Electronic Portfolios = Multimedia Development + Portfolio Development
The Electronic Portfolio Development Process

© 1999, 2000, Helen C. Barrett, Ph.D.

A chapter in a book on Electronic Portfolios to be published by
the American Association for Higher Education (AAHE), Fall, 2000

This essay is intended to be more practical than philosophical, drawing on my own experiences as well as my students', focusing on the questions often asked about electronic portfolios: Where do I start? What software should I use? What strategies seem to work well? I view portfolios as a process rather than a product--a concrete representation of critical thinking, reflection used to set goals for ongoing professional development.

An electronic portfolio developed for this purpose includes technologies that allow the portfolio developer to collect and organize artifacts in many formats (audio, video, graphics, and text). A standards-based electronic portfolio uses hypertext links to organize the material, connecting artifacts to appropriate goals or standards. Often, the terms "electronic portfolio" and "digital portfolio" are used interchangeably. However, I make a distinction: an electronic portfolio contains artifacts that may be in analog (e.g., videotape) or computer-readable form. In a digital portfolio, all artifacts have been transformed into computer-readable form. (Barrett, 2000)

I derive a framework for electronic portfolio development from two bodies of literature: portfolio development in K-12 education and the multimedia or instructional design process. These complimentary processes are both essential for effective electronic portfolio development. Understanding how these processes fit together and how standards or goals contribute to electronic portfolio development, faculty gain a powerful tool for demonstrating growth over time.

Creating an electronic portfolio can develop a faculty member's multimedia development skills. The multimedia development process usually covers the following stages (Ivers & Barron, 1998):

The portfolio development process covers the following stages (Danielson & Abrutyn, 1997) There are three types of portfolios: Formative Portfolios, which usually occurs on an ongoing basis supporting professional development; Summative Portfolios, which usually occurs within the context of a formal evaluation process; and Marketing Portfolios, which are used for seeking employment (Hartnell-Young & Morriss, 1999). These authors also point out one of the many outcomes of portfolios: "Many people discover that one of the most important and long-lasting outcomes of producing a portfolio is the self-esteem that comes from recording and reflecting on achievements and career success. Experienced teachers and administrators are finding that the benefits of developing a portfolio include the opportunity for professional renewal through mapping new goals and planning for future growth." (pp. 9-10)
The Electronic Portfolio Development Process: Five Stages and Five Levels

From the discussion of both the Multimedia Development Process and the Portfolio Development Process, five stages of Electronic Portfolio Development emerge. Here are the issues to address at each stage of this process.

Electronic Portfolio Development Stages

Portfolio Development Electronic Portfolio Development Multimedia Development
Purpose & Audience 1. Defining the Portfolio Context & Goals  Decide
Collect, Interject 2. The Working Portfolio Design, Plan
Select,Reflect,Direct 3. The Reflective Portfolio Develop
Inspect, Perfect,Connect 4. The Connected Portfolio Implement, Evaluate
Respect 5. The Presentation Portfolio Present, Publish

Differentiating the levels of Electronic Portfolio Implementation

In addition to the stages of portfolio development, there appear to be at least five levels of electronic portfolio development, each with its own levels of expectation. These levels are closely aligned with the technology skills of the student or teacher portfolio developer.

Levels of Digital Portfolio Software

    1. No digital artifacts. Some video tape artifacts.
    2. Word processing or other commonly-used files stored in electronic folders on a hard drive, floppy diskette or LAN server.
    3. Databases, hypermedia or slide shows (e.g., PowerPoint), stored on a hard drive, Zip, floppy diskette or LAN server.
    4. Portable Document Format (Adobe Acrobat PDF files), stored on a hard drive, Zip, Jaz, CD-R/W, or LAN server.
    5. HTML-based web pages, created with a web authoring program and posted to a WWW server.
    6. Multimedia authoring program, such as Macromedia Authorware or Director, pressed to CD-R/W or posted to WWW in streaming format.

