Create Your Own Electronic Portfolio
(using off-the-shelf software)

by Helen C. Barrett, Ph.D.
to be published in the April 2000 issue of Learning & Leading with Technology

In the October 1998 issue of Learning and Leading with Technology, I outlined the strategic questions to ask when developing electronic portfolios. In this article, I will describe on my further development of the electronic portfolio development process, and will describe seven different generic software packages or strategies that were mentioned in the last article. There are some very good commercial electronic portfolio programs on the market, although they often reflect the developer's 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. In this article, I will 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 other related issues. A summary chart is also included.

The seven generic types of software that will be reviewed here are:

  1. Relational databases
  2. Hypermedia "card" software
  3. Multimedia authoring software
  4. World Wide Web (HTML) pages
  5. Adobe Acrobat (PDF files)
  6. Office Suite multimedia slide shows
  7. Video (Digital and Analog)

The Electronic Portfolio Development Process

Portfolios are being developed at all phases of the life span, beginning in early childhood, through K-12 and higher education, to professional teaching portfolios. Educators in the Pacific Northwest, through the Northwest Evaluation Association (1990), developed the following definition of a portfolio: A portfolio is a purposeful collection of student work that exhibits the student's 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. My definition of an electronic portfolio involves the use of electronic technologies, allowing the portfolio developer to collect and organize portfolio artifacts in many media types (audio, video, graphics, text), and, in the case of a standards-based portfolio, uses hypertext links to organize the material to connect this evidence to appropriate goals or standards. Often, the terms Electronic Portfolio and Digital Portfolio are used interchangeably; I make a distinction: an Electronic Portfolio contains artifacts that may be in analog form, such as a video tape, or may be in 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 a multimedia presentation) but rather a reflective tool which demonstrates growth over time.

Electronic portfolio development brings together two different processes: multimedia development (keywords: assess/decide, design, develop, implement, evaluate) and portfolio development (keywords: collection, selection, reflection, direction).  When developing an electronic portfolio, equal attention should be paid to these complimentary processes, since both are essential for effective electronic portfolio development.

Framework for the Portfolio Development Process (Based on Danielson & Abrutyn & ASCD, 1997)

The collection process is the primary activity of a working portfolio. The best advice is, "Don't save everything!" (but save enough to be able to demonstrate achievement of the specific standards or goals). The portfolioís purpose, audience and future use of the artifacts will determine what is collected at this stage.

In the selection phase, the portfolio developer examines what has been collected to decide what should be moved to a more permanent assessment or display portfolio. The selection criteria should reflect the learning objectives that the portfolio is demonstrating.

At the reflection stage, portfolio developers articulate their thinking about each piece in their portfolio. Through this process of reflection, we become increasingly aware of ourselves as learners. For the novice or young learner, it may be appropriate to use reflective prompts, or open-ended questions to guide the reflections. It is recommended to include reflections on every piece plus an overall reflection on the entire portfolio.

In the projection (or I prefer direction) stage, the portfolio developers, review their reflections on their learning, taking the opportunity to look ahead and set goals for the future. At this stage, portfolio developers should see patterns in their work and use these observations to help identify goals for future learning. This is the stage where portfolio development becomes professional development.

I have added the connection stage to the ASCD model, since this can become a powerful motivator for long-term development. In this stage, the portfolio is presented to the appropriate audience and discussed in meaningful conversation about teaching and/or learning. (This stage may occur before or after the projection stage.) Often, appropriate "public" commitments to learning goals can encourage collaboration and commitment to professional development and lifelong learning. Also, the feedback received in this stage can lead to further goal-setting.

In another model, Robin Fogarty, Kay Burke, and Susan Belgrad (1994, 1996) identified ten options for portfolio development:

  1. PROJECT purposes and uses
  2. COLLECT and organize
  3. SELECT valued artifacts
  4. INTERJECT personality
  5. REFLECT metacognitively
  6. INSPECT and self-assess goals
  7. PERFECT, evaluate, and grade (if you must)
  8. CONNECT and conference
  9. INJECT AND EJECT to update
  10. RESPECT accomplishments and show pride
Figure 1: Portfolio Development Options

Framework for the Multimedia Development Process

The multimedia development process usually covers the following stages: Assess/Decide, Plan/Design, Develop, Implement, Evaluate (Ivers & Barron, 1998).

