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A portfolio is used to organise a number of pieces of work (evidence), that demonstrate knowledge, skills, values or achievements, often connected by a topic or theme. Students are usually required to include some reflective accounts (diaries/logs/blogs) that articulate the relevance, credibility and meaning of the evidence presented.

What can it assess ?

A portfolio is often used over an extended period of time (within a module, over multiple modules, stage or at the programme end) in order to holistically capture the learning acquired. The portfolio, therefore, is an ideal way to assess knowledge, skills, values and/or competencies over time. For example, a student in Education may use their portfolio to collate essays relating to particular teaching methods, lesson plans, micro-teaching recordings and reflections, teaching materials that they have developed and a report about the teaching experience itself.

Alternatively, a portfolio can be used for a single assessment i.e. a representation of attained knowledge and or demonstrated competencies at a point in time. Portfolios usually have both a reflective writing aspect, alongside evidence of achievements (sometimes called artefacts). Therefore it assesses students' ability to critically reflect and also their ability to be selective in choosing relevant evidence to demonstrate their achievements/knowledge.

Advantages and Disadvantages


  • Open to multiple means of representation (text, audio, video, multimedia etc)
  • Can be used to demonstrate a breadth of learning and evidence of achievement
  • Offers an opportunity to capture and represent multiple elements of assessments i.e. can be used iteratively and or for multiple independent assessments
  • Can be a very authentic and creative assessment, as it is unique to an individual student.


  • Can be confusing for students, so there is a need to provide clear and transparent guidelines for students to achieve their assessment goals, especially where the portfolio is used over an extended period of time
  • May need to provide guidance in the composition of the final portfolio e.g. design, presentation, technical support etc.
  • May be complex and onerous to assess, especially if volume/length is not contained and in the case of large student cohorts.
  • Students can find reflective writing/communicating difficult

Design and Online Assessment Considerations


It is important to develop a framework or a structured guide to the portfolio to be shared with students; setting out expectations and discussing with them what could be considered meaningful and relevant evidence. Consider how you would like students to capture and frame their reflections that support that evidence. There are many different models of reflection and students will need clarity on which approach(es) they can use to structure their reflections. Consider in your design whether the emphasis of the portfolio is for students to showcase their evidence or for developmental purposes, or both. Your assessment criteria and grading should align with your emphasis. 

The framework should clearly demonstrate how and where the evidence aligns with the module, modules and/or programme learning outcomes. Students should be provided with a rubric to help clarify the assessors’ expectations. Students also need opportunities to receive feedback on early drafts and/or opportunities to self and or peer review their portfolio. 

Portfolios can create heavy student and staff workloads and so consideration may need to be given to imposing limits on volume/length. Alternatively, a sample of evidence may be assessed as long as it's made clear to students how this sample will be selected.

Online Assessment 

Brightspace can support the submission of media based files that may be used as evidence, in part or whole, of a portfolio assessment component. The ePortfolio in Brightspace is a tool to gather evidence (files) and enable a space for reflection/commentary on each item of evidence. However, in its current form this tool has some limitations. An alternative would be that students use google drive to organise and collect items, download items as PDFs and then submit via Brightspace Assignment, which can accept media files up to 2GB.

Preparing Students

A portfolio is generally an extended assessment, over a whole module, a learning activity (i.e. work experience), a number of modules or even a programme. It is essential to provide students with a clear framework/guide with timelines to direct and sustain their effort, aligned to the learning outcomes (see Madden, 2007). The use of exemplars from previous years/cohorts may be helpful to clarify expectations and to orientate students to this form of assessment.  Students may also require guidance and practice around critical reflection and reflective writing. There are many guides available, see as an example, University of Birmingham

Clarify for students the parameters around their portfolio format, such as, hard copy or digital format, length of video/audio/written pieces, types of evidence, etc. 

Learn More 

The following are some key resources that are currently available if you would like to learn more about this key assessment type.


  • Scully, D., O’Leary, M. & Brown, M. (2018). The Learning Portfolio in Higher Education: A Game of Snakes and Ladders. Dublin: Dublin City University, Centre for Assessment Research, Policy & Practice in Education (CARPE) and National Institute for Digital Learning (NIDL) 
  • Klenowski, V. (2002). Developing Portfolios for Learning and Assessment: Processes and Principles. Abingdon UK: Routledge-Falmer
  • Madden, T (2007). Supporting Student e-Portfolios - The purpose of this guide is to provide a basic introduction to e-portfolios: what they are how they are being used potential benefits and challenges technical implications and how they might be introduced.