How to make an ePortfolio: a guide for students & teachers

Last Updated on November 22, 2021

A growing number of visual art students now present their work in an online ‘ePortfolio’ or ‘digital sketchbook’. Digital presentation methods have grown in popularity, due to the recent rise in distance/remote learning, and the increase in digital media within classrooms. A 2020 study, which examined how digital technology was used by art teachers, noted that “the emerging theme from the electronic resources code was digital portfolios.”[5] Here we outline the benefits of digital presentation and explain how to create an ePortfolio for students, illustrating some of the best ePortfolio strategies used by high-achieving art students from around the world.

student creates ePortfolio

What is in this guide? An index:

What is an ePortfolio?

ePortfolio definition: The word ‘ePortfolio’ is shorthand for ‘electronic portfolio,’ and is sometimes known as an e-portfolio, eFolio, iFolio, web-folio, digital sketchbook, digital portfolio, or online portfolio. It is a place to display creative work online (artwork, photographs, videos, designs, writing, and so on), and may include hyperlinks, headings, navigation menus, and pages combining visual material and text.

ePortfolios in education: Electronic portfolios for students provide a place for students to record their learning, so that material can be accessed remotely by a teacher, classmates and others. Student ePortfolios document learning over time, and provide a place to store, analyze and reflect upon work.

An electronic portfolio (e-portfolio) is a purposeful collection of sample student work, demonstrations, and artifacts that showcase student’s learning progression, achievement, and evidence of what students can do. 

Center for Teaching & Learning, Berkeley, University of California[1]

In many cases, high school art students use ePortfolios in a similar way that is similar to a traditional art sketchbook with visual imagery displayed alongside typed annotation.

ePortfolio development involves problem solving, decision-making, reflection, organisation, and critical thinking by students developing a learning ‘story’ that accurately represents skills learnt and competencies developed.

Dawn Bennett, Diana Blom, Peter Dunbar-Hall, Matthew Robert Hitchcock, Jennifer Rowley, ePortfolios for Creative Arts, Music and Arts Students in Australian Universities (2015)[2]

A well-executed e-portfolio program is an incredible tool for higher education. They provide institutions with authentic assessments of student learning and promote the deeper learning that we want for our students.

Candyce Reynolds, Associate Professor, quoted within The Benefits of E-portfolios for Students and Faculty in Their Own Words, Peer Review, Vol. 11, No. 1 (2009)[3]

Why are ePortfolios beneficial for art students in particular?

Although it is well known that artists and designers benefit from displaying their work online (see our guide to creating an artist website for more information about this), ePortfolios offer specific advantages to art students in particular:

ePortfolios can transmit sound and moving image

One of the best attributes of an ePortfolio is that, unlike traditional paper-based presentation methods, they can include audio files, animated images (such as GIFs), and video footage, allowing the communication of ideas via sound and movement. As such, ePortfolios are particularly popular among students who specialize in filmmaking, digital photography, web design, animation, app design, game design, and complex multi-media work. Even those specializing in painting and drawing and other two-dimensional formats are able to show videos of work-in-progress, audio presentations, and so on, communicating in ways that are not possible with traditional methods.

Creating an ePortfolio promotes digital literacy and web design skills

web design sketches

Many students already create logo designs and other graphic design outcomes as part of their high school art programs: website design is a natural extension of this, with options to design the site layout, graphics and font. Many high school qualifications have updated their curriculums to specifically include digital learning. For example, the Cambridge International AS and A Level Digital Media and Design syllabus recently added the following area of study: “Mobile and multimedia applications include web and mobile applications, games, interactive media and digital installation.” This syllabus, as do most high school programs, includes many topics that could form part of an ePortfolio or web design project.

Here is an example of a final website design by a high school student in New Zealand:

high school web design
This project involved a student designing a website for a music festival, completed as part of an NCEA Design Scholarship submission in the final year of high school. Examiners write: “Visual fluency is achieved through effective integration of typography and image to communicate concepts, as well as stylistic aspects such as vertical / horizontal emphasis, compositional divisions, grids and repetitions, gradients and overlays.”

In other words, building an ePortfolio is not simply an alternative way of presenting artwork, but can be an integral way of meeting curriculum requirements, providing “an assessment mode that is more relevant to current and future students in the 21st century.”[4]

Even creating a simple digital portfolio to display student work offers numerous transferrable skills. For example, it encourages the use of scanners, video cameras, and other digital tools, as well as editing software, such as Adobe Photoshop. It also introduces students to web design or blogging software (see below for a detailed discussion on the different ePortfolio platforms that are recommended for students). Having these skills gives students a leg up, regardless of the field they end up entering.

ePortfolios reduce printing and reproduction costs

Graphic design and photography students typically face very high printing costs, with students having to print out material for every assessment. Combined with the cost of a camera and software licenses, this can make such courses prohibitive for many students. Presenting work via an ePortfolio, however, eases this burden dramatically. When work is shared and assessed electronically, printings costs can be reduced significantly, with printing only taking place for final submission or exhibition pieces, for example. This also avoids the rush of 20-30 students queuing for the printer, and is environmentally friendly to boot.

