Is the Future of E-Portfolio Development in your Pocket?

  • Posted by Helen Barrett
  • April 7, 2011 1:26 PM PDT

by Helen C. Barrett, Ph.D., Researcher and Consultant, Electronic Portfolios and Digital Storytelling to Support Lifelong and Life Wide Learning


Kids today are captivated by the personalization and socialization of online tools--the ability to build large networks of friends; share their thoughts, feelings, and goals; and communicate as they wish. Students have become so invested in mobile devices that our society has coined a new term for them--digital natives--to represent their having only known a world where all of this is possible. And not only is it possible, it's possible anytime and anywhere, via a plethora of devices and widely available cellular and WiFi networks.

The upshot is, these digital natives now have in their hands the tools to shape their own education in once unimagined ways. They have the ability to interact with other learners at their convenience, with differences in time and place presenting no hurdle. They can research, on the spot, any topic of interest. And they can capture the moment, whether it's in a picture, a video, or a blog entry.

-- Mary McCaffrey “Why Mobile is a Must” T.H.E. Journal


At the 2010 AAEEBL ePortfolio conference in Boston, a small group of educators joined me in a conversation about the use of mobile devices in ePortfolio development. The discussion focused on the immediacy of access to technology, through these mobile devices, which may let students slow down to reflect within the context and time of a learning experience... Not at a time removed when memory is less fresh. In the near future we may have opportunities to implement these strategies when emerging tools, such as iPads, iPod Touch/iPhone devices, Android tablets, including the XO-3, become affordable and available in schools.

I am following an EPortfolio Conversations Google Group, where a question was raised about collecting evidence of informal learning rather than formal education. One response: "Start with SMS [on mobile phones] - it’s the morse code of the present generation...and it works." Here is my response:

Being a Baby Boomer, and only learning about SMS from my kids and grandkids, I need to learn more about how we can use SMS in ePortfolio development. I am doing a workshop at ISTE in Philadelphia in June entitled, "Hands-on mPortfolio Development with iOS devices (iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad)." In all cases, there is a Web 2.0 website where we will post the artifacts and reflections "in real time" (a blog, GoogleDocs, YouTube, etc.).

Although smart phone ownership (Android, iOS, Microsoft) is growing, these tools are not widely owned by teenagers. Where does a student store SMS messages online? I know my teenage granddaughter updates her Facebook page with her "feature phone" but that is not an option for most schools. I am looking for the practical applications, because I am getting inquiries from educators in the developing world, where the plain old mobile phone is the tool students have available for “Electronic Documentation of Learning.” In my opinion, that is the first step in building an ePortfolio: collection of artifacts (in text, images, audio, video) and reflection on experiences/artifacts (in any of those same formats) or “capturing the moment!”

Maybe we could learn from what Google did in Egypt during the revolution: Speak2Tweet, providing local telephone numbers to call; the service simply delivers a link on Twitter so you can hear the actual voice message! In the U.S., Google Voice messages can be saved as MP3, and imperfectly translated into text. (I heard of one teacher who sits in his car--his quiet recording studio--and records his reflections as a voice message in Google Voice.) What else? I am looking for a blog-like tool that can be updated by a plain mobile phone. What Web 2.0 tools, besides Facebook, are accessible from SMS? After a little research, I found instructions for posting from SMS to Blogger, but it looks like this service is only available within the USA. I suppose Posterous would work as well, if the message comes in as an email. You can also use SMS to post to Twitter.


Portfolio Processes with Mobile Devices


Keep in mind that there are two major “faces” of ePortfolios:

  • Workspace to document day-to-day learning: collect evidence and reflect on learning
  • Showcase to present the results of learning at specific points in the learning process: select and organize learning at specific points of time

I believe we can best use mobile devices in the Workspace portfolio, to capture learning and reflect contemporaneously (in the middle of the learning process). Depending on the authoring tools used to construct the presentation, the user may need a regular desktop/laptop/netbook computer.

What functions can be achieved with mobile phones for each of these processes?

  • Capturing & storing evidence - this evidence of learning can be in the form of text, images, audio or video
  • Reflecting - “the heart and soul of a portfolio” - this reflection could be captured in real time in different formats: writing, voice capture (and voice-to-text conversion), video capture and digital stories
  • Giving & receiving feedback - one of the most effective uses of a portfolio is to review a learner’s work and providing feedback for improvement
  • Planning & setting goals - a very important part of the portfolio process is personal development planning and setting goals for achievement
  • Collaborating - learning is a social activity - technology provides new forms of collaboration
  • Presenting to an audience - at specific points in the learning process, a learner may put together a presentation of their learning outcomes for an audience, either real or virtual

Look at the way that technology supports those processes: digitizing/archiving, hyper-linking/embedding, storytelling, collaborating, publishing, aggregating. We need to help students develop lifelong skills that will last after they graduate. If students are using "world ware" (tools in use it the world) then they are developing skills that can be applied in the "real world" outside of formal education. We should also look at how students are naturally using technology in their lives: social networking, mobile communications, capturing and storing images, audio and video, etc. We could build on the tools that students are already using... and look at the intrinsic motivation factors that drive the use of social networking, and apply those factors to the ePortfolio environment: autonomy, mastery and purpose (thanks to Dan Pink's book, Drive). We are looking at a future that is well integrated with mobile devices.

Here is an initial assessment of how these functions can be achieved with different mobile devices:


ePortfolio Process to support Mobile Phones
(not “smart” phones)
iOS/Android/Microsoft devices
(“smart” phones)
Capturing & storing evidence Camera can capture still images, audio and video, transmitting to a website or uploading to a computer. Devices with cameras can capture images. audio and video, which can be uploaded to a website or uploaded to a computer.
Reflecting SMS reflections to a website (depending on capability of software) - Needs to be similar to Facebook updates There are mobile apps for several web-based ePortfolio tools as well as generic tools such as blogs
Giving & receiving feedback NO (Can mobile phones read websites to be able to provide feedback/comments?) Mobile web browsers should allow reading posts and online documents, and providing comments or co-authoring
Planning & setting goals A form of Reflecting (above) A form of Reflecting (above)
Collaborating one-to-one using SMS
Post directly to web-based accounts 
one-to-many using online communities and services, such as GoogleDocs or wikis
Presenting to an audience NO (presentations require more powerful tools) Some apps are available to create presentations and project with appropriate hardware connections to projector



In summary, I’m not convinced that deep reflection can be represented in 140-160 characters of a tweet or SMS message. But this format can be an effective way to document process over time --to capture the moment-- and can later be aggregated and analyzed for deeper understanding. As a current example, the tweets that were coming out of Egypt prior to February 11 told a very compelling story of the revolution as it was happening (as curated and retweeted by PBS’s Andy Carvin [@acarvin] - an incredible service!). We have seen the power of digital media in social change; it can also be part of individual transformation through understanding oneself and showcasing achievements in reflective portfolios.

Reflection does not have to be only in text; we can also use the multimedia capabilities of these miniature computers in our pockets to capture voice, images, and video.  There are also video editing tools available on iOS devices that can be used to produce digital stories that can be completely produced within a tool like an iPod Touch 4 (the one with a camera) or an iPad, and uploaded to YouTube. Using the computing power we carry in our pockets can dramatically enhance student engagement in documenting and showcasing their own learning. And with other tablets emerging in the market, we have many opportunities for research and implementation. As AAEEBL’s Director of ePortfolio Futures, I intend to carry on this research and dialogue at future conferences and workshops. Anyone interested in joining me? 


Association for the Advancement of Authentic and Experience-Based Education (AAEEBL) – professional association for world ePortfolio community.


Arthur, Charles  (2011) "Google and Twitter launch service enabling Egyptians to tweet by phone -  Voice-to-tweet software allows citizens to send news from Egypt despite internet blackout”, 1 February 2011. [Retrieved online February 15, 2011 from ]

Barrett, Helen (2010) “Balancing the Two Faces of ePortfolios” Educação, Formação & Tecnologias, 3(1), 6-14. [Retrieved February 15, 2011 from and]

Barrett, Helen (2011) mPortfolios Google Site.

Blogger (2011) “How does Blogger Mobile work?” [Retrieved February 15, 2011 from]

Carvin, A @acarvin Twitter, February 11, 2011

McCaffrey, Mary (2011) “Why Mobile is a Must” T.H.E. Journal [Retrieved February 15, 2011 from

Pink, D. (2009) Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. Riverhead Hardcover

Twitter (2011) “How To Create a Twitter Account Using SMS” [Retrieved February 15, 2011 from ]