A Homeschooler’s Guide to e-Portfolios

By Jonathan Olsen

When most people think of a portfolio, they imagine an artist with a huge document case containing samples of artwork. However, that is no longer the case. (No pun intended!) Nowadays, anyone can easily make a portfolio and post it online. E-portfolios are an ideal way for homeschoolers, non-traditional learners, or unschoolers to creatively document their academic achievements, extracurricular activities, and work or volunteer experience.

An e-portfolio (electronic portfolio) is an online record of education and experience that demonstrates growth over a period of time (in school, on the job, and/or life in general). Many high school and college programs are incorporating e-portfolios to record students’ personal, academic, and professional development for sharing with faculty, peers, academic advisors, college representatives, and prospective employers. My local community college even offers a course in which you not only create an e-portfolio but also get credit for it.

E-portfolios help students connect with “their own purpose, strengths and passions,” says Dr. Jeanne Enders, Executive Director of Online Programs in the School of Business at Portland State University. “When you can link that to your job and speak about it in a clear and sophisticated way to potential employers, you’re more likely to end up in a job that’s meaningful for you, that’s a great fit for you, and you’re more likely to take the learning you had at the university and apply it appropriately into your career instead of wondering why you ever got a bachelor’s degree” (Campus Technology).

Getting Started

There are several methods of building an e-portfolio, depending on your abilities and goals. If you are an aspiring web developer, you should design your e-portfolio site from scratch and publish it on your own domain to fully exhibit your skills. That is what my brother did here: portfolio.xboltz.net. If you are a creative person but not a programmer, you can set up an e-portfolio using WordPress. A popular place for students to post their e-portfolios is Weebly. Some institutions specify which e-portfolio platform to use. Max Freitas, a student in Massachusetts, made his e-portfolio on Google Sites as required by Somerville High School. (SHS offers detailed instructions that explain how to set up an e-portfolio and what to include.) Graduating students will want to transition their school e-portfolio to a career-oriented social media site such as LinkedIn.

General Guidelines

An e-portfolio draws upon a wide array of varied resources (journal entries, experience, labs, projects, courses, etc.) and includes documented evidence. Your sampling of work will represent your personality as well as the quality and breadth of your knowledge and skills. When designing your e-portfolio, questions to ask yourself include:

Who is your target audience? Your target audience may include your peers, friends, family, instructors, university representatives, and employers, both current and future. What do you want them to know about you? What are your strengths, interests, and goals?

What is the purpose of your e-portfolio? Are you preparing to seek a full-time job? To obtain clients for your own business? Is it for professional growth and discovery? For acceptance into an academic program? Will you use it as a “stepping stone” to a larger project?

What do you want to emphasize? Will your e-portfolio demonstrate breadth of knowledge (covers a wide range)? Or will it demonstrate depth (delves deeply into a specific subject area)?

Assembling Artifacts

Artifacts are all of the “things” that you place in your portfolio. The artifacts can be assignments from courses taken, samples of work you completed on the job, or a combination of both. They can be writings, web pages, scanned graphics, photos, videos, etc. These items need to be of quality and of limited quantity, so look for your best work. Showcase your current skills and expertise, and demonstrate your growth in these areas. Your career field and interests will help to guide you, because what you select will be based on your goals and target audience. Choose items that illustrate versatility, creativity, technology literacy, critical thinking, organization, teamwork, communication, leadership, ethics, etc. Possible things to include:

-Photograph (can be a professional-looking headshot or one with you involved in your area of expertise, depending on the focus and target audience of your e-portfolio).
-Documentation of courses completed, grades received, work experiences, leadership roles.
-Details of community service projects, or photos of a volunteer project that you completed.
-Awards and recognitions you’ve received (professional, personal, academic, athletic).
-Technical projects you have completed (websites, databases, computer programs).
-Math and science projects, lab reports, workbooks, or other coursework.
-Research paper, poem, story, or other writing sample.
-Artistic, photographic, audio, and/or video projects.
-Video of a play or song that you performed.
-Evidence of learning across the curriculum (applying skills learned in one class to a different subject area).
-Real life examples, travel experiences, or application of learning.
-Required artifacts for your desired career field (artwork, photographs, creative writing samples, demo reel, etc.).
-Resume (don’t include your home address and/or telephone number – remember this is on the Internet).
-Autobiography (again, be selective in the personal information you include).
-Items that highlight your analytical, organizational, writing, presentation, communication, and/or collaborative skills.

Written documents can be saved in Word format, rich text format, or PDF format. Graphics should be saved in either .jpg, .gif, or .png formats.

Writing Reflections

After assembling your artifacts, you will need to write a reflection (brief analysis) for each artifact. Reflections are important components of an e-portfolio; without them, you just have a scrapbook or collection. For each artifact you should prepare a document reflecting on the following questions:

-Title and brief description of the artifact.
-Why did you select this artifact to include in your portfolio?
-What did you learn from the activity/project?
-What was the research method used?
-What challenges did you face?
-What skills did you acquire?
-How will this knowledge help you in the present and/or future?
-What objectives/outcomes did this activity/assignment relate to?

You can choose the presentation of the information, but be sure to maintain consistency throughout all of your reflections. For example, if you use a bulleted list, use the same bullet format for each reflection.

Making Connections

This phase is where your e-portfolio “goes live.” You will connect with others by publishing your e-portfolio and sharing it. Although it may seem intimidating at first, this is the “fun” part. Now you are able to show off your accomplishments! Just remember, before publishing your portfolio, it should be reviewed to check content, structure, and overall usability, preferably with feedback from peers.

An e-portfolio shows a commitment to lifelong learning while providing an opportunity to reflect on your accomplishments. It is a method to document your knowledge, achievements, and professional development to prepare for future educational and career advancement. It also serves as a marketing tool that can be used to highlight knowledge and skills in a particular subject area or career field.

Your e-portfolio is an ongoing work in progress. You can (and should) always add to it. Colleges and companies are increasingly making use of e-portfolios to determine student and/or employee potential. So your e-portfolio definitely needs to be professional, but it will certainly be as unique as you are.

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