Connecting the Dots with ePortfolios Part 2: Using ePortfolios for Formative Assessments

Connecting the Dots with ePortfolios Part 2: Using ePortfolios for Formative Assessments

By: Kellie Ferguson, Faculty Developer of Integrative and Experiential Learning, and Stephen Riley, Director of Academic Assessment  

If formative assessments are a part of your course, incorporating those formative assessments as pieces building towards a larger, comprehensive ePortfolio project offers several advantages.  ePortfolios are digital platforms where students showcase artifacts to represent their academic experiences and reflect on their growth and learning across time. The digital tools used to create an ePortfolio allow students to weave together multimedia elements, evidence of learning, and reflections, and are considered a High-Impact Practice by the AAC&U. For more information about Digication, DU’s ePortfolio platform, and why ePortfolios are a useful tool for assessment, check out Part 1 of this blog series!

Increasing Student Engagement 

First, utilizing an ePortfolio for low stakes, formative assessments has been shown to increase student engagement and completion of assignments. In a recent study, researchers found that having students complete low stakes, formative assignments within an ePortfolio and gathering them for inclusion in a larger, comprehensive ePortfolio supported higher levels of completion and engagement. The study revealed that “the turn-in rate for the low-stakes assignments was also higher in the experimental group (that used ePortfolios) than the control group” and “the increase in the number of low-stakes assignments that students turned in between the control and experimental groups can also be attributed to the ePortfolio platform” (Fuller 2017, pp 446-447). These findings suggest that integrating these lower-stakes assignments into a larger ePortfolio framework can effectively enhance student participation and achievement.  

Scaffolding and Feedback 

Second, assigning and having students complete work within an ePortfolio space has the dual advantage of allowing for scaffolding and feedback while contributing to a larger ePortfolio of work. Let’s say you are guiding students through a research project, and you want to incorporate in formative assessments that allow you to check in on their progress towards the final, summative assessment. Having students submit these scaffolded assignments, integrate in feedback, and incorporate them into their final ePortfolio can be a great way to not only facilitate ongoing assessment, but also to give students the opportunity to reflect on their process and growth. In fact, Laura Wenk of Hampshire College’s ePortfolio program found that the “complex thinking we hope to see [in students] requires scaffolding” (Wenk 2019, pp. 85). By integrating scaffolded formative assessments and encouraging reflection throughout the process of building towards a summative ePortfolio assessment, Wenk observed the ways in which this approach supports and motivates student learning: “We see that this kind of thinking leads to those aha! moments that excite students about their learning and propel them forward” (Wenk 2019, pp. 86).    

Alignment with Learning Outcomes 

Third, completing individual assignments as a part of a larger ePortfolio can help students to see the value of these assignments by connecting them to larger course learning outcomes. Connecting course outcomes with assignments is known as alignment. Alignment is one of the key features of the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment’s (NIOLA) Transparency Framework.  The framework calls for clarity in the ways we help students understand the outcomes of courses and assignments and the ways in which those pieces work within an academic program. We often have many goals in mind when we create an assignment.  Unfortunately, many times those goals are unclear to students. When we begin to align our assignments with clearly stated learning outcomes, students can understand how an assignment is building the knowledge and skills they need to be successful in our course and within the larger academic program (Hutchinson 2016, pp. 6). Additionally, when we tie our feedback on formative assignments to learning outcomes, students are given the opportunity to grown and improve their learning over time (Butt 2010, pp. 68). This process of repeated practice and growth, aided by targeted feedback, is part of what helps make learning stick with students (Brown, et al. 2014, pp. 39-40).   

So, how can we apply these concepts to our course activities?  

Bringing it to Life: Digication in Action  

Digication’s ePortfolio platform provides quite a few features that empower faculty to design unique and impactful assessment strategies (for an overview of these features, revisit the first blog post in this series!) In the following examples, we hope to show how Digication can be used to help assess student learning using formative ePortfolio assessments across disciplines. 

