Authentic Assessment with Electronic Portfolios using Common Software and Web 2.0 Tools

©2006, Helen C. Barrett, Ph.D.

This web page provides information on common software tools available on personal computers and/or the Internet to facilitate assessment FOR learning (classroom-based assessment) in electronic portfolios. For a more in-depth discussion of this process, read my Connected Newsletter article. First, a definition:

The terms alternative assessment, authentic assessment, or performance-based assessment are often used synonymously "to mean variants of performance assessments that require students to generate rather than choose a response". (Herman, Aschbacher, and Winters, 1992, p. 2).

An electronic portfolio provides an environment where students can: collect their work in a digital archive; select specific pieces of work (hyperlink to artifacts) to highlight specific achievements; reflect on the learning demonstrated in the portfolio, in either text or multimedia form; set goals for future learning (or direction) to improve; and celebrate achievement through sharing this work with an audience, whether real or virtual. When used in formative, classroom-based assessment, teachers (and peers) can review the portfolio document, and provide formative feedback to students on where they could improve.

I am intrigued by the potential for allowing learners to incorporate a variety of Web 2.0 services into their portfolios. When I conducted my own “Online Portfolio Adventure” in 2004, I did not upload many artifacts; instead, I used URL links to documents that I had already stored on one of my own web spaces (Lifetime Personal Web Space). I can see a lot of potential for taking the next step, incorporating Web 2.0 technologies, both as the organizer as well as access to portfolio content. Below I provide a discussion of the Planning Issues, and the pros and cons of different software tools (but not any commercial online portfolio systems), and a list of Web 2.0 technologies that could be used in online portfolio development.

The commercial portfolio systems, especially TaskStream, facilitate this work flow management very well, specializing in both formative and summative assessment. On this page, I wanted to provide another set of options for schools that might not be able to afford a commercial system, or for those who don't need to aggregate performance data, but who simply want to facilitate communication and feedback about student learning.

Planning Issues:
What to consider when deciding on appropriate electronic portfolio tools to facilitate authentic assessment FOR learning (classroom-based assessment)

  1. Purpose: In this context, the purpose of e-Portfolio development is for authentic assessment (feedback on student work to facilitate improvement), as well as showcasing best work and growth over time. The focus is more on communication about student work (narrative), not on aggregating quantitative data.
  2. Tool capabilities allow interaction between teachers and students around learning activities and products:
    • Students to create, store artifacts and reflections, and organize their work, preferably with hyperlinks
    • Teachers to review the work and provide feedback in narrative form (based on a rubric, if available)
  3. Internet access
    • If you have slow or infrequent Internet access in the classroom, then try Microsoft Office, Adobe Acrobat, an HTML editor or a multimedia authoring tool (choice depending on the skill level of the students), and publish portfolios on optical media (CD or DVD recordable disk). (see Dr. Barrett's 5x5 model (PDF) and article from 2000)
    • If you have high speed Internet access in the classroom on a regular basis, then use one of the online software, services or strategies. There are many options available, depending on whether you have your own server or need a hosted solution. See Dr. Barrett's Online Portfolio Adventure. Consider some of the Web 2.0 technologies for part of the system.

Today's Tool Choices (based on Quality of Internet Access)

Poor Internet Access?

  • Microsoft Office
    - Word, Excel & PowerPoint
  • Adobe Acrobat
  • Apple iLife06
    - iDVD (publish on a DVD)
    - iWeb
  • Web Page Editors (DreamWeaver, Front Page, Mozilla Composer)

These tools do not require Internet access to create electronic portfolios. To post these portfolios to the Internet will require server space. These portfolios are often published on a CD-recordable disc.

Good Internet Access?

These tools require only a browser and good Internet access to create electronic portfolios because they are Application Services Providers (ASP) - the software is on the web server. Server space is included by the service provider.

