Catalyst for Learning: ePortfolio Resources & Research

Created by 24 campuses in the Connect to Learning project, Catalyst for Learning: ePortfolio Resources and Research demonstrates the potential ePortfolio has to transform higher education. Developed for a broad audience, the Catalyst site will help ePortfolio teams and campus leaders meet the fast-changing needs of 21st century higher education. Showcasing practices from Boston’s Northeastern University, San Francisco State, IUPUI, Manhattanville College, CUNY’s new Guttman Community College and others across the country, Catalyst for Learning offers evidence, strategies and stories which highlight the ways ePortfolio can advance learning, deepen pedagogy and assessment, and support institutional change.

How is this site organized?

The Evidence section showcases the difference ePortfolio can make in higher education. The Connect to Learning Project findings support three emergent propositions: #1) ePortfolio Initiatives Advance Student Success, #2) ePortfolio Initiatives Support Reflection, Social Pedagogy and Deep Learning, and #3) ePortfolio Initiatives Catalyze Learning-Centered Institutional Change. C2L’s evidence shows ePortfolio’s impact on retention, graduation, and student learning, balancing the tension between the “Completion” agenda and the “Quality” agenda.

FrameworkThe Catalyst Framework is a comprehensive, evidence-based framework which helps us understand the challenge of building and sustaining a successful ePortfolio initiative. It provides a comprehensive conceptual structure for understanding the developmental work of campus ePortfolio projects. As such, it serves as the navigational and organizing structure for the practices and stories shared by C2L campuses as well for the sector-specific Catalyst essays. Use the Catalyst Framework to explore exemplary campus practices and stories, overarching analytical Catlyst essays, and resources related to each of the five Framework sectors.

MINI_partnersThe Partners section takes you to the Connect to Learning campus ePortfolios. Twenty-four institutions with established ePortfolio projects were selected to participate in the Connect to Learning Project. These Campus teams represent institutions ranging from community colleges to Liberal Arts & Sciences schools to comprehensive universities and Research I institutions. Each C2L partner team developed a campus ePortfolio which houses a robust collection of their ePortfolio practices and stories. These field-tested practices and developmental narratives will serve as a resource for campuses seeking to jumpstart or advance their ePortfolio work.

Review the About Connect to Learning section to learn more about our FIPSE-funded grant project.

Where do I begin?

If you are an experienced ePortfolio practitioner, we suggest you start by reading more about and exploring The Catalyst Framework.

If you are new to ePortfolio, we suggest you begin by reading the What is an ePortfolio? section below before exploring the site.

What is an ePortfolio?

There is no one simple answer to the question: “What is an ePortfolio?” Different campuses have distinct definitions of what ePortfolio is and what it should do. Even on a single campus, there may be many different ideas about what the ePortfolio project should aim to accomplish. Part of the story of ePortfolio is its elasticity as a concept, its evolving and multifaceted nature; this is part of its appeal and also part of what makes ePortfolio work challenging.

The most basic definition of ePortfolio is that it is a collection of work and reflections on learning, made available on the Web. Wikipedia elaborates on this:

An electronic portfolio is a collection of electronic evidence assembled and managed by a user, usually on the Web . Such electronic evidence may include inputted text, electronic files, images, multimedia , blog entries, and hyperlinks . E-portfolios are both demonstrations of the user’s abilities and platforms for self-expression, and, if they are online, they can be maintained dynamically over time. Some e-portfolio applications permit varying degrees of audience access, so the same portfolio might be used for multiple purposes.


There are, however, many different types of ePortfolio practice in higher education. Here is one possible typology, offering a way to categorize different approaches to and goals for student ePortfolios:

  • Career/showcase ePortfolio: A kind of expanded resume, designed to highlight students’ best work and demonstrate their qualifications for external audiences: potential employers, transfer institutions, professional credentialing bodies. Career ePortfolios often have a glossy, polished or formal look and feel.
  • Assessment ePortfolio: A collection of artifacts gathered to support outcomes assessment. Artifacts are often associated with General Education and professional or disciplinary competencies, and are reviewed by internal audiences, scored against common rubrics. Assessment ePortfolios often involves less attention to customized look and feel, and more attention to the contents of the portfolios in the context of an institutionally mandated structure and approach.
  • A Learning ePortfolio: A collection of artifacts and reflections designed to help students deepen and integrate their learning, building new identities as learners. Learning ePortfolios often emphasize student ownership and control, and the student herself as primary audience. As such, learning ePortfolios tend towards a more individualistic organization and customized, expressive look and feel.
  • Advisement ePortfolio: A variation on the learning ePortfolio, designed to help faculty, staff and peer advisors quickly and easily understand who a student is and what they have done, in order to provide more meaningful and effective academic advisement. An advisement ePortfolio often involves student self-assessment and development of educational and career plans as part of the reflective process.

While these categories can be useful in understanding the different purposes ePortfolio practice can serve, they can be reductive. Increasingly, campuses seek to address multiple goals with their ePortfolio programs, in a range of combinations and permutations. This is understandable and in many ways exciting, because ePortfolio has such a rich potential. But it does add to the challenges involved, because different goals can require different approaches and emphases. Fitting everything together can sometimes be difficult.

All of the campuses in the Connect to Learning project use ePortfolio to address multiple goals, and in so doing they synthesize different types of ePortfolio practice into a common initiative. All are focused to some significant degree on the learning portfolio. Some also offer opportunities for students to use their portfolio as showcases for career and transfer. A small but growing number of C2L campuses are experimenting with using a learning ePortfolios for advisement purposes. And while many are still in the early stages, most C2L campuses are using ePortfolio to support outcomes assessment.

The ePortfolio initiatives of the C2L network are thus multifaceted, integrating multiple goals and strategies. They are integrative in another way, as well. The pedagogical conversation in C2L has focused significantly on reflection as a tool for helping students to integrate their learning. The concept of integrative learning pedagogy – helping students overcome fragmentation, connecting formal and informal curricula, helping students take greater ownership of their learning and build the skills of life-long learners – has gained greater currency in recent years, in part through the efforts of the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U). As discussed in the Pedagogy section of this site, integrative ePortfolio pedagogy can help students make those connections, using reflection to deepen learning and integrate new identities.

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