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Developing a digital portfolio.

In a previous Ends and Means article, Watkins (2005) discussed the importance of online programs and students marketing their own successes not only to promote online programs and individuals' achievements, but also to demonstrate program quality. A growing number of individuals, programs, and institutions across the United States and abroad, with varying purposes, are using digital portfolios to do just this--and the numbers will likely grow. Consider that nearly 30% of public universities and 18% of private universities across the [United States]" use digital portfolios in some way (Green, 2004, as cited in Carney, 2006, p. 89) and 89% of the nation's schools, colleges, and departments of education are using portfolios in some capacity, too (Salzman, Denner, & Harris, 2002). These numbers show an interest in using digital portfolios, as Batson (2002) declared:
   The term "electronic portfolio," or "ePortfolio,"
   is on everyone's lips. We often hear
   it associated with assessment, but also
   with accreditation, reflection, student
   resumes, and career tracking. It's as if this
   new tool is the answer to all the questions
   we didn't realize we were asking. (para. 1)

In this article, I briefly describe what digital portfolios are, what the digital portfolio development process involves, which approaches might be used for developing one, and how some programs are using digital portfolios, by sharing some specific examples.


A portfolio is a goal-driven, organized, collection of materials (often referred to as artifacts) that demonstrates a person's expansion of knowledge and skills over time. The contents, organization, and presentation of materials in a portfolio vary greatly, depending on its audience (e.g., employer or faculty advisor), purpose (e.g., to get a job versus to demonstrate a masters degree requirement), and type (e.g., showcase or employment portfolio). Digital portfolios, sometimes referred to as electronic portfolios, e-folios, multimedia portfolios, Webfolios and electronically-augmented portfolios, contain much of the same content as regular, traditional portfolios, but their materials are produced and shared in digital format such as a Web site (Kilbane & Milman, 2003, 2005). As a result, digital portfolios are not merely a number of artifacts or lists of experiences put onto the Web without a specific goal and ability to demonstrate reflection. A digital portfolio is not an electronic resume. What distinguishes it from one is that it contains thoughtful, professional, reflective comments about its contents.


There are many reasons why you (or your students) might develop a digital portfolio. Among the many reasons for developing one are that they provide an easy and efficient way to showcase your knowledge and professionalism with many people simultaneously (there is no need to tote around a heavy binder of materials from person to person!), update portfolio materials effortlessly and cheaply, illustrate much sought-after technology skills, and control your "message." Academic programs within institutions can benefit as well from digital portfolios. For example, a program can highlight information about its courses and degree areas that demonstrate its quality and validate student competency, while also providing a marketing tool.


Embarking on the creation of a digital portfolio is similar to going on a journey. It is a journey that will take you places you may not have otherwise visited (i.e., creation of a portfolio), or places you have not visited in some time (e.g., your resume that requires updating, some wrinkled letters from a colleague, professor, or employer complimenting you on your work, or an old PowerPoint presentation you created years ago). The fun part about taking this journey is having other people to experience the new sights and adventures with you. So, I encourage you to find some critical friends, people you know will give you constructive feedback about your portfolio and who might develop their own portfolios along with you. This will provide you with a community of critical friends so that you may lean on each other, both for direction in this journey as well as encouragement, advice, ideas, critiques, help, and camaraderie.


Before creating a digital portfolio, it is important to understand the five basic stages in the development of a portfolio (Kilbane & Milman, 2003), each consisting of several distinct processes or steps. They are:

Planning the portfolio. Focus on the goals of your portfolio and frame its objectives. Focusing your portfolio involves identifying the purpose(s) for and intended audience(s) of your portfolio, whereas framing your portfolio entails creating continuity among the various components of your portfolio.

Considering portfolio contents. Collect, select, and reflect on the materials you will include in your portfolio. In the beginning of this stage, the emphasis is on quantity (e.g., collecting as many artifacts as possible), and then on quality (e.g., selecting the artifacts one wants to include in the portfolio). It also includes reflecting on the portfolio contents by writing reflective statements that provide commentary about the artifact, as well as information about what you have learned from it.

