TOPICS (continued)
Table of Contents

This study examined the perceptions of students as they participated in an electronic portfolio project in a teacher preparation program. The possibility of creating electronic portfolios for assessment was explored primarily through interviews with twelve students enrolled in a reading methods class. These twelve teacher candidates were interviewed and the electronic portfolios were examined to discover emerging patterns in the portfolio process. In addition, students completed a computer literacy questionnaire to promote further understanding of the students’ skills and attitudes toward computer technology previous to the portfolio experience. Further examination of the project was accomplished through interviews with the course professor and the computer lab technician, providing additional perspective into the electronic portfolio process.

The study was guided by the following questions:

1. What effect does incorporating technology have on the development of a portfolio for teacher candidates?

2. To what extent does the electronic portfolio process encourage self-assessment and reflection?

3. In what ways does the electronic portfolio provide evidence of student learning and achievement in line with course objectives?

4. What are the problems encountered in putting together the portfolio electronically?

5. What do students perceive as the strengths and/or weaknesses of creating a portfolio electronically?

6. What are the course professor's perceptions concerning the effectiveness of the electronic portfolio as a tool for assessment?

The need to examine ways of providing well-prepared, technologically literate teachers who meet high professional standards provided motivation for this study. Chapter One introduced the three themes of educational reform that originally stimulated the researcher’s interest: standards, assessment, and technology. A review of the literature supporting these three themes was presented in Chapter Two. The procedures and processes used to examine ideas and patterns as they emerged throughout the study were described in Chapter Three. The qualitative software package, Ethnograph, offered features that allowed for advanced search, analysis, and coding of data imported from text transcriptions. The hierarchical family code structure that was developed as a result of data review and analysis contributed to further understanding of student perceptions and processes. Narratives from interviews, portfolio entries, e-mail correspondence, and field notes, as well as the results of the computer literacy questionnaire, were presented in Chapter Four. In the final chapter, the interpretation of the results, implications of the study, and suggestions for further research will be discussed from the point of view of the researcher.

Self as Instrument

The researcher’s interest in the topic of this study developed as a result of her personal experience with computer portfolios in other school settings, her strong belief in the need to infuse technology into teacher preparation, and her growing fascination with the possibilities of interactive computer multimedia technology in education. As a doctoral candidate, the researcher had been involved in the initial development of the School of Education web site and had created interactive multimedia Hyperstudio programs for students and teachers. The researcher was enthusiastic about the potential of computer technology as a workable solution to the problem of creating cumbersome paper portfolios.

When the researcher was asked to help in the development of the electronic portfolio project for a reading methods class, she was pleased to participate and anxious to make the project a success. Because she found few references to working models of electronic portfolios in teacher training, she requested on-going responses throughout the study from the students and the course professor in order to make adjustments as problems occurred. Along with the course professor, she continued to experiment and make changes with the electronic portfolio templates during the project in order to accommodate the needs of the students, as well as meet the demands of the course syllabus.

Emerging Themes and Patterns

The three themes of educational reform established in the introduction of this paper remained the primary focus throughout the study: standards, assessment, and technology. Standards were presented in the form of course objectives. Students collected artifacts as evidence of meeting course objectives based on these standards. The electronic portfolio provided the framework for the display of artifacts and was the tool for assessment. Students presented multimedia evidence of achievement and self-reflection within the digital portfolio framework, thus infusing technology into teacher training.

The research questions that guided this study related to these three themes of education reform. The third research question addressed standards in terms of meeting course objectives and assessment through evidence of student learning. Assessment was addressed in terms of self-reflection and self-assessment in the second question as well. The three remaining questions concerned technology: the effect of incorporating technology into the assessment process, the technical problems that students experienced, and the perceived strengths and weaknesses of the electronic portfolio.

The open-ended interview questions were assigned key terms, most of which related to the three themes of reform woven through this study. Gaining the student’s perspective on the electronic portfolio process and product was the intent of each interview question. An additional category, student attitude, emerged as the data was examined. Key words and phrases concerning student attitudes toward the project provided insight into student perceptions.

The parent code words that emerged in the interview software analysis included four primary categories: process, product, assessment, and technology. A fifth code word, teaching, was added after analyzing the portfolio cover sheets. Table 1 in Chapter Three demonstrated the relationship between the key terms for each interview question and the parent code words in the software analysis. Table 6 demonstrates the relationship between the three themes of reform, the five research questions, the key terms for interview questions, and the parent code words established through software analysis.

Table 6. Relationships between Reform Themes, Research Questions, Interview Question Key Terms, and Parent Code Words.

Research Questions
Key Terms 

Interview Questions

Parent Code Words
Standards #3 Objectives/Evidence #5 Objectives

#6 Unable

#8 Resources


(Content, Objectives, Evidence, Artifacts)

Assessment #3 Evidence

#2 Self-assess/reflect

#2 Evidence

#4 Purpose

#16 Reflect


(Self-reflection and Evidence)

Technology #1 Effect of Incorporating

#4 Problems 

#5 Strengths and Weaknesses

#1 Process

#3 Methods

#6 Unable

#7 Time

#9 Skills

#10 Support

#11 Problems

#15 Paper



(Technical Skills, Future Use, Multimedia, Approach, Format, Support, Software, Hardware)

Attitude Reflected in All  #12 Enjoyable

#13 Advice

#14 – Improve

Reflected in All

Process, Quality

(Positive, Negative, Emotions, Future Use

Reflected in All


The electronic portfolio provided the framework for presenting evidence of student learning and demonstrating personal achievement of course objectives in the reading methods class. Students selected artifacts that demonstrated their understanding of the concepts presented in the course objective and provided an explanation of this evidence in a self-reflective cover sheet. The course syllabus for Group I demonstrated the relationships between California multiple subject program standards and the course objectives. The original HTML template was designed with interactive links going directly to the CTC program standards on-line (See Appendix F). Linking to state objectives seemed to be confusing to students from Group I. The attempt to show connections between state standards was unsuccessful. The web version of the project was too complex for students who had little background in technology and limited time available for training in HTML. Only one student chose to use the original HTML template with links to the state standards.

