Create Your Own Electronic Portfolio

Using Off-the-Shelf Software to Showcase Your Own or Student Work

By Helen C. Barrett
Published in Learning & Leading with Technology, April, 2000

In the October 1998 issue of Learning & Leading with Technology, I outlined the strategic questions to ask when developing electronic portfolios. This article describes the electronic portfolio development process further and covers seven different software and hardware tools for creating portfolios. Some very good commercial electronic portfolio programs are on the market, although they often reflect the developerís style or are constrained by the limits of the software structure. Many educators who want to develop electronic portfolios tend to design their own, using off-the-shelf software or generic strategies. Here, I discuss the structure of each type of program, the advantages and disadvantages of each strategy, the relative ease of learning the software, the level of technology required, and related issues. The seven generic types of software are:

1. Relational databases
2. Hypermedia "card" software
3. Multimedia authoring software
4. World Wide Web (HTML) pages
5. Adobe Acrobat (PDF files)
6. Multimedia slideshows
7. Video (digital and analog)

Why Portfolios?

Portfolio assessment has become more commonplace in schools because it allows teachers to assess student development over periods of time, sometimes across several years.

People develop portfolios at all phases of the lifespan. Educators in the Pacific Northwest (Northwest Evaluation Association, 1990), developed the following definition of portfolio.

A portfolio is a purposeful collection of student work that exhibits the studentís efforts, progress, and achievements in one or more areas. The collection must include student participation in selecting contents, the criteria for selection; the criteria for judging merit, and evidence of student self-reflection. Electronic Portfolios. My definition of electronic portfolio includes the use of electronic 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 to connect 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. An electronic portfolio is not a haphazard collection of artifacts (i.e., a digital scrapbook or multimedia presentation) but rather a reflective tool that demonstrates growth over time.

Electronic Portfolio Development

Electronic portfolio development brings together two different processes: multimedia project development and portfolio development. When developing an electronic portfolio, equal attention should be paid to these complimentary processes, as both are essential for effective electronic portfolio development. (See the online supplement at for a complete discussion of these processes.)

Danielson and Abrutyn (1997) lay out a process for developing a portfolio:

  1. Collection: The portfolioís purpose, audience, and future use of the artifacts will determine what artifacts to collect.
  2. Selection: Selection criteria for materials to include should reflect the learning objectives established for the portfolio. These should follow from national, state, or local standards and their associated evaluation rubrics or performance indicators.
  3. Reflection: Include reflections on every piece in your portfolio and an overall reflection.
  4. Projection (or I prefer, Direction): Review your reflections on learning, look ahead, and set goals for the future.
I add a Connection stage, in which you create hypertext links and publish your portfolio to enable feedback from others, which can occur before or after the projection/direction stage.

Multimedia project development usually includes the following steps (Ivers & Barron, 1998):

  1. Assess/Decide
  2. Plan/Design
  3. Develop,
  4. Implement
  5. Evaluate
Assess/Decide. The focus is on needs assessment of the audience, the presentation goals, and the appropriate tools for the final portfolio presentation.

Design/Plan. In the second stage, focus on organizing or designing the presentation. Determine audience-appropriate content, software, storage medium, and presentation sequence. Construct flow charts and write storyboards.

Develop. Gather materials to include in the presentation and organize them into a sequence (or use hyperlinks) for the best presentation of the material, using an appropriate multimedia authoring program.

Implement. The developer presents the portfolio to the intended audience.

Evaluate. In this final stage of multimedia development, the focus is on evaluating the presentationís effectiveness in light of its purpose and the assessment context.