Assess/Decide: In the first stage, in the case of a multimedia presentation, the focus is on a needs assessment of the potential audience, the presentation goals, and the tools that may be most appropriate for the presentation context. When developing an electronic portfolio, the focus is on the audience for the portfolio, the learner goals that the portfolio should be demonstrating. These goals should follow from national, state, or local standards and their associated evaluation rubrics or performance indicators. This stage in the portfolio development process should identify and describe the assessment context.

Design/Plan: In the second stage of multimedia development, the focus is on organizing or designing the presentation. The focus is on determining audience-appropriate content and presentation sequence, constructing flowcharts, writing storyboards. This is also the time to determine audience-appropriate software, storage and presentation medium. When developing an electronic portfolio, the focus is also on describing the audience(s) for the portfolio, whether they be the student, parent, college, community, or any other stakeholder in the assessment process. Now is the time to determine content of portfolio items (by context) and the type of evidence to be collected; determine which software tools are most appropriate for the portfolio context; and determine which storage and presentation medium is most appropriate for the situation.

Develop: In this third stage of multimedia development, the focus is on gathering multimedia materials to include in the presentation, organizing the materials into a sequence (or with hypermedia links) for the best presentation of the material, using an appropriate multimedia authoring program. When developing an electronic portfolio, the focus is on gathering multimedia materials that represent a learnerís achievement and including those artifacts in the portfolio. This is where the artifacts can be linked to standards. In electronic portfolio development, students also record their self-reflections on their own work and achievement of the goals/standards. Teachers record feedback on student work and achievement of goals/standards. The final part of this stage is to organize the material using hypertext links between goals/standards, student work samples, rubrics and assessments.

Implement: In this fourth stage of multimedia development, the developer gives the presentation. In electronic portfolio development, the portfolio is recorded to appropriate presentation and storage medium. The electronic portfolio is also presented to an appropriate audience, by the student in age-appropriate situations.

Evaluate: In this final stage of multimedia development, the focus is on evaluating the presentationís effectiveness. In electronic portfolio development, we not only evaluate the portfolioís effectiveness in light of its purpose and the assessment context; we also use the portfolio evidence to make instruction/learning decisions. In some cases, we may collect exemplary portfolio artifacts for comparison purposes.

The Electronic Portfolio Development Process óFive Stages

From the discussion of both the Multimedia Development Process and the Portfolio Development Process, five stages of Electronic Portfolio Development emerge.
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
Table 1: Stages of Electronic Portfolio Development

Based on the stages of the Electronic Portfolio Development identified above, here are a few items to consider as you make this software selection:

Stage 1: Defining the Portfolio Context and Goals (Keywords: Purpose, Audience, Decide, Assess)

Table 2: Technology Skills
Limited experience with desktop computers but able to use mouse and menus and run simple programs Level 1 and proficient with a word processor, basic e-mail, and Internet browsing; can enter data into a predesigned database Level 2 and 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 Level 3 and able to record sounds, scan images, output computer screens to a VCR, and design an original database Level 4 and multimedia programming or HTML authoring; can also create QuickTime movies live or from tape; able to program a relational database

Table 3: Technology Required
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)

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. Below are different levels for electronic portfolio development, which are closely aligned with the technology skills of the portfolio developer.
All documents are in paper format. Some portfolio data may be stored on video tape. 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 diskette or LAN server. Portfolio data is entered into a structured format, such as a database or HyperStudio template 
slide show (PowerPoint or AppleWorks) and stored on a hard drive, Zip, floppy diskette or LAN server.
Documents are translated into Portable Document Format with "hyper-links" 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 "hyper-links" between standards, artifacts, and reflections, using a web authoring program and posted to a WWW server. Portfolio is organized with a multimedia authoring program, incorporating digital sound and video is converted to digital format and pressed to CD-R/W or posted to WWW in streaming format. 
Table 4: Levels of Digital Portfolio Software Strategies based on Ease of Use

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

Stage 2: The Working Portfolio (Keywords: Collect, Interject, Design, Plan) You will know you are ready for the next stage when:
  • You have a collection of digital portfolio artifacts that represent your efforts and achievement throughout the course of your learning experiences.
  • You have used the graphics and layout capability of the chosen software to interject your personality into the portfolio artifacts.
  • It is time to turn this collection into a portfolio.

