Bad Web Design with e-Portfolio Software

E-portfolios (sometimes spelled ePortfolio) and digital portfolios are websites where you can display your academic achievements and works for the world to see. These professional websites are often created with a specific career goal in mind and display examples that demonstrate how you meet the competencies of your career goal. Digital portfolios can be used to supplement a LinkedIn profile, and some graduate programs even require the creation of an e-portfolio in lieu of writing a master’s thesis or even as a graduation requirement.

Should I make an e-portfolio with e-portfolio software?

A lot of online portfolio software creation tools aimed at educators make sites that tend to look very formatted. Essentially, what you end up working with is close in appearance to a Google Sites page. Oftentimes, individuals pay for their own site, if funds are not provided by your university. The University of Illinois supports use of the ePortfolio site Digication, which is free to faculty, students, and staff. That being said, default templates for e-portfolios tend to be… ugly. You may consider using these if your school subscribes to them, or if you want a free portfolio site for your fifth graders. Otherwise, probably not.

Issues to consider when choosing an e-portfolio software: digital preservation, usability, aesthetics, and cost. You also want to consider the most important question here: Am I better off using Google Sites?

Mahara

Mahara is a New Zealand-based open source e-portfolio software. You need your own server to use Mahara, but you can customize the software to your liking if you know how or have a very supportive IT department. For all of my server-free readers, FolioSpaces is a web application based on Mahara, but feels a lot more like a social network for third graders. Users are unable to customize the background of their sites unless you pay up to $9.95 a year. On FolioSpaces you create “portfolios” that are actually sections where you can store different aspects of your work. FolioSpaces is an odd public space where you are likely to see posts from high school students from Michigan who really could benefit from spell check. Still, this could be a good free option for folks looking for a portfolio creation tool for their students’ classwork. However, you will probably save a lot of time and trouble, as well as have more control over privacy settings, by just using Google Sites, especially if you have Google for Education (and if you are a student at Illinois, you do).

Digication

Digication is an e-portfolio alternative. U of I students, faculty, and staff can easily create, share, and access ePotfolios for free, and continue to access them after graduation. Digication has pretty intuitive steps for creating an ePortfolio. One great aspect is the easily editable custom URLs you can create for your portfolio. With Digication, you can either use a pre-made template (some more aesthetically pleasing than others), or customize your own theme. Because we have access to Digication through the University of Illinois, it has some themes that are better suited to our needs than some of the other ePortfolio options on this list, because they are geared to a UIUC audience.

One of the best parts of Digication are the options to allow comments and “conversations” on your ePortfolio, which are a great social aspect that encourage interaction between yourself and your audience.

Like all of these options, there are pros and cons to using Digication, but it’s definitely a path to explore. For more information on Digication at the U of I, head to the ePortfolio Resources at Illinois page.

Portfolio Gen

Portfolio Gen provides free pages, as well as paid options that have more space and no “Powered by Portfolio Gen” widget on the page. Frankly, most of the themes on Portfolio Gen seem very childish, and seem to cater to an audience of younger students creating (tacky) portfolios. They are, however, the easiest to use e-portfolio software, and it would be nice if they could expand their theme options to have some better-suited for adults.

My default portfolio and landing page took about five minutes to make and looked like this:

Portfolio homepage with default settings

Pathbrite

In my opinion, this is probably the most promising e-portfolio builder that is specifically built for this purpose. Pathbrite is free for individual users but costs money for institutions. You can create a free, simple site with a Google account and incorporate documents like a resume/CV and a writing sample directly from your Google Drive from the side bar “Add Work” tab and/or by dragging and dropping the icon of the type of work you want to add to your portfolio site. Although this looks similar to the Weebly drag and drop, it will give you options to upload from all sorts of places. You can arrange uploaded items by dragging and dropping them around on your page. A particularly nice feature is that you can also incorporate screenshots and links to websites you have created by simply clicking “Web link” and including the link to the website you want to share so you don’t have to screenshot it yourself.

add items mode in pathbrite

That being said, on the “Style and Settings” tab on the side bar you have a very limited amount of control over the way that the different items are arranged on your site. You can choose between light and dark and resume views and a couple of different ways to arrange the layout of how your work will appear, but that’s about it.

Pathbrite Style and Setting Editor

My default portfolio and page took about 15 minutes to make and this is how it turned out:

demo pathbrite portfolio

Overall, I am not a big fan of any of these options. At the end of the day, I still think you’re probably better off working with a regular CMS like WordPress, Weebly, or even the most basic of site creation tools, Google Sites. If you are an artist, photographer, or some other kind of all around creative genius there are web site builders and e-portfolio designs that specifically cater to you that look nice; however, this post is focusing on researcher/educator e-portfolios that aren’t as image heavy.

And if you’re a UIUC faculty member you’re in luck, because soon you will be able to create an e-portfolio through an Illinois Experts where you can showcase your research and accomplishments.

UPDATE 11/14/2017: Those post initially and incorrectly stated that the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign does not provide free access to any ePortfolio site. However, we just learned that we do! University of Illinois students, faculty, and staff can create a free ePortfolio on Digication, which they can continue to access even after they have left the school. We apologize for our mistake, and hope that this news comes as a pleasant surprise for our readers!

More resources:

And make sure to check out our two fabulous LibGuides on online scholarly presence:

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