The ePortfolio Dilemma: Good for Reflection, Uncertain Otherwise

Singer-Freeman, S. and Bastone, L. 2017. “Changing Their Mindsets: ePortfolios Encourage Application of Concepts to the Self.” International Journal of ePortfolio.


Academic ePortfolios were added to George Kuh’s (2008) original set of ten high impact practices in the late 2000s. Arising from practices in both the fine arts and business, they consist of a digital collection of artifacts created by a student. These often include documents authored by the student, as well as images and other examples of the student’s work over a period of time. Sometimes, ePortfolios are designed to assist the student in processing, integrating, and reflecting on their learning and are claimed to assist in student identity development.

Unfortunately, high-quality empirical work regarding the impact of ePortfolios on student outcomes was nearly non-existent ten years ago—a situation that has changed little in the most recent decade. One exception is the present study which sought to deliver an intervention to students and subsequently compare the impact of that intervention by mode of its delivery: whether students engaged with it via a worksheet, an academic paper, or through an ePortfolio. The intervention was designed to enhance students’ growth mindsets, or their propensity to view their intelligence and skill in academic contexts as something that can be changed and developed rather than something permanently fixed.


In the first study comparing worksheets and ePortfolios, the authors found that while ePortfolios elicited longer responses than worksheets, and while students who completed ePortfolios more often described changes in their mindset and more often wrote about examples of having a growth mindset, there were no differences in change in growth mindset between the two delivery modes. In the second study, while the researchers again found stronger descriptions of having a growth mindset and more descriptions of exhibiting a growth mindset from the students who completed an ePortfolio, there were no significant differences between the amount of change in growth mindset between the ePortfolio and the traditional paper groups.

In sum, compared to traditional papers and worksheets, ePortfolios appeared to more strongly influence students to believe that they have changed in response to an intervention. It is possible that the ePortfolio format fosters greater reflection on one’s learning, and greater integration with past experiences, and that these patterns drove the differences noted by the researchers. However, there is no evidence that ePortfolios objectively enhance student development or other outcomes.


Campus leaders should remain cautious of claims regarding the efficacy of ePortfolios for improving student outcomes. While this assignment format does not appear to obviously harm students and is a natural fit for assessing student competence in certain fields (like the arts), there is not enough empirical evidence to suggest this practice is truly as “high impact” as other practices available to impact student outcomes. There is evidence, though, to suggest that ePortfolios are useful in helping students reflect on their work and make connections to older material.


Karen Singer-Freeman is the director of research in the Center for the Advancement of Teaching at Wake Forest University.

Linda Bastone is the chair of the School of Natural and Social Sciences and an associate professor of Psychology at Purchase College, SUNY.


Bryant, L. H., and Chittum, J. R. (2013). “ePortfolio Effectiveness: A(n Ill-Fated) Search for Empirical Support.” International Journal of ePortfolio, 3.2, 189–198.