Advantages and Disadvantages for each type of tool

Tool Advantages Disadvantages

Microsoft Office (or

On most personal computers, common toolset, easy to create hyperlinks. Does not require Internet access to develop portfolios (students work off-line). Better for publising on LAN, CD. Set up own system for storing and organizing files, and managing the feedback on student work (probably using Track Changes in Word or Comments in all tools). Data aggregation must be set up with another tool, like Excel, not automated. Files should be translated into Web-compatible format before posting online (HTML or PDF).
Adobe Acrobat (PDF) Create hyperlinked portfolio documents from any application, which can be printed to a PDF file. Integrate multimedia. Stickies (comments) for provide feedback on any page. All comments can be summarized in a single document. WWW-compatible format. Best format for publishing in CD. Can be read with free Acrobat Reader. Cost (requires Standard version to create hyperlinked document, merging many different pages into one document). Set up own system for storing and organizing files, and managing the feedback on student work. Data aggregation must be set up by teacher with another tool, like Excel, not automated. - a free service to K12 schools by Oracle

My Portfolio (PDF screen shots only)

Free - School accounts only - Principal has to sign AUP - Integrated with Thinkquest resources. Protected site, teacher can manage e-mail recipients and senders. Stickies to provide feedback on student web pages. Portfolios can only be accessed inside the system. Set up own system for managing the feedback on student work. Data aggregation must be set up by teacher with another tool, like Excel, not automated. More of a web page builder than a portfolio program.

iLife06 (Mac only)

My iWeb Portfolio

Seamless integration of video/audio into portfolios created with iWeb (or iDVD) and iMovie, iPhoto, iTunes and Garage Band. Use iDVD for creating DVD portfolios (video or image/slide shows). Use iWeb to publish web-based portfolios (create off-line and upload). Cost (free on new Macintosh computers). Requires server to publish web pages (or .Mac account) or DVD writer (for iDVD)

Web Page Editors
My Composer Portfolio

Flexibility and creativity in portfolio authoring. Helps students build technology skills. Requires web server (unless publishing on CD). High learning curve, difficult to support all students.

Open Source Portfolios (OSP, Elgg)


Free customized system, large community of users. Requires a server and someone to maintain it. Volunteer developers often cannot respond to enhancement requests

Web 2.0 tools (see list and links below)

Free, often open-source tools available on the WWW Requires higher technology competency, mostly not secure websites


My WikiSpaces Portfolio

Free (for education) online system. Allows 2 GB online storage. All URLs are automatically converted to weblinks. Upload any type of a file, link from any page. Page can be edited by approved members.Discussion link on top of every page.Saves draft pages and keeps versions. Backup recent copies of the pages in HTML (or wikitext) & download archive to hard drive. Allows embedding media and building tables on pages. Higher learning curve. Need to manually construct navigation menu. Does not allow organizing files into folders. Archived version does not save navigation menu. No data management tool, to aggregate assessment data.
Tool Advantages Disadvantages

When learning new tools, use familiar tasks; when learning new tasks, use familiar tools. (Barrett, 1991)

Web 2.0 Tools for Creating Electronic Portfolios (Wikipedia definition of Web 2.0) and examples of my portfolio using other Web 2.0 tools

NOTE: not all of these tools are appropriate for use in schools, especially those that are open networks. Some of these websites are often blocked from access on school networks. The examples shown here are illustrative of the type of Web 2.0 tools that are used by many young people and that provide models of engaging environments to enhance online portfolio development. See my recent blog entry about the positive and negative implications of social networking sites, like MySpace.

How does the Web 2.0 Metaphor apply to ePortfolios?

As I read the discussion of Web 2.0 on Wikipedia, and follow many of the links, the parallels with education were obvious. Web 1.0 is represented by traditional static web pages (that are updated rarely, if at all); Web 2.0 is represented by server-side software that is more interactive and more like desktop applications. Web 2.0 is sometimes called the "Participatory Web" based on an architecture for interaction.