Work can be viewed remotely, without transporting of bulky physical items required

ePortfolios are not only helpful for those studying digital arts, but those specializing in more hands-on disciplines, such as drawing, painting, sewing, fabric design, sculpture and 3D Design. With face-to-face learning currently disrupted in many parts of the world, having a streamlined electronic system for displaying and sharing student work is helpful, particularly when traditional sketchbooks, art supplies, and finished artworks are often bulky and difficult to transport. Even in ordinary circumstances, a mixture of digital and hard-copy submission can help with space, storage and transportation issues in busy classrooms.

We have kids upload photos of their artwork and do essays and critiques, that way so that there is a lot less paper to carry around, a lot less trying to store artwork with that many students since we have such a large department and classroom space is limited.

Anonymous high school teacher, quoted by Jesse Strycker, K-12 Art Teacher Technology Use and Preparation, ScienceDirect (2020)[5]

Work can be viewed by many people at any time, fostering constructive critique and in-process feedback

Many ePortfolio platforms have comment functionality built in, allowing students and teachers to offer productive written feedback (comment functionality can be switched off, if moderation becomes a problem). This is particularly successful with students who are less confident about providing verbal feedback in class. Teachers note that many enjoy the low-pressure nature of sharing critique online.

Accessing work via an ePortfolio, without the student needing to be present, also allows teachers to provide individual formative feedback more readily than is always possible in a busy classroom situation.

The process of giving and receiving feedback was rapid and easy, and meant students were able to obtain more individual feedback than had previously been possible, and in a timely fashion, increasing its effectiveness (Gibbs, 2010).

Dawn Theresa Nicholson, Enhancing student engagement through online portfolio assessment, Practitioner Research in Higher Education (2018) [4]

Within classrooms, ePortfolios can be projected onto a large screen, or viewed on individual computers, as Sandy De La Rosa describes:

ePortfolio classroom critique

ePortfolios can increase student engagement

An interesting study[4] recently compared two groups of university students, both of whom were asked to complete the same tasks. One group had to submit their work via a paper-based portfolio; the other via an ePortfolio. (This study ran across two years, with over 200 students in total, randomly split into groups). Teachers made the important observation that those who completed an ePortfolio were less likely to leave their work until the last minute. It was suspected that this was because students knew that their teachers would periodically look at their ePortfolio, but never knew exactly when, so they worked more regularly to keep their portfolio updated, just in case the teacher checked it. Teachers also noted that classroom discussions were often more productive, because “students had already read and acted upon feedback.”

Students made progress on their portfolios week by week instead of leaving it all to the end. This was because they knew their sites were going to get displayed the following week…. and also because they knew I was looking at their sites and prodding them if they hadn’t done the work.

Anonymous tutor, quoted by Dawn Theresa Nicholson, Enhancing student engagement through online portfolio assessment, Practitioner Research in Higher Education (2018)[4]

In a high school setting, it is not just the teacher who might viewing and comment upon an ePortfolio in real-time, but classmates, parents, and peers. This increased feedback can result in increased levels of engagement. This finding is backed up by another 2018 study which found that ePortfolios promoted an “increase in student engagement and communication with the added benefit of connected learning in the secondary art classroom.”[6]

ePortfolios can double as a career portfolio, improving employment prospects

Many art students earn money from creative pursuits while studying, such as offering photography services, videography, or painting portraits for friends and peers. If an ePortfolio is set up during high school, it can help students marketing their skills and achievements to potential clients and employers. An ePortfolio of this nature could include a resume and artist statement, alongside collections of artwork. (Please note that students should be very careful about uploading contact phone numbers and other identifying details – see our discussion about internet safety below.)

In fact, ePortfolios are considered so valuable for university students, that many institutions now require students to create these as part of their course[7] – in a wide range of disciplines, from education/teaching, music, to science.

…more than four in five employers say an electronic portfolio would be useful to them in ensuring that job applicants have the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in their company or organization.

Hart Research Associates, It Takes More than a Major: Employer Priorities for College Learning and Student Success (2013)[8]

Senior high school students who are actively looking to enroll in college or university (see our guide to creating an application portfolio for college or university) can hence find creating an ePortfolio an excellent way to link learning to real-world goals.

[At] an urban high school in northeastern Georgia, students often complained about their perceived disconnection between classwork and the value of these assignments beyond high school; students made frequent remarks about ELA assignments like, “I’ll never have to do this after high school.” Because of these concerns, the researcher implemented an ePortfolio with a reflection on transferable skills as an intervention to help students reflect on the transferable skills practiced within high school coursework and its value in their future endeavors in college or a career. …[]… Findings from both the quantitative and qualitative data revealed that the ePortfolio with a reflection on transferable skills positively affected high school students’ perceptions of college and career readiness in their high school.

Julie Beatrice Kristin, I’ll Never Have to Do This After High School: Exploring Students’ Perceptions of College and Career Readiness and the Effects of Eportfolios With Reflection on Transferable Skills (2020)[9]

ePortfolios can be used as promotional tools within the wider school and community

Parents and school management teams are often impressed at the professional appearance of student ePortfolios. Online material can be projected onto large screens at open days and career nights, providing a ‘virtual window’ into the classroom, offering great marketing opportunities for the Art & Design department. Links to student ePortfolios can be made available from the school or teacher websites for similar reasons. Links to ePortfolios by past students can also showcase outstanding performance in various creative fields.

professional student website

ePortfolios can streamline the grading process, collating work in a single location

Art teachers sometimes feel like tearing their hair out attempting to assess student work that is scattered across several locations (a finished video clip on YouTube; obscurely labelled files in online folders; hardcopy drawings in a sketchbook; items on a misplaced thumb drive; and over-sized files attached via email). This can become a logistical nightmare when collating and assessing work from hundreds of students.

