"Portfolio" covers a multitude of variations: from the portfolio of pictures of a model or by an artist, to the assembled notes and reports of a manager. What they have in common is being a collection, usually of items which were prepared for a purpose other than that of assessment.
- Useful, if not essential, for the Accreditation of Prior Experiential Learning (APEL). The portfolio consists of evidence assembled to show how the student can meet specified learning outcomes or assessment criteria.
- Valuable for the assessment of vocational or professional practice—including work experience placements—often in conjunction with direct observation.
- Use on any programme in which the outcomes cannot routinely be demonstrated in practice. It is unrealistic, for example, to expect a portfolio demonstrating successful handling of crises, when crises are rare events. Someone might spend an entire career waiting for one to happen in order to be assessed on handling it! (However, portfolios of evidence can also be a way of assessing performance in simulation events.)
- Where product evidence is not easy to come by, or not the most reliable indicator of capability.
- Portfolios rapidly become enormous, and finding one's way around them can be very difficult and time-consuming. A clear system of indexing and cross-referencing of items against outcomes is essential, and it often helps to have an individual tutorial so that the student can orient the assessor to the content.
- In many jobs, individual authorship of reports, etc., is the exception rather than the rule. While it may be unduly and unfairly restrictive to insist that everything in a portfolio is "all the student's own work", it is useful to have a mechanism for disentangling strands of authorship. Endorsement by a work-based mentor or manager may clarify to the assessor what are the standard practices of the work-place.
- Where assessment criteria go beyond simply requiring that a student has done something, and require evidence of understanding underlying principles, an accompanying commentary may be called for. This should link together the evidence in the rest of the portfolio, and relate it explicitly to the required outcomes.
- Anything which can be assembled into a portfolio is "product evidence", which is relatively permanent. Usually, an educational institution has copyright in anything which is submitted to it for assessment, but material which is produced in the course of someone's work may also be claimed by the employer. It is worthwhile specifying considerations of confidentiality attached to items, and ensuring that wherever possible information is anonymised.
- E-portfolios, often managed through a virtual learning environment, are becoming more popular. PebblePad is one of the best-known implementations. It describes itself on its website as providing "scaffolding to help users create records of learning, achievement and aspiration." This is both a strength and a weakness. For more advanced students, the strategy of how to create an effective portfolio without having one's hand held all the time is an important item of learning; the problem is that too much familiarity with one approach may lead to recipe-based practice.