Some of the anxiety our students experience as they near the end of their time with us may come from the fact that, as excellent as their individual courses may be, they rarely get a chance to reflect on how they are growing – as scholars, citizens, individuals – across their coursework, to ascertain how their education adds up to something more than the sum of its parts, to practice making their knowledge, skills, and accomplishments visible for others. 

One potential solution to this problem is portfolios. A portfolio is simply a collection of one’s work, either an archive of the “process” behind a project (a record of effort and decision-making) or a showcase of one’s best or final work across multiple projects. Here, I’ll be using “portfolio” in that latter sense. Portfolios can help students collect their work in a course or across multiple courses, bringing together what might otherwise seem unconnected; select what they’re most proud of, giving them a chance to highlight their accomplishments; reflect on the knowledge, skills, and character represented by such work, even noting where they still have learning to do; and connect their experiences and interests across contexts and with others. These activities can help students better articulate to themselves and others who they are and how they’ve grown in college and can help them better prepare for life and work after college. (An e-portfolio is simply a digital version of a portfolio, which opens up expanded design and multi-media possibilities as well as allowing for immediate, widespread sharing.) 

A portfolio can be the culminating assignment in an individual unit or course, or it can be something that students keep throughout college, becoming especially important as they near graduation and in the months and years after. Increasingly, departments, colleges, and universities are being encouraged to integrate e-portfolios into their curricula. (For the national e-portfolio movement, see these resources from the American Association of Colleges & Universities). As a discipline, English would seem to be a natural fit for e-portfolios since the main work of our courses, and, arguably, the major itself, is writing. In fact, an additional benefit of portfolios for OUR students is that they can help them strengthen their identity as writers, scholars, and citizens, seeing their work as potentially meaningful for many authentic audiences, not just as assignments for their professors. 

Here’s how I’ve used e-portfolios: In English 494EI, Writing, Identity, and English Studies, which meets the University’s Integrative Experience (IE) requirement, my students write five essays on a variety of topics, all oriented towards the IE goals of reflection, integration, and application. As their final assignment, worth 25% of their final grade, they gather those essays together into an e-portfolio and submit it to me as an email link at the end of the semester. My assignment for the e-portfolio stipulates only two things: students must include all five papers as separate “pages,” posts, or tabs, taking care to make each one legible and attractive in this digital environment; and they must include on the home page some kind of written, reflective introduction to the portfolio and/or themselves. A third, optional component is to add other items to the e-portfolio: a resumé, photos, work from other courses or activities, creative writing, etc. 

The course includes three preliminary steps leading up to the e-portfolio: 

  1. Midway through the semester, I ask students to browse galleries of student e-portfolios from other institutions, identify 2-3 they find inspiring, and present those to their classmates with reasons why they chose them. In the past, I’ve used e-portfolio galleries from Auburn University; University of Waterloo; St. Olaf College; and Elon University, but there are many others! 
  2. Soon after, I reserve a computer lab on campus and we meet to get started on the e-portfolios. In the past, as a platform, I have featured the University’s own WordPress site:, where each student (and faculty member!) has free space. I distinguish between blogs, organized by most recent post (see my own City of Rhetoric site, using WordPress) and e-portfolios, organized with a static home page (see my own professional website, also using WordPress). There is a second lab day toward the end of the semester: “studio” time for students to work on their e-portfolios. 
  3. During the final week of the course, two classes are devoted to oral presentations of students’ e-portfolios, with works-in-progress shared. 

The finished e-portfolios are due a week later, sent to me as email links. 

Regarding technology and design, my approach has been to leave this largely to the students, introducing the concept of a portfolio, laying out my general expectations, and letting them figure out the rest. Most students do fine in such a situation, and it takes pressure off me as a technical or design expert, which I am not. As mentioned above, I have in the past recommended, encouraging students to convert the blog into a portfolio by making the home page static. The program allows privacy controls so, if a student prefers, the e-portfolio can be just for them and me; the site is also fully supported by UMass Amherst IT. (There is one potential downside: these sites are apparently inaccessible as public websites six months after graduation, though they can be easily exported, I’m told, to another site, e.g., There are other platforms that students themselves will know about: Weebly, Wix, Google Docs, etc. I encourage students to use any program that is FREE and offers customizable templates. 

Individual instructors can adjust my approach in infinite ways, making it more congenial to their pedagogical style, goals, and expertise. It took me 2-3 tries to get my approach the way it is above, and there’s still much room for improvement. There are also, of course, instructors both in and outside our department with more expertise than me in pedagogy and technology. I offer the above just as an example. 

The hope is that our department will eventually incorporate e-portfolios more systematically into our curriculum, perhaps integrating them into the English 200/300/494 sequence, so that each student sets up an e-portfolio in the first course, updates it in the second, and presents it to their instructor and peers in the third. We already have a gallery page for e-portfolios set up on the English Department website to showcase our students’ e-portfolios. After all, the best argument for this initiative is students themselves: when they see what e-portfolios make possible for them, I think more will want one for themselves. 

Please help me improve this document with your own experience and feedback! Send ideas or comments to @email. If the idea catches on, the department can adopt its own pedagogical and technical guidelines for e-portfolios, no doubt improving on the approach laid out above. Thank you!