulness of such downloads.


  3. Jeffrey Yan says:


    We’ve been working with different schools on the varies format of the data that can be exported from Digication. If you want to learn more, feel free to email me directly.