An online ePortfolio acts as a central hub, collating all work by a single student in one location (YouTube videos can be embedded, image files uploaded, annotation added directly alongside, and even physical artworks can be scanned an added).

Each separate assignment of sub-unit of work can be presented upon a single ePortfolio page, with the teacher scrolling up or down as required to view the entire submission. With this method, each student ‘submits’ only a single link for assessment. Inboxes are not clogged; files do not need to be painstakingly opened one at a time. The teacher opens the appropriate link, and the entire submission is visible – images, multi-media, and text, arranged upon a single portfolio page.

Although critiquing student work from single ePortfolio page is often not as simple as assessing hardcopy work directly in front of you, it is far better than other digital alternatives. It also has the advantage that teachers don’t need to carry armloads of work to-and-from school, and can grade anywhere that they have internet access. This submission technique also allows regular formative feedback to be given via comment features, as described above.

Updating and modifying work is easy

A digital portfolio can be edited, improved and updated as the course progresses, providing a flexible digital document to accompany hardcopy sketchbooks.

Students have been stuffing assignments in notebooks and folders for years, so what’s so new and exciting about portfolios? Portfolios capitalize on students’ natural tendency to save work and become an effective way to get them to take a second look and think about how they could improve future work. As any teacher or student can confirm, this method is a clear departure from the old write, hand in, and forget mentality, where first drafts were considered final products.

David Sweet, Student Portfolios: Classroom Uses, Education Research Consumer Guide (1993)[10]

Things to consider before creating an ePortfolio with students

There are several issues to consider before creating an ePortfolio with high school students, particularly if this is to be live on the internet, accessible by the public. (Most ePortfolio platforms have the ability to set these as either public or private.)

Internet safety and privacy: seek parental permission and ensure no contact details are included

Sharing work online involves potential complications with internet safety and privacy. It is vital that students and their families consent to sharing of work via the digital platform and understand what the ePortfolio will involve. Teachers should familiarize themselves with school policies around sharing student work with third parties.

Students should ensure that phone numbers, age, addresses and other identifying details are not included within their ePortfolio. If creating an ePortfolio for marketing purposes, where students want to encourage potential clients, a ‘contact form’ should be used, rather than making an email address publicly visible (automatic bots crawl the internet ‘harvesting’ email addresses, so that they can be sold to others for spam email purposes, so publishing an email addresses online is not advised).

Some schools request that students do not include their full name, and use only an initial for their surname, however, a full name can be helpful for building an online presence, so as long as no contact details are included, this is usually okay.

Ensure content is appropriate for a classroom situation: respectful language, inoffensive imagery

One of the most important things students must understand before posting content to an online ePortfolio is that what goes online, stays online. It is good practice to assume that everything published on the internet (whether to social media, a ‘private’ Facebook group, your own ePortfolio, or otherwise) might be seen by vast numbers of people, and that, once uploaded, you may never be able to remove it or undo it. Numerous automated robots, as well as humans, copy and duplicate digital material, and sometimes the most unexpected content goes viral. Furthermore, the ‘WayBack Machine’ takes permanent snapshots of web pages, archiving the internet, so that web pages can be accessed at a later date even if the material is later taken offline. In short, once material is uploaded to the internet, it is often there permanently, and the original uploader loses control over how it is used or shared. In rare cases, you can quickly delete material before anyone else has seen it, but you should not count on this. Even isolated comments on someone else’s website may come back to haunt, as this man discovered:

…he has commented on someone else’s post and been very offensive towards them. His comments were rude and ill thought out, and were made some six years ago. He has now realised his comments can be found in Google when a search is made for his name – something he didn’t think would happen when he made the comments.

Darren Jamieson, What happens online stays online (2016)[11]

Questionable content posted online can compromise students not just in the present, but in the future – in unanticipated ways. For this reason, school administration / management are more likely to become involved if objectionable content is shared with an ePortfolio than had the same material been shared in a hardcopy classroom sketchbook – because the ramifications are much more serious.

It is worth remembering that most students share content online on a regular basis anyway, and will continue to do so, whether they are granted permission to create an ePortfolio as part of a school project or not. Hence, this task provides an excellent opportunity to help students develop responsible strategies for communicating online.

Protect against plagiarism

If work from artists or other individuals is included or quoted within an ePortfolio, this should be formally referenced, as within any other academic project.

There is sometimes the worry that students from one school might plagiarise the work of students from another. Some teachers get around this by having the online portfolio as an end-of-year project that takes place after work after has been formally submitted – or by having the portfolios accessible online, but not discoverable by search engines, so that the ePortfolio cannot be easily found by others (the portfolio can then be made public once the course is complete). It is worth noting, however, that many high school art projects are inspired by multiple practising artists, with ideas developed under the guidance of a teacher in original directions. Hence, mimicking of artwork by single student is hence not usually a major concern.

