The evolution of Portfolios in higher education

Farrell, Orna (2021) The evolution of Portfolios in higher education.


This paper presents a synopsis of a larger research project exploring the history of (e)portfolio in higher education (Farrell, 2020). The paper examines how portfolios have changed from a folder containing an artist’s showcase of work to a higher education assessment. Further, it considers how technology has shaped and influenced the purpose, use and engagement with electronic portfolios in the late twentieth and early twenty first centuries. There is a dearth of literature on the history of portfolio in higher education- electronic or paper based, with the exception of nominal contextual paragraphs in journal articles such as Lorenzo and Ittelson (2005) and Bryant and Chittum (2013) Very little consideration has been given to the theoretical, pedagogical, technological and educational origins of portfolio nor how they have evolved and changed over time. This is indicative of a general pattern in the education technology literature which Weller (2018, p. 34) describes as “amid this breathless attempt to keep abreast of new developments, the edtech field is remarkably poor at recording its own history or reflecting critically on its development”. The methodology of this article follows a historical analysis approach drawing on primary documentary sources and secondary literature sources (Tosh, 2010). The literature review follows a hybrid approach incorporating aspects of traditional, systematic and historical approaches to research. The analysis follows a chronological narrative bounded by the time period 1400 to 2020, and structured into four time periods. The study was guided by the following research question:

How has the concept of portfolio in higher education evolved over time? Findings indicate that portfolios evolved from paper to electronic, from local network to the world wide web. The decade from 2000-2010 was a period when technology became part of mainstream society and educational technology became part of mainstream higher education, and portfolios became a ubiquitous assessment. From 2010-2020, a shift towards an emphasis on pedagogy and the student learning experience occurred in eportfolio research and practice. The history of (e)portfolio in higher education shows that the higher education system will continue to gradually evolve, incorporating concepts, technology and approaches that are compatible rather than transformative. However, the pivot online due to the Covid-19 pandemic may interrupt this gradual evolution of the higher education system. Alternative assessment approaches such as eportfolio have suddenly become mainstream, will this change become permanent in the future?


Bryant, L. and Chittum, J. (2013). ePortfolio effectiveness: a(n ill-fated) search for empirical

support, International Journal of ePortfolio, 3(2), pp. 189-198.

Farrell, O. (2020). From portafoglio to eportfolio: the evolution of portfolio in higher education. Journal of Interactive Media in Education, 2020(1), p.19. DOI:

Lorenzo, G., Ittelson, J. (2005). An Overview of E-Portfolios. Educause review. Available from

Tosh, J. (2010). The Pursuit of History. Edinburgh: Pearson.

View Item