    Stage 3: The Reflective Portfolio (Keywords: Select, Reflect, Direct, Develop) You will know you are ready for the next stage when: Stage 4 - The Connected Portfolio (Keywords: Inspect, Perfect, Connect, Implement, Evaluate) You will know you are ready for the next stage when:
  • Your documents are converted into a format that allows hypertext links and you can navigate around your document using those hypertext links.
  • You have inserted the appropriate multimedia artifacts into the document.
  • You are ready to share your portfolio with someone else and/or you are ready to publish your portfolio.

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

    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) that are displayed in multimedia format and that demonstrate student achievement. Another criteria for software selection is WWW accessibility. Here is a summary of the following options which I will discuss in more detail in this article:
    1. Relational databases (like FileMaker Pro, Microsoft Access) -- not always a good choice for presenting written documents -- best for keeping track of checklists and linking student artifacts to a set of standards - a more teacher-centered approach.
    2. Hypermedia "card" programs (like Hyperstudio, SuperLink) -- a viable option for K-12 schools - includes construction as well as presentation tools. HyperStudio files are somewhat accessible on the WWW, but you need a special (free) plug-in for your browser to be able to open the files.
    3. Multimedia authoring software (Like Director, Authorware) -- cost is high, learning curve is high. For those learners who have these skills, and want to use this tool to demonstrate their multimedia authoring capabilities, this can be a very flexible authoring environment.
    4. WWW pages in HTML (preferably using an HTML authoring program) -- cost is OK, learning curve is high. Web pages work fine for text and graphics. They are more problematic for sound and video. If you want direct web access, this is the most obvious choice, but not as user-friendly.
    5. Adobe Acrobat (PDF) documents -- easy to learn, but a new type of software. Acrobat is a presentation program, not a development program. Documents are created by other programs (such as word processors, slide shows, etc.) and then "printed" to PDF format. Allows a lot of flexibility for combining information from a lot of different programs. This is the closest to a "notebook-based" portfolio format. Also allows easy integration of sound and video. PDF files are web-accessible if you use the Acrobat Reader plug-in.
    6. Multimedia Slide Shows (like Microsoft Office-Word/PowerPoint and Binder or AppleWorks) -- A place to start, but may lack the capability to make easy hypertext links with standards.
    7. Video, both analog and digital -- Digital video can be a powerful addition to many of the strategies noted above; non-linear 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 video tape is a popular final publishing medium for sharing student presentation portfolios with family and friends.

    I. Relational databases

    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 files could include the students names, addresses and various individual elements; another data file could include a list of the standards that each student should be achieving; still another data file could include portfolio artifacts that demonstrate each students' 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 that these artifacts should clearly demonstrate achieving. Still another database could present exemplars, or model demonstrations of the achievement of a particular standard for comparison purposes.


    1. Flexible reporting -- teachers can create a variety of reports either on an individual basis for a single student, or on a composite basis for a whole class, to track overall student achievement.
    2. Network friendly and WWW accessible -- The most popular programs available today are FileMaker Pro and Microsoft Access. Both of these programs can be made accessible over network as well as through a World Wide Web browser.
    3. Cross platform capable -- FileMaker Pro comes in both Macintosh and Windows versions and files are interchangeable between both platforms.
    4. Tracking and reporting achievement of standards -- a relational database is most effective in being able to keep track of the relationship between student artifacts produced for the portfolio and the standards that they demonstrate achievement.
    5. Multimedia capabilities -- the current versions of these programs allow fields that will store multimedia objects such as sound and graphic files, and links to QuickTime movies.
    6. Security -- these databases have password access which allows student assessment information to be kept confidential.
    1. Size -- Relational database files can become quite large.
    2. Player -- The software may not be readily available and a player would be required to view the files.
    3. Development skill -- designing an effective relational database requires a higher level of skill. School districts that choose this route may wish to create a template for teachers to use in the classroom.
    Most appropriate use and audience: Relational databases are really a teacher-centered approach to electronic portfolios. They provide a powerful tool for keeping track of student achievement at every age level. For example, here at the University of Alaska Anchorage, we use FileMaker Pro in our school administration certification program to keep track of the candidates achievement of the program requirements. The program seems to be less appropriate for students to maintain their own portfolios. One strategy could be to print appropriate pages from the database to Adobe Acrobat PDF format (see below) to include in the students' own Acrobat-based portfolio.

