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E-portfolios 101

An introduction to the world of e-portfolios: why you need one, how it can help with your learning and development, and how you go about creating one.

What is an e-portfolio?

An electronic portfolio, better known as an e-portfolio, is an online collection of work, ideas, list of your achievements, competences, activities, goals, aspirations and more. At its most basic, it is a means to electronically record your achievements but used to its full capability it can become a valuable learning and development tool that stays with you throughout your education and career. Additionally, it is also a dynamic vehicle for showcasing your abilities to the employment world at large.

Why do I need one?

Much is made these days of the way employers Google potential new recruits to uncover more about them and e-portfolios can be used to mark yourself out from the competition, providing employers with a professional and ‘living’ portrait of your abilities and aspirations. E-portfolios can also be searchable so by including relevant keywords for your job role or sector increases your chances of being discovered.

According to Simon Cotterill, senior research associate at Newcastle University, who has been involved in developing and implementing e-portfolios for more than 10 years, there is increasing amount of anecdotal evidence of showcase e-portfolios contributing to employer selection. He suggests they can be especially valuable at the short-listing-for-interview stage to demonstrate the ‘extra’ you can offer.

“The process of ‘doing’ an e-portfolio may be more important than the actual portfolio you produce,” he says. “An e-portfolio can help you build up evidence of your skills and enable you to concisely summarise these and provide real examples, which can be powerful on an application form or in an interview.”

Can it help with my learning and development?

While its name implies showcase, there is great deal more to an e-portfolio than exhibiting what you can do. E-portfolios can also play a vital part in your ongoing learning and development by tracking your learning and how and why it has been useful.

“In educational terms you are developing your independent learning and reflective abilities, which are associated with deep, rather than surface learning,” says Cotterill.

“For vocational subjects, such as engineering, e-portfolios can also be linked in with professionalism and professional requirements; increasingly the world of work includes annual assessments/appraisals and job/promotion applications require ongoing independent learning and reflective evidencing of your achievements – in other words ‘portfolio learning’.”

How do I create one?

A range of free Web 2.0 technologies can be used in the development of an e-portfolio such as wikis and blogging tools, as well as standard presentation software. Components that make up an e-portfolio will vary but most will include blog entries, uploads of your files, images, videos and other media, CV, evidence of skills, personal development plans (PDPs) and action plans, explains Cotterill. There are also dedicated e-portfolio platforms used by some colleges, which can go much further. Cotterill has been involved in the development of the ePet portfolio at Newcastle University, which is configured to meet diverse pedagogic requirements and helps to embed portfolio learning into the curriculum.

As he underlines, if your course uses e-portfolios for assessment, dialogue or linking to specific skills and structures then you will probably be better off using the university-recommended one.

“Most dedicated e-portfolios support technical standards for life-long learning records (‘Leap2A’) which means you can transfer your data between different systems and also your portfolio may ‘talk’ to other systems used by your university or employer,” adds Cotterill. Other dedicated platforms include Pebble Pad and Digication.

What else do I need to consider?

While what you do and how you use your e-portfolio is largely down to you, don’t overlook the part that others can play. Cotterill points out that most e-portfolios will include a place for dialogue with tutors and it can also feature input from peer groups, employers as well as other relevant individuals.

“Sharing your e-portfolio with tutors, employers and peers may seem daunting, but it may pay back in terms of your development,” he explains, giving the example of how a supervisor from a work placement could help to provide valuable feedback and evidence of your performance. “For example negotiating and documenting the intended outcomes and how they will be met and evidenced. Record if these objectives were achieved and reflect on them.”

Where does the IET fit in?

Career Manager is an online professional development tool from the IET that permits students and young engineers to record information relating to their PDP and detail CV information as well as set objectives and actions. It can also be used to assess against UK specific competence and other frameworks.

One of the tool’s most important features is its ability to allow individuals to compile and submit an application for professional registration from within. Kerry Lamacraft, professional development officer at the IET, explains that a guest ticket can be sent to a supporter, which could be a mentor or manager for example, who can then review different elements of the tool and add their comments.

“When engineering students create their application for registration, they can send guest tickets to their supporters,” she explains.

And a new version of the system is currently in development that will add further features.

“We’re working with various groups of volunteers and users to make sure we’re incorporating the requirements being asked for. It is already a fairly sophisticated system, but we hope this new version will provide even richer functionality,” Lamacraft enthuses.

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