The Stages of Electronic Portfolio Development: Matching Tasks and Tools

One of the participants in my dissertation research stated, "When learning new tools, use familiar tasks; and when learning new tasks, use familiar tools." Creating an electronic portfolios can seem daunting, but it becomes less arduous if viewed as a series of stages, each with its own goals and activities, and requiring different types of software. Here is an attempt to align these goals, activities and tools:

Stage 1: Defining the Portfolio Context

Multimedia Development: Decide/Assess ´ Portfolio Development: Purpose & Audience

In this first stage of the electronic portfolio development process, the primary tasks are: Identify the assessment context, including the purpose of the portfolio. Identify the goals to be addressed in the portfolio; these should follow from university standards for promotion and tenure and from standards set by relevant professional associations. This important step sets the assessment context and helps frame the rest of the portfolio development process. Knowing the primary audience for the portfolio will help decide the format and storage of the formal or presentation portfolio.

Before making any decisions about the development software, identify the resources available for electronic portfolio development. What hardware and software do you have? What technology skills do you have or want to develop?

Stage 2: The Working Portfolio

Multimedia Development: Design/Plan ´ Portfolio Development: Collect

This stage of the electronic portfolio development process occupies the longest span of time and is the stage I call, "Becoming a Digital Packrat!" Knowing which goals or standards you are trying to demonstrate should help determine the types of portfolio artifacts to be collected and then selected.

Select the software development tools most appropriate for the portfolio context and the resources available. Just as McLuhan said, "The medium is the message", the software used to create the electronic portfolio will control, restrict, or enhance the portfolio development process. Form should follow function as well, and the electronic portfolio software should match the vision and style of the portfolio developer.

Use whatever software tools are currently being used to collect artifacts, storing them on a hard drive, a server, or videotape. Set up electronic folders for each standard to organize the artifacts (any type of electronic document) and use a word processor, database, hypermedia software or slide show to articulate the goals/standards to be demonstrated in the portfolio and to organize the artifacts.

Microsoft Word, Microsoft PowerPoint, Adobe Acrobat and WWW pages created with HTML editors are the most common software packages used for electronic portfolio development. The primary advantage of Word and Acrobat is ease of use, and Acrobat files can be created from any application. Creating a portfolio in HTML, even with the many tools available, has a higher cost in terms of effort to convert documents and organization of the large number of files usually generated. Creating a portfolio in PowerPoint can emphasize the portfolio as "multimedia presentation," rather than as reflective tool.

Identify the storage and presentation medium most appropriate for the situation (i.e., computer hard disk, videotape, local-area network, a WWW server, CD-ROM, etc.). There are also multiple options, depending on the software chosen.

Gather the multimedia materials that represent your achievement. You will want to collect artifacts from different points of time to demonstrate growth and learning that has taken place. Write short reflective statements with each artifact stored, to capture its significance at the time it is created. You might convert significant documents into Adobe Acrobat format and attach electronic "sticky notes" with your immediate reflections.

Use everyday software, such as Word Processing, Slide Shows, Hypermedia, or Database programs to list and organize the artifacts that are placed in the Working Portfolio.

Convert your work into digital format

Use appropriate multimedia to add style and individuality to your portfolio. Save your work in a format that can be easily used. (Throughout the year, I convert a variety of files in my own Working Portfolio into Adobe Acrobat format, attaching electronic "sticky notes" with my reflections, and store them in a "new items" folder for later use. This includes word processing files, web pages I create, e-mail messages I might want to include, all stored for use in later stages.) Use a scanner (or camera) to digitize images, including documents that come to you in paper form. Use a microphone and sound digitizing program to digitize audio artifacts. Use a video camera, digitizing hardware and software to digitize video artifacts.

Stage 3: The Reflective Portfolio

Multimedia Development: Develop ´ Portfolio Development: Select, Reflect, Direct

This stage of the electronic portfolio development process usually preceeds evaluation reviews (for summative portfolios) or employment applications (for marketing portfolios). In the formative portfolio reflections typically occur at significant points in the learning process, and are added contemporaneously as noted in the previous stage. Reflection on one's work is requisite if the portfolio owner is to learn from the process. As John Dewey said, "We don't learn from experience; we learn from reflecting on experience." One challenge in this process will be the need for confidentiality of these reflections. This is the place where the personal, private reflections of the learner need to be guarded, and not published in a public medium, such as the World Wide Web.

