Student Portfolio Uses

There are three general purposes of student portfolios (electronic or paper-based). The portfolio program of an institution or department may have one or more of the following purposes - but keep in mind: no one portfolio (that is, competed, finished product with all the same content) can fulfill all the following purposes. More on reusability here...

Key to any portfolio program is keeping the portfolio focused and concise. This decreases student work load, improves the thinking going into the portfolio, and moderates the burden on reviewers - both faculty and potential employers.

Career Portfolios

Also called a "Professional Portfolio." These portfolios show off your work and help you get a job. The best ones annotate the work samples to give potential employers a better idea of the process skills the student possesses. Artists have been using this type of portfolio for ages. More recently, K-12 schools are expecting prospective teachers to bring professional portfolios to interviews.

The general format of Career Portfolios is a set of annotated artifacts, probably with an electronic resume attached (or serving as the home page). The annotations describe the artifact, the skills used to create it, the conditions under which it was created, etc.

These portfolios need to be succinct, highly polished, and pretty. Everything in them portrays the student in the best possible light: talented, thoughtful, capable. Using a good template is better than using a bad original design, but as with resumes, employers can usually tell if students created an individual design or used a stock template.

Students are often quite motivated to create this type of portfolio, because they can easily perceive the direct benefit to them: getting a job. Students are generally as motivated to create this type of portfolio as they are to create a stellar resume.

One-line summary: If the student is trying to get a job, it's a career portfolio.

Portfolio templates, instructions, and resume tips


Mark Ralph Portfolio

Sample - Mark Ralph - Web Site

(University of Michigan Family Nurse Practitioner)

Mark Ralph Portfolio

Sample - Michelle Dalton - PowerPoint with PDF attachments

(University of Michigan Family Nurse Practitioner)

Assessment Portfolios

These portfolios demonstrate the skills students have learned in a particular class or program and are often used in place of a final exam, project, or paper. They may also have a heavily reflective component (see below). They are especially useful for determining whether students have achieved critical thinking, interpersonal, or other "soft skills" that are difficult to quantify in an exam, or that are too broad to be assessed in a paper on one topic.

Assessment portfolios may also have sets of artifacts with annotations - though the annotations are as likely to be reflective as they are to simply describe the skills used in the creation of the artifact. The annotations will often explicitly tie an artifact to a standard or benchmark and explain how the artifact satisfies that benchmark.

These portfolios are usually driven by a specific set of requirements about content and possibly format. They need to be readable and well thought-out, but assessors usually don't expect professional-level design, graphics, and programming. Templates are perfectly acceptable.

Students are as motivated to create assessment portfolios as they are to complete a test or a project. The benefit to students is to pass the class or graduate from the program.

One-line summary: If you are trying to see if the student has achieved certain academic or professional goals, it's an assessment portfolio.


Career Portfolio Sample

Sample - Mark Kenefic

(Student of Indiana University's Instructional Systems Technology program, which requires a final professional portfolio)

Developmental Portfolios

Sometimes called "Reflective" or "Self-Assessment" portfolios. These are used as a forum for students to "think out loud" about their experience, their skills, etc. These are most often shared with a professor or advisor. They should not be shared with employers; reflective portfolios contain information that is too unrefined, honest, and copious for use in an employment search. For example, they may contain thoughts about developmental process - "I know this skill is important, but I don't seem to have mastered it yet."

Students need to be taught how to reflect. Most do not know what a "good" reflection is. In fact, "good" reflection may have different characteristics from school to school, and even among programs within that school.

While it's nice if these portfolios are pretty, the text is far more important than the format.

Students are generally not very motivated to complete reflective portfolios, usually citing lack of time. It is difficult to convey the benefits of reflection such as the ability to articulate one's skills and abilities. Usually, only students given to personal reflection (such as journaling) are internally motivated to complete a reflective portfolio - most students need the external motivation of a course or program requirement to complete them.

One-line summary: If you're trying to get students to realize something - anything - about themselves, it's a reflective portfolio.


Reflective Portfolio Sample

Sample - Kate Jenks

(Student of Kalamazoo College, which requires an ongoing reflective portfolio)


Ne'er the twain shall meet...or shall they?

Many portfolio programs have several purposes - e.g., when students are in college, they use the portfolio for self-assessment and reflection. As they near graduation, they can use the portfolio to help them get a job. In practice, it is critical that students only use their assessment and reflective portfolios as "resume fodder" - raw materials for a new, professional site. This new document may be created by hand - students sift through their collected artifacts and reflections, then cut and paste items into a new shell, often rewriting significant portions to sound more professional - or they may be created on-the-fly by assembling flagged artifacts and reflections into a new whole. In the latter case, it's very important that students review their writing to be sure it is appropriate for business - not full of angsty reflections, self-doubt or -aggrandizement, inappropriate criticism, etc.

It is possible to have a portfolio that has more than one purpose - and assessment and reflection blend especially well - but it's important to do so mindfully and deliberately.


PowerPoint presentation (365Kb) on student portfolios