A social phenomenon referring to an approach to creating and distributing Web content itself, characterized by open communication, decentralization of authority, freedom to share and re-use, and "the market as a conversation"

In Thomas Friedman's revised version of The World is Flat, he changed his fourth "flattener" from "Open-Sourcing" (Self-Organizing Collaborative Communities) to "Uploading" (Online Communities, Open Source, Blogging, Wikipedia and social networks). While he didn't classify this flattener as Web 2.0, it is obvious to that is what he meant from the type of software that he described.

The following is a chart that was published by Tim O'Reilly in an article that discusses Web 2.0. He goes on to talk about Harnessing Collective Intelligence, Blogging and the Wisdom of Crowds, Software as Service, not as Product. There is some controversy in this duality, and while some authors do not agree with the concept of a new Internet, it is still interesting to speculate how so-called Web 2.0 technologies are changing business models.

Web 1.0
  Web 2.0
  Google AdSense
Britannica Online
personal websites
domain name speculation
  search engine optimization
page views
  cost per click
screen scraping
  web services
content management systems
directories (taxonomy)
  tagging ("folksonomy")

The Web 1.0/2.0 concept as compared here mostly applies to e-commerce. But how will Web 2.0 impact education? There are already a growing group of educators who are exploring the emerging role of these Web 2.0 technologies to transform learning in schools. The Partnership for 21st Century Skills has identified a set of learning skills, 21st century tools, context, content, and assessments. Stanford Research Institute published a resource in the early 90s that outlined these new learning environments. ISTE has used a similar chart to focus on restructured learning environments when implementing technology in schools.

Conventional Instruction
  Reform Instruction
  Student exploration
Didactic teaching
  Interactive modes of instruction
Short blocks of instruction on single subject
  Extended blocks of authentic and multidisciplinary work
Single media
Individual work
  Collaborative work
Teacher as knowledge dispenser
  Teacher as facilitator
Ability groupings
  Heterogeneous groupings
Assessment of fact knowledge and discrete skills
  Performance-based assessment

So, how do those comparisons relate to students learning with technology? And how do these concepts apply to assessment? I have already discussed the differences between types of assessment in my White Paper and in my other web pages. Here is a a brief look at how Web 2.0 technologies are changing the use of technology in education. The chart below is from an online presentation by Teemu Arina at the European eLearning 2006 Conference:

Hierarchical Approach
  Network Approach
Centralized LMS*
*Learning Management System
  Decentralized PLE*
*Personal Learning Environment
Information Technology
Core in Information
  Interaction Technology
Core in Interaction

According to Arina, blogs make visible what you have learned and we could use blogs as a meta-cognitive tool (something I have advocated ever since I started blogging). Further, Arina says that we could connect reflections through the use of wikis for abstraction and generalization, referring to Kolb's Experiential Learning Model. With Web 2.0 technologies, we are moving from browsing to aggregation. Arina's recommendation: don't buy a box full of pieces... just get an empty box and connect to other pieces with open standards.

When educators think of portfolios in education, they assume the purpose is for assessment. But I always ask, "What kind of assessment?" As I have discussred in my previous online papers, there are several approaches to assessment, and thus to portfolios. First, here is a comparison of these two key assessment purposes, based on work done in Britain by the Assessment Reform Group (see

Assessment of Learning Assessment for Learning
Checks what has been learned to date Checks learning to decide what to do next
Is designed for those not directly involved in daily learning and teaching Is designed to assist teachers and students.
Is presented in a formal report Is used in conversation about learning
Usually gathers information into easily digestible numbers, scores and grades Usually detailed, specific and descriptive feedback in words (instead of numbers, scores and grades)
Usually compares the student's learning with either other students or the 'standard' for a grade level Usually focused on improvement, compared with the student's 'previous best' and progress toward a standard
Does not need to involve the student Needs to involve the student -- the person most able to improve learning

Here is my comparison of electronic portfolios used as assessment of learning with those that support assessment for learning. This chart has been published in my White Paper as well as an upcoming article in IRA's Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy.