Record feedback on work and achievement of goals. Strategies that I have found useful with my students' portfolios include:

Here are three simple questions to ask which clarify this reflective process (Campbell, Melenyzer, Nettles, & Wyman, (2000) based on Van Wagenen and Hibbard (1998) 1. "What?"
2. "So what?"
3. "Now what?"
To use these questions, the student would first summarize the artifact that documents the experience, in order to answer the question "What?" Second, the student would reflect on what he or she learned and how this leads to meeting the standard, which answers the question "So what?" And third, the student would address implications for future learning needed and set forth refinements or adaptations, in order to answer "Now what?" (p.22)
This process of setting future learning goals turns electronic portfolio development into a powerful tool for professional development. That's why the "Now What?" question becomes important. I also think semi-public commitments to professional development goals can become motivation to work on those areas. As Kay Burke (1996) insists, quoting Kenneth Wolf (1996), a professional portfolio system invites "teachers to become the architects of their own professional development." (p.37)

Stage 4: The Connected Portfolio

Multimedia Development: Implement ´ Portfolio Development: Inspect, Perfect, Connect

To some degree, this stage is unique to the electronic portfolio, because of the capability of the software to create hypertext links between documents, either locally or on the Internet. At this stage, if you haven't done so, convert word processing, database or slide show documents into either PDF or HTML and create hypertext links between goals, work samples, rubrics, and reflections. Insert appropriate multimedia artifacts. Create a table of contents to structure the portfolio; I recommend using the outlining capabilities of either Word or PowerPoint, or the graphical organizing AND outlining capabilities of Inspiration.

The choice of software can either restrict or enhance the development process and the quality of the final product. Different software packages each have unique characteristics, which can limit or expand the electronic portfolio options. It is important to select software that allows easy creation of hypertext links, to be able to link evidence of achievement to the goals and reflections and identify patterns through this "linking" process. Hartnell & Young (2000) point out the unique benefits of creating portfolios with hypertext links:

"Hypertext allows for deeper understanding and explanation through links that go from summary statements to complete documents, related items, and reflections. In addition to displaying artifacts efficiently, links can allow the collection of material in a Personal Archive to become broader and more thoughtful." (pp. 23-24) The process of creating a portfolio with hypertext links contributes to the summative assessment process. When using the portfolio for assessment, the transformation from "artifacts" to "evidence" is not always clear. Linking reflections to artifacts makes this thinking process more explicit. The ability to create links from multiple perspectives (and multiple goals) also overcomes the linearity of two-dimensional paper portfolios, permitting a single artifact to demonstrate multiple standards (i.e., national technology standards, our state's teaching standards).

Use the portfolio evidence to make instruction/learning or professional development decisions. This process effectively brings together instruction and assessment, portfolio development and professional development.

Stage 5: The Presentation Portfolio

Multimedia Development: Present, Publish, Evaluate Portfolio Development: Respect (Celebrate)

At this stage, record the portfolio to an appropriate presentation and storage medium. This will be different for a working portfolio and a formal or presentation portfolio. The best medium for a working portfolio is video tape, computer hard disk, Zip disk, or network server. The best medium for a formal or presentation portfolio is CD-Recordable disc, WWW server, or video tape.

Present the portfolio before an audience (real or virtual) and celebrate the accomplishments represented. This will be a very individual strategy, depending on the context, and an opportunity for professionals to share their teaching portfolios with colleagues for meaningful feedback and collaboration in self-assessment. This "public commitment" provides motivation to carry out the professional development plan of a formative portfolio.

Evaluate the portfolio's effectiveness in light of its purpose and the assessment context. In an environment of continuous improvement, a portfolio should be viewed as an ongoing learning tool, and its effectiveness should be reviewed on a regular basis to be sure that it is meeting the goals set.

Post the portfolio to WWW server, or write the portfolio to CD-ROM, or record the portfolio to videotape.

Skills for Developing an Acrobat portfolio.

