E-portfolios in EAP 6

Portfolios can be used for a variety of purposes in EAP. They can be used to assess students’ knowledge, showcase exemplary work, give students a sense of progress throughout the term or year or even as a feature of a CV or application for a job or higher degree. Portfolios can be set up to be seen only by the student, or the student and teacher, between the class or visible to the whole world.

Gradually it seems that universities are moving away from using high stakes exams such as IELTS as entrance requirements for study and instead rely on the EAP centres internally assessing them on skills more relevant to what they are going to be doing in their department. Naturally, this is likely to lead to assessment based on a series of tasks (both spoken and written) that are then assessed and put into some kind of portfolio.

What kinds of stuff can go into a portfolio? Well, depending on the purpose or course, it could be a set of writings (such as drafts or final essays), video recordings, links to external content, annotated articles, audio recordings or a combination of all of the above.

In the past these things would have been physically collected and put into some kind of folder, but now it’s much easier to do this digitally. I’d like to go through some of the options available to you as teachers if you would like to collate students work in some way. I’ll try to break down the options based on the possible use cases you might have.

VLE-based portfolio tools

Most VLEs used at university have some kind of portfolio built into it. Certainly both Moodle and Blackboard do, though it might not be activated (or indeed easy to find) and it will depend on the decision made by the tech people at your institution.

These tools are probably most useful for collecting assignments or written work into a portfolio for an end of course assessment. Students can just add a particular assignment or document to their portfolio for viewing.

My experience with the portfolio tool in Blackboard is pretty limited but I wasn’t massively impressed with the ease of use (as is the case with virtually everything in Blackboard.

Moodle I can’t say much about as I don’t use that particular VLE and have no direct experience of the portfolio tool. Looking at their support page on portfolios, it’s clear that you can take things such as assignments, chats, forum posts etc and export them into a portfolio, but there also seems to be the option of bringing in documents/media from various cloud services such as Google Drive and Flickr. I’d be interested in hearing how well that worked in practice from anyone who’s had a chance to use it.


If students need to present a variety of media types, such as video, text, audio etc or if the portfolio needs to be public facing, a blog or dedicated website is a pretty good option. These don’t need to be complicated, expensive or require any programming knowledge.

Google Sites is a great option for creating a very basic website, you can select from a series of templates and editing a page is as simple as editing a Word document. But at the same time, it’s also possible to embed a variety of media such as YouTube video or anything else that uses an embed code (Prezi, Padlet, Voicethread etc)

We’ve used this on courses as a record of the students’ work and assignments on a Learning English Through Technology course and it’s worked very well. Students can have their own site if you want and you can create a template with ready made pages set up. Alternatively you can create one site and give students editing rights on certain pages.

google sites blog example

here’s an example of a Google Site used to display student work throughout the term

Students could also potentially use a blog as a portfolio or showcase of the work they’ve done. Setting one up through WordPress or Blogger is very simple and students can add posts, pictures audio and video to their posts. And they don’t necessarily need to be public, most blogs can be set to be private and the owner can invite via email people they want to view it.

virtual notice boards

Virtual notice boards such as Padlet and Lino can be a quick and easy way for students to share their work in a visually interesting style. They normally allow them to post text, links document and video and control who is allowed to post or view the page. A colleague of mine has been using Padlet with his students to create listening portfolios. Essentially they find useful listening material online (YouTube etc) and then they share that link on their notice board with accompanying text explaining why they chose it, a summary of the contents and any language they learnt from it. The teacher can view and comment on it and at certain points the students share it with classmates for peer review.

This has worked wonderfully well and the students seem very engaged in the process. Ultimately this could also be done on a word document but the visual style and the ease of sharing makes it more user friendly and motivating.

Cloud documents

Cloud documents such as Google Docs, Office 365 or Apple iWorks can be another way for students to collate and share work they’ve done. These are particularly useful if you want students to collate written work as they can do everything on one document and then share it with teachers or classmates. The nature of these documents mean that sharing permissions can be adjusted so that teachers or classmates can either edit or comment on the work.

I’ve done this in the past and students found it really useful to be able to see all their writing on one document and to be able to refer back to previous essays and teacher feedback to identify what they need to work on in their current writing.

Dedicated portfolio tools

Most of the tools mentioned above are generic web tools being repurposed for collating student work. However there are a few tools out there that are specifically designed for creating portfolios. The two that I’ve heard of are Mahara and Pebble Pad, but I’m assuming there are others.

The latter I’ve had some experience with as our university has a license to use it and we considered using it when we were planning last year’s summer sculpture school and we needed a portfolio tool for one of the courses. However, we trialled it among ourselves and found it an overly confusing and somewhat buggy tool. Our first issue was the UI – which was confusing to navigate – and the second was the obscure language used throughout with words such as assets,resources,templates to refer to very similar things. We were constantly confused by how documents were referred to so we assumed it would be doubly difficult for the students and likely to cause confusion more than anything. There also seemed to be problems with uploaded Word documents causing the programme to crash, which again wasn’t a massively hopeful sign.

Pebble Pad's interface can be very confusing. Can you work out what everything means?

Pebble Pad’s interface can be very confusing. Can you work out what everything means?

Mahara I’m less familiar with but know that it’s used by quite a few universities around the UK as an open source tool for students to collate their work together in one place. It seems to have a both a Blackboard and Moodle plug-in so it can interact with those VLEs as well.

Portfolio or Processfolio?

Yes, I know the second word isn’t really a word and sounds terrible but I did hear it used at a conference once and it does neatly sum up one of the issues of creating a portfolio; namely, is the portfolio a summation, a final statement of the student’s progress that is only looked at by the end of the course or is it something that is supposed to be a formative, ongoing process showing their development throughout? This can affect which tool you use as some of these tools don’t allow for ongoing editing of the documents in the portfolio and what is uploaded is the final version.