Portfolios used for Assessment of Learning Portfolios that support Assessment for Learning
Purpose of portfolio prescribed by institution Purpose of portfolio agreed upon with learner
Artifacts mandated by institution to determine outcomes of instruction Artifacts selected by learner to tell the story of their learning
Portfolio usually developed at the end of a class, term or program - time limited Portfolio maintained on an ongoing basis throughout the class, term or program - time flexible
Portfolio and/or artifacts usually "scored" based on a rubric and quantitative data is collected for external audiences Portfolio and artifacts reviewed with learner and used to provide feedback to improve learning
Portfolio is usually structured around a set of outcomes, goals or standards Portfolio organization is determined by learner or negotiated with mentor/advisor/teacher
Sometimes used to make high stakes decisions Rarely used for high stakes decisions
Summative - what has been learned to date? (Past to present) Formative - what are the learning needs in the future? (Present to future)
Requires Extrinsic motivation Fosters Intrinsic motivation - engages the learner
Audience: external - little choice Audience: learner, family, friends - learner can choose

As I have been writing this article, I have discovered a lot of like-minded educators, both in North America, Asia, and Europe, who are writing about these same issues of Web 2.0 and Education. It is exciting to experience the serendipity of a worldwide community of learners who are exploring these issues at the same time, sort of a unified field theory (my Fielding faculty would be proud!).

In summary, as I review all of these comparisons, I have come up with a new look at ePortfolios from the framework of Web 2.0, which I will call ePortfolio 2.0. Other terms might be "blog-folios" or "wiki-folios" or perhaps iPortfolios (i=interactive).

ePortfolios 1.0
  ePortfolios 2.0
Hierarchical, Designed
  Networked, Emergent
Metaphor: Portfolio as Checklist
  Metaphor: Portfolio as Story
Focus on Standardization
  Focus on Individuality, Creativity
Feedback from Authority Figures
  Feedback from Commumity of Learners
Large, complex systems
  Small pieces, loosely joined - "Mash-ups"
Web-based Form
  Blog and Wiki
  Constructivist, Connectivist
  Open Standards
Digital Paper (text & images)
  Digital Story (multimedia)
Local Storage (hard drives, CD)
  Network Storage (Lifetime Personal Web Space)

What are some of the advantages of an Interactive Portfolio? Just as the Web changed with the implementation of the architecture of interaction, we could say that portfolios have the potential to change with the pedagogy of interaction, especially as used within a paradigm of assessment for learning. With these new tools, we can post work and invite feedback, as in a blog; we can post work and invite co-authors, as in a wiki. Fortunately, wiki tools keep track of the changes, so that authorship can be tracked, if that is important for accountability. As I wrote in the Connected Newsletter (2006)

The use of technology can be a motivating factor for portfolios, especially if we can make the process engaging for the learners, and give them an opportunity to express their own voice and leave their own mark in their portfolios. As schools implement electronic portfolios, it will be important to do more than replicate their paper-based predecessors or adopt a data-base-type portfolio system that only allows students to fill in blanks on a web-based form. Where is the individuality, creativity, and ownership? To truly engage learners, I encourage schools to incorporate emerging Web 2.0-type technologies that motivate and engage adolescent students, including digital storytelling, multimedia artifacts, podcasting and blogging (maintaining a reflective online journal).

We have seen how much students are motivated to use online social networking sites, such as MySpace and FaceBook. The TaskStream electronic portfolio has been described by students participating in the REFLECT Initiative as an “academic MySpace.” If only we could capture that level of motivation while furthering the goals of deep learning in formative electronic learning portfolios, then we may realize the real promise of using technology to both improve and showcase student achievement.



Revised March 28, 2007 - ©2006, Helen C. Barrett, Ph.D.