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Information technology tools and resources at the UW

Planning Effective Online Portfolios with CommonView and UW Google Apps

Creating and managing e-portfolios is easy using UW-IT’s integration of Catalyst CommonView and Google Sites, part of the UW Google Apps suite. With the robust and flexible content creation and publishing features offered by Google Sites, combined with the security and course management functionality of CommonView, campus has an easy to use and highly adaptable e-portfolio solution. The following tips are designed to help instructors planning an e-portfolio assignment.

Distinguish Between UW Google Apps and Personal Google Accounts

The UW-IT e-portfolio solution is an integration of Catalyst’s CommonView and UW Google Apps only. UW Google Apps differ from the commercial accounts offered by Google ( Not only are the UW Google Apps free from advertisement, but they also offer the same FERPA, electronic discovery, and copyright protections that apply to other UW-IT resources. The same guarantees to student materials are not available through Google’s commercial offerings. To ensure ease of use and access to these benefits, we recommend that you require students to use UW Google Apps for all portfolio assignments. To sign up for UW Google Apps, go to:

Be Clear About the Purpose and Audience for the E-Portfolio

Portfolios have different purposes: a showcase portfolio will include only a student’s best work, a learning portfolio may include artifacts that show growth over time, and a process portfolio may illustrate steps toward completion of a project. The type of portfolio you choose will depend in part on your targeted learning objectives. Explain to students the purpose and intended audience of the portfolio you assign, and help students consider how these factors might influence their selection of artifacts, the language they use to talk about their learning, and their visual design choices.

Define an E-Portfolio for Students

Early in the course or program, be sure to define what an e-portfolio is and how it compares to other types of writing and online content. Specifically, discuss how the reflective writing in the e-portfolio compares to other writing done for the course or program. You may also want to address how the e-portfolio as a whole compares to other types of online content, such as blogs, social networking sites, and even email messages; when creating an e-portfolio for the first time, students often gravitate towards the personal and informal tone they use for other online content. Consider providing multiple examples for students of effective e-portfolios as a starting point for discussion.

Provide Guidance on Artifact Selection

Artifacts form the base of any portfolio. Help students think about how their selected artifacts might support—or detract from—the statement they want to make with their portfolio. In addition, provide examples of the wide range of digital artifacts students can include in an e-portfolio, as well as ways that they might highlight significant features of these artifacts (e.g. a Word doc with track changes; a scanned and annotated image; a video or series of video stills highlighting significant moments of an event).

Scaffold Reflection

Students may need to learn how to combine artifacts and commentary in an e-portfolio to craft an effective argument or statement about their learning. You can use CommonView and UW Google Sites to distribute a model e-portfolio to students that provides a sample structure for this argument, along with prompts and instructions to get them started. Whether or not you choose to use a model e-portfolio, your students may need guidance in how to talk about specific features of their work and how these features demonstrate achievement of learning objectives or other goals. Consider sharing examples of effective reflection and providing other opportunities (outside of the e-portfolio) for students to practice reflective writing.

Help Students Develop Design Literacy

Students will need basic design skills as they build their portfolio websites. Layout, navigation and the appropriate visual style for the intended audience and the purpose should be discussed early on in the planning stages. Offer students multiple examples of a ‘look and feel’ that would be appropriate for the message they want to convey. Accessibility should also be considered; for instance, green text on a red background may be difficult for some viewers to read. Backgrounds that are multicolored and busy can be distracting.

Help Students Develop Technical Literacy

There are a small number of technical skills that can make a big difference when creating e-portfolios and using Google Sites. These skills can support students’ creativity while reducing feelings of anxiety or frustration related to technology. Knowing how to scan documents and resize images before uploading them to a Google Site, for instance, will make the work of adding artifacts efficient. Some students may also want to embed videos; knowing how to do so—as well as when their content may be restricted due to copyright or privacy issues—is another important skill. Understanding the difference between Google Sites’ templates and themes will also be helpful for you and your students. To learn more about using Google Sites, please see Google Sites Help and Google Sites forum.

Develop an Effective Assessment Plan

Think about how you will assess the portfolio before you assign it. What is the relationship between achievement on the individual artifacts and reflection on those artifacts? Will the artifacts be evaluated separately from the portfolio as a whole? How will you evaluate the organization of the portfolio and its visual design? How will the grade or score on a portfolio be factored into achievement in a course or program? Whatever you decide, be sure to communicate your assessment criteria to students before they begin work. See Designing a Portfolio Assignment for an example assessment rubric.

Align Technologies and Teaching Practices

There are several practices you can adopt to support a smooth integration of e-portfolios in your teaching. For example, when students receive feedback electronically on assignments (from you or peers), they can easily cite these comments in their e-portfolios. In addition, if students create documents and other files (presentations, drawings, etc.) using UW Google Apps, they can embed these files directly in the pages of their site, rather than including them as attachments. Assignments that ask students to use a range of media will also allow them to practice their design skills and to assemble more dynamic portfolios. Finally, try to teach in a classroom equipped with a computer and projector (or check out these technologies) so you can show example e-portfolios and other online materials in class.

Share Lessons Learned

As you implement e-portfolios in your course or program, share best practices and lessons learned with your colleagues. Students may also appreciate the opportunity to share their work with each other and with a wider audience; the CommonView and UW Google Sites integration makes these options easy.