    Ease-of-use: On a scale of 1 to 5, where one is the easiest to use and five is the most difficult and requires the most skill (see Table 1), I rate the use of a predesigned database at level two, and the actual development of a relational database at level four or five. Teachers could start out with the AppleWorks database, which is similar in operation to FileMaker Pro, to set up data files to experiment with the process; however AppleWorks database is not relational.

    Technology required: On a scale of 1 to 5, where one is the lowest level of technology available in schools today and five is the highest, (see Table 2) I rate the technology needed for relational database use in the classroom in the middle, at level three.

    Cost: There are educational discounts available to purchase FileMaker Pro and Microsoft Access is included in the Windows version of Microsoft Office Professional.

    Player available: FileMaker Inc. has made a player available on its website for FileMaker Pro. This makes this application playable on computers which do not have the full program.

    II. Hypermedia "card" files

    A hypermedia program allows the integration of various media types in a single file, with construction tools for graphics, sound and movies. The very first hypermedia program was HyperCard, and today we have HyperStudio, Digital Chisel, Toolbook, and SuperLink. The basic structure of a hypermedia file is described as electronic cards which are really individual screens which can be linked together by buttons created by the user. This type of program is widely available in classrooms and is one of the most popular tools used to create electronic portfolios today. In fact, the first electronic portfolio program, Grady Profile, is still HyperCard based for the Macintosh, although they are working on a cross-platform version.


    1. Widely accessible classroom tool -- many classrooms use hypermedia software for student construction of multimedia presentations.
    2. All inclusive -- Construction and presentation tools are included in the program, including graphics, sound, and in some cases, video production tool.
    3. Cross platform -- HyperStudio and Digital Chisel versions are available for both Macintosh and Windows platforms.
    4. Multimedia -- these programs were created with multimedia in mind. Students can create files which include graphics, text, sound, navigation buttons, animation, video, all of which are elements of a good multimedia development program.
    5. Security -- these files can be password protected which allows student assessment information to be kept confidential.
    1. Web accessibility -- most of these programs are not directly web accessible; HyperStudio requires a free plug-in that must be added to your Web browser. Digital Chisel, which is Java-based, creates files which can be converted to Web pages.
    2. Size and resolution -- The view is limited to the size of the screen, and usually at a resolution that is limited to the screens size, i.e., 72 dpi and 640x480 pixels, whereas student work is usually created in much higher resolution on standard paper size, 8.5x11 inches.
    3. Link to standards -- Great effort is required to individually link the portfolio artifacts with the standards that they demonstrate.
    Most appropriate use and audience: Hypermedia programs are very appropriate for electronic portfolios in the elementary and middle school years. There are variety of templates available for purchase, that provide a model for developing portfolios. One popular strategy, explained in wonderful detail in Forest Technology's Portfolio Development Toolkit (created at Peakview Elementary School in Colorado) is to output these screens to videotape. A videotape-based portfolio is most easily shared with parents who might not have home computers or the appropriate software.

    Ease-of-use: On a scale of 1 to 5, I rate hypermedia in the middle, at level three. Students and teachers need minimal multimedia development skill, and the ability to design in a multimedia environment.

    Technology required: On a scale of 1 to 5, I rate hypermedia in the middle, also at level three.

    Cost: There are educational discounts available to purchase all of these programs, and with site licenses, the cost can be less than $40 per computer.

    Player available: Most to these programs have a free player that can be included with files for users who want to view them but do not have the full software on their computers.