Verification of ownership: Include screenshots of work in progress and accompany digital submissions with physical artwork

Many qualifications require a school or principal to verify the authenticity of student work before it is submitted for external assessment. This can be more challenging when work is submitted digitally, because it is harder to know whether work has been copied from elsewhere. For this reason, students should document work in progress – showing screenshots at various stages of completion.

GCSE photography digital portfolio
This is part of a GCSE Photography digital portfolio by Noah, student from Thomas Tallis School, London, UK, taught by Jon Nicholls, who runs PhotoPedagogy, a website for teachers and students of photography in UK schools and colleges.

It is also helpful to accompanying digital submissions with hardcopy sketchbooks or artwork, to help to verify ownership of digital work.

Balance screen time with hands-on creation

There are valid concerns about the number of hours young people spend online – something that is only escalating with the lockdowns taking place in many parts of the world. Long hours online and the distraction of social media can affect mood and sleep, compromising productivity and quality of work overall. This is an important consideration when making a choice about what role an ePortfolio will play in the classroom.

There is an immediacy and joy in creating hands-on artwork that is sometimes lacking when interfacing between keyboard and screen. Art students often love the chance to interact with physical media, using their hands to create things – experiencing surface and texture and touch. Creating physical artworks allows the spontaneous transfer of ideas by hand, and strengthens and consolidates practical art-making techniques.

For this reason, students might choose to delay ePortfolio creation until the senior years of high school, leaving the earlier formative years to focus predominantly upon practical art-making skills. Even senior students creating digital art courses benefit from sketching and experimenting with physical media alongside the creation of an digital work (this also helps with verifying ownership of work, as noted above).

Backup the ePortfolio

Digital files used within an ePortfolio should be stored on a memory stick or cloud server (an automatic backup service, such as Dropbox, is recommended). It is also wise to print a copy of each ePortfolio page. These printouts can be bound and submitted so that examiners have a physical copy in case of technological difficulties.

ePortfolio layout and organization tips

Not all teachers find assessing student ePortfolios straightforward – with some commenting that it sometimes feels like a “wild goose chase” to locate the  appropriate item for assessment.[4] The process is much easier if teachers use a consistent class-wide ePortfolio structure and page-labelling, as this enables teachers to navigate directly to the appropriate page in each student’s ePortfolio without hiccup.

In the evaluation, staff expressed strong feelings about the marking process. For some, the process was much improved, while for others, more challenging. The difference appeared to relate largely to the organisation, structure, and formatting of students’ web sites:

How well the students set up the WordPress site, and how they chose to post their portfolio elements, made a significant difference to how easy it was to review work.

Dawn Theresa Nicholson, Enhancing student engagement through online portfolio assessment, Practitioner Research in Higher Education, Vol. 11, No. 1 (2018)[4]

There are no fixed rules about how to set up an ePortfolio, however most good ePortfolios use a similar layout and organizational structure. This helps teachers and assessors navigate around the site and view the work without difficulty.

If the purpose and assessment criteria of portfolio are not clear, the portfolio can be just a miscellaneous collection of works that can’t reflect students’ growth or achievement accurately.

Adnan Baki, Osman Birgin, The Use of Portfolio to Assess Student’s Performance (2007)[12]

Make a new page for each assignment or unit of work

Students should not haphazardly dump work within the ePortfolio, nor space work out across hundreds of disconnected pages. It is advantageous to publish each assignment or unit of work on its own page, integrating artist research, annotation, reflections, and collections of images and ideas in the one location. This allows the marker to scroll up and down to assess the work, without having to click back and forward between multiple pages. (This is good practice for professional career ePortfolios too, as having more content on a single page makes it easier for Google to understand what each page is about and helps drive traffic to your website – more tips for growing traffic to an artist website will discussed in an upcoming article).

Include a menu, with clearly labelled navigation links

menu layout for portfolio
How to create an online portfolio for students: an example of how a graphic design student might use a navigation menu to organize their work.

Include a navigation menu at the top of the screen (above or below the main heading) with links to different sections of work within the ePortfolio. A drop-down menu can be used to group pages together in categories and sub-categories. The menu should use clear, easily-understood wording. Teachers often have specific rules and naming protocols for menu items, so that they can locate work without difficulty.

Menu items should be ordered sequentially, to show progression of ideas, and should include a link to the home page, and other key pages (such as an ‘About Me’ and ‘Contact’ page, which are useful for those wishing to use the ePortfolio for career purposes). A second menu can also be included in the footer of the site (at the very bottom of the page).

Ensure content views well upon different screen sizes, with images and text clearly visible

Sometimes as a browser resizes, images and text jump positions, so that what worked well on one screen does not view well on another. Students should resize their browser and view on different devices, to check how the work displays at other screen sizes.

It is hard for examiners to assess work when only part of an image is visible at one time. Remember that examiners are likely to assess student work upon a desktop. If you have tall, narrow artwork, reduce the file size so that the entire artwork is visible on a single horizontal screen. If fine details are not visible at this scale, separate photos can be added showing close-up details.

