On the Use of Portfolios to Support and Assess Student Learning

Mark GAN
Centre for Development of Teaching & Learning (CDTL)

This post considers the use of portfolios in supporting and assessing students’ learning over time.

Gan, M. J. S. (2023, February 28). On the use of portfolios to support and assess student learning. Teaching Connections. https://blog.nus.edu.sg/teachingconnections/2023/02/28/on-the-use-of-portfolios-to-support-and-assess-student-learning/

In higher education, portfolios are commonly recognised as an evaluation tool which allows the teachers and students to assess the achievement of intended learning outcomes over the duration of a course or programme. Besides serving a summative purpose, one could consider using the portfolio for formative or more developmental purposes such as peer and self-assessment during the learning process. At the same time, teachers can make use of the collection of students’ work and their processes over a period of time to monitor, evaluate and reflect about their own impact on students’ learning. There are four general types of portfolio:

  • Working portfolio – provides a comprehensive record of all work being done as it is done
  • Showcase portfolio – exhibits the overall achievements of a learner
  • Evaluation portfolio – provides evidence related to qualifications requirements
  • Class portfolio – reports student learning activity to other stakeholders

While there is a need for students to take on greater ownership and responsibility in preparing their own portfolio, teachers also need to make sure the requirements are clearly communicated as well as unpacking with students the evaluation rubrics or guidelines. In the case of e-portfolios, teachers need to ensure that students’ engage in purposeful collection and meaningful justification of pieces of work (may be in different mediums or digital formats) to be included in the portfolio, provide specific and timely feedback and help to mitigate against excessive workload and loss of motivation. An example of the use of an e-portfolio is well illustrated in a previous post by Lage-Otero and Ling (2021).

When thinking about the design and evaluation of a learning portfolio, teachers should consider the following (Chaudhuri, 2017):

  • Why use (e-)portfolio for your course? What learning purpose does it serve your students and your own practice?
  • Where should you start? Are you focusing on process, product or both? What intended learning outcomes or goals/objectives do you and your students hope to achieve?
  • How is the portfolio going to be structured? How do you guide students in preparing their portfolio? What kind of artefacts can be included? How many artefacts should be included? And How should the artefacts be organised?
  • How should you asses the portfolio? Are the criteria in the rubric clearly communicated to students?
  • What electronic platform should you use? Will the information be secured and will students have access beyond the university experience?

Some further advice for colleagues on planning to use portfolios in their courses:

  • First, do not take it for granted that students could automatically perform reflection in their writing and manage to monitor the entire portfolio process all by themselves. Without proper training, students may not be able to develop appropriate self-evaluative judgements to assess the quality of their works relating to the rubric provided.
  • Second, instead of starting from scratch, try to be flexible in adapting a particular portfolio model from current literature or relevant scholarship. The above guiding questions may help too.
  • Third, carefully think through the evaluation process to ensure fairness, clarity of criteria, and workload.



Chaudhuri, T. (2017). (De) Constructing student e-portfolios in five questions: Experiences from a community of practice. In T. Chaudhuri, & B. Cabau, E-Portfolios in Higher Education: A Multidisciplinary Approach (pp. 3-19). Springer. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-10-3803-7_1

Lage-Otero, E., & Ling, M. (2021, Aug 26). Self-reflection in language learning via a language portfolio. Teaching Connections. https://blog.nus.edu.sg/teachingconnections/2021/08/26/self-reflection-in-language-learning-via-a-language-portfolio/.


mark gan

Mark GAN is an Associate Director of the Centre for Development of Teaching and Learning (CDTL) in NUS. He has been involved in a wide variety of higher educational initiatives and programmes to enhance professional development of staff, such as courses for developing a Teaching Portfolio and writing of teaching inquiry grants. His research interests include feedback and assessment, and the impact of academic development work on teaching and learning. Mark has a PhD in Education from the University of Auckland, supervised by Professor John Hattie.

Mark can be reached at mark.gan@nus.edu.sg.


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