First up, an example of how this could be done in a history course:  

History Example 

In a history course on the American Revolution, the professor asks students to explore an important historical figure from the era. The assignment calls for students to research, choose, and present about one person that influenced the time period.  For such an assignment, a professor might integrate formative assessments into the assignment process in the following ways: 

  1. The professor can set up a scaffolded template for the assignment in Digication that all students can access to help them work through various parts of the assignment to be successful at the whole. Once the template has been created and shared, it can be assigned in smaller chunks, allowing for formative assessments to be built into the ePortfolio.   
  2. One of the assignments might include a set of questions designed to help students get started in thinking about the assignment and ask students to reflect on their answers before doing any research. Through this assignment, the professor can assess students’ understanding of the assignment guidelines and their ability to think critically about the prompt and the course content.  
  3. As part of the assignment, students could use Digication to collate their initial research, reflect on why they are drawn to certain people and get feedback from the professor before moving to the next stage of the assignment. Through this assignment, the professor can assess the depth and quality of students’ research, their ability to apply feedback received through this assignment, and the alignment of their research and reflections with course learning outcomes.   
  4. Students could create drafts of their paper or presentations and receive feedback from a professor via a rubric or the professor could assign students to view each other’s work and share feedback to help improve their work before final submission.   
  5. Finally, professors can assess the student’s final submission and then ask how this assignment helped them reach the course learning outcome or one of the University’s learning outcomes by asking them to include a short reflection in their ePortfolio after they’ve submitted the assignment. 

In our second example, let’s consider how this might be down in a science course:

Biology Example 

In a Biology course, the professor transforms the lab by assigning a quarter-long research project on a local ecosystem. During the term, the professor wants to track students’ learning over the term to ensure they are on the right track and are working towards achieving the course’s learning outcomes.    

  1. Using Digication, students document their research process from start to finish, from initial hypotheses to data collection and analysis. They embed tables, equations, and field notes, culminating in a multimedia presentation and peer-reviewed research paper.   
  1. Students create a page in Digication that presents their initial research proposal. The professor reviews this research proposal, providing feedback for clarity and alignment with course objectives, and to ensure students are on the right track. This also provides a place for students to revisit and track the evolution of their project as their research progresses.   
  1. The professor incorporates in weekly reflective prompts, asking students to examine their work as they go. Through these assignments, the professor can see students’ research process and growth over the term. This also allows the professor to facilitate student self-assessment, fostering scientific research and critical thinking skills, and allowing students to showcase their learning through more than just a research paper.   
  1. Students create a video presentation explaining their data collection strategies and embed it within their ePortfolio. The professor observes the video discussions and provides guidance to students to help refine their data collection strategies. This assessment allows the professor to gauge students’ understanding of data collection techniques and their ability to anticipate and address potential obstacles in their research. It also helps students articulate their process to their potential ePortfolio audience, giving an opportunity for students to practice communicating their research methods to a larger audience.   

Embrace the Potential: Digication Awaits ! 

These examples merely scratch the surface of Digication’s assessment potential. From showcasing artistic explorations in fine arts to presenting complex engineering calculations, the platform caters to diverse disciplines. The emphasis here is on utilizing Digication as a way to engage students, scaffold their learning, and create clearer alignment with course learning outcomes. In our next blog post, we will explore the potential of ePortfolios as a summative assessment.   

For more technological or pedagogical support with ePortfolios and Digication, check out the OTL’s Digication and ePortfolio Resources page, or contact Kellie Ferguson, the Faculty Developer of Integrative and Experiential Learning, at or book a 1:1 consultation. For more support with assessment, check the OTL’s Assessment@DU page, or contact Stephen Riley, the Director of Academic Assessment, at or book a 1:1 consulation. 


Brown, P. C., Roediger, H. L., & McDaniel, M. A. (2014). Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.   

Butt, G. (2010). Making Assessment Matter (1st ed.). Continuum.  

Fuller, K. (2017). Beyond Reflection: Using ePortfolios for Formative Assessment to Improve Student Engagement in Non-Majors Introductory Science. The American Biology Teacher, 79(6), 442–449. 

Hutchings, P. (2016, January). Aligning Educational Outcomes and Practices. (Occasional Paper   No. 26). Urbana, IL: University of Illinois and Indiana University, National Institute for  Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA).   

Naomi Silver, Matthew Kaplan, Danielle LaVaque-Manty, & Deborah Meizlish. (2013). Using Reflection and Metacognition to Improve Student Learning: Across the Disciplines, Across the Academy: Vol. First edition. Routledge.  

Wenk, Laura. (2019). Hampshire College ePortfolios: A Curriculum on Reflection to Support Individualized Educational Pathways. In Kathleen Blake Yancey (ed.) ePortfolio as Curriculum. (pp. 71-87). Stylus Publishing, LLC.