When annotating artwork, it is helpful if the images are visible on the screen at the same time as the text, so it is clear which images are being discussed.

GCSE photography portfolio layout
This is part of a GCSE Photography portfolio by Astrid, Thomas Tallis School, London, UK . Note how the images and text are positioned thoughtfully, with photographs by artist and sculptor Alina Szapocznikow clearly visible beneath the text.

Use hyperlinks to connect different parts of the portfolio and link to external websites

Hyperlinks play an important role in helping Google’s search algorithm understand online content, and help an ePortfolio be visible in search engines – often an important goal for students wishing to grow their online presence and develop an art career. Hyperlinks also help teachers and assessors navigate their way around your site.

When referencing work from others, it is good etiquette to link to the original source, so that those wishing to seek more information can click through and visit the appropriate website.

Use a simple presentation style

A creative ePortfolio is more than just a place to dump work – the presentation matters. Put thought into color and font selection, aiming for easy readability. When arranging content on pages, remember that overcrowded work or tiny font sizes may make it difficult for examiners to assess work. As with a traditional sketchbook, a clean, minimalist aesthetic is desirable, as this does not distract from the artwork (more ideas about presentation can be found in our guide to creating an outstanding high school sketchbook).

Introduce the project on the ‘Home’ page

The front page of the ePortfolio is likely to be the first thing that an examiner will see. Use this as an opportunity to summarise the project and outline the purpose of their ePortfolio, adding links to the different key areas of the project.

Add an ‘About Me’ page

An About Me page is particularly important in the case of a career portfolio. Students can add information about themselves here, including the creative services they offer. Students may also include a photograph of themselves (many choose to have the face obscured or hidden for privacy reasons).

Here is part of the text used on an About Me ePortfolio example by a college student seeking to promote her work and gain clients:

Hello and welcome! I’m glad you’re here!

My name’s Carter Teal, owner and main photographer of Carter Teal Photography! I’m currently a college student at The Ohio State University pursuing a field in their Design program. I’m based in Central Ohio and I shoot weddings, couples, portraits, families, and much more!

Carter Teal, Carter Teal Photography

Choosing a ePortfolio platform: requirements for students

When selecting where to make an ePortfolio with students, the following should be considered:

The ePortfolio should be portable, so students can use it beyond graduation

Ideally, student ePortfolios should not be tied to school systems, so they are accessible once students have left school – making them helpful for both college and university applications, and beyond. Although material can be manually copied and paste material from in-house platforms for future use, doing this at scale, with multiple students is impractical.

The case was made that PGCE students would be entering the world of work the following year and therefore should have immediate access to their portfolios as continuous professional development tools…

Magda Barnard and Sonja Strydom, A tale of two faculties: Exploring student experiences of e-portfolio implementation as a vehicle of reflective learning at Stellenbosch University, The Independent Journal of Teaching and Learning, Vol. 12, No. 2 (2017)[13]

The platform must be reliable, robust, and secure

A stable, well-established digital platform is essential. The longer a platform has been operating, with an active user base, the more likely it is to be secure, without bugs and technical issues. Popular platforms are also accompanied by a huge array of tutorials and training videos to help when students get stuck.

The platform must be simple to use

Young people are often described as ‘digital natives’, however a platform used with high school students must cater towards all skill levels and be sufficiently straight forward and user-friendly.

…despite engaging with so-called ‘millennials’, it was clear that the assumption could not be made that all the students were comfortable with the required technologies and that they knew how to utilise them as expected. …[]…most of the cohort asked for a more hands-on training experience related to multimedia skills (e.g. adding images, videos and sound clips) and granting access to their respective portfolios at the start of the project…

Magda Barnard and Sonja Strydom, A tale of two faculties: Exploring student experiences of e-portfolio implementation as a vehicle of reflective learning at Stellenbosch University, The Independent Journal of Teaching and Learning, Vol. 12, No. 2 (2017)[13]

The platform must be flexible and customizable

Art students are keen to add their own mark to their creations. This is particularly critical if students hope to use an ePortfolio for enhancing their career after graduation. The best ePortfolio platforms allow room for self-expression, selecting different layouts, fonts, colors and so on.

The platform should have comment functionality

As noted above, engagement is often driven by comments and responses from teachers and classmates. You may wish to ensure it is possible to switch comments on and off, as desired.

The platform should be free or inexpensive to use

Free ePortfolio websites for students are popular for obvious reasons, however these come with downsides that must be considered too. Some schools use savings made in printing budgets to cover costs of high-quality ePortfolio platforms. Both paid and premium options, with their pros and cons, are discussed below.

It can be helpful to use the same platform school-wide

If you are creating ePortfolios within the classroom, having all students select the same platform makes teaching and grading more efficient. Teachers can use a common set of resources between year levels (some teachers also create their own website using the same platform, modelling good practice for students and learning how to use the platform together). A school-wide policy means that students all become familiar with the same platform – so changing classes and year levels doesn’t involve relearning how to use another platform all over again.

When students spend more than one year working with digital portfolios, they learn and know the tool. This means students aren’t bogged down with learning the technical stuff. They will become fluent with the technology and be able to concentrate on creation, curation, reflection, connections, and all the things that will really drive their learning.