The integrity of the reading methods course could not be sacrificed for the sake of technology and the project was nearly dropped because of a series of technical design problems. The researcher designed a simpler, user-friendly, Hyperstudio template that enabled the project to continue. The standards remained embedded in the course objectives, but the connections to state program standards were not given emphasis within the template. With the addition of the RICA domains for Group II, the course professor dropped the direct references to the CTC standards, feeling that the standards were thoroughly built into the course goals and objectives. With the additional demands of RICA, the course professor determined that the students would be less confused if the emphasis were placed on the four RICA goals and the seven new course objectives. Students from Group II were not given the original HTML portfolio template, but were encouraged to use the Hyperstudio template due to the problems encountered by Group I (See Appendix G).

The California Standards for the Teaching Profession (CSTP) were met through the course objectives as well, although the emphasis remained on the more specific program standards as they related to teaching reading and literacy. The relationship of the original course objectives to the previous California program standards is indicated in the Table 7. The numbering of the course objectives for Group II changed with the addition of RICA, but the basic relationship to state standards remained.

Table 7. Relationship between Course Objectives and California Standards for Teaching Literacy.
1 13/17 Linguistic/Cognitive Influences Environmental Factors Influencing Desire and Ability to Read
2 14/17




Group I  Group II Goals
  Explicit Reading Teaching Strategies Decoding Skills

Phonemic Awareness

Explicit Phonics



RICA Domains:
  1. Plan/Organize Instruction based on assessment
  2. Phonological and Other Linguistic Processes
  3. Reading Comprehension Independent Reading
  4. Oral and Written Language Development
3 14/17/22/23


Effective approaches, materials, and technology for teaching reading comprehension – Reference and Study Skills
4 14/17/22/23


Approaches to Concepts and Word Meanings

Word Recognition Strategies

5 14/17/22/23


Enjoy Reading – Develop Lifelong Reading Habits
6 14/17/22/23


The Writing Process – Communication and Tool for Learning
7 14/15/17/22/23/24/25/26/


Effective Instruction and Equitable Assessment for All Children including Special Populations
8 13/31 Professional Development, Personal Growth, and Research Parent and Community Outreach/Curriculum Development


The course objectives designed by the course professor successfully provided the students with the criteria for assessment in the electronic portfolio project. At the request of the course professor, the template was re-designed to place emphasis on the course objectives and required that students provide self-reflective statements explaining the significance of the evidence they included in the portfolio. All twelve of the students in the study clearly indicated that they viewed the purpose of the electronic portfolio as a way of demonstrating that they had met the objectives. In addition to providing evidence of meeting objectives, reflective teaching was considered one of the desired effects of the electronic portfolio project. Results of this research indicate that students were engaged in self-assessment and self-reflection as they described, explained, and defended the evidence they chose to include within the electronic portfolio framework. Within the cover sheets of the students in this study, 58 references were coded as statements of self-reflection. The student comments reported in Chapter Four support the researcher’s belief that, not only were course objectives considered significant to students, but that the electronic portfolio project stimulated reflective practice:

  1. It was a good way for the professor to make sure we had met all of the objectives.
  2. I felt that the things in the course pretty well matched the objectives.
  3. I liked reflecting on what I was doing and looking back and seeing how my assignments actually matched the objectives.
  4. I understand the objectives better now that I have analyzed my work.
  5. To think about once we had all this information, how are we actually going to apply it and how do the goals fit with the objectives?
  6. I liked having to think about how everything was related in the class because I think a lot of times teachers give you their syllabus, you read the goals and objectives, and you never think about them again.
  7. The objectives--when I read them--I thought--well I think this fits and I went back and I read my stuff again and then things that I'd written sometimes gave me a clue as to whether or not I really got the material.
  8. I really felt that the electronic portfolio was a great way to organize evidence and artifacts.
  9. I write all the objectives and I kind of pick little parts from each objective because they are so broad.
  10. The other purpose was to show that I had met the necessary objectives for the class and that I understood that I met the objectives.
  11. As with any portfolio, I was in the position to review all my work and the initial objectives of the course.
  12. If you clicked on course objectives you went to a cover page that had the objective written out and you could go to the explanation page directly to each artifact.
  13. I went about looking at the general objectives, the course objectives that I was supposed to accomplish.
  14. I think that every assignment was useful and had a purpose with the objectives and the goals. There were no wasted things that we had to turn in that didn't fit.
  15. Now I can see where the objective was to make me understand how we met everything.
  16. If every week you're able to go in and say, look at the first objective--Meet it, do all the course work for it and then go back and put it in and it's a continuous thing. It's going to feel a lot more valuable to you.
  17. She gave us a bunch of possible artifacts for our objectives and then I went through some of my stuff and figured out what sort of things, like pictures, text, articles, and web sites--and things that I thought were appropriate for the objectives.
  18. I looked for things from my own research and other papers that I've done that support the questions that were asked in the objectives.
  19. I went through with the objectives and the goals that we had a list of and just went through and I got words that came to my mind first from what the objective was and I’d try to think about what I'd done that relates to it.
  20. I directly looked at the objectives and picked out words that I remembered doing something and just stuck them in. I knew that somehow I could fit the assignments I've done into some objective somewhere 'cause the whole purpose of this class was to fulfill these objectives and goals.
  21. I didn't think that I had met all the objectives…but I think after sitting down and looking at all the work I had done, that I realized that I did meet those objectives.
  22. I could demonstrate competency by matching artifacts with competencies. I believe I was very careful in selecting my evidence material to be certain it was adequate--and I did a good job!
  23. Overall, I felt there were plenty of options of how I could choose to evidence my material.
The course objectives were specifically aimed at teaching reading and literacy. The artifacts included in the electronic portfolios included digitized versions of a variety of assignments from the reading methods class, as well as material from other teacher training courses. An analysis of the reflective cover sheets indicated that students were effectively addressing the topics presented in the course objectives that emphasized strategies for teaching reading and literacy. Counts of all cover sheet code words under the "teaching" parent code are presented in Figure 14.