I find Acrobat to be the easiest way to publish my portfolio because this software most closely emulates the 3-ring binder most often used in paper-based portfolios. In my opinion, PDF files are the ideal universal container for digital portfolios. In fact, here is how John Warnock, Co-founder and CEO of Adobe Systems, Inc. defined the Adobe Acrobat Portable Document Format:

"PDF is an extensible form of paper, a hypermedia that is device independent, platform independent, color consistent and it is the best universal transmission media for creative and intellectual assets." What else is a portfolio but a container for our creative and intellectual efforts? If Adobe Acrobat is chosen as the development software, here are the skills I have found to be important: 1. Convert files from any application to PDF using PDFWriter or Acrobat Distiller

2. Scan/capture and edit graphic images

3. Digitize and edit sound files

4. Digitize and edit video files (VCR -> computer)

5. Organize portfolio artifacts with Acrobat Exchange, creating links & buttons

6. Organize multimedia files and pre-mastering CD-ROM using Jaz disks

7. Write CD-Recordable disc using appropriate CD mastering software

Issues of posting Electronic Portfolios to the World Wide Web

As educators develop web-based portfolios, it is worthwhile to have a dialogue about publication of truly reflective portfolios on the public Internet. Here are some of my concerns.

-- Security and access - What information in a portfolio should remain confidential? What happens when the private becomes public?

-- What elements differentiate an electronic portfolio from a web page or a multimedia presentation or a digital scrapbook? What makes a web page a portfolio?

-- Do "real" portfolios belong on the public Internet?

-- What happens to intellectual property rights when portfolio artifacts are posted online? Has anyone developed a release form for students to sign related to publishing their portfolios online?

-- Research on metacognition in preservice portfolio development has shown that faculty and students see different purposes for portfolios (Breault, 2000): Students see portfolios as marketing tools whereas, faculty see portfolios as assessment and formative evaluation tools. This confusion of purpose can create dissonnance.

-- The move to "high stakes performance" portfolios may undermine the transformative nature of reflective portfolios.

-- Publishing a reflective portfolio in a public environment may inhibit the quality of the reflection.

The more honest the reflections, especially about weaknesses (or, as I prefer to call them, opportunities for growth) there is fear that these reflections can be used negatively. In my own latest review, there were comments taken out of context by one reviewer, and used in a critical way. This is part of my concern about reflections in portfolios having no business on the public Internet, and one of the reasons that I don't see many truly reflective portfolios online.


There are many tools that can be used to develop electronic portfolios over the stages that I have outlined in this article. Even with the many issues raised about web-based portfolios, there are many advantages for faculty to try out different strategies, such as the Portable Document Format. The value added of creating an electronic portfolio should exceed the efforts expended, and faculty members should approach their use of technology conservatively. Keep the process simple by using familiar software as you get started. (My students have created very creative, reflective portfolios, complete with hyperlinks to their digital artifacts, with nothing more complicated than Microsoft Word.) Above all else, the electronic portfolio should showcase your achievements, and your growing capabilities in using technology to support your own lifelong professional development.


Barrett, Helen (2000). "Create Your Own Electronic Portfolio." Learning & Leading with Technology (April, 2000)

Barrett, Helen (2000) " Electronic Teaching Portfolios: Multimedia Skills + Portfolio Development = Powerful Professional Development." Proceedings of the Society for Information Technology & Teacher Training (SITE) Annual Conference.

Breault, Richard (2000) ýMetacognition in Portfolios in Pre-Service Teacher Education.ţ Paper delivered to American Educational Research Association Conference, New Orleans, April, 2000.

Burke, Kay (ed.) (1996). Professional Portfolios. Palatine, Illinois: IRI/SkyLight Training & Publishing

Burke, Kay; Fogarty, Robin; Belgrad, Susan (1994). The Mindful School: The Portfolio Connection. Palatine: IRI/Skylight Training & Publishing

Campbell, Melenyzer, Nettles & Wyman (2000). Portfolio and Performance Assessment in Teacher Education. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Danielson, Charlotte; Abrutyn, Leslye (1997) An Introduction to Using Portfolios in the Classroom. Alexandria: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Hartnell-Young, Elizabeth and Morriss, Maureen (1999). Digital Professional Portfolios for Change. Arlington Heights: Skylight Professional Development

Ivers, Karen, and Barron, Ann E. (1998) Multimedia Projects in Education. Englewood, Co.: Libraries Unlimited, Inc.