The Future of Electronic Portfolios:
Do They Help with Accreditation?
Center for Distributed Learning
California State University, Office of the Chancellor
Abstract: A survey of the California State University campuses provided insights into current uses
of ePortfolios, and the use of ePortfolios for assessment and accreditation. The ability to have
almost all student work in electronic format, plus the development of dynamic databases, plus the
progress of the internet (anywhere, anytime) are intersecting trends supporting electronic portfolios.
There is also an increased interest in accreditation agencies attention to ongoing assessment of
student work, and accomplishments of institutional goals. Moreover, students using ePortfolios can
see their own accomplishments, and benefit with a life-long learning component and work related
resume potential. The lifelong ePortfolio provides the institution with an opportunity to follow
graduates for longitudinal data on career paths.
Significant changes are taking place in education. The ability to have almost all student work in electronic
format, plus the development of dynamic databases, plus the progress of the internet (anywhere, anytime) are
intersecting trends supporting electronic portfolios. There is also an increased interest in accreditation agencies
attention to ongoing assessment of student work, and accomplishments of institutional goals. Will ePortfolios with
the ability to provide ongoing assessment help with accreditation?
Background and Literature Review
The Commission on the Future of Higher Education in one of the first drafts of their 2006 report called for
the creation of a “national accreditation framework,” and asks the National Assessment of Educational Progress be
revised to measure students‟ readiness for college and employment. The Commission also recommended
accreditation agencies “act in a more timely manner” to get their reports done and distributed and to share any
results with the public. As stated in the August 8, 2006 draft of the report:
“We recommend that America‟s colleges and universities embrace a culture of continuous innovation and
quality improvement. We urge these institutions to develop new pedagogies, curricula and technologies to
improve learning, particularly in the area of science and mathematical literacy. At the same time, we
recommend the development of a national strategy for lifelong learning designed to keep our citizens and
our nation at the forefront of the knowledge revolution.” (p. 8)
Accreditation agencies such as the National Council for Accreditation for Teacher Education (NCATE),
ABET (the recognized U.S. accreditor of college and university programs in applied science, computing,
engineering, and technology), and The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) have
become more outcomes driven, requiring examples of student learning as well as an aggregation of assessment data
for internal program evaluation. Some agencies are providing outcomes workshops for members
(http://www.abet.org/workshop.shtml) encouraging immediate adoption of these new expectations.
The Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) President and Executive Director Ralph Wolff
recently gave a speech claiming “We are moving from assessment to accountability. Shifting to National, State, and
System levels as opposed to local, and assessment should be a systematic process about setting goals.” (LiveText
Annual Meeting, 2006, Chicago Il.) WASC provides a workshop entitled Using the Accreditation Review Process
for Institutional Transformation that embraces improvement, and asks the attendee to consider the accreditation
process an opportunity to learning something rather than proving something, which is in line with the Commission‟s
suggestion for continued improvement. WASC also asks for key indicators of performance and evidence, including
actual student work, and rather than a once-every-ten-years visit, it‟s looking as though accreditation will be a steady
review, meaning data has to be more readily accessible than in the past.
George Lorenzo and John Ittelson, in “An Overview of E-Portfolios,” (Lorenzo & Ittelson, 2005). state
WASC is encouraging institutions to use e-portfolios for accreditation, and notes the sample portfolios available on
the WASC website. The authors consider student portfolios applicable for advisement, career preparation, and
credential documentation. Teaching portfolios are for sharing philosophies and practices, and institutional portfolios
used by groups might be used for department and program self-study or used in the accreditation process. When
used in accreditation electronic information may be more visible as a website, making the report more accessible to
the public which may increase accountability. Data collected from the students‟ portfolios and the institutions
portfolios can be aggregated and compared over time to reveal how well standards are being met, with some
institutions dedicating serious time to organizing rubrics, which are used for data collection. This provides an
opportunity for continual improvement as the institution, department, or professor collects, assesses, and reflects.
Lorenzo and Ittelson also report on the advantages of lifelong e-portfolios and the potential benefits for career
development. Their conclusion suggests ePortfolios may evolve to be as important as learning management systems
Ali Jafari‟s article “The “Sticky” ePortfolio System: Tackling Challenges & Identifying Attributes” was
written in 2004 and is interesting because he has developed an ePortfolio system for Indiana University-Purdue
University Indianapolis at Indianapolis, Indiana (IUPUI). He agrees the ePortfolio is a lifelong, personal space for
collecting, reflecting, selecting, and presenting, and should be used to demonstrate and assess student learning. He
astutely points out Deans and department chairs want to use ePortfolio systems for accreditation and external
review. When he compares ePortfolio to LMS projects, he explains the success of LMS was based on the potential
for providing classes online, thus a new source of income for the institution. The only source of income for an
ePortfolio system may be through alumni organization who could potentially host and charge for services. Jafari‟s
main concern is that data integration between common management systems (CMS) and LMS, such as PeopleSoft
and BlackBoard, is barely developing and to add ePortfolios, a third source of student data may not be the best
Jafari‟s portfolio system at IUPUI was put to the test during their regional reaccreditation review with The
Higher Learning Commission, A Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (NCA) in
November, 2002. The review was very positive, with comments specific to the portfolio system. The NCA
appreciated the clear performance indicators communicated through the ePortfolio, and the climate of collaboration.
They credited the institution for making the information, almost all the supporting documents, available to the public
on the web-based portal, demonstrating openness and integrity. They liked that stakeholders could all access
consistent information. Their few suggestions included providing faculty mini-grants to pilot student portfolios, and
adding portfolios to tenure and promotion evaluation. They would also like to see long-term tracking of graduates to
see where they go, and an alignment of student identified outcomes evidenced through student work.
Trudy Banta (2003) wrote an article reflecting on this NCA review and IUPUI‟s use of the ePortfolio
system. In “Electronic Portfolios for Accreditation?” Banta suggests electronic portfolios may be the answer to
outcomes assessment, offering evidence of students‟ current status, and evidence of growth and development over
time. She notes the development of an office of planning, evaluation and improvement which links performance to
campus goals plus the lower cost of duplicating paper copies helped keep costs down for 2002 review. Online
accessibility made information available for public scrutiny and IUPUI was commended for “the transparency of the
evidence”; the quality of the information; the persuasiveness of presentation (links to evidence and illustrations); and
connections between elements. Unfortunately it seemed the review team did not always understand the features of
the tool, some links were broken, and some found the abundance of information overwhelming. Reviewers
suggested more summarizing, highlighting, and prioritizing. Frustration for the institution hit a high when they were
asked to provide a paper narrative. Banta acknowledges the paper makes it easy to “highlight passages, make
marginal notes, and mark a page worth returning to later.”
The need to have a paper copy and pen in hand when reviewing does seem to be an issue, but is it a
generational issue? Will technology fix it? Allan, Zylinski, Temple, Hilsop, and Gray (2003) discuss the value of the
students creating assessment output in web format. The student does the work, the tool collects the data. Student
work was compared to the assessment criteria, and assessment was based on expertise in the subject, not graphic
design. They implemented an ePortfolio in Life Sciences, provided general structure and training, and assessed the
students twice during the semester. At the end of the semester the students presented their ePortfolio face to face. A
web survey resulted in 40% response, with 67% agreeing the ePortfolio added valuable knowledge. Most of the
negative responses were from “mature-age” students, with lower computer skills. They recognize student-centered
and learning oriented assessment are key to accreditation, and are creating an „ePortfolio How To‟ for faculty and
Helen Barrett, a pioneer in the use of electronic portfolios, has long endorsed the idea that ePortfolios are
by the students and for the students. In “Differentiating Electronic Portfolios and Online Assessment Management
Systems” she worries many ePortfolio systems are for simply grading and record keeping. She provides a detailed
chart comparing the electronic portfolio and assessment management systems in areas of purpose, data structure,
data, storage, control of design and links, locus of control, skills required, and technology competency demonstrated.
The chart does make a clear delineation, however improvements in current tools have blurred the line. She asks
“Just because technology allows aggregation of portfolio data, should we succumb to this temptation?” This paper
was written in 2004, and with the pressures of accreditation agencies this is a moot point: with the focus on
accountability we have to aggregate data.
The Federal Government of Australia conducted a National Professional Development Program in 1994 –
1996, which funded the „Teacher Professional Development for Accreditation of Workplace Learning‟ project. John
Retallick and Susan Groundwater-Smith (1999) report on the project in “Teachers‟ Workplace Learning and the
Learning Portfolio”. Social changes that move us from industrial economies to knowledge economies increased the
teacher‟s responsibilities to include both maximizing formal learning opportunities for students, but also to enable
their student to “become fully contributing citizens when they enter the adult world.” They wanted to encourage
teachers to take advantage of opportunities to increase their knowledge while they worked. They first met with
stakeholders then produced professional development guidelines for compiling portfolios. Workshops included
subjects such as designing the learning portfolio, setting and managing of standards, and developing intercultural
understanding of school and academic workplaces. They negotiated with the university so credit would be awarded
for the portfolios, legitimizing workplace learning. Assessment was based on the standards for the course for which
credit would be earned. Criteria included validity, authenticity, reliability, currency, sufficiency, and while there was
a general structure each candidate was responsible for supplying appropriate evidence of learning.
“It is important to emphasize here that the intention is not one of seeking to „prove‟ that the project worked
very effectively and achieved all of the outcome which were desired. Instead, the intention is to indicate the
learning that has occurred during and as a result of, the project” (Retallick & Groundwater-Smith, 1999, p.
As a result of this study at least two universities offered Master‟s programs based on compilation of a portfolio. The
authors feel the project and professional learning portfolio allowed for the accreditation and validation of workplace
1996 was also the year ABET went through accreditation reform now requiring skills for lifelong learning
and productive contributions to the profession, employers, economy, and society. The focus was reoriented from
institutional inputs to student outcomes. Yong Bai and Ron Pigott review the developed Technology Criteria 2000
(TC2K) and report on how they developed assessment methods that helped meet the new requirements. The report
acknowledges that institutions previously could have waited the year before an accreditation review to prepare for
the visit; however with TC2K institutions must demonstrate achievement through outcomes assessment, graduate
career performance, and employer feedback. Institutions are also required to demonstrate continuous improvement
by establishing specific educational goals, determining appropriate outcomes, and developing and implementing
assessment methods to measure the outcomes. The Department of Engineering Technology at Texas Tech
University developed a Professional Assessment Portfolio (PAP), and shifted from a teaching environment to a
learning environment. Part of their PAP, as covered in this paper, consists of pre- and post course assessments with
students. The assessments determine the need for remediation; assure the students were learning according to the
goals of the course; and what improvement could make the course better. These were used to evaluate the course,
not the students. The portfolio includes a total of 12 assessment methods and provides information on student
learning and effectiveness of teaching, meeting the accreditation criteria in TC2K. The authors also suggest the
department can use the results for continued improvement. While this report does not specify this was an electronic
portfolio, it nonetheless supports documentation of ongoing assessment and continued improvement in order to meet
Bullard and McLean (2000) discuss the use of teaching portfolios with geography teachers (students) for
the purpose of assessment. They reviewed eight teaching portfolios and interviewed the authors. Bullard and
McLean feel the portfolios provide an opportunity for senior teachers to help with problems expressed in the
portfolios; problems with students and issues with resources and time management. The portfolios reviewed
provided evidence of a reflective, experimental approach to teaching and teaching philosophies proving student
centered conceptions of teaching. There is some discussion toward about the freedom these students had to write and
reflect, and yet there is acknowledgement some type of framework may be necessary. Bullard and McLean caution
the portfolio is only one piece of a developed teacher; previous experience, the training program, discipline and the
institution also must contribute. This qualitative study emphasizes the need to know the goal of the portfolio, be it
electronic or not.
Trent Batson‟s 2002 article “The Electronic Portfolio Boom: What‟s it All About?” is the one of the most
cited document in ePortfolio studies. He considers the popularity in ePortfolios to be directly related to the
intersection of three trends: most of student‟s work is already in electronic form; the web is internet ready; database
development allows dynamic websites. The ease of being online, the change in habits, and new norms of work have
also contributed. Technology provides a way to have organized, searchable, and transportable work allowing
“enormous possibilities for re-thinking whole curricula: the evaluation of faculty, assessment of programs,
certification of student work, how accreditation works. In short, ePortfolios might be the biggest thing in technology
innovation on campus. Electronic portfolios have a greater potential to alter higher education at its very core than
any other technology application we‟ve known thus far” (p. 1). Even in 2002 Batson saw the pressure from
accrediting agencies who are asking for better organized and accessible student work. He discusses the potential
benefits of having an ePortfolio, such as tracking student work over time, aggregating student work to see group
progression towards goals, assessing many courses to allow review of an entire program, and organizing curricula
around professional standards. Batson uses the University of Rhode Island‟s ePortfolio system in his writing class,
providing a best practice for others to model. Students write a paper a week and put them together in a portfolio,
after 10 weeks they can re-write three of the papers, allowing the student to reflect and incorporate new learning into
their work. At the end of the semester they review their entire portfolio and can remove two papers. They write a
final paper on how they‟ve developed as a writer by referencing their portfolio. This practice allows the student to
see their own improvement. These are accessible electronically, anywhere, any time.
The AACSB sums up the importance of accreditation in their brochure aimed at businesses.
“Assurance of learning to demonstrate accountability (such as in accreditation) is an important reason to
assess learning accomplishments. Measures of learning can assure external constituents such as potential
students, trustees, public officials, supporters, and accreditors, that the organization meets its goals.
Another important function for measures of learning is to assist the school and faculty members to improve
programs and courses. By measuring learning the school can evaluate its students‟ success at achieving
learning goals, can use the measures to plan improvement efforts, and (depending on the type of measures)
can provide feedback and guidance for individual students.”
The growing interest in ePortfolios is certainly inspired by requirements from accreditation agencies. The
proper ePortfolio tool allows assessment of individual performance and aggregation of group data with a way to
easily access information for evidence of student learning for assessment, accountability, and accreditation. The data
is readily accessible for internal or external monitoring.
I wanted to find out what we were doing in the California State University with electronic portfolios and if
they had been effectively used in accreditation. I developed a questionnaire, which included identity questions that
would establish basic information about each campus and then had more specific questions regarding electronic
portfolios. The size of the campus was compared to the total number of students using electronic portfolios because I
wanted to see the depth of adoption. I wanted to see if there was any consistency as to the tool used, and the last
questions provide specific information about adoption and accreditation, including actual dates of accreditation. The
questions required responses of yes/no, dates, and some were narrative. It helped to gather the date electronically,
however the download still had to be manually manipulated within excel to organize it properly so it could be
studied. Questions included:
1. Your campus:
2. Your department:
3. Your name:
4. Total students on campus:
5. What electronic portfolio system do you use?
6. When did your campus adopt ePortfolios?
7. When did your school adopt ePortfolios?
8. When did your program adopt ePortfolios?
9. Total students using electronic portfolios?
10. When did you go through accreditation? (month/year)
11. When are you scheduled to go through accreditation again? (month/year)
12. When did you decide to use electronic portfolios? (month/year)
13. Was accreditation a motivator for using (adopting) electronic portfolios?
14. Did using electronic portfolios help you pass accreditation?
15. Can I contact you to discuss this further?
The California State University has a website in development that will be used to help those considering
electronic portfolios. The Chancellor‟s Office asked each campus Provost to select an ePortfolio Liaison who would
act as the main campus contact for all communications about electronic portfolios. Some campuses have supplied no
liaison contact, and some have supplied up to three names. I went through the list and picked one contact for each
campus that I knew personally and who might respond to my survey. I originally developed the questions for the
survey to gather basic information and thought I would then use that information to call long-time users for more
detailed stories on ePortfolio implementation and use.
I customized each e-mail and sent a personal plea and the questionnaire link to people I knew from the list.
Out of 23 campuses, I sent the questionnaire to 18. Since this was not an official (Chancellor‟s Office sanctioned)
questionnaire I did not send to Fresno and Cal Poly Pomona as I did not personally know the people listed. East Bay
had no contact listed, I knew the liaison listed for Stanislaus had retired, and Maritime had not begun to use
electronic portfolios. I should have followed up with every campus.
Data and Findings
Of the 18 people contacted three did not respond. One had resigned (Channel Island) and two of the
contacts surprised me with their lack of response (San Jose and Dominguez Hills) as I felt I had a personal
relationship with them. I know the San Jose contact is really busy, and the Dominguez Hills contact did tell me she
was busy but would get to it but never did. Of the 15 responses, three were not from the official liaison. All surveys
were returned within a week. The Fullerton response was from a person I had presented with at the 2007 CSU CATS
(Community of Academic Technology Staff conference). Our presentation was on ePortfolios. The email sent to the
official contact at Sacramento was returned so I sent it to the Director of Academic Technology & Creative Services,
who I know personally. The contact at San Bernardino is not listed as the official contact but had attended some
ePortfolio seminars, so again, it was a personal contact.
Campus wide adoption was reported by five campuses. Two reported in error, two reported newly adopted,
and one reported less than two years use. These three have very few users total. Two of the campuses reporting
campus wide adoption are using the Blackboard module. Blackboard is a Learning Management System that is
usually adopted as an enterprise-system in that the entire campus uses it to organize classroom information and
students have logins. Blackboard provides a module that allows students to build electronic portfolios. Although
electronic portfolios are available to the students through the system few are using them.
Having the systems available to the students and using them in a classroom or program are two different
approaches. Campus reports of programs using ePortfolios usually attribute accreditation as motivator for adoption,
and these usually were programs within the Schools of Education. Bakersfield is using a system that can aggregate
data, as is Long Beach, and San Diego. Sonoma State said accreditation was a partial factor. CSU San Bernardino is
if the motivation is “part of portfolio evaluation of standards and outcomes assessment”. While Sacramento reports
they have not adopted electronic portfolios they say accreditation “is an incentive to consider such a service”. Chico
on the other hand reports accreditation has required they collect data on an enterprise level and are using a program
that is not modeled on portfolios.
As for really helping pass accreditation only Sonoma State and Bakersfield voted in with a resounding
„yes‟. Monterey Bay reported the accrediting agency did use the system for reviewing projects, and it was
recommended they have a system in place for their 2009 accreditation. A few have implemented or are planning to
implement electronic portfolios in order to prepare for the next accreditation visit.
Monterey Bay said they had 2000 students using electronic portfolios, but on further investigation this
included all students who have used the system over the years. San Marcos has the next highest number of users at
almost 800. Two campuses report between 300 and 500 users, and three have less than 200 users. This question
should have been written as total historical users, and current users.
This research shows that ePortfolios can be effectively used in accreditation. I would like to do some
qualitative research and extensively interview those who felt the use of electronic portfolios helped with
accreditation. I‟d like to assess these successful adoption and implementation methods and write a report to help
others adopt electronic portfolio programs.
With ePortfolios students can see their own accomplishments, and benefit with a life-long learning
component and work related resume potential. The lifelong ePortfolio provides the institution with an opportunity to
follow graduates for longitudinal data on career paths. Faculty can use ePortfolios and data collected to assess
effectiveness of teaching, and for tenure and promotion. Rubrics can tie specific assignments to standards or goals;
assessment methods can monitor outcomes. If use of an ePortfolio leads to individual reflection and the aggregated
data leads to institutional reflection then there is the possibility of continuous improvement, something every
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