Designing the portfolio. Organize the materials you have selected and assemble them into digital pieces that make up your portfolio. This stage consists of organizing the contents of the portfolio, creating a table of contents, creating a storyboard and design grid, and finally actually producing the portfolio. Many artifacts may not be in an electronic format when you select them, therefore you may have to, for example, scan pictures or papers in order to include them in your new portfolio.

Evaluating the portfolio. Conduct formative evaluation to improve your portfolio-in-progress and summative evaluation to determine the quality of your portfolio. You may use rubrics or short question-and-answer forms for conducting these evaluations.

Publishing the portfolio. In this stage, you perform the necessary activities to present your portfolio materials in a format that others can view. This state requires server space for uploading your portfolio so that it is accessible on the Web.


There are two major approaches for developing a digital portfolio: the integrative approach and the turnkey solution approach (Kilbane & Milman, 2005). Each of these has its advantages and challenges. The integrative approach involves a variety of skills, programs, and knowledge about various software programs, such as Web site development, graphics, and FTP software. If you were to create a digital portfolio using this approach, you might use Dreamweaver for developing your portfolio Web site, Photoshop for creating and modifying any graphics, and WS_FTP for uploading and downloading files to a server.

On the other hand, turnkey solutions require less technical skills and knowledge, and typically require simply understanding how to upload and download your files using the turnkey solution's Web-based interface. Usually this approach requires creating files in a common file format such as Microsoft Word that can be uploaded via the turnkey solution's Web site. A few popular turnkey solutions are:

* Chalk and Wire (;

* Epsilen (; and

* Taskstream (

You can also use blog, social networking, or other template-driven Web sites if you are not comfortable publishing your own Web page.

The best advice I can share for choosing an approach is to evaluate: your skills and available resources; the amount of creative and technical control you desire in the digital portfolio's appearance, navigation, and organization; and, ultimately, the amount of time you want to spend creating one. An excellent resource for learning more about digital portfolios is Helen Barrett's site (see She also maintains a site that contains multiple versions of her digital portfolio using various approaches and tools (see http://electronic Here you can see first-hand what a digital portfolio looks like using various turnkey solutions, as well as some other open source tools.


I believe the best way to learn about the potential for digital portfolios is to examine some first-hand. Keep in mind that digital portfolios are being created and promoted for a range of purposes and audiences, occasionally resulting in conflicting outcomes. Some programs dictate the contents, whereas others allow students complete autonomy in choosing which items to include. As you examine these digital portfolios, consider how we might use these tools for "encouraging our students to share their positive online experiences with their colleagues and working together to market the value of online graduates to the many organizations that may be their future employers" (Watkins, 2005, p. 35). Consider how these digital portfolios market your achievement or an academic program's successes as well. Examples of digital portfolios created by individuals and compiled by specific pro grams are available at


Natalie B. Milman, Assistant Professor, George Washington University, 2134 G ST NW #416, Washington, DC 20052.

Telephone: (202) 994-1884.



Batson, T. (2002). The electronic portfolio boom: What's it all about? Campus Technology. Retrieved August 29, 2007, from

Carney, J. (2006). Analyzing research on teachers' electronic portfolios: What does it tell us about portfolios and methods for studying them? Journal of Computing in Teacher Education, 22(3), 89-97.

Kilbane, C. R., & Milman, N. B. (2003). The digital teaching portfolio handbook: A developmental guide for educators. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Kilbane, C. R., & Milman, N. B. (2005). The digital teaching portfolio workbook: Understanding the Digital teaching portfolio development process. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Salzman, S., Denner, P, & Harris, L. (2002). Teaching education outcomes measures: Special study survey. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education, New York.

Watkins, R. (2005). Marketing our success. Distance Learning, 2(3), 34-35.
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Title Annotation:Ends and Means; overview of employee electronic resume
Author:Milman, Natalie B.
Publication:Distance Learning
Article Type:Column
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2015
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