Figure 14. Code counts for cover sheet reflections.

Code Word
Code Word
Code Word
Code Word

The reflective cover sheets indicated that students clearly focused on the course content and issues of reading, literature, and language development wiihin the electronic framework. After analysis of the electronic portfolio content, specific code words for literature, reading comprehension, phonics, vocabulary, assessment, word meanings, word recognition, second language learners, constructivism, writing, classroom management, and lifelong learning were developed under the "teaching" parent code. Ten references were made to specific research on teaching literacy and fourteen references were made to teaching with technology. The desire to "make a difference" as a teacher was mentioned eight times within the cover sheets.


In terms of assessment, students generally felt that the electronic portfolio was valid and useful. As mentioned previously, Tina referred to the electronic portfolio as a "viable measure of assessment." Karen remarked, "I guess they [electronic portfolios] are a good form of assessment--rather than a test." Penny expressed her preference for portfolio assessment over studying for a test. As reported in Chapter Four, the course professor indicated that she thought students selected artifacts more carefully in the electronic portfolio because they had to "go through the mechanics of digitizing their artifacts." In her assessment, she said she examined students’ choices of artifacts, the explanations regarding their choices, and indications of personal reflection upon their learning.

The emphasis on self-assessment and self-reflection was considered more significant to this study than the effectiveness of the electronic portfolio as a tool of assessment in terms of course grading or evaluation. Maggie said, "In doing this I was able to assess my work and reflect upon how the work I completed met these objectives." Penny stated that she got more out of the electronic portfolio and enjoyed reflecting back on what she had accomplished. Dana thought that the electronic portfolio allowed her to think about what they were supposed to be gaining from the course and the purpose for every class, lecture, and activity.

Carol, a student who generally expressed negativity toward the electronic portfolio project, particularly in terms of understanding goals and objectives, appeared to be successfully reflecting on the artifacts she had collected. She stated:

When I sat down and tried to reflect, it was--what am I going to say? It was like I really gathered a lot of stuff. This is all really useful. I really picked some stuff that I liked and spent a lot of time on and look how it's fit into the things I need to know.
Paula felt that the electronic portfolio "tied the class together and gave it a sense of closure" and she said "it was nice to see the purpose and made it personal." As Barbara explained previously, the process of reflection means "critically examining your work to determine which way you have met the selected criteria, and how you can best example or highlight your work." She had described the process of developing the portfolio as "a constant self-assessment." Lisa said that the class helped her feel prepared. She said, "I think sticking it all in one place and making connections between the objectives and the things helped me say, oh look I am prepared. Not only do I think I am, but I can tell you why."

Students indicated confidence in their successful achievement of course objectives and provided additional evidence of self-assessment through statements relating to their competency and proficiency. The researcher generated searches for key words that would imply positive self-assessment of personal and professional achievement. In interviews, students used the word "competence" 15 times as they presented evidence of meeting course objectives. Other phrases used to indicate self-confidence in their own performance included: "I learned…I know…I am able to demonstrate…I feel confident…I am prepared…I am proficient."

The Course Professor's Perceptions

The course professor stated that she evaluated the electronic portfolios similarly to paper portfolios, except that she acknowledged the use of technology. She looked for evidence of meeting course objectives, evaluated the appropriateness of the artifacts used as evidence, and looked for evidence of reflection. She evaluated the organization of the portfolio and the overall appearance of the final product. She indicated that students appeared to choose artifacts more carefully within the electronic framework because of the challenges of presenting evidence digitally.

The use of technology was considered exceptional by the course professor if the portfolio included video, audio, graphics, links, and animation. She also looked for a well-organized and aesthetically pleasing product within the electronic framework. The course professor indicated that the addition of the computer workshop prior to beginning the electronic portfolio was helpful in preparing students by teaching the basic computing skills required for the project. She believed that, once the portfolio was completed, most of the students enjoyed the creative individuality that they were able to express through the electronic format. She did mention the fact that some students criticized the use of technology in her reading class evaluations, but those were completed the week before they were due "at the height of their stress level." She indicated, however, that the in-class time involved demonstrating and solving technical problems caused her concern, due to the demands of the reading course content.

Use of Technology

The three remaining questions for this study related to the use of technology in the process of creating electronic portfolios for assessment: the effect of incorporating technology, the problems encountered, and the perceived strengths and/or weaknesses of creating a portfolio electronically. As mentioned previously, the course professor stated that one of the goals of the electronic portfolio project was to get students through the uncomfortable learning stage with technology so that they could "connect to the important parts of teaching them how to use technology in appropriate ways." Questionnaire and interview responses, as well as portfolio reflections, provided insights into the level of technical knowledge and skill obtained by students during this process. The technical content of the portfolio products provided an authentic indication of the types of technology that students used to present their artifacts.

According to the initial computer literacy questionnaire, 75% reported rarely or never using graphics and multimedia software previous to the portfolio experience. The software that the students in this study learned to use in order in prepare their electronic portfolios required considerable skill with interactive multimedia and graphics applications. In interviews conducted after the portfolio experience, as well as in the text of the reflective cover sheets, students made frequent reference to multimedia technology. All of the electronic portfolios examined included the multimedia elements of interactivity, text, and graphics. Some students demonstrated more advanced multimedia skills with the addition of audio, video, and/or animation. Counts generated in Ethnograph indicate the number of times that students referred to software and hardware skills gained in the portfolio process (See Table 8). These references indicate increased familiarity with the computer software and hardware functions and skills needed to create a multimedia product.

Table 8. Counts of References to Use of Technical Skills in Student Interviews and Portfolio Cover Sheets.