Greg Port, Why ePortfolios, All Saints’ College (2020)[14]

Digital tools and platforms: the best online portfolio sites for students

There is an almost infinite array of digital tools and software that for making an ePortfolio. Here we discuss their pros and cons, discussing their usefulness within the classroom, and illustrating how some of the best ePortfolio platforms have been used within high school art programmes.

eportfolio as technology tool

Image-sharing platforms, such as Google Photos, Instagram, Flickr, Padlet, Pinterest, or Artsonia

There are many online platforms where images can be uploaded and organised in folders. These provide a place to store and share images, and are sometimes used by students to generate a simple online portfolio. Teachers and students sometimes create accounts and then follow each other, or contribute to shared folders, groups, or noticeboards. Some of these platforms, such as Google Photos and Flickr, retain technical information about each photograph (such as the camera model, aperture, and so on) which is helpful for photography students.

Padlet and Pinterest allow users to create collaborative online noticeboards or collections, where students and teachers can post images, videos, and links. Padlet has both free and premium versions (a paid teacher license is available), with the free Padlet version limited to only three noticeboards. Padlet has an improved ability to manage harassment and privacy (you can ensure that content is ‘approved’ before it is published, for example), making it suitable for use in classroom situations, particularly with junior students.

Artsonia is a website where student artwork can be uploaded to galleries, and then printed upon various products (such as cups, magnets, T-shirts etc), fundraising for schools in the process. Some teachers use this to create basic online portfolios for students. It sometimes takes a lot of time to set up and manage permissions, however when students upload their own work using their phones this makes the process much easier.

Public image-sharing platforms, like Pinterest and Instagram, expose students to content from a wide range of users, which can be inappropriate or distracting.

There are three main difficulties with these image-sharing platforms, when it comes to ePortfolio creation. Firstly, multiple images and text cannot be easily arranged in sequence upon a single portfolio page, making them unsuitable for many high school programs. Secondly, it is not easy to link or navigate between different sections of the portfolio, or organize content into categories and sub-categories. Thirdly, these platforms do not make it easy to optimize content for search engines, so people are less likely to discover your work while searching in Google. This makes them unsuitable for those students who are looking to create an ePortfolio to promote their career in the future.

School-based platforms such as Canvas or Seesaw

Another alternative is to use your current learning management software for ePortfolio creation. Some students use Canvas to submit digital art and graphic design assignments (Colorado State University has published a good guide for how to make an ePortfolio on Canvas). Seesaw is another platform that enables students to turn in artwork, with images to be organized in folders and viewable as a public online gallery, with students integrating images, video, text and so on. Other popular school-based platforms include Google Classroom, Edmodo, or Schoology. The disadvantages of these options is that ePortfolios remain tied to the school learning management system, and are not an easily transportable portfolio that is useful for college applications or career promotion going forward. As with the content-sharing platforms above, these approaches are best used with junior students, or those who are less serious about embarking upon a creative career.

Slideshow tools, such as PowerPoint and Google Slides

Slide-sharing platforms allow students to make a digital presentation in the form of a digital slideshow. This involves a combination of scanned drawings and paintings, photographs, digital artwork, embedded videos and ‘voice overs’, assembled alongside reflections, analysis and other typed annotation. Digital slideshows can be presented to class for discussion and critique, or used for college applications. Some high school qualifications, such as IB Visual Art, require students to submit a series of screen-based slides for assessment, using software such as PowerPoint.

IB art process portfolio
An example of a IB Visual Art ‘Process Portfolio’ page by Alina, taught by Gora Lisaro at CIS Copenhagen. Alina’s Standard Level portfolio was awarded 30 points and she achieved a 7 overall. More of Alina’s outstanding project can be viewed at the Think IB website.

Google Slides is much like PowerPoint, except that students can share links to their presentation or embed these within a blog post, making them more transportable. Students can create presentations using a template created by the teacher, if required. Teachers often find that Google Slides is easy for students to use, with a low learning-curve, although there are complaints about the way Google Slides compresses images, which can leave images blurry.

Google Slides ePortfolio example
This Google Slides ePortfolio example is from a tutorial video by teacher Quentin Carpenter, UK, who explains how high school GCSE or A Level Photography students can present artist research using Google Slides.

One issue with using slide-sharing tools is that submitting an entire year’s work in a single slideshow makes for a very long, heavy document. Some schools thus ask student to submit a separate slideshow for each unit of work. Although slideshow tools can be used to create complex, high-quality presentations, unlike an ePortfolio website, they cannot be easily used to grow exposure online and are hence not as useful for career purposes.

Professional portfolio platforms such as Adobe Spark or Behance

Another option is to use one of the free platforms used by artists and designers, such as Behance or Adobe Spark. These allow you to combine images and text upon website pages (enabling you to scroll down to see all content, rather than clicking through page after page). These are published online, easily shareable with others, and can be retained by the students after they leave school.

Platforms such as Adobe Spark and Behance are typically aesthetically pleasing and easy to use, so students can get up and running with ease. Students often find it motivating to have their work published alongside that of practicing artists and designers (and feel as if they are creating a ‘real’ portfolio) which can encourage high-quality portfolio creation.