    III. Multimedia authoring software

    In recent years, multimedia authoring software has emerged from companies like Macromedia and mTropolis. Two programs in popular use today are Director and Authorware. Authorware is an icon-based authoring environment, where a user builds a flow chart to create a presentation. Director is a time based authoring environment, where the user creates a movie type presentation with a cast and various multimedia elements. Both programs allow the user to create stand-alone applications which can run in a cross platform environment if the files are properly formatted.


    1. CD-ROM -- these programs offered the most flexibility in developing for CD-ROM publishing. Many CD-ROMs that are commercially developed use these programs.
    2. Multimedia tool -- these programs were also created with multimedia in mind. Students can create files which include graphics, text, sound, video, and especially animation.
    3. Player included -- these programs allow students to create stand-alone, self-contained files.
    1. Learning curve -- the learning time required to master these authoring environments is beyond the reasonable expectations for the average classroom teacher.
    2. Links to standards -- As with hypermedia programs, great effort is required to link portfolio artifacts with the standards they demonstrate achieving.
    3. Security -- these programs may not have the the password security needed to protect access student assessment information.
    Most appropriate use and audience: Multimedia authoring programs are most appropriate for certain high school environments and for adults in college and for some professional portfolios where it is important to demonstrate multimedia development skills. The audience for this type of portfolio is most likely potential employers who are looking for these kinds of skills.

    Ease-of-use: On a scale of 1 to 5, these programs are the highest (level five) end of the spectrum, requiring great efforts to learn, although most recent versions are much easier to use.

    Technology required: On a scale of 1 to 5, these programs require the most sophisticated computers available in classrooms, level five.

    Cost: Even with educational discounts, the cost per computer can exceed $150 to $800, depending on the version.

    Player available: The software creates self-contained files which do not require a special player.

    IV. World Wide Web pages

    An emerging trend in the development of electronic portfolios is publishing them in HTML format. With wide accessibility to the World Wide Web, many schools are encouraging students to publish their portfolios in this format. Students create Web pages, usually using some type of Web page editor, like Adobe PageMill, Claris Home Page, Microsoft Front Page, Netscape Composer, or many of the Web page editors that have emerged over the last few years. Students convert word processing documents into Web pages with tools built into those programs, and create hypertext links between goals and the artifacts that demonstrate achievement.


    1. Web accessible -- obviously, this format is the most accessible on the World Wide Web.
    2. Cross platform -- by its very nature the World Wide Web is accessible from both Macintosh and Windows platforms with the appropriate browser software.
    3. Multimedia -- students can easily integrate text and graphics in the Web pages, and in some cases sound and video, although with some difficulty on some servers.
    1. Learning curve -- to effectively create Web pages requires a level of skill that requires more time then the average teacher can afford.
    2. Complex structure -- Web pages are comprised of separate text and image files, which requires much more file management skills. Multimedia, especially video, is also not well integrated.
    3. Security -- student assessment information, and especially student pictures, should not be publicly available on the World Wide Web; in some states it is against the law. Most Web-based portfolios should be posted on an Intranet, accessible only within the school district environment.
    Most appropriate use and audience: World Wide Web pages can be created by students in the upper grades of elementary school and later. This format is especially appropriate for students who want to demonstrate their capabilities for potential employers, such as student teachers, substitute teachers, and for other employers who are looking for Web development skills. Parents who have access to Web browsers may also be an audience for these portfolios, assuming the school is publishing these files beyond the school's Intranet.

    Ease-of-use: On a scale of 1 to 5, if students use a Web editor I rate the ease-of-use at level three; without a Web editor, I rate the ease-of-use at level four or five.

    Technology required: On a scale of 1 to 5, access to the World Wide Web requires more sophisticated technology at level four.

    Cost: Students can create Web pages with free editors available, but a good Web editor costs from $50 to $99.

    Player available: Web browsers, such as Netscape and Microsoft Internet Explorer, are free.

    V. Adobe Acrobat

    One of the more interesting development environments for electronic portfolios is Adobe Acrobat's Portable Document Format (PDF). Adobe Acrobat 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 Acrobat distiller program. Adobe Acrobat files are called Portable Document Format because the same file can be read by a variety of computer platforms, not only Macintosh or Windows, requiring 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. Once a PDF file is created, the user can navigate sequentially (page by page) or using bookmarks they create, or with hypertext links or buttons they can create with the Acrobat Exchange program. (A personal note: my electronic teaching portfolio is published on a CD-ROM with Adobe Acrobat.)