Counts of References to Use of Technical Skills in

Student Interviews and Portfolio Cover Sheets

Hyperstudio Software
HTML Web/Internet/E-Mail
Scanning/Video and Audio Capture
Cut/Paste/Transfer Files
Use of Graphics/Multimedia
Computer Formats and Compatibility
Creating Links/ Creating Interactive Buttons
Use of Zip Disk

The total number of technical references found in interview transcriptions and within portfolio reflections provided further indication that students gained knowledge and understanding of technical processes and terminology used in computer multimedia. References to the digitizing of graphics through scanning appeared 80 times within the text of the student interviews and portfolio reflections. Eight students discussed scanning at least three times within their interviews. Lisa was the only student who did not to mention scanning, but she discussed another more complex graphic digitizing process, single frame video capture. All students participating in this study demonstrated a high level of technical understanding of the processes of digitizing their graphics. Figure 15 shows the number of references to technology made by each student in interviews or within the portfolio cover sheet reflections.

Figure 15. References to technology used in portfolios as indicated by individual students.


The counts generated by Ethnograph indicating the number of references to the use of technology by individual students resulted in an interesting observation. The three students with the lowest number of references to the use of technology expressed the greatest number of negative comments in interviews. Tina was technologically advanced, as was indicated by the fact that she created her portfolio by writing the HTML code and using file transfer protocol (FTP) to send her files back and forth to the university server. Despite the fact that she indicated that she loved computers, she made several negative comments concerning the types of technology used in the project, as well as usefulness of the course content for her purposes. As mentioned previously, Tina criticized the emphasis on the use of Mac computers since she felt that a large number of the students in the class had access to personal Windows computers. She felt that they should be able to use their own computers to complete the project. In her interview, she demonstrated her negative attitude toward the course when she said, "I didn't see a lot of purpose to the class. The class for me and the other music majors was--the state says, 'thou shalt take a reading course.'"

Karen, who claimed to dislike computers in her literacy questionnaire, indicated frustration over having to complete the portfolio electronically. In her interview, she made five negative references to the use of technology. She said:

The annoying thing was that it could only be done in this lab when Linda could be there and if the machines happened to be working--which they weren't half the time. I tried to scan 3 weeks straight and the scanner wasn't working--then the internet was down--then there would be a class in there. We have other classes and we all pay like crazy to go to this university and we have schedules outside of it. It's not fair to put us into a situation where we can't do it in our time.
Carol, who reported liking computers in the questionnaire, expressed her belief that the electronic portfolio took away from what she thought she was supposed to gain from the class. She made eight negative references to the electronic portfolio project in her interview. She stated:
I thought all I was worried about was the computer and web pages but that's not what I'm going to teach my kids in second grade. I kept putting the portfolio off because I needed to worry about this test [RICA]. I need to worry about literally doing something in writing and I had to spend all my time in this class on the computer.

Effect of Incorporating Technology

Throughout this study, the researcher was guided by the question of how the use of technology would affect the portfolio process and the final product. The effect of incorporating technology into portfolio development was examined through student responses to questions addressing the following topics:
  1. Approach and process
  2. Ability to show competencies electronically
  3. Creative and aesthetic
  4. Student attitudes
Approach and process

Each student approached the process differently. Some students explored the technology first and some preferred to begin by examining the course objectives. Lisa made sure that the portfolio looked the way she wanted it to look before she began inserting her artifacts. She added parts to the portfolio as she went along. She said, "I left text boxes that were not full sitting around with one sentence about what I was putting in there or the file name and then dumped them in at the end." Other students began by collecting artifacts to be used as evidence of meeting course objectives. Later, they applied the technology necessary to preserve these artifacts digitally in order to insert them into appropriate places within their electronic portfolio framework. Barbara stated that her first step was to look at the competencies, organize the material she wanted to use, and then apply the technology. She said, "Once I'd gathered the evidence, I processed what was fulfilling competencies."

Ability to show competencies electronically

When asked if they were adequately able to demonstrate their competencies within the electronic format, most students said they felt they had been successful at presenting evidence of competence. Barbara stated, "Overall, I felt there were plenty of options of how I could choose to evidence my material." Lisa said she had no problem providing electronic evidence, except for the one song she tried to include as an audio file. The large wave file ended up crashing her computer.

Cathy was confident that she had demonstrated her proficiency. She described her electronic portfolio as "something to show what I'd done for the whole semester and that I have met the criteria explained in the course." She said, "I can't think of anything that I couldn't do electronically. With all the different ways of putting in your artifacts, there was no problem with the electronic portfolio." She said:

I worked on it throughout the semester, but mostly I put everything in toward the end. It gave me a chance to go back and look at what I had learned and how much I had learned. I hadn't thought much about my educational philosophy and it helped me think that through. It gave me a chance to look at all of my work and see what all I'd accomplished.
Penny described her electronic portfolio as being "just like any portfolio we’ve done before." She stated:
I basically compiled stuff and was able to look back and see all we had done in the class. It was a really good way to see what you had gained and learned. I liked the new creative format of Hyperstudio. It was much better than just putting things in a binder and not even thinking about it. It gave me a chance to re-read, re-think, and then re-type what was really important. I liked being able to redo it in a new way.
I didn't have any problem with the electronic format. It was actually easier than a regular portfolio. You could add video and audio and go above and beyond what you could have done with a paper portfolio. You could put much more in--including things from other courses. You had many more options and it was a more holistic representation of your work.
Creative and aesthetic

Several students expressed an interest in the creative and aesthetic aspects of the electronic portfolio process. As mentioned previously, Dana advised students participating in future portfolios to "do the artistic and the fun parts" and get as creative as possible with the sounds and images to "get all those multimedia things in." As mentioned previously, Lisa thought "the artistic thing was fun" and emphasized the visual and aesthetic possibilities. Several students enjoyed altering the look of the portfolio with colors, text changes, background graphics, animation, and drawing. Penny thought that the next group participating in the project could expand by "taking it a step further in terms of creativity level."