Five Stages

I have created a process for developing an electronic portfolio based on the general portfolio and multimedia development processes (Table 1).
Table 1: Stages of Electronic Portfolio Development
Portfolio Development Stages of Electronic Portfolio Development Multimedia Development
Purpose & Audience 1. Defining the Portfolio Context & Goals Decide, Assess
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 (Celebrate) 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. Just as there are developmental levels in student learning, there are developmental levels in digital portfolio development. Table 2 presents different levels for electronic portfolio development, which are closely aligned with the technology skills of the portfolio developer.
Table 2. Levels of electronic portfolio software strategies based on ease of use.
All documents are in paper format. Some portfolio data may be stored on videotape.
All documents are in digital file formats, using word processing or other commonly used software, and stored in electronic folders on a hard drive, floppy disk, or LAN server.
Portfolio data is entered into a structured format, such as a database or HyperStudio template or slide show (such as PowerPoint or AppleWorks) and stored on a hard drive, Zip, floppy disk, or LAN.
Documents are translated into Portable Document Format with hyperlinks between standards, artifacts, and reflections using Adobe Acrobat Exchange and stored on a hard drive, Zip, Jaz, CD-R/W, or LAN server.
Documents are translated into HTML, complete with hyperlinks between standards, artifacts, and reflections, using a Web authoring program and posted to a Web server.
Portfolio is organized with a multimedia authoring program, incorporating digital sound and video. Then it is converted to digital format and pressed to CD-R/W or posted to the Web in streaming format.

Based on these levels and stages, I offer a few items to consider as you make this software selection.

Stage 1: Defining the Portfolio Context and Goals (Keywords: Purpose, Audience, Decide, Assess). What is the assessment context, including the purpose of the portfolio? Is it based on learner outcome goals (which should follow from national, state, or local standards and their associated evaluation rubrics or observable behaviors)? Setting the assessment context frames the rest of the portfolio development process.

What resources are available for electronic portfolio development? What hardware and software do you have and how often do students have access to it? What are the technology skills of the students and teachers? Some possible options are outlined in Tables 3 & 4.

Table 3. Technology skill levels.
Limited experience with desktop computers but able to use mouse and menus and run simple programs
Level 1 plus proficient with a word processor, basic e-mail, and Internet browsing; can enter data into a predesigned database
Level 2 plus able to build a simple hypertext (nonlinear) document with links using a hypermedia program such as HyperStudio or Adobe Acrobat Exchange or an HTML WYSIWYG editor
4 Level 3 plus able to record sounds, scan images, output computer screens to a VCR, and design an original database
Level 4 plus multimedia programming or HTML authoring; can also create QuickTime movies live or from tape; able to program a relational database
Table 4. Technology Available
No computer
Single computer with 16 MB RAM, 500 MB HD, no AV input/output
One or two computers with 32 MB RAM, 1+ GB HD, simple AV input (such as QuickCam)
Three or four computers, one of which has 64+ MB RAM, 2+GB HD, AV input and output, scanner, VCR, video camera, high-density floppy (such as a Zip drive)
Level 4 and CD-ROM recorder, at least two computers with 128+ MB RAM; digital video editing hardware and software. Extra Gb+ storage (such as Jaz drive)

Who is the audience for the portfolioóstudent, parent, professor, or employer? The primary audience for the portfolio affects the decisions made about the format and storage of the presentation portfolio. Choose a format the audience will most likely have access to (e.g., a home computer, VCR, or the Web).

You will know you are ready for the next stage when you have:

Stage 2: The Working Portfolio (Keywords: Collect, Interject, Design, Plan). What is the content of portfolio items (determined by the assessment context) and the type of evidence to be collected? This is where the standards become a very important part of the planning process. Knowing which standards or goals you are trying to demonstrate should help determine the types of portfolio artifacts to collect. For example, if the portfolio goal is to demonstrate the standard of clear communication, then examples should reflect studentís writing (scanned or imported from a word processing document) and speaking abilities (sound or video clips).

Which software tools are most appropriate for the portfolio context and the resources available? This question is the theme of the rest of this article. The software used to create the electronic portfolio will control, restrict, or enhance the portfolio development process. The electronic portfolio software should match the vision and style of the portfolio developer.

Which storage and presentation medium is most appropriate for the situation (computer hard disk, videotape, LAN, the Web, CD-ROM)? The type of audience for the portfolio will determine this answer. There are also multiple options, depending on the software chosen.