    1. Web accessible -- these files can be read with the free Adobe Acrobat Reader which can be downloaded from the Internet, and through a Web browser if the Acrobat plug-in is installed.
    2. Cross platform -- PDF files, once created, can be read by the Adobe Acrobat Reader that is available for most common computer platforms.
    3. Multiple applications -- PDF files can be created from any application that prints to a printer. This allows portfolios to include excerpts from many different applications in a single document.
    4. Multimedia -- with the Adobe Acrobat Exchange program, users can integrate sound and video files with ease.
    5. CD-ROM -- Adobe Acrobat is an ideal format for CD-ROM publishing. Students can include the free Adobe Acrobat reader application for multiple platforms on their CD-based portfolios.
    6. Size and resolution -- PDF files can be created in any size, but most frequently in standard paper formats at 8.5x11 inches. Graphics and text retained high-resolution, even when magnified up to 800%.
    7. Security -- these files can be password protected which allows student assessment information to be kept confidential.
    1. Size of files -- although Adobe Acrobat files are usually smaller than the originating word processing documents, there still much larger than HTML files.
    2. Separate creation software -- Adobe Acrobat files are actually created by other applications. There are limited built-in editing tools for changing the contents of the files (such as correcting spelling errors).
    3. Linking to standards -- students must still create hypertext links between portfolio artifacts and the standards they demonstrate.
    Most appropriate use: Adobe Acrobat files can be created at any age level, but seem most appropriate at the high school and college level and especially for professional portfolios. The very structure of the software allows the user to save working files into PDF format on a regular basis, and at a later time, organize them into a presentation portfolio. This is the ideal program to use for creating CD-ROM based portfolios.

    Ease-of-use: On a scale of 1 to 5, Adobe Acrobat Exchange is relatively easy to learn, creating PDF files with PDF Writer at level two, and editing them with Acrobat Exchange at level three. Once the students and teachers learn the concept of how the program works and the PostScript-based page structure, the process is relatively easy to manage.

    Technology required: On a scale of 1 to 5, Adobe Acrobat Exchange requires a relatively sophisticated computer system at level 4 with additional memory required for editing the files.

    Cost: Adobe offers educational discounts for Acrobat Exchange and the PDF Writer. Adobe Educational License Program fees as low as $42 per computer are available in educational software catalogs. Educational cost for shrinkwrap package with CD-ROM is under $90.

    Player: The Adobe Acrobat Reader is available for free for download off the Internet and comes installed on most computers.

    VI. Multimedia slide shows

    Many of the Office Suites include slide show software such as Microsoft PowerPoint, and ClarisWorks Slide Show, as well as the Gold Disk's Astound software. These programs allow the user to create electronic slide shows most often shown in a linear sequence. Most of these tools allow the integration of sound and video and PowerPoint has limited capability of creating buttons and links. Other software within the Office Suite can also be used to create electronic portfolio documents, including Word and Excel.


    1. Commonly available -- this software is commonly available since it is included in most of the Office Suites.
    2. Multimedia -- these tools allow integration of graphics, sound, video.
    1. Links with standards -- students and have limited capability with this software to create hypertext links between standards and portfolio artifacts.
    2. Size of files -- these files, especially PowerPoint, can be very large.
    3. Web accessibility -- to publish these files on the Internet requires a conversion to HTML. The latest versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint have the capability to convert the document into HTML format with relative ease.
    4. Security --these programs may not have the password security needed to protect access to student assessment information.
    Most appropriate use: Because of the widespread availability of this software, students from Middle School and higher can easily create presentations that demonstrate their achievement. Perhaps, once the slide shows are created, they can be converted into either PDF or HTML formats, which allows easier creation of hypertext links with standards.

    Ease-of-use: On a scale of 1 to 5, I find the skill needed to create slide shows at level three.

    Technology required: On a scale of 1 to 5, Microsoft PowerPoint requires a relatively higher level of technology, level four, whereas versions of ClarisWorks are available for technology at level two.