Student attitudes

Attitudes of the students concerning the final electronic portfolio products were generally positive. Table 3 in Chapter Three lists the words used in the coding of student attitudes and emotional responses to the portfolio process and product. Counts for positive word codes indicate that most students enjoyed the project (See Table 9).

Table 9.Code Word Count for Positive References

Code Word
Prepared for Teaching
Two students expressed negative feelings toward the project, but still had positive responses to some aspects of the process or the product. Counts for negative code words included seven references to the project being difficult to accomplish. In addition, counts indicated four references to being worried, three to feeling frustrated, and two to feeling stress about the electronic portfolio project. Table 10 includes comments made by students indicating negative attitudes toward the electronic portfolio project. Table 11 presents comments reflecting a positive attitude toward the electronic portfolio.

Table 10. Student Comments Reflecting Negative Attitude

Negative Student Comments
I was really worried about it because I don’t know how to use technology.

I was scared of the whole assignment at first.

The technical problems were frustrating.

It was frustrating to look at all the things you have to do.

This project irritated me.

At times I was really frustrated.

I was really negative about it at first because it was technology and I didn't know how to do it.

I was really stressed about this assignment.

It was annoying to have to work in the computer lab.

It was unreasonable.

I consider all portfolios – paper or electronic – a waste of time.

Table 11. Student Comments Reflecting Positive Attitude

Positive Student Comments
I was really happy with the final product.

I feel competent.

It was easy, fun, simple, and I was successful at producing my own products.

It was really proud of it.

I feel more comfortable now.

It was pretty when it was all done.

I felt pretty good about my personal section.

I had fun fooling with Photoshop.

I had fun learning VI (visual editor).

There’s always a satisfaction in seeing something get built.

I’m proud of what I prepared and I will be using it as a tool.

I am a master at Hyperstudio.

Hyperstudio is nice to learn because I will be able to use it in the classroom.

Hyperstudio is kid friendly.

I can apply this knowledge to other areas.

I had fun.

The artistic thing was fun. I really enjoyed the drawing part.

Really good way to show off this is what I did.

That was a blast. 

You can tell I got a little silly, but it was it was fun so I didn't care.

I did a good job! 

The most exciting evidence is my electronic children's book.

It is so fun and fancy done electronically.

I was happy with the way things turned out.

I feel more prepared.

Another Ah-Ha for me.

The course professor felt that the attitude changed as students began to see the finished product. She said that students appeared to get excited about the portfolios, particularly in terms of being about to show their individuality. She said that they demonstrated personal pride in their final product and indicated that they appeared to see "the benefits of the electronic format."

Problems Encountered

Students’ perceptions of the problems encountered in the process of creating portfolios electronically were organized in the following categories:
  1. Time
  2. Computer lab availability and equipment problems
  3. Cross-platform compatibility
  4. Technical processes and skills
  5. Lack of computer experience
  6. Need for technical support

The most commonly mentioned problem with the electronic portfolio was lack of time to work on the project. Sandy said that she "ended up putting a lot of text in, which was more supportive of the objectives," but she would have liked to have been more creative and done a better job with her artifacts. She said, "I felt I didn’t have enough time and knowledge." Carol believed that her electronic portfolio would have been better with more time and an understanding of the concept prior to the assignment. Karen said she "felt limited by time and inadequate explanation of what the end result was supposed to look like." Cathy said her biggest problem was that the project took a lot of time, but she admitted that she had waited too long to get started on the portfolio. Maggie stated that she did not expect the portfolio to be as easy to complete as it was. She said that "most of it was just time." Dana referred to the time it took to "cut and paste on each page" until she said she became "efficient at it."

Computer lab availability and equipment problems

Computer lab availability and technical difficulties with computers not working properly caused problems for many students. Maggie felt that the biggest problem was "finding time to come to the LRC [computer lab] when it was open. That was really the only problem 'cause once I learned how to use it, it was really easy to do." Dana discussed the problems she experienced with the computers in the lab crashing when "something would just happen." For Karen, the main problem was lab availability. Also, she added, "No background, no training and the broken equipment all the time and not being able to get in there [the lab] with classes on."

Cross-platform compatibility

Another problem mentioned by seven out of twelve students was that of cross platform compatibility between Mac and Windows formats and familiarity with the Mac lab. Lisa described her problems as they related to her attempts to work on her home computer. She said it was hard to work on her older PC (Windows) version because she could not find the resources and help that she needed. Paula said it was time consuming taking picture from IBM to Mac. As stated previously, Cathy would transfer files from IBM to the Mac so she would not have to re-type her text if she were to do another electronic portfolio. Despite the problems of computer formats, Penny felt that the experience of working in another format was worthwhile. She said she had "never had a lot of Mac experience." She had "always worked in Windows and IBM, so this was another good experience."

Technical processes and skills

Most of the problems experienced by students related to technical processes with digitizing artifacts and troubleshooting problems with hardware and software. Barbara said, "At times it was frustrating because text can not be as easily scanned as pictures, so I had to re-write portions--not a big deal, just time consuming." Sandy said:

The only thing would be my weakness in the trouble shooting, when I couldn't figure out how to do it. I would try certain things and they wouldn't work so I just would ask. It gets to the point when you're down to the time factor, so you just start asking rather than sit there for an hour trying to figure it out. I did try and succeeded now and then.
Many students demonstrated diligence and perseverance in solving technical problems as they arose. Dana described her problems with scanning large images. She said:
I didn't like how a handout had to be done in two images--cut each page in half and then you'd look at half the page and you couldn't even read it. Then go to the next one and you couldn't read them. I would just re-type the whole handout or type in the class notes.
Lisa described the problems she experienced as she worked on utilizing advanced multimedia elements in her portfolio. She described problems with creating 16 bit audio formats for songs and sounds, animating graphics, and digitizing video. She stated that she would have liked to have more time and a more advanced system in order to create a more sophisticated product. She said that she spent most of her time trying to make it look the way she wanted without crashing the computer in the process. She described one incident involving the animation of a graphic that caused the computer to freeze and took "a few hours to fix." She was worried that the computer would crash again so she began to back up her work, which she said took a lot of extra time.

