ePortfolios: Purpose and Composition
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 is useful to showcase your learning in a course or work placement, 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.
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
Visit the Centre for Teaching Excellence (CTE) to view student examples of different types of ePortfolios.
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.
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:
Collaboration: 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)
Grade: Complete your ePortfolio based on the provided criteria.
Help: Consult on-campus resources (Writing Centre & Centre for Career Action) for feedback and suggestions for improvement.
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:
Evidence or reflection: as an always-evolving container for you to hold evidence and reflection about key projects and accomplishments
Preparing answers: as a way to prepare for the interview; use the information to prepare answers to potential interview questions
Interview: 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
Like most documents, ePortfolio design should consider layout and graphics as much as text. Some webpage design aspects to consider include the following:
- Colour: Choose 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.
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.
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 completing tasks)
- Video/audio clips
- Graphic data (charts, spreadsheets, timelines, etc.)
- Certificates (volunteer work, languages, academic awards)
- Memberships in organizations
- Newspaper articles
- Writing samples
- PowerPoint slides
- Technical licenses
- 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.
- Based on intended purpose and potential audience, select the type of ePortfolio you are creating
- Choose a platform
- Choose a template, if available
- Strategize which artifacts to use, keeping in mind issues such as intellectual property and confidentiality requirements (UW students can see CareerHub for more information)
- Gather and upload artifacts
- Draft a map that outlines how you will organize your information
- Draft reflections for specific projects and accomplishments using the STAR method
- Add written reflections to highlighted projects
- Take time to review, revise, and proofread your ePortfolio
- Ensure that visuals are high quality, professional, and engaging
- Read reflections to be sure that you highlight key competencies
- Proofread for sentence structure, word choice, and punctuation
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:
- Through LEARN, access PebblePad, UW’s ePortfolio and Learning Journey Platform available to all UW students. Click the Pebble+ link on the navbar of the LEARN homepage. Instructions are available on the LEARN help page.
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: