Top ten tips for running an Eportfolio system

Well here goes… of the main reasons Gaby and I wanted to start this blog was to share little pointers and ideas that you don’t perhaps get from a journal article. So real quick fixes if you like, kind of a chat about something. More experience based than evidence based.

Warning: animal analogy coming up!

Warning: animal analogy coming up!

So to kick us off here are my Top Ten Tips for running an Eportfolio system. I currently run E- portfolios for 500+ vet students, in order to develop their reflective practice, so this is talking from a clinical education perspective. Our students create written pieces which range from clinical case studies through to reflections on team sport and baking!

1. Embed portfolio learning into the culture of your institution.  Easier to say than to do, but you need everybody on board if your portfolio system is going to succeed. Encourage every staff member, from tutors to technicians, to include mention of logging learning in portfolios when they introduce activities which have the potential to be included.

2. Grow very thick skin. I mean like a rhino, Or an elephant. You will need it! Like many things in life, portfolios are not particularly pleasant for the user at times, but they will help in the long run. As the person “in charge” you are very much in the firing line when it comes to moans and issues, so you need to be fairly resilient. I’m being dead honest here!

3. Develop the patience of a very very patient person. You will get questions. Actually, you will get the same question hundreds of times over, no matter how much information you tell students and tutors. Be prepared to answer the same question without getting cross or annoyed. This is hard!

4. Assess the portfolios summatively. I’m not saying every word or entry needs to be assessed but there needs to be some kind of summative assessment, because assessment will be the carrot driving your students to fill their portfolio. This is not a bad thing – I really think that if we value reflective practice we should make sure it is happening, and assessment will do that for you. We simply assess summatively on them submitting the correct number of things at the end of the year. They get qualitative (vital) as well as basic quantitative feedback.

5. Pick software with good support. I am no IT genius but the support we get from PebblePad for our system is amazing – when there are issues, they fix it, and they get back to us really quickly (and I would always go E-portfolio by the way, not sure in this day and age that paper is really sensible – students need to be able to link to online resources). Yes, this system comes at a cost – but you need to weigh up the benefits of an open source alternative if the support is not available in house.

6. Give LOTS of feedback. As much as you possibly can, as and when students ask for it. Yes this is a big ask. But without engaging in a dialogue with students the portfolio becomes even more assessment driven. They are telling you a story of what they are doing and learning, and they deserve feedback on this.

7. Talk to your students about reflective practice. They need to understand the point of all this. Be open about your own reflective practice, and share the frustrations with them of making it formal, something which is unnatural to many of us.

8. Give lots of information, in a multitude of formats. Everything from word documents to screen casts, posted in numerous places. It still won’t be enough I promise you.

9. Have a student centred approach. Portfolios are theoretically very student-centred, but it is absolutely possible to convert them to a teacher-centred assessment which negates much of the point of them. This means students need to be able to contribute what they feel needs to be there – so you’ve got to have quite loose control of things, and repeat the message that this is for their learning, not the assessors benefit.

10. And finally…don’t despair! There are huge benefits to students recording their own learning and becoming reflective practitioners, and these will (eventually) massively outweigh the stress. When students have their own light bulb moments regarding portfolio learning, it will suddenly all become worth it.



2 thoughts on “Top ten tips for running an Eportfolio system

  1. these are really helpful- thanks Liz. I especially think the point about developing a discourse about reflection is really helpful 🙂

    • Thanks – yes I think this is almost the most essential bit. A conversation about reflection is so important…it is hard to do, and definitely not a natural process for us all!

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