Lack of computer experience

Lack of previous experience with computers was cited as a major problem for several students. Penny felt that like a lot of students did not "have the computer training to do this." She suggested that a computer class be offered prior to the class in order to make the assignment easier for students. She said that students who had previous experience with computers were "flying through it and doing really great." She discussed her group as having no experience at all and needing considerable help and support for the lab technician. She said, "I think if you had more experience, of course, you'd be more comfortable doing it." She described the portfolios of students who had previous experience as including "a lot more stuff." She said that you could see the differences between portfolios from those who had taken the computer class and those who had not.

A few of the more experienced students agreed that they had benefited greatly by the fact that they had taken or were currently taking the Microcomputers in Education course. Paula stated that she felt many of the students in her class had a difficult time because they were not computer literate. Karen thought the project was "unreasonable" because she had "inadequate training and no computer knowledge." Other students expressed the need for technical support and guidance from the lab technician.

Need for technical support

The need for technical support from the lab technician was emphasized by many of the students in the study, including some students with computer experience. Barbara stated that some classmates were overwhelmed and critical of the project. She thought they "freaked out" and would have never been able to complete the project without support from the lab technician. She referred to the lab technician as "the key component." Maggie felt she needed the lab technician "to stand there and basically tell me what to do." Sandy described her process of writing technical procedures down so she would not forget. Carol said that she knew how to do most everything, but she liked having the technician around for encouragement. Cathy said it was "nice" to have the lab technician there in case of questions, but she was able to do most things without her help.

Strengths and Weaknesses

Responses to interview questions were helpful in determining what students perceived as the strengths and weakness of the electronic portfolio. Developing technical skills with computers was clearly recognized by all of the students as the strength of the electronic portfolio project. Even those students who expressed negative attitudes toward the project admitted that they improved their technology skills in computing through the process. The primary areas of skill development took place in the area of multimedia authoring with appropriate hardware and software, as indicated in Table 12.

Table 12. Student References to Technical Skills Gained

Authoring Programs HTML web authoring

Hyperstudio multimedia authoring

Pagemill/Netscape Gold

Word Processing

Graphics Scanning


Coloring, Painting, Text Formatting, Drawing

Multimedia and Interactivity Video


Creating buttons and links

Expanded Knowledge and Understanding Multi-tasking

Faster at getting around the computer

Transferring files

Mac and Windows Computer Formats

The comparisons between electronic and paper portfolios provided additional insights for determining what students perceived as the strengths of the process. All but one student in the study stated that they preferred electronic over paper portfolios. Carol asked, "Whatever happened to the old fashioned teachers?" She preferred a hands-on paper portfolio including everything she had done because she felt she could be more creative. She was confident that she could accomplish what she wanted in terms of making it look "fabulous" by doing all the "artsy stuff." She described her electronic portfolio as very simple, without a lot of graphics. She stated that she was more concerned "about what went into the portfolio than trying to make it look fancy." In the end, Carol admitted that, once she had figured out how to do it efficiently, it was not "so bad." She was pleased with how much electronic evidence she had collected and thought she could use it again in the future.

All of the other students participating in this study indicated that they liked the electronic format once they had created the final product. Student comments concerning the quality of the final electronic portfolio product provided further indication of the perceived strengths or weaknesses of the project. Various reasons for preferring the electronic portfolio over paper, as well as positive terms and phrases that students used to describe the quality of their portfolio are presented in Table 13.

Table 13. Student Comments Concerning Qualities of the Electronic Portfolio Product

Technology Shows what you can do in technology

Indicates my advanced knowledge and competence of technology

Buttons take you to specific things without having to look through everything

More possibilities for using video of teaching process

Allows for sound and multimedia 

Allow for more dialogue and samples of instruction

Can link in interesting ways 

Visual More aesthetically pleasing

The look of the electronic portfolio

Looks nicer than a compilation of hundreds of papers

In five years, it will be intact and still carry it's original vibrant colors 

Won’t fade and tear

Consistent - How easily it all flows together

Fun Graphics

Convenience Easier to look through, view, navigate

Easier than trying to keep papers and take photos of things

Better than 45 binders sitting on a shelf

Better than a 6 inch, 30 pound binder I never look at

Appealing in terms of space 

Ease of maneuverability - Easier to carry around - Small enough to take with you

Easier to create than paper - Less work 

Can go to exactly where you want and you can find it right where you want it

Personal More valuable to me

More personal and intricate - Shows your personality

Can put so much into it - Can personalize it so much

Shows how little pieces of the class fit together - Legible and understandable

Professional Overall professionalism – Professional looking

Usable form to show what you’ve accomplished at professional interviews

Good way to show off what I did and what I like 

More interesting for people to look at than reading about it or having you tell unnecessarily

