ePortfolios: Purpose & Composition

Printable version of ePortfolios: Purpose & Composition (PDF).


An ePortfolio is a digital space that holds evidence of educational and/or professional achievements, as well as reflective writing about your experiences. A well-designed ePortfolio showcases your learning in a course or work/volunteer experience, and it can also be used as employment documentation during job searches or promotion procedures. How you construct your ePortfolio, and what you include in it, depends on the audience you are trying to reach and the purpose you are trying to achieve.


Helpful hint: Supporting evidence of your achievements (certificates, newspaper clippings, photographs, reports, writing samples, transcripts, etc.) can and should be included in your ePortfolio. These kinds of tangible proof of completed work are called artifacts. Even if you are not planning to create an ePortfolio right now, you should start keeping track of accomplishments and projects as early as possible - for example, you could keep copies of papers, evaluations, or photographs related to projects you have completed.


In addition to artifacts that showcase specific achievements or projects, you should also include a PDF copy of your résumé or CV. This makes it easy for a potential employer to access all of your information in one place. Remember, too, to include links to your social media accounts, so long as their contents are professional and relevant.

How to Use ePortfolios

There are four primary kinds of ePortfolios, each with its own purpose and audience (though there may be overlap between them):

  • Academic - designed primarily for in-course/program use
  • Admission - designed primarily for admission into a graduate or post-graduate program
  • Work Search - designed primarily for employers when seeking employment or promotion
  • Career - designed primarily for promotion processes or general career development

Helpful hint: ePortfolios can also be personal in nature. You can consider using an ePortfolio to create and track a personal development plan or to simply hold and reflect on key projects and achievements over time. As with any written/visual document, you should consider the audience and purpose when making decisions about structure, style, and content.

For additional information about how to use ePortfolios, such as identifying and developing skills, using the STAR (situation/task/action/result) method to describe your experiences, and focusing on field-specific transferable skills, University of Waterloo students can access the Centre for Career Action’s (CCA’s) CareerHub.


Helpful hint: ePortfolios allow you to showcase your technical and transferable skills.

While it is crucial to write about concrete technical skills related to your experiences, it is equally important to write about the transferable (soft) skills acquired when completing a project. Employers want to know about what you can do in both focused and expanded ways.

e.g., concrete skills used to design a more efficient wheelchair (wiring, structure, stability) can be discussed when describing the process or methodology of a project. In addition to these “hard skills,” you should also write about the skills you have acquired that can be applied to different projects (research, communication, teamwork, etc.).

For more information on skill identification and development, University of Waterloo students can log into the Centre for Career Action’s CareerHub.


Academic and Admission ePortfolios

Academic ePortfolios are generally requested by instructors or academic supervisors. In such cases, the purpose of the ePortfolio is to reflect on learning outcomes for the course, work term, or project involved. Admission ePortfolios may be requested by, or offered to, admission committees as part of an application package for graduate or post-graduate programs. Artifacts might include items such as term papers, PowerPoint presentations, publications, conference work, or projects related to a specific course. Usually, these kinds of ePortfolios are submitted to the instructor, supervisor or admissions committee who has requested them – they mostly have a narrow purpose. Here are some key strategies to keep in mind:

  • Check out other people’s ePortfolios and engage in peer review during your design process (but check with your instructor before doing this if it is for a course project).
  • Complete your ePortfolio based on the provided criteria.
  • Consult on-campus resources (Writing Centre & Centre for Career Action) for feedback and suggestions for improvement.

Helpful hint: As with other components of graduate school application packages (like the research statement or program of study), each institution is likely to have its own guidelines and criteria for the design and content of an application ePortfolio. Make sure to check the application requirements on each school’s website.