    Cost: Microsoft PowerPoint is included with the latest versions of Microsoft Office, and the educational discounts vary for this software, based on site licenses and quantities purchased. ClarisWorks (now AppleWorks) is available at educational discounts as low as $29 in quantity.

    Player: PowerPoint has a free player that can be included with the files for playback on computers that do not contain the full software package. There is no such player available for ClarisWorks.

    VII. Video (Analog and Digital)

     Digital Video

     Analog Video

     Description  Structure: digitized video, usually in QuickTime or AVI format. Common software (in addition to those mentioned below): Movie Player Pro (for editing), Apple Video Player (for digitizing), iMovie  Structure: analog video on a variety of formats (i.e., VHS, 8mm).
    1.  www access 
    2. high interactivity 
    3. random access 
    4. editing
    1. ubiquitous access 
    2. cheap storage media 
    3. acceptable quality 
    4. relatively low cost hardware requirements
    1. file size, storage 
    2. quality 
    3. bandwidth requirements 
    4. hardware requirements to digitize video
    1. linear access 
    2. low interactivity 
    3. no www access 
    4. storage 
    5. editing
     Most Appropriate Use In the application of portfolios, often used to include performances in and out of the classroom within other digital portfolio construction tools. Also, digital video editing (i.e., Avid Cinema, Adobe Premiere, iMovie) can be used to prepare the artifacts for presentation in analog video. In the application of portfolios, often used to capture performances in the classroom or to gather data outside the classroom. Also a universal format for final presentation portfolio; sometimes the computer is used to organize and present the formal portfolio.
     Ease of Use On a scale of 1 to 5, I find skill needed to create digital video at level five, although with tools like Avid Cinema and iMovie, the learning curve is reduced. On a scale of 1 to 5, I find skill needed to record analog video at level 2, although editing analog video tape is more complicated.
     Technology Required On a scale of 1 to 5, digital video requires more powerful computers, at level five, including a video digitizing board.  Digital video cameras streamline the process, especially with the latest computers which have FireWire (IEEE 1394) connections to the DV camera.  On a scale of 1 to 5, analog video can be recorded with low-end equipment, as low as $300 for a 8mm video camera. 
     Cost Video editing software can be purchased for as low as $29 (MoviePlayer Pro), or as high as $500+. The cost of digital video cameras has fallen below $1,000 in the last year. Other than the cost of a camera or VCR, the only additional cost is the cost of a videotape. Analog video editing system cost can range from $250 and up.
     Player Player software is included for free with most operating systems. All that is required is a VCR. 

    NOTE: The process and requirements for recording computer screen to analog video is covered in a PDF file information booklet entitled, "Using the VCR as a Printer for HyperStudio Projects" located online at: Includes wiring diagram, definition of terms and hardware requirements.


    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 question 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. This article is meant to lay out my assessment of these seven different tools for constructing electronic portfolios using generic, off-the-shelf software. I would be interested in hearing from educators who have used any of these tools (or new strategies I haven't mentioned here), and who would be willing to share their successes or frustrations in a case study. I am currently writing a book on Learning with Electronic Portfolios, and would like to include case studies from across the age levels (early childhood through adult, professional portfolios). I am interested in the technical support issues associated with each of these strategies, and if there are any other advantages and disadvantages I have not identified.

    I will be posting a questionnaire online to gather more information on development strategies and would like to hear from educators who have experience with electronic portfolios. From this data, I would like to build a decision matrix to help educators determine the best strategy for their situation. I maintain a web site on technology support for alternative assessment and electronic portfolios at: or (soon) and I can be reached by e-mail at: My university also hosts a listserv on this topic, and information on joining the discussion list is on the web site. Let's continue discussing the possibilities.