This is something we ran up against last summer on our pre-sessional course as we needed a portfolio for a variety of tasks and assignments that the students did. However some of the documents were just works in progress such as drafts of essays and they needed to be left open to be commented on and then reedited later. We looked at various options such as Blackboard and Pebble Pad – both of which are available within our university – but they were tricky to manage with such open documents. This led us to use Google Classroom and Google Docs instead but it wasn’t the perfect solution for a portfolio as we had to spend a lot of time moving documents around so that people could access them. Ideally this is something that should be quick and easy for both students and teachers to use.

There really doesn’t seem to be a perfect portfolio tool out there, particularly for EAP classes. If you are a photographer or designer, there are plenty, but written and spoken production by a student are trickier to capture, particularly if what they create needs to be assessed or commented on and then reshared with the student.

What tools do you use where you work for portfolios? Anything you find works well and hasn’t been mentioned above?

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About David Read

I work at the English Language Teaching Centre at the University of Sheffield as the Director of TEL (technology-enhanced learning). I've been an EFL/EAP teacher and teacher trainer for over 20 years and have worked in 14 different countries. Settling down is clearly an issue for me.

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6 thoughts on “E-portfolios in EAP

  • Dustin H

    Hi David,

    Great post that summarizes the essentials of how portfolios can be exploited.

    I implemented Mahara eportfolios in a previous role via Moodle. I found that students and teachers needed at least 2 hours worth of training, which thankfully paid off in the end by making them generally independent users of Mahara. Mahara isn’t “the best” and does have its drawbacks but it does work and is generally fit for purpose if an institution has it.

    In terms of the process, students kept a weekly learning journal, uploaded weekly speaking videos of 2-10 minutes on either individual talks or seminar-type discussions and uploaded their writing assignments.

    This entire process, though at times somewhat tedious in terms of admin from the students (ie honing their self-regulated learning and independence and one management) did appear to pay off significantly as hoth students and tutors were able to view the progress of learning via the evidence available in the eportfolios.

    Ideally, the eportfolios would have been formatively assessed in terms of completion and presentation, and development of reflective abilities evidenced within the learning journal. Research says that reflection can significantly assist learners and even practitioners in honing their knowledge, skills and self-awareness more generally, so giving a mark to such an assignment would have been not only a motivator but a reward what is arguably a lot of effort to become reflective. Indeed eportfolios are used in medicine, nursing, art and design, and have been used in language learning and teaching, among other subjects.

  • Gareth Jones

    Hi David,
    We are starting to use Microsoft SharePoint as a way of saving student work on the Coventry Pre-sessional. We have set permissions on folders so that students can edit their work in their ‘portfolio’ folder but not in their ‘feedback’ folder. It’s in its early stages but seems really easy to use and has loads of features. I’d be interested if anyone else has tried this as we’re in the early stages of rolling it out across our courses and would love some advice/warnings/insight. Great post.


    Gareth Jones.

    • Profile photo of David Read
      David Read Post author

      hi Gareth,

      You seem to be thinking the same way as us but we’re doing it through Google instead rather than Microsoft! We’re using an add-on for Google Docs called Doctopus (http://cloudlab.newvisions.org/add-ons/doctopus) which allows us to set assignments on mass to students and that’s collected in a unique folder for each of them. Through the interface, we can then ’embargo’ these documents at various points so they can’t edit them, useful obviously for due dates and marking. The important thing is that we own the documents, in previous years the students owned them and we had to make copies of them all and move to a separate folder. A real pain when we had over a thousand students!

      How does ownership of these documents work within your system?

      • Gareth

        Hi David, I’m in discussions with our IT department about what they call ‘automating the workflow’ so when the students submit work to their folders it gets automatically copied into a folder they can view but not edit and then copied onto our drive as a backup. I’ve been running a small version with a couple of classes and it seems to be working well so far in that it is a lot easier for students to submit work and a lot less copy and paste admin for the tutors.

  • Laura Soracco

    Thank you for sharing this wealth of resources and ideas! I love the idea of portfolios as a way to assess a student’s proficiency level before entering college courses. Hadn’t thought about including videos before. Hope to give this a try!

  • Janice Sestan

    Hi David
    Thanks for sharing your insights. Our EAP program (in Canada) is exploring eportfolios as part of formative assessments for task-based and project based learning (PBLA). I have not yet found a good match for ESL/EAP learning, either! Our institution uses Blackboard LMS, and I’m waiting to find out if they have the add-on eportfolio software, but even if it’s available, it doesn’t seem that useful- more of a place for a student to upload final versions of assignments tasks. I know that Desire to Learn(D2L) LMS offers Brightspace as an add-on feature for eportfolios, but our institution does not use D2L, so I don’t have any info about it. Also, at our institution, we cannot “make” the students use Google docs because of our institutions’s privacy policies.
    Recently, I have come across “Fresh Grade” (www.freshgrade.com) – an e-portfolio tool that has been used by some teachers in our Canadian public school system (K-Grade12). At first, it appears that its main use is for teachers to upload content in order to showcase their students’ work and allow parents to get a look at what’s going on in the classroom (great for primary grades). However, upon further investigation, it does appear that it offers the ability for students themselves (presumably at the higher grade level) to upload content- videos, pictures, files, etc. – that looks very promising and would be a better fit for how I would want an e-portfolio to work for formative language assessment. It also offers a Gradebook feature, which also would be helpful. I’m going to spend a bit more time looking at it (cost, functionality, if it will work with our institution’s privacy policies, etc.) I’ll update with any progress!