Great way to organize evidence and artifacts

Able to narrow down your evidence in electronic format

Reflects what I can teach and how I can teach it


This study furthers the understanding of the student’s perspective on electronic portfolio assessment in teacher training. In the preceding analysis, the researcher has interpreted the findings in this study in terms of standards, assessment, and technology. Results of this study in terms of answering the research questions are:
  1. The primary effect of incorporating technology into the portfolio process is that students gained knowledge of computers and technical skill with software and hardware, particularly in graphics and multimedia. Most of the students were pleased with their final electronic portfolio product and were proud of their accomplishments. Students were able to personalize their portfolios, demonstrate creativity, and show their competencies electronically.
  2. Students demonstrated that they were able to self-assess and self-reflect on their learning within the electronic portfolio framework. The cover sheet reflections in which students defended their choice of artifacts placed the focus on meeting of specific course criteria. The process of collecting artifacts, selecting the work that best matched the course objective, determining how to get the evidence into digital format, and writing a cover sheet evaluation explaining personal achievement of each objective resulted in on-going self-assessment and self-reflection.
  3. Generally, students felt they were adequately able to present their artifacts as evidence of meeting course objectives based on standards within the electronic portfolio framework. Students demonstrated that they were guided by the course objectives throughout the electronic portfolio process and believed they were able to demonstrate achievement, competency, and proficiency in the course subject matter. Only one student stated a preference for the traditional paper portfolio over the electronic portfolio.
  4. Problems included lack of time to work on the technology, difficulty with computer lab availability, broken computer equipment, cross-platform compatibility issues with home computers, technical difficulties with hardware and software, lack of computer skills, insufficient previous experience, and the need for considerable technical support.
  5. The primary strength of the electronic portfolio was that students could include multimedia artifacts in the form of graphics, audio, video, animation, as well as text, providing a more complete picture of their achievement. The aesthetic qualities and possibilities for personal creativity were regarded as strengths by the students as well. The weaknesses included the demands on students’ already busy schedules, the lack of previous experience with computers, the lack of time to learn the technology required for multimedia, and the need to work within the school computer lab setting.
  6. From the course professor's perceptions, the electronic portfolio project can be considered a viable means of assessment and an effective tool for self-reflection. She has continued to use the electronic portfolio in subsequent courses and indicated that students have learned to use technology successfully.

Implications for Future Electronic Portfolio Projects

The results of this study support the premise that the use of electronic portfolios for assessment has potential for infusing technology into teacher preparation courses. The electronic portfolio project evolved throughout the first two semesters and is expected to continue to change as new possibilities are explored. The reading methods course has continued to use the electronic portfolio for final assessment. Another class in the same teacher credential program has adapted a similar electronic portfolio format based on its course objectives. A significant improvement in the project between Group I and Group II was to give students multimedia computer training prior to taking the course. The course professor described a one unit elective class that is now being offered for new students. This class gives incoming education students a head start on the technology needed to complete the electronic portfolio project. She said that students indicated that they liked the class and what they were learning. They indicated that they wanted more time to work on their computing skills early in the teacher training program.

Between Group I and Group II, the lab hours were extended. The lab technician was given three-fourths-time status, allowing for more technical help for students. Students generally needed extensive help and technical support throughout the project, and particularly toward the end of the semester. Most of the students felt they could not have completed this project without the help of a knowledgeable lab technician. The lab technician expressed the fact that she attempted to guide the students through technical processes step by step. However, students appeared to rely heavily on the lab technician’s help and implied that she did some of the technical work for them, particularly when time was a factor. The researcher would recommend that printed technical procedures be made available, and that the lab technician avoid letting the students become too dependent on her to the extent that they do not do their own hands-on work.

The information gained from this study would indicate that the electronic portfolio process could be improved in a variety of ways. Several students involved in this study made the recommendation that students in future classes be given sufficient time to play with the technology early, before trying to think in terms of completing the whole assignment. Many students felt stressed because they were not comfortable with computers. The advice that students offered included the following:

When asked how they would have improved their portfolio product, many students said they would have liked to use more pictures and graphics, particularly of children’s work. Basic skills in scanning and digitizing should be introduced as early as possible, but other alternatives for digitizing pictures should be discussed as well. Commercial photo developing centers that offer pictures on disk could be introduced as an alternative means of getting digital pictures from their tutoring and teaching settings without requiring any technical training. Video taping would be another practical way students could capture teaching moments in the classroom. These images could be digitized in the lab using the proper equipment with the help of the technician at a later date. Digital cameras are available and have become more affordable and accessible.

One of the unexpected patterns that emerged from this study was the students’ pleasure in being able to express themselves creatively, artistically, and aesthetically through technology. Previous to this study, the researcher believed that multimedia technology incorporated powerful tools for creativity, particularly in performance areas that are difficult to document through the traditional verbal linguistic modes of expression typically used in academic settings. Many students expressed emotions and attitudes indicating that they enjoyed being able to use multimedia means of expression. In addition, most students believed that these creative new technologies would allow them to enhance their future classroom instruction.

The researcher used template designs in HTML or Hyperstudio to help students organize their artifacts and cover sheets for each course objective. Once the templates were re-designed to place emphasis on course objectives and eliminate the confusion of linking to the CTC on-line standards and the resource packet, the organization of the design appeared to be helpful to the students. In terms of assessment, the templates helped students understand what they were supposed to be able to demonstrate by clearly delineating the objectives and giving them text boxes in which they could write reflections. Most of the students expressed the fact that they liked having the templates. They enjoyed changing the artistic elements and personalizing their portfolio, but preferred starting with the structural organization of the template. However, the researcher would recommend that a student doing a second portfolio, or continuing with the electronic portfolio project in student teaching, should take on the responsibility of creating and customizing the design.

One of the most common complaints throughout the project was the fact that students had to use the school Mac computer lab, thus causing time constraints with busy student schedules and lab availability. Eight of the twelve students owned Windows computers and most of them indicated that they wanted to be able to work on their project at home. Two of these students solved the compatibility problem by working in HTML. All of the software used in the electronic portfolio project is available for both Windows and Mac platforms. One of the students installed Hyperstudio for Windows on her computer in order to work cross-platform. She encountered many obstacles but was willing to take on the task of solving technical problems. Several of the students managed to type text and collect graphics at home on Windows computers and then transfer their files to the Mac Hyperstudio template in the lab.

The success that some students experienced would indicate that cross-platform compatibility should be attainable. Particularly since the software used in this project is available for both Mac and Windows formats, more emphasis could be given to solving compatibility problems. The researcher would recommend that procedures be clearly developed for students who want to utilize cross-platform capabilities. Another solution might be to use Windows computers in the computer lab to teach students how to convert and transfer files between platforms. Hyperstudio for Windows and other cross-compatible software could be installed on the Windows lab computers as well as on the Mac computers.

