Web 2.0 and ePortfolios - an Open Collaborative Action Research Project
conducted with Dr. Helen Barrett


In June 2009, Dr. Helen Barrett announced an action research project to investigate the use of Web 2.0 tools to implement ePortfolios in K-12 schools. Teachers in K-12 schools are invited to participate in the research while implementing ePortfolios with students across the grade levels. The results of the study will be incorporated into a book on Interactive ePortfolio to be published by ISTE, focusing on K-12 students and teachers at all levels of their careers. The book's content will focus on creating student-centered interactive portfolios using generic Web 2.0 tools and processes.The book will be developed around themes of interactivity, reflection, feedback, engagement, and Dr. Barrett's vision of Balancing the Two Faces of ePortfolios: http://electronicportfolios.org/balance/.

This research project will focus on case studies from across the world on using Web 2.0 tools for ePortfolios. Emphasis will be on implementing the portfolio process using "safe" Web 2.0 tools, primarily GoogleApps for Education sites set up as "walled gardens" to protect student privacy. Schools who have adopted other Web 2.0 tools to implement ePortfolios will also be included in the study. Some training will be provided (primarily online). Some limited observation will be conducted in some "real life" classrooms implementing ePortfolios using these tools across the age span: primary, intermediate, junior high and high school. Ideally, teachers should already be familiar with the paper-based portfolio process, and already comfortable with the use of technology, and be willing to work on implementing ePortfolios over the next school year.

Literature Review

The literature on portfolios in education began in the 1980s, and includes many examples of implementing paper-based portfolios in K-12 schools through the 1990s. One of the unintended consequences of the No Child Left Behind legislation was lower attention to portfolios in schools, but NCATE 2000 raised the interest in ePortfolios in Teacher Education for accountability purposes. In 2002, the Chronicle of Higher Education called ePortfolios "the next big thing" in higher education IT, and many universities have adopted ePortfolio systems for a variety of purposes, including learning/reflection, assessment/accountability, and showcase/employment/marketing. The Inter/National Coalition of ePortfolio Research, recently published a book on Electronic Portfolios 2.0, a series of case studies from the first three cohorts in the Coalition, all from higher education.

With an increased awareness of the role of portfolios in Assessment for Learning (AfL) (PDF), and emerging interactive Web 2.0 technologies that support the AfL type of feedback, there is an increasing interest in ePortfolios in K-12 schools. In the 2005-2006 and 2006-2007 school years, Dr. Barrett conducted a research project on the implementation of electronic portfolios in secondary schools, sponsored by Taskstream. In preparation for that srudy, Dr. Barrett wrote a White Paper: Researching Electronic Portfolios and Learner Engagement (PDF) that outlined the learning and assessment theories that inform electronic portfolio development in education. This White Paper was adapted after the first year of the study and published in the Electronic Portfolio issue of the Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy (JAAL-International Reading Association) - March 2007 | Volume 50, No.8, pp. 436-449. This article provided the results of the first year of the study, based on site visits by Dr. Barrett to 20 schools participating in the study. A final report was presented in 2008 at the American Educational Research Association (PDF) and the National Educational Computing Conference (PDF). Here is a few of the recommendations from that study. Recommendations for Teachers: If you want to implement ePortfolios...

Today's teenagers are connected to the digital world in ways that their older brothers and sisters who are in college now may not have experienced. The Web 2.0 tools that have emerged in the last four years have dramatically changed the technology experiences for students. Once content with email and message boards (asynchronous communication) and surfing the net looking for information, today's young people want to contribute and collaborate more with their peers, especially in real time. Social networks are a fact of life for many teenagers outside of the school day. Using those tools, the students have a lot of freedom of expression, choosing the colors, backgrounds, graphics that suit their desires to express their individuality. In the Web 2.0 world, many of the students want more personalization of their web-based portfolios, more consistent with the stage of their development (adolescence) where individuality and identity are very strong life tasks.

If students are going to find the “every-day-ness” in e-portfolio implementation, if they are going to use their e-portfolios as a lifelong learning tool, then we need to find strategies that allow them to use the tools where they have ubiquitous access, whether it is web-based tools from home and school, or the emerging use of “smart” cell phones, PDAs, or MP3 players. The use of technology can motivate students to develop portfolios, especially if we make the process engaging and rewarding. We must give students opportunities for creativity and personal expression in their e-portfolios. If we can facilitate a higher level of engagement while furthering the goals of learning in formative electronic learning portfolios, then we may realize the real promise of using technology to both improve and showcase student achievement.

Research Questions

Here are the research questions that will be addressed during this research project:

Research Design


Teachers have been invited to participate in this research from across the Internet. To fully participate in the project, they have been asked to:

Set up a new blog to document the process of implementing ePortfolios with students. Use Blogger, WordPress, Edublogs, or any blog that has RSS feeds. Send your blog address to Dr. Barrett by email. Describe the context (grade level/subject, type of school, state where located, whether urban, suburban or rural, etc.).

Create a blog entry that outlines the goals for implementing portfolios with students - and create a web page that describes those goals for both students and parents. This web page could be on a school web space, or a Web 2.0 space such as Google Sites. Send the web page address to Dr. Barrett, when it is posted.

Maintain weekly blog entries about the process, including what teachers did, what students did, examples of instructional materials that used (or developed). Dr. Barrett will follow the RSS feeds and will respond as time permits by commenting on the blogs.

Enroll in Dr. Barrett's Google Group on K12 ePortfolios with other teachers participating in the project. In this group, Dr. Barrett will post suggestions and answer questions about the ePortfolio development process using Web 2.0 tools. Due to limited time and resources, answers will be limited to the use of blogs, wikis, GoogleApps and other free Web 2.0 tools, not on using commercial or open source tools. The primary communication will be through email posts to the group. (This group is moderated to avoid spam.)

For those who like to Twitter, use the following tag #web2eportfolios or join the group: http://www.twibes.com/group/web2eportfolios

Use the following resources to support implementation of ePortfolios in K-12 schools:

http://sites.google.com/site/eportfolioswp/ (ePortfolios with WordPress or Edublogs, developed by Dr. Helen Barrett)

http://sites.google.com/site/eportfolioapps/ (ePortfolios with GoogleApps--Docs & Sites, developed by Dr. Helen Barrett)

http://sites.google.com/site/reflection4learning/ (Reflection for Learning -- ideas for scaffolding reflection in ePortfolios developed by Dr. Helen Barrett and others)

Recommendation: If a teacher is alone in a school, trying to implement ePortfolios, find a partner and get the principal's support! My previous research shows that it really takes a school team and strong leadership to effectively implement ePortfolios.

Data Collection

The primary source of data for this study will be from the blogs maintained by the teachers, and the communication between Dr. Barrett and the participants. Data will be analyzed using qualitative data analysis software. Teachers will be asked for written permission to quote specific blog postings in any publication. Examples of student portfolios shared with Dr. Barrett will have appropriate permissions as required by COPPA and FERPA.

Human Subjects Research

The purpose of this study is to collect classroom-tested strategies for implementing ePortfolios using Web 2.0 tools across the grade levels in K-12 schools. Research on instructional strategies conducted in established or commonly accepted educational settings is normally exempt from Institutional Review Board approval. Teachers who are fully participating in this project will receive an Informed Consent Form from Dr. Barrett. School administrators who have questions or concerns about the data being collected, and how it will be used, should contact Dr. Barrett.

©2009, Helen C. Barrett, Ph.D. 
Last updated September 20, 2009