Portfolios: Collecting the best

A portfolio is a collection of a students work built up over a specific period of time often highlighting their development and collating the best examples of their practice. 

Portfolios can be a great tool for assessing students’ development as well as a way of allowing students to build up a strong collection of their best work that they can then show to others to highlight their growth and knowledge.

This blog post will cover a few different considerations and tools you can explore if you wish to incorporate digital portfolios into your teaching.


When using a digital portfolio tool there are a few things to take into account which may influence what tool you use:

  • What is the purpose of the portfolio? Does the portfolio exist to help a student reflect, to show a student’s learning and progression over time, to prove they have mastered certain learning goals or to showcase the best examples of their work? It may even serve a hybrid role combining two or more of these types of portfolios
  • What sort of content will students be capturing and collating? Will this content be text based or will it incorporate other media such as images or videos? Will it need to have links to online resources or host them within the portfolio (such as PDFs),? Are there more specialized media that will need to be collected, such as samples of code?
  • Who will need to access the portfolio? Will the portfolio be personal and only accessed by the student, will it be seen by the student and instructor, shared by the student, with other students and the instructor and/or seen by outside users? Further, which bits of the portfolio need to be shared?
  • Will it need to be submitted, if so at what stage? If the portfolio does need to be submitted then will this be something that a student has to submit at regular intervals such as once a week or will it only be submitted at the end of a period of time when the portfolio is completed? For more information on how students can submit their portfolios see the How will students submit their portfolios to Canvas section below.
  • Can the portfolio be exported in an accessible format? Will the student take this portfolio with them after they’ve concluded their studies? If so, how will they export their content in a format they can access in future?
  • Will the portfolio form part of a contributory assessment? Is the answer is yes then you’ll need to consider how student’s portfolios can either be locked down at the due date (in the case of the portfolio being hosted outside of an uploaded file such as if a student links out to a portfolio on another platform or somewhere else on the web, then you’ll need to have some capacity to also lock down that external tool) or if the students will need to submit a static submission I.e. a file that is uploaded at a certain point and cannot be changed afterwards.

What tools can students use?

Word and PowerPoint

Students can use their Sussex account to access Office 365 which gives them the web versions of Word and PowerPoint. Any documents produced with these tools can be turned into collaborative files that can then be shared with instructors and/or their peers. Both Word and PowerPoint allow for text and images. It’s then possible to download these documents as files if they need to be submitted to a submission point within Canvas. These can be structured around week or topic, either by using headers within Word or with separate slides for PowerPoint.

Students are likely to already be familiar with both tools given their widespread popularity and use (although this cannot be presumed) so there is an advantage in that students won’t need much training in using them.


OneNote is a digital notebook tool that automatically saves and syncs your notes as you work, like a collection of digital documents. Students have access to this with their Sussex account as part of Office 365.

Instructors can set up and share a notebook with others and either allocate sections of a notebook to groups of students or set up a Class Notebook to give each student their own notebook. Instructors can then easily view everyone’s work and progress.

Users can insert images, audio, video, documents, or hyperlinks and use text or digital ink to annotate around them. This functionality can also be used to support ongoing feedback. Students can also export their OneNote portfolio as a pdf and submit it to a Canvas assignment.

For more guidance see Microsoft’s  OneNote: your one-stop resource, OneNote video training or visit the OneNote Teacher Academy.

How will students submit their portfolios to Canvas (if needed)?

Canvas Online assignment submission points serve as a route by which students can upload their portfolios to Canvas. It’s possible to manually setup these assignments in your modules or have them centrally created based on assessment data within SussexDirect. Assignments can be configured to allow students to either type directly into a text box or upload a file or a link as their submission.

If students are uploading a file then you can restrict submissions to a certain file type, for example you might want your students to create and upload their Portfolio as a Word document or a PDF. It’s useful to prescribe the format to ensure that the instructors and other markers can open and view them.

Allowing a link as a submission can suit cases where students may have created their portfolio in a web accessible format or in a cloud storage area. In this case they could generate a shared link to their portfolio that they can submit. It’s important to note that if the assessment is contributory then you’ll need some way to lock down the web-based tool or cloud storage to ensure that students don’t edit their submissions after the due date has passed. This doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll need to have control over the software, rather decide how they might share items of work or the full portfolio. For example, from OneNote you might require that a PDF export is submitted.

You can create multiple Canvas Online assignments if you’d like students to upload their portfolios at regular intervals, for example you might want to have students submit their portfolio once a week for 10 weeks. In this case you could create 10 assignment points, or you may wish to just have one assignment point where students submit their final portfolios. 

Next steps

Portfolios can hugely differ in their purpose or requirements so if you do with to use portfolios within your teaching then please get in touch with us at Educational Enhancement either by emailing tel@sussex.ac.uk or by contacting your School’s Learning Technologist.

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One comment on “Portfolios: Collecting the best
  1. Greg Alid says:

    Show mi the the write up examples of a student portfolio in full details

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We are the Educational Enhancement team at the University of Sussex. We publish posts each week on using technology to support teaching and learning. Read more about us.

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