    Barrett, Helen (1999). "Using Technology to Support Alternative Assessment and Electronic Portfolios" [online:]

    Barrett, Helen (1998). "Strategic Questions; What to Consider When Planning for Electronic Portfolios" in Learning & Leading with Technology. October, 1998. Vol. No. , pp.8-

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

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

    Fogarty, Robin (ed.) (1996) Student Portfolios: A Collection of Articles. Palatine: IRI/Skylight Training & Publishing

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

    Table 5
    Comparison of Portfolio Construction Tools

     Relational data base
     Hypermedia "card" file (including templates)
     Multimedia authoring software
     WWW Pages in HTML
     Acrobat Reader
    (PDF files)
     Integrated "Office" Software Slide Shows
    Common development tools FileMaker Pro HyperStudio 
    Digital Chisel
    Macromedia Authorware, Director Adobe PageMill, Claris Home Page, Composer Adobe Acrobat Exchange  Microsoft Office, Works, AppleWorks
    Structure & Links Structured fields/records/ files linked together by common fields Electronic cards (screens) linked together by "buttons" Icon-based or time-based multimedia authoring environment WWW pages viewed with a Web Browser (Netscape or Explorer) using links created in HTML Postscript-based pages that can be navigated sequentially, or using bookmarks, links, or buttons Slide Shows (i.e.,PowerPoint) for presentation or "Binder" (Office) to link documents together
    Player available Yes Yes Self-contained Browser (free) Reader (free)  No
    Advantages Flexible reporting 
    Web accessible 
    Widely accessible in classrooms 
    Construction tools included 
    Some software cross-platform
    Most flexibility in development 
    Create files from any application 
    Ideal for CD-R
    Can now capture web pages with links
    Widely accessible software. 
    Disadvantages Size of files 
    Requires player
    Not easily web-accessible (requires browser plug-in) 
    View limited to screen size
    Steep learning curve Multimedia (video) not well integrated 
    Complex authoring
    Size of files 
    Limited construction tools
    Not directly web-accessible 
    Ease of creating hypertext links. 
    Requires original application to read.
    Ease of Use*

    1=low skill
    5-high skill

    4 to develop 
    2 to use
    3 to develop
    2 with editor 
    4 without
    Technology Required
    1=low tech
    5=high tech
     3 - 4
    Cost  (with Ed. discounts)

    © 1999, Helen C. Barrett

    Case Studies:

    Creating the working portfolio -- a case study of a professional portfolio

    As a faculty member in the School of Education at the University of Alaska Anchorage, I am required to develop a portfolio that demonstrates my capabilities in teaching, research, and service. In the fall of 1997, I developed a comprehensive teaching portfolio using Adobe Acrobat. I found that the best storage medium for my working portfolio begins with the files on my hard drive, or files copied to a Zip disk, and ultimately copied to a Jaz drive for CD ROM development. I have divided my Jaz disk into two separate partitions, one at 650 megabytes (the size of a CD-ROM) and the other at 350 megabytes for other working files, such as the Windows version of Adobe Acrobat Reader. [When creating a cross-platform CD-ROM, I use the Toast software with my CD-ROM recorder, and the process of creating a "Hybrid" CD (with both Mac and ISO 9660 formats) requires that my "shared data" exist on a Macintosh-formatted volume, and the files that are only used in the ISO 9660 (Windows-accessible format) be on a different volume and incorporated when the CD-R is written.]

    On a regular basis, I select specific files that I want to include in my formal portfolio, and print them to PDF files. I regularly save e-mail messages from students and colleagues, as well as other documents that I create. I store those files in a folder on my hard drive that I call "new items". I create many Web pages to support my courses, and I also print those out to PDF format. Once a year, I sit down with my working portfolio files, discard items that no longer represent my best work, and insert the new items that I've collected over the last year. My portfolio is organized around the standards for teaching, research, and service that have been established for my College. I use this opportunity to reflect on my goals for the last year, my achievements, my goals for the next year, and my growth as an educator. I pull all the new files together into a new PDF file, re-organize my portfolio on my Jaz disk, and write a new CD ROM portfolio in cross-platform format so that it can be read by anyone with a Macintosh or Windows computer.

    I have also introduced this strategy to students in the MAT program at the University of Alaska Anchorage, where they have included portfolio artifacts which demonstrate achievement of the State of Alaska Teacher Education Standards (4 AAC 04.200). These artifacts include lesson plans, QuickTime video clips of classrooms and student teaching, student comments, student products, a current resume, and a self evaluation.