What multimedia materials will you gather to represent a learnerís achievement? Once you have answered the questions about portfolio context and content and addressed the limitations on the available equipment and usersí skills (both teachersí and studentsí), you will be able to determine the type of materials you will digitize.

This can include written work, images of 3-D projects, speech recordings, and video clips of performances. You will want to collect artifacts from different time periods to demonstrate growth and learning achieved over time.

You will know you are ready for the next stage when you have:

Stage 3: The Reflective Portfolio (Keywords: Select, Reflect, Direct, Develop). How will you select the specific artifacts from the abundance of the working portfolio to demonstrate achieving the portfolioís goals? What are your criteria for selecting artifacts and for judging merit? Having a clear set of rubrics at this stage will help guide portfolio development and evaluation.

How will you record self-reflection on work and achievement of goals? The quality of the learning that results from the portfolio development process may be in direct proportion to the quality of the studentsí self-reflection on their work. One challenge in this process is to keep these reflections confidential. The personal, private reflections of the learner need to be guarded and not published in a public medium.

How will you record teacher feedback on student work and achievement of goals, when appropriate? Even more critical is the confidential nature of the assessment process. Teachersí feedback should also be kept confidential so that only the student, parents, and other appropriate audiences have access. Security, in the form of password protection to control access, is an important factor when choosing electronic portfolio development software.

How will you record goals for future learning based on the personal reflections and feedback? The primary benefit of a portfolio is to see growth over time, which should inspire goal setting for future learning. It is this process of setting learning goals that turns the portfolio into a powerful tool for long-term growth and development.

You will know you are ready for the next stage when you have:

Stage 4: The Connected Portfolio (Keywords: Inspect, Perfect, Connect, Implement, Evaluate). How will you organize the digital artifacts? Have you selected software that allows you to create hyperlinks between goals, student work samples, rubrics, and assessment? 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 that can limit or expand the electronic portfolio options.

How will you evaluate the portfolioís 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 it is meeting the goals set.

Depending on portfolio context, how will you use portfolio evidence to make instruction/learning decisions? Whether the portfolio is developed with a young child or a practicing professional, the artifacts collected along with the self-reflection should help guide learning decisions. This process brings together instruction and assessment in the most effective way.

Will you develop a collection of exemplary portfolio artifacts for comparison purposes? Many portfolio development guidebooks recommend collecting model portfolio artifacts that demonstrate achievement of specific standards. This provides the audience with a frame of reference to judge a specific studentís work. It also provides concrete examples of good work for students to emulate.

You will know you are ready for the next stage when:

Stage 5: The Presentation Portfolio (Keywords: Respect, Celebrate, Present, Publish).

How will you record the portfolio to an appropriate presentation and storage medium? These will be different for a working portfolio and a presentation portfolio. I find that the best medium for a working portfolio is videotape, computer hard disk, Zip disk, or network server. The best medium for a formal portfolio is CD-Recordable disc, Web server, or videotape.

How will you or your students present the finished portfolio to an appropriate audience? This will be a very individual strategy, depending on the context. An emerging strategy is student-led conferences, which enable learners to share their portfolios with a targeted audience, whether parents, peers, or potential employers. This is also an opportunity for professionals to share their teaching portfolios with colleagues for meaningful feedback and collaboration in self-assessment.

Software Selection

One of the key criteria for software selection should be its capability to allow teachers and students to create hypertext links between goals, outcomes, and various student artifacts (products and projects) displayed in multimedia format. Another is Web accessibility. With seven options to choose from, you should be able to find software to fit your audience, goals, technology skills, and available equipment (See Table 5 for a comparison of software. Find detailed descriptions, software resources, comparison information, and selection guidelines throughout the process online at

Relational Databases (e.g., FileMaker Pro, Microsoft Access). In recent years, new database management tools have become available that allow teachers to easily create whole-class records of student achievement. A relational database is actually a series of interlinked structured data files linked together by common fields. One data file could include the studentsí names, addresses, and various individual elements; another could include a list of the standards that each student should be achieving; still another could include portfolio artifacts that demonstrate each studentís achievement of those standards. The purpose of using a relational database is to link together the students with their individual portfolio artifacts and the standards these artifacts should clearly demonstrate.