Work Search and Career ePortfolios

Work search ePortfolios are generally offered to potential employers as part of an application package. They may or may not be requested directly by the employer. Career ePortfolios may be used when you are being considered for a promotion or new position; they may also offer a space for personal reflection on your career over time. If you are submitting an ePortfolio for an employer to consider, you will usually make reference to it in your résumé. It could, for example, be placed in the header information, along with other accounts related to your digital/social media presence. These ePortfolios are used in a number of ways:

  • as an always-evolving container for you to hold evidence and reflection about key projects and accomplishments
  • as a way to prepare for the interview; use the information to prepare answers to potential interview questions
  • as a tangible object to refer to during the interview and/or to offer to the interviewer(s) once the interview has been completed, if appropriate

Note that while other websites, such as LinkedIn and Academia.edu, can showcase your academic and professional accomplishments, they are not, themselves, ePortfolios. What makes ePortfolios unique as employment search documents is their combination of visual/textual language and artifacts.

ePortfolio Components

Visual

Like most documents, ePortfolio design should consider layout and graphics as much as text. Some webpage design aspects to consider include the following:

  • Colour: Chose colours that are engaging and professional and enhance the reader’s ability to easily see and engage with your text and images.
  • Font: Ensure it is readable and professional.
  • Icons: Use icons to highlight particular transferable skills so that your reader can easily navigate to content that they are interested in.

Helpful hint: Many ePortfolio design websites have templates available that offer pre-arranged visual choices. It is still up to you to evaluate those elements to decide whether they suit the tone, message, audience, and purpose of your ePortfolio. Many websites will give you the option to change these features.


Sample Icons

The following list of icons, along with some key skill categories, are examples of visual badges that allow a reader to quickly identify which kinds of skills you are highlighting. For more information on identifying key skills and how to discuss them, University of Waterloo students can review information on CCA’s CareerHub and/or set up an appointment with a Career Development Advisor.

  • Critical Thinking & Analysis
  • Oral & Written Communication
  • Teamwork & Collaboration
  • Leadership
  • Creativity
  • Interpersonal Skills & Relationship Management

Textual

There are a number of places within your ePortfolio where you will be including written elements. Here are some of the key components:

  • Header information/introduction: Just as with a résumé, you should include your name and contact information in a visible space. Make it easy for your reader to contact you!
  • Headings: Headings should be as specific as possible and help guide the reader through the hierarchy of your website.
  • Reflections/project descriptions: For each project you choose to highlight with an ePortfolio entry, you should consider including a written identification of the project/purpose/outcome, as well as the transferable skills learned while completing it.

Artifacts

The artifacts you choose to include in your ePortfolio will depend on the type of ePortfolio you are designing. Some examples of common artifacts include the following:

  • Photographs (of projects or of your completed tasks)
  • Video/audio clips
  • Graphic data (charts, spreadsheets, timelines, etc.)
  • Certificates (volunteer work, languages, academic awards)
  • Memberships in organizations and associations
  • Transcripts
  • Diplomas
  • Newspaper articles
  • Writing samples
  • PowerPoint slides
  • Technical licenses
  • Awards
  • Letters of recommendation

How to Construct Your ePortfolio

As noted above, ePortfolios have a number of visual and textual components that you have to integrate in order to design an effective representation of your work. Consider the following key steps in ePortfolio design:

  1. Based on intended purpose and potential audience, select the type of ePortfolio you are creating
  2. Choose a platform
  3. Choose a template, if available
  4. Strategize which artifacts to use, keeping in mind issues such as intellectual property and confidentiality requirements (UW students can see CareerHub for more information)
  5. Gather and upload artifacts
  6. Draft a map that outlines how you will organize your information
  7. Draft reflections for specific projects and accomplishments using the STAR method
  8. Add written reflections to highlighted projects
  9. Take time to review, revise, and proofread your ePortfolio
    1. Ensure that visuals are high quality, professional, and engaging
    2. Read reflections to be sure that you highlight key competencies
    3. Proofread for sentence struct ure, word choice, and punctuation

ePortfolio Platforms

A number of paid and unpaid ePortfolio platforms are available for you to choose from. Here are some commonly-used free (or UW-access only) ones for you to consider :

Sample ePortfolios

Although the creators of the ePortfolios below are at different stages of their education, their works demonstrate some of the different ways you can design an ePortfolio. What they all have in common is attention to the connection between images and text, as well as the creation of accompanying reflections on key achievements:

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