It is the opinion of the researcher that using HTML to create web-based electronic portfolios still holds possibilities for teacher candidates. One student in Group I used the original HTML template successfully and was able to link to the web as well as to the resources in the literacy packet. Another student in Group II designed her own web and successfully linked her cover sheet reflections, objectives, and artifacts as evidence of achievement. Both web-based portfolios used the multimedia elements of animated graphics and linked audio files. Only one other person tried the HTML Netscape Gold Editor at the very beginning of the project. She reported being frustrated with her attempts to type within the tables created in the template because of blinking text. Other affordable commercial web editors such as Pagemill, Claris, or Netscape Composer, and Microsoft FrontPage, have potential for cross-platform electronic portfolio development. Most new word processors offer HTML edit and save functions as well. These applications offer multimedia options similar to those in Hyperstudio. Most of the students in this study used the Hyperstudio template when it was made available because it was easier to understand and navigate, but the web-based portfolio should remain a viable option.
With rapidly changing technologies, the possibilities for cross-platform multimedia authoring software are expanding. The researcher recommends that teacher training programs become aware of new technologies as they develop and invest in software that allows for cross-platform capabilities whenever possible. Also, the researcher recommends that students be able to store their electronic portfolios on media that is replayable on any current computer. Barrett (1999) discussed some of the technologies that students can use to store digital portfolios as they develop them: floppy disks, CD-Recordable discs, CD-ReWritable discs, video tape, Zip disks, WWW servers or intranet, Jaz disks, or rewritable DVD. She lists generic construction tools that she believes have potential for the creating cross-platform electronic portfolios:
  1. Relational data bases (Filemaker Pro 4.0 and Microsoft Access)
  2. Hypercard formats (Hyperstudio and Digital Chisel)
  3. Multimedia authoring software (Macromedia Authorware and Director)
  4. Network-compatible hypermedia (HTML/WWW pages and Adobe Acrobat)
  5. Office "Suite" multimedia slide shows (Powerpoint and Apple-Works)
Other factors could change the direction of the electronic portfolio project. The researcher believes that students will be entering teacher training programs in the future with more technical experience as K-12 schools integrate technology into the basic curriculum at an increasing rate and computers become a common household appliance. California is now requiring advanced technology proficiencies prior to the preliminary credential, which will mean that students need to take computer classes earlier in their program. Standards call for technology to be integrated throughout the entire teacher training program, which should give students greater exposure to different types of technology for a variety of purposes.
The researcher believes that the electronic portfolio project was successful in merging the three themes of education reform: standards, assessment, and technology. The focus on standards was achieved through the emphasis on course objectives. The electronic portfolio provided the assessment framework for showcasing artifacts as evidence of achievement. The cover sheets placed focus on self-reflection and self-assessment. Students made noticeable gains in their technical skills with computers and demonstrated greater knowledge and understanding of current technology.

Suggestions for Future Research

Research in the field of electronic portfolios for teacher education was nearly non-existent when the researcher began this study. More studies are now available, but with rapidly changing technologies, the research seems to lag behind. Many teacher preparation programs are experimenting with electronic portfolios, but the approaches and technologies appear to vary widely from one university setting to another. Researchers seem to agree that electronic portfolios have advantages over traditional paper portfolios because they are interactive, portable, replayable, and use multiple media for showcasing achievement. Further research would help teacher preparation institutions to determine the most useful technologies for assessment, as well as the most effective ways of integrating technology into teacher training.

The researcher has documented the electronic portfolio project from the design phase to the practical application of the portfolio as assessment through two semesters. Much of the process was trial and error as changes were made to accommodate the students’ needs, as well as the changes in state requirements. Several students in the first two groups made reference to not knowing what the final product was supposed to look like. Now that portfolio models are available to students and many of the original technical problems have been solved, the researcher would anticipate that students’ perceptions on the process would change significantly. Continued research into the processes that students go through and the products they create in future reading methods classes is recommended.

Several students in this study had expressed interest in creating another electronic portfolio or expanding on their first portfolio for student teaching. The researcher anticipated that some students would carry on with the project on their own, however none of the students continued. The researcher believes that students would need the support of their student teaching supervisor in order to pursue the electronic portfolio project. It is recommended that future research be conducted of reading methods students who create or extend the electronic portfolio throughout their student teaching experience.

A follow-up qualitative study of the students who participated in this study is recommended after they receive their credential and are teaching in the classroom. It would be beneficial to examine the extent of their technical skill and use of computers in the classroom. It would be useful to examine their attitudes toward technology and their perceptions of the electronic portfolio project after being in the classroom. The researcher would be interested in determining in what ways this experience might influence their teaching. In addition, the researcher considers it valuable to examine the ways they choose to integrate technology into the curriculum and the types of technology they are using with children.

Other suggested studies might include a comparative study on traditional paper portfolios in contrast to electronic portfolios. The researcher believes there is a possibility that the electronic portfolio provides greater focus on standards and course objectives because of the student’s need and ability to create interactive links from objectives directly to artifacts as evidence. Another possible study would be to compare students who use pre-designed templates and those who design their own portfolio framework in order to examine the creative processes and products. The researcher feels that the use of templates may inhibit creative and artistic expression in some students.

This study was conducted in a university teacher preparation setting that demonstrates advanced computer and video capabilities as well as a strong commitment to the use of technology in teaching at all levels. Expanding the electronic portfolio to include all teacher credential courses would provide extensive long-term opportunities for students to learn technology throughout their teacher training program. An electronic portfolio menu with interactive links to each course menu would give students an accessible multimedia record of what they have learned in each course and give them a framework for self-reflection and self-assessment. Research conducted with students who use technology throughout their credential program would provide greater understanding of the potential for infusing technology into teacher training through electronic portfolios.

Table of Contents


Copyright 1999 by Carla Hagen Piper