Advantages include flexibility, network and Web capabilities, cross-platform capabilities, tracking and reporting, multimedia, and security. Disadvantages include the size of relational database files (they can become very large and unwieldy); they may not be accessible to users who do have the software; and they require a high level of skill to use effectively.

Databases are really teacher-centered portfolio tools. They allow teachers to keep track of student achievement at every level. They are less appropriate for students to use to maintain their own portfolios. You may save appropriate pages from the database as PDF files for students to include in their own portfolios.

Hypermedia "Card" Programs (e.g., HyperStudio, Digital Chisel, Toolbook, and SuperLink). A hypermedia program allows the integration of various media types in a single file, with construction tools for graphics, sound, and movies. The basic structure of a hypermedia file is described as electronic cards that are really individual screens that can be linked together by buttons the user creates.

Hypermedia programs are widely available in classrooms, usually all-inclusive, cross-platform, multimedia capable, and secure. Disadvantages include lack of integrated Web accessibility, size and resolution constraints, and increased effort linking artifacts to standards.

Hypermedia programs are most appropriate for elementary or middle school portfolios. Templates and strategies are widely available to help you begin using your chosen hypermedia tool as a portfolio development and assessment tool.

Multimedia Authoring Software (e.g., Macromedia Director or Authorware). In recent years, multimedia authoring software has emerged from such companies as Macromedia and mTropolis. Authorware is an icon-based authoring environment, in which a user builds a flow chart to create a presentation. Director is a time-based authoring environment, in which the user creates an interactive presentation with a cast and various multimedia elements. Both programs allow the user to create stand-alone applications that can run on Windows and Macintosh platforms.

These programs allow users to create presentations that are self-running, without separate player software. They were designed to incorporate multimedia elements. They are ideal for CD-ROM publishing, but they have a steep learning curve, require extra effort to link artifacts to standards, and may not offer the necessary security.

Multimedia authoring programs would be most appropriate for high school, college, or professional portfolio creation.

Web Pages (e.g., Adobe PageMill, Claris Home Page, Microsoft FrontPage, Netscape Composer). An emerging trend in the development of electronic portfolios is to publish them in HTML format. With wide accessibility to the Web, many schools are encouraging students to publish their portfolios in this format. Students convert word processing documents into Web pages with tools built into those programs and create hyperlinks between goals and the artifacts that demonstrate achievement.

The advantages of creating Web-based portfolios center on its multimedia, cross-platform, and Web capabilities. Any potential viewer simply needs Internet access and a Web browser. However, the learning curve is steep. Web pages require much more file-management skill than other types of portfolio development tools, and the security can be a problem.

Students in upper-elementary grades and beyond can create Web pages, but this type of portfolio is especially appropriate for those who wish to showcase their portfolio for a potential employer.

PDF Documents (Adobe Acrobat). One of the more interesting development environments for electronic portfolios is Adobe Acrobatís Portable Document Format (PDF). PDF files are based on the Postscript page layout language originally developed for printing to a laser printer. PDF files are created using the tools provided by Adobe, either the PDF Writer or Distiller program. Adobe Acrobat files are called Portable Document Format because the same file can be read by a variety of computer platforms and require only the free Acrobat Reader software. The process of creating an Acrobat file can be as easy as printing to a printer; in fact, the PDF Writer is a printer driver that is selected when the user wants to convert a document from any application into a PDF file. Another software package, PrintToPDF, is a less powerful shareware Macintosh printer driver that creates simple PDFs for a much lower price ($20).

Once a PDF file is created, the user can navigate page by page, by using bookmarks they create, or with hypertext links or buttons they can create with the Acrobat Exchange program. My own electronic teaching portfolio is published on CD-ROM with Adobe Acrobat.

PDF files are easy to access and read, can be created from multiple applications, include multimedia elements, are easily published to CD-ROM, have few size and resolution constraints, and are secure. Disadvantages include the large file size, the need for separate creation software, and the effort required to link artifacts to standards. Students at all levels can create PDF files, but it is a more appropriate tool for high school and older students.

Multimedia Slideshows (e.g., AppleWorks and PowerPoint). These programs allow the user to create electronic slideshows most often shown in a linear sequence. Most of these tools allow the integration of sound and video, and Microsoft PowerPoint allows some buttons and links. Other software can also be used to create electronic portfolio documents, such as a word processor or spreadsheet.

Advantages of multimedia slideshows include the easy access to the software and its multimedia capabilities. But, it is challenging to link artifacts to standards, files can be very large, Web publishing requires conversion to HTML, password protection may not be available.

Multimedia slideshows are most appropriate for middle school and older students.

Video (digital and analog). Digital video can be a powerful addition to many of the other portfolio development tools outlined here. Nonlinear digital video editing could be used to organize videotaped portfolio artifacts.

Analog video can be used to gather evidence of student learning in a low-cost storage medium, and videotape is a popular final publishing medium for sharing student presentation portfolios with family and friends.

Advantages of analog video include its widespread use, cheap storage medium, acceptable quality, and relatively low-cost hardware. Analog video, however, allows only linear access, has low interactivity, offers no Web accessibility, takes a lot storage space, and is hard to edit. Digital video adds Web accessibility, high interactivity, random access, and easy editing, but also can be low quality, have huge file size and bandwidth requirements, and require expensive equipment to digitize and edit.

Video is appropriate for a wide range of students and audiences. It is the best way to capture classroom interaction, including nonverbal cues, and it is often the method by which final portfolios are shared.



With all of these choices, which strategy should you choose? Are different tools more appropriate at different stages of the electronic portfolio development process? These questions can only be answered after addressing some of the questions posed at the beginning of the article, especially the purpose and audience for the portfolio, the resources available (equipment and technology skills required), and where the advantages of the strategy outweigh the disadvantages for your situation.

I would be interested in hearing from educators who have used any of these (or other) tools and who would be willing to share their successes or frustrations in a case study. (See the online supplement at for more on how to participate.)


Barrett, H. (1998). Strategic questions: What to consider when planning for electronic portfolios. Learning & Leading with Technology 26(2), 6?13. Available:óselect Archive, then Volume 26, Number 2.

Barrett, H. (1999). Using technology to support alternative assessment and electronic portfolios [Online document]. Anchorage: University of Alaska?Anchorage. Available:

Danielson, C., & Abrutyn, L. (1997) An introduction to using portfolios in the classroom. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Ivers, K., & Barron, A. E. (1998) Multimedia projects in education. Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited, Inc.

Software Publisher websites

Relational databases
FileMaker Pro (

Microsoft Access (

Hypermedia card formats
HyperStudio (

HyperCard (

Digital Chisel (

Asymetrix Toolbook (

SuperLink (

Some commercially available electronic portfolio templates use some of these programs.

Multimedia authoring software
Macromedia Authorware (

Macromedia Director (

Network-compatible hypermedia
HTML Web page editors

Adobe Page Mill (

Adobe GoLive (

FileMaker Home Page (

Macromedia DreamWeaver (

Netscape Composer (

Öand many, many more HTML Editors

Adobe Acrobat portable document format (PDF) files (

PDF Conversion Programs:
PrintToPDF ( (Macintosh only) $20 shareware single user,  $300 site license
Win2PDF (Windows NT or 2000) free for non-commercial use, $35 single user license fee
5D PDF Creator (Windows or Mac) $99
PDF Converter (Windows 3.1/95/98/2000/NT) $129 single user
PDF Driver 4.0 (Windows 95/98/NT/2000) $12.50 Education Version
Other tool software programs
Integrated "Works" programs, especially those that allow creation of slideshows

AppleWorks (

Microsoft PowerPoint (