Here is an excellent Adobe Spark tutorial by Design and Photography teacher Stacey Churchill, describing how she uses ePortfolios within the classroom):

Note: Do not make the mistake of confusing Adobe Spark with Adobe Portfolio. A number of teachers have had students use Adobe Portfolio, only to discover at the end of the project that it won’t let students publish their portfolio without payment.

There are two problems with these free portfolio platforms. Firstly, they typically have very limited customization options. Many senior high school students find these platforms not flexible enough for their needs. Adobe Spark also doesn’t allow comments and students cannot ‘like’ images, which some teachers find reduces engagement within the classroom. Most importantly, however, ePortfolios created using these platforms cannot be easily optimized for search engines, so it is difficult for others to find the portfolio when searching in Google. This means these platforms have limited usefulness if students hope to use the ePortfolio to grow a client base and promote themselves in the future.

A free web design platform such as Wix, Weebly, Google Sites or Blogger

Creating a stand-alone website is the best option for senior high school students who wish to create an ePortfolio. Many students use a free web design platforms, such as Google Sites, Blogger, Weebly, or Wix. These platforms have drag-and-drop editors, so students can create a website without any HTML or coding required.

Wix or Weebly are the most versatile of these options, and have a professional, aesthetically pleasing appearance, resulting in a site that can be kept following graduation, useful for scholarships and college applications. Both Wix and Weebly have free and premium options.

Here is an excellent Weebly ePortfolio example by a senior high school student:

Weebly student portfolio
The image above shows screenshots from an outstanding ePortfolio by A Level Photography student Louis Syed-Anderson, Thomas Tallis School. Note how a single website page contains a comprehensive body of work. Unlike simpler portfolio platforms, the layout of each portfolio page can be customized in detail, creating the appearance of a digital sketchbook.

Another option is Google Sites (this is the best Google service for creating an ePortfolio).

Google Sites portfolio example
This is an excellent example of an ePortfolio using Google Sites by Joseph Turek, art teacher at Greenfield High School, California, USA. Unlike the simple website pages that can be created with Adobe Spark or Behance, this professional Google Sites ePortfolio includes detailed organisation and linking of work across several website pages.

Wondering how to create an ePortfolio using google sites? Here is a great tutorial by Eric Neely, English teacher at The Academies of Bryan Station High School, Kentucky, United States:

Google sites is very easy to use, however some find it challenging to share student portfolio Google Sites with others (one teacher described “constantly dealing with blocking issues when they wanted to send to family members or outside agencies”). If a site is created using a student’s school login, a copy of the site can be shared with their personal Gmail account when the student leaves, so they can retain it once they leave school, however this requires a few steps and may become a hassle when portfolios are created by multiple students. Other schools cannot use Google Sites at all (those designated as ‘Microsoft schools’ for example), because their students don’t use Gmail accounts. Some teachers have also commented that students cannot upload images directly from their phone to Google Sites – work must be saved in Google Drive and then uploaded them to Google Sites, meaning an extra step in the process.

Another Google platform that can be used to create a website is Blogger. This is an older platform, however it is still used by some students and teachers.

A problem encountered by many teachers wanting to create an ePortfolio for students is that a growing number of free platforms are blocked by schools. Sometimes, students or teachers spend considerable effort building up a website or ePortfolio, or are halfway through a project, when the platform is suddenly blocked by their school, as high school photography teacher Wendy Brown McElfish discovered first-hand:

free ePortfolio site

Free ePortfolio platforms are often blocked by schools because these sites attract spammers, who look for cheap and easy ways to set up dodgy websites. To protect students from exposure to these spammy sites, the whole platform itself is often blocked and inaccessible by students.

To complicate things further, many regions are bringing in laws and regulations relating to online education, which means that certain platforms are no longer able to be used with students. For example, teachers in New York State were recently told they were unable to use Weebly anymore, as this is not compliant with the new 2020 NYS data collection privacy law. Other teachers are no longer able to use Wix with their students, due to new age restrictions brought in, with some teachers only permit those older than 18 to publish a site.

Another downside of building an ePortfolio with these tools, is that free platforms are prone to shut down unexpectedly. For example, Weebly recently announced that their education plan (which enabled teachers to manage and view student websites) will soon be discontinued, with all student sites and accounts disabled. Students will not be able to export their websites, requiring students to manually cut and paste all material if they wish to keep their content.

[Weebly] will no longer support student accounts after August 1st, 2022. Students will not be able to log in, and their websites will be unpublished. We’ll delete any student data in your account…

As another example, Wikispaces, which was one of the largest educational wiki sites used by teachers, suddenly disabled all free and classroom wikis in 2018:

As stated in our communication in January 2018 and subsequent site banners; as of July 31st, 2018 all Free and Classroom Wikis were disabled and are no longer accessible.

Free website platforms are particularly vulnerable to collapse, because they do not directly generate revenue for the company. When times are tough, free services are often the first to be cut. Such abrupt changes can have rather dramatic effects upon teaching programs, when hundreds of students might be midway through projects using a particular platform for their course.

Another downside of using one of these platforms is that Google does not like to show free websites in search engines (ePortfolios made using these tools are hence not very useful for driving traffic or growing clients – see more about this in our guide to creating an artist website) and optimizing content for search engines is difficult. This makes ePortfolios built with Wix, Weebly, and Google Sites far less useful for students who are keen to embark upon a creative career, because it is much harder to drive traffic to these websites.

