Kansas State University


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E-portfolios (part 1): Using electronic portfolios for learning

Author’s note: This is the first article in a brief series on various technologies that may be used to render and output portfolios.

Back in the day, design portfolios involved plenty of different stocks of paper: translucent velum, glossy pages, and heavy card stock. For over a decade now, though, electronic portfolios have been the in-thing. They’ve been popularized because:

  • They travel light.
  • They offer more direct playability of contents like real-size imagery, videos, audio files, and simulations.
  • They showcase a fuller range of the designer’s capabilities.
  • They may directly connect (one click) to websites that may show more portfolio work.

What are e-portfolios? E-portfolios are structured works that showcase a learner’s background, a collection of his/her works (often including reflections on that work), a resume and curriculum vitae (CV), and his/her professional ambitions. For some fields, an e-portfolio works as a critical part of individuals’ job applications.

In a learning sense, e-portfolios are used to encourage learner reflections about their own work (particularly at different developmental phases of work) and the increasing effectiveness and sophistication of their designs. Instructors will critique learners’ works to enhance their understandings of the standards of their respective fields.

Many-files option. E-portfolios often contain a variety of objects, depending on the field in which they are used. They may include blueprints, photos, mock business branding, website designs, videos, audio files, multimedia, and other sample work. E-portfolios may include live links to web-hosted contents like simulations or mega-size image captures.

These objects may be delivered using a web browser-enabled interface using technologies like SoftChalk LessonBuilder (www.softchalk.com) to create and output the contents. (A special file is needed for the DVD output, but it’s a fairly simple process.) In this case, all the files are separate and stand-alone, and they are connected or linked by a kind of table of contents or visual organizational structure (like an image map).


Single-file option. A different option culminates all the disparate files into one file. Adobe Acrobat 9 (www.adobe.com/products/acrobat) is a technology that enables the integration of various digital files into one clean file that is interactive and playable. A sleek design may be applied to this. The “bridging” between the various elements of the Adobe Acrobat suites of tools allow for strong integrations of contents. Acrobat allows for access “versioning” of portfolios and also of the various integrated elements within that portfolio.


Outputting for paper. Paper has not disappeared entirely. Many electronic portfolios are sent to online publishers and binders to be rendered into paper versions. To render portfolios for print, the resolution outputs have to be at the level for print resolution, and the images then have to be rendered with CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, black) outputs. There may be other considerations, too, for high-quality and high-resolution paper-printed files.

If recipients of a portfolio do not have certain originating technologies to experience particular files, portfolios may not be fully experienced. This is where it would be a good idea to output files into more universal formats that are playable using web browsers with built-in code to access certain file types. This would include .pdf (text, image, and multimedia), .jpg (image), .gif (image), .mp3 (audio), and .mp4 (video).

For those who want to see some other resources on e-portfolios, the following links may be helpful: