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CIC Faculty Guide Online



Why Use Online Portfolios?

In the words of Judith Patton, ""If what we want is to deepen learning and to facilitate transfer of knowledge . . . e-portfolios provide a strategy that allows students to archive their work over time. The critical part is that they also use those artifacts for intentional and promoted reflection that supports connecting the learning aross courses and disciplines and to their own lives and passions" (qtd. in Miller and Morgaine 11). Whether or not you choose to frame the use of portfolios within the context of your course only, or as a resource that a student can continue to use over the course of his or her education, the structure and function of Google Sites supports the educational values of transfer and metacognition via the practice of extended reflection.

Aside from the desire to promote transfer and metacognition, consider using Portfolio in your course for four additional reasons:

  1. Portfolios are a mode of evaluation.
    • Having students turn in a final portfolio of work for some portion of their course grade supports summative (outcome based) evaluation.
    • The collection of student portfolios over time generates an archive for a course or program assessment project.
    • The Expository Writing Program (EWP)100-level writing courses require portfolio-based evaluation. To assist instructors, EWP provides extensive, password-protected resources on portfolio-based evaluation.
  2. Portfolios are a tool for teaching multimodality and multi-literacies.
    • Increasingly, instruction in writing and English is asking students to compose, interpret and analyze multimodal texts. A Portfolio can serve as a collection and presentation tool for multimodal texts--and is itself a multimodal text.
    • In tandem with multimodality, instruction in writing and English reflects the recognition that text-based literacies are but one of the literacies students can expect to encounter in academia and beyond. Asking students to design a Portfolio is an opportunity to teach design literacy, among other literacies afforded by using Portfolio as an instructional tool.
  3. Portfolios are a platform for introducing public writing.
    • There is growing interest in the humanities to engage students in "public writing," meaning loosely that students write for audiences other than those implied by academic classroom genres, such as the academic essay. Security settings for Portfolio enable students to set access to their site to the open web affording instruction in writing for the web, or developing assignments that contribute to a public conversation.
  4. Portfolios are a tool for students to put course work into the context of their long-term plans.
    • Students can access their Portfolio as long as they have a UW NetID. They can continue to build their portfolio over time, and, as appropriate, can use it to showcase their work and development for a job or academic application process.



Making the Decision: Templates vs. Student-Designed Portfolios

The Portfolio tool offers two formats: the self-initiated and the invited. The self-initiated format requires students to build their own portfolios. They decide the order of the pages, and they choose what information to include. Students may use self-initiated portfolios to reflect upon progress in individual courses, to chart how a paper or project emerged from a series of short assignments, or to showcase their best UW work for potential employers. Although self-initiated portfolios must be web-published for anyone to view them, students may restrict access by UW Net ID or specific password. Students may also configure the portfolio to let viewers comment on each page; such comments are visible only to the student.

The invited portfolio, created via existing templates, allows instructors more control over the content and structure of student portfolios. As an instructor, you design the portfolio assignment template or modify an existing portfolio template and distribute it to your students. They collect the required artifacts and respond to your prompts. With invited portfolios, students may choose to web-publish their work or to submit the portfolio only to the instructor. Regardless of submission format, instructors can provide electronic feedback on the portfolio.

Google Sites also syncs easily with Catalyst's CommonView, which means that all students can submit their final portfolios to the class website on a single page (see more under "Viewing Portfolios"). Canvas links can easily be submitted to the instructor, and students can access documents easily that have been been submitted to Canvas throughout the portfolio.

The table below summarizes the advantages and disadvantages of multiple portfolio assignment options. It also lists guidelines and instructions teachers should offer with each assignment type.

Option Pros Cons Instructions/Support
Students create their own portfolios. 1. Less preparation time for instructor.

2. Numerous content/formatting choices available to students.
1. May be too unstructured for some students.

2. May take too much time for students to build portfolios from scratch.
1. Portfolio assignment sheet that includes clear instructor guidelines for content and structure; grading rubric that considers content, structure, and design.

2. Support for students who encounter difficulties. See CIC Student Guide Online.
Instructor designs a template that students use to create their portfolios. 1. Allows instructor to communicate concrete expectations for content and format.

2. Places focus on content by limiting formatting options.
1. Significant preparation time for instructor to build template, prepare assignment guidelines, and distribute template via Google Sites.

2. Template restricts student choices regarding content and structure.
1. Clear instructor guidelines for content within template; grading rubric that considers content and perhaps design.

2. Support for students who encounter difficulties. See CIC Student Guide Online.
Instructor uses or modifies a pre-existing E-portfolio template and distributes it to students. 1. Saves time for instructor (compared to building a template from scratch).

2. Using template developed by experienced instructors and researchers will help first-time E-Portfolio users to effectively structure future portfolio assignments.
1. Template may not fit instructor’s vision for E-Portfolio assignment.

2. Template restricts student choices regarding content and structure.
1. Clear instructor guidelines for content within template; grading rubric that considers content and perhaps design.

2. Support for students who encounter difficulties.


Canvas Portfolios vs. Google Sites: Which one?

When integrating online portfolios into your class, you must decide which UW-supported platform--Canvas or Google Sites--best suits your pedagogical goals. Moreover, you must take into account practical considerations such as your and your students’ technological experience and comfort level, your course calendar and the time required for preparation, training and support, and your assessment criteria. In addition, security settings and share preferences may affect your choice of platform.


One major concern might be related to what kind of course website you have developed, or if you have one at all. You do not need a course site to use an online portfolio assignment. But, if you have a Canvas course site, using Canvas portfolios might be the easiest and most natural choice for you and your students. It is entirely possible to use Google Sites and Canvas together, though.

Whatever you choose, make sure it’s appropriate and efficient for you and your students. Online portfolios are often preferable for students and easier for you to grade, but there is no obligation to choose the most creative or “complex” option. You may want to start with paper portfolios and transition into online portfolios in future quarters. Just do what works for you and your class! The information below is provided to help you think through the decision. In addition to this, please also make sure to use all of the resources available and reach out to the CIC faculty with any questions or concerns.

  1. Technological Experience and Comfort Level:
    • While Canvas Portfolios and Google Sites are both user-friendly, Canvas is arguably the simpler tool to use, particularly if you already use Canvas for your course. Canvas's built-in eportfolio tool allows students to easily access and embed into their portfolios any file they have submitted via Canvas. Students can also format reflective text, upload revised work and add images and videos to portfolio pages. Google Sites also shares these basic capabilities. Although students have to activate UW Google apps to use the tools, it does allow them to download, save and modify instructor-created templates. Moreover, students can add reflective text, embed images, video, Google Docs and attach files to eportfolio pages. For both Canvas and Google Sites, the EWP has provided skeletons and templates (here and here) that classes may use as is or modify.
    • Canvas limits students' control of page design; they may organize page navigation, but not overall page layout or menu colors. However, more tech-savvy students can HTML coding to alter font and colors within discrete content boxes. Google Sites allows more opportunity for creativity and customization. When students create their e-portfolios, Google Sites offers multiple site themes. The platform's basic content editing options let students customize page layout, colors, titling and fonts. The capability to craft page design might appeal to more tech-savvy students, especially those who want to use HTML code or custom style sheets. Note, though, that the custom configuration opportunities can distract certain students from creating content.
  2. Prep Time, Training, and Support:
    • Beyond considering students' technological experience, you must assess your own ability to feasibly integrate technology into your eportfolio assignment. Each tool requires some amount of preparation, training and/or ongoing support. How will students learn to use your selected eportfolio platform? What resources can you draw upon to develop your eportfolio assignment and support students as they complete it?
    • CIC provides space, online resources and administrative staff to help instructors with preparation, training and support. The online CIC faculty and student guides feature pedagogical materials for faculty and technical instructions for students. CIC lab space is available on-demand for e-portfolio training sessions. You may also ask a CIC administrative staff member to run a training session during your scheduled lab time. Another option is having a staff member visit your classroom if you have computer, internet, anddata projection equipment available. The training for Google Sites tends to run about 45 minutes while the training for Canvas tends to run about 20 minutes. Keep in mind the last couple of weeks are very busy--booking early is a must. If you opt to train students yourself or include technical instructions in your eportfolio assignment, consider attending a CIC Canvas workshop or meeting with CIC staff one-on-one in office hours to learn the tools.
    • CIC staff are also on hand to help support instructors and students with eportfolio problems. Moreover, UW, Canvas and Google provide help pages and troubleshooting assistance. Note that users tend to have fewer ongoing questions with Canvas e-portfolio, as the tool is simpler and the help pages more thorough. Thus, if you have a limited amount of time and experience, Canvas may be the better option.
  3. Assessment Criteria:
    • Your portfolio assessment criteria will influence your platform choice as well. If your assessment focuses primarily on content (the reflective writing and assignment revisions), giving students too much creative license may deter from that goal. Therefore, you may want to select Canvas as your platform, especially if you will not evaluate design. If, in addition to quality of content, you assess use of genre and design aesthetics, you may choose Google Sites, as it contains layout and style options students will need to meet your requirements.
    • If you want to factor EWP outcomes and expectations into your platform choice, note that, overall, the content is the primary focus, but appropriate and effective choices related to genre are a core component of Outcome 1, while an “excellent” portfolio also tends to be creative and take risks. Giving students the opportunity to excel in this area might be the right choice for you, depending on the focus of your particular course design. Whatever you choose, just make sure to be consistent and transparent, and scaffold for your assessment criteria.
  4. Security and Sharing Concerns:
    • When making the choice between Canvas Portfolios and Google Sites, you may also want to consider how extensively students can limit or allow access to their work both in and beyond your course.
    • Basic Security and Sharing Information:
      • Canvas allows public or private access; however, anyone with a Canvas account can access the e-portfolio, provided students share the link.
      • Because the version of Google Sites we use for eportfolio is under the UW umbrella, students have the option to share their e-portfolios to everyone at UW or anyone at UW with whom they share the link. As with Canvas, they may make the page public or private. However, they may also share a private e-portfolio with users identified by email address.
      • Because both Canvas and UW Google Sites require log on with UW Net ID/password, student information is not data-mined. Moreover, both platforms allow FERPA compliance.
    • Additional Security and Sharing Information:
      • It is currently unclear how long Canvas portfolios might be available to students’ beyond leaving the university should they want to share it with future instructors or employers. Google Sites is superior in this way. Because it is not housed in Canvas, these sites can be maintained online and shared easily to a broader UW community. This can be advantageous to both students and TAs.
      • However, there can be some issues with access for students on the basis of confusion if they have a regular (Non UW) Google account. Students’ personal Google accounts can cause problems, such as they must log out of their personal Gmail completely or security errors will occur. In order to keep working on both Gmail accounts, they will need different browsers open. There is also an issue with security and embedding. Since all of the Google Apps are separate, they have separate levels of security. This makes embedding Google docs a challenge because students need to give security permission at each level. This issue can be circumvented by attaching rather than embedding documents within the site.
      • The main thing to understand is that both platforms are quite secure when utilized appropriately, but Google Sites may be preferential when it comes to sharing beyond the course and to the non-UW public.




Additional Portfolio Resources