WordPress (highly recommended)

WordPress is one of the most popular website building tools, and powers almost 38% of all websites on the internet (the Student Art Guide was created using WordPress). It can be used to create any type of website, with written text, illustrated articles, scrolling images, image galleries, embedded video clips, and so on. WordPress is more complicated than Wix and Weebly, but is well within the capabilities of many senior high school students. By comparison, it is easier to use than other digital tools students often use, such as Adobe Photoshop.

Many teachers give students a choice between Wix, Weebly, Google Sites, and WordPress. One high school teacher comments, “Wix seems to be the crowd favorite, with some of my advanced students using WordPress.” Another writes, “Been using Wix for several years. WordPress for the real serious kids.”

Important advantages of WordPress include:

  • A WordPress website can be optimized for online search engines, making it easier for others to discover your artwork when they search in Google. (This is why WordPress is the best option for practising artists).
  • Students can have their own website name (this is called a ‘domain name’), such as yourname.com. This creates a much more professional impression than yourname.freeservice.com.
  • If students decide to sell artwork in the future, they can easily add buy now buttons or shopping carts and sell directly from their WordPress site (this is not possible from the free platforms described above).
  • An almost infinite range of features can be added to a WordPress website – contact forms, email sign-up boxes, social media share buttons and so on. All of these are invaluable and are difficult or impossible to implement on most free platforms, enabling students to turn their ePortfolio is a professional website.

In fact, WordPress is considered so useful for students that a growing number of high schools now offer WordPress specific courses. High school teacher Zac Gordon, for example, describes teaching students to build websites for clients in the community, and began an internship program, where students started their own companies working on WordPress sites for clients.

There are two versions of WordPress – the basic, free version, which is found at WordPress.com (this has many of the same limitations as the other free platforms described above), and self-hosted WordPress, which is installed at a ‘website host’. A website host is a company that offers space for a website to be stored online so your site is live on the internet. Beginner hosting costs approximately $5 a month (see recommendations for hosting providers at the end of this article – the same hosting providers we recommend for artists). This price is within the reach of some high school students – particularly when savings in printing are considered. (Some teachers add website hosting to the course fees at the beginning of the year, in replace of a reduced print budget.)

The Student Art Guide will soon be publishing a free WordPress course for high school students, containing all resources and lesson plans needed to teach WordPress within the classroom. This will be an online course that students and teachers can follow along at their own pace. It will teach students how to build a website with WordPress, and will include lesson plans covering the many ways in which web design can be utilized within the curriculum – such as logo design, website layout design, and digital branding etc. We hope to publish this course in 2022. In the meantime, students may wish to watch the video tutorial we have created for artists explaining how to set up a WordPress website.

NOTE: We are keen to feature more student websites, particularly WordPress ePortfolio examples, within this article. Do you have examples or experience using WordPress within the classroom that you would like to share? Have your students designed websites as part of their high school curriculum? Please make contact via our contact form! We would love to hear from you.

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BIBLIOGRAPHY

[1] E-Portfolio, Center for Teaching & Learning, Berkeley, University of California

[2] Dawn Bennett, Diana Blom, Peter Dunbar-Hall, Matthew Robert Hitchcock, Jennifer Rowley, ePortfolios for Creative Arts, Music and Arts Students in Australian Universities (2015)

[3] Candyce Reynolds, Associate Professor, quoted within The Benefits of E-portfolios for Students and Faculty in Their Own Words, Peer Review, Vol. 11, No. 1 (2009)

[4] Dawn Theresa Nicholson, Enhancing student engagement through online portfolio assessment, Practitioner Research in Higher Education, Vol. 11, No. 1 (2018)

[5] Jesse Strycker, K-12 Art Teacher Technology Use and Preparation, ScienceDirect (2020)

[6] Megan Johnson and Maia Skarphol, The Effects of Digital Portfolios and Flipgrid on Student Engagement and Communication in a Connected Learning Secondary Visual Arts Classroom (2018)

[7] Planning & Developing Your Public Portfolio, Louisiana State University

[8] Hart Research Associates, It Takes More than a Major: Employer Priorities for College Learning and Student Success (2013)

[9] Julie Beatrice Kristin, I’ll Never Have to Do This After High School: Exploring Students’ Perceptions of College and Career Readiness and the Effects of Eportfolios With Reflection on Transferable Skills (2020)  

[10] David Sweet, Student Portfolios: Classroom Uses, Education Research Consumer Guide (1993)

[11] Darren Jamieson, What happens online stays online (2016)

[12] Adnan Baki, Osman Birgin, The Use of Portfolio to Assess Student’s Performance (2007)

[13] Magda Barnard and Sonja Strydom, A tale of two faculties: Exploring student experiences of e-portfolio implementation as a vehicle of reflective learning at Stellenbosch University, The Independent Journal of Teaching and Learning, Vol. 12, No. 2 (2017)

[14] Greg Port, Why ePortfolios, All Saints’ College (2020)

[15] Digital Portfolios: Guidelines for Beginners, Ian Munro, Ministry of Education, New Zealand (2011)

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