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Amani Al-Nassar, American University of Sharjah, UAE
Amani M. GharibQueen’s University Belfast, UK

Big Data and E-Portfolios

Amani M. Gharib.jpgAmani Al-Nassar.jpgAs technological advancements continue to disrupt the education sector, institutions are in a race to employ varying technological measures to adapt accordingly. Being in an information era full of velocity and variety (Elgendy & Elragal, 2014), it is essential for such institutions to manage and engage with big data to address student learning journeys. One way an institution can manage big data is by analyzing and rafting through student performance details and behaviors (Pelletier, 2015). This can be done by introducing and focusing on electronic portfolios (e-portfolios).

E-portfolios are “powerful tools to realize individualized learning in formal education” (Dorninger & Schrack, 2008, p. 4063). Unlike a learning management system, e-portfolios are controlled and managed by the student. Students decide “who can view the e-portfolio, what artifacts get added, how it is designed, and so on” (Eportfolios Explained, 2020, p.1). Through e-portfolios, institutional insights can be gathered and generated to document a student’s learning journey. This encompasses a collection of student work, thereby demonstrating their skills, accomplishments, and progress. Through e-portfolios, students share their own content, competency areas, and the identity being reviewed. This becomes a data source for reviewers to learn more about the student and his/her learning journey. It can also be further utilized in the generation of learning analytics.  

The application of e-portfolios has paramount benefits if steered appropriately and can be conducted, stored, and accessed online to fit with the deployment of technology and distance learning. E-portfolios can further provide students with the mindset and the skill set of planning and developing their overall journeys. In this case, students are displayed as individualized figures, showing their work, self-reflecting on it, and recording their overall growth. Students will also be able to receive feedback on their solo activities, to learn more deeply about their journeys (Eportfolios explained, 2020). If conducted correctly, and by selecting the appropriate content, students will be more committed to the e-portfolio process of making and sharing their journeys - ultimately leading towards a successful path.

Academic Advisor Application of E-Portfolios

Students face a number of challenges in their individualized journeys, specifically in the beginning stages of higher education. These challenges can include academic difficulties, inability to transition into new environments, concerns with stress and mental health, as well as an incapability of belonging to an institution’s community (Evans & Morrison, 2011). Such matters can be addressed by the institution, and academic advisors can introduce the application of e-portfolios accordingly.

In institutional advising departments, the access and use of e-portfolios is significant and can be beneficial. This provides advisors with the essential data to engage with students effectively.  Academic advisors conduct frequent and structured one-to-one sessions with students. Therefore, they can design strategies via e-portfolios to support students in meeting their academic, personal, and/or professional goals. At the level of advising, e-portfolios can further be utilized as a directive measure of progress while building and generating data and analytics. Advisors can also deliver a high level of customized services, providing students with their own plans—building an effective communication engagement strategy.

Advisors can utilize e-portfolios to learn about their students’ overall development, which will ultimately support in building their: (1) growth mindsets; (2) academic ownerships; (3) honest self-evaluations—so that they can be influenced to becoming lifelong learners. In this case, e-portfolios act as proactive method that assists advisors in the early detection of student challenges, specifically those who face unclear issues. 

Focused E-Portfolios (Pareto E-Portfolios)

While there are many approaches to e-portfolios, this article introduces the concept of a focused e-portfolio institutional application, a concept labelled as Pareto E-portfolios. The Pareto principle was coined by Vilfredo Federico Damaso Pareto, when he discovered that “80% of production typically came from 20% of the companies” in different industries (Kruse, 2016, p.2). This imbalance has now become the Pareto principle whereby 20% of certain work efforts can drive approximately 80% of varying outcomes (Kruse, 2016). The Pareto principle is introduced in this particular context of e-portfolios by the same means, where the content of a student’s e-portfolio can target 20% of his/her specific needs, challenges, and growth areas. This can drive 80% of the results students and their advisors are seeking. The targeted 20% in this case can differ from one student to another depending on the complexity of the challenges faced and students’ capabilities to adapt and grow. Advisors can assist such targeted students in developing their own e-portfolios to progress in certain areas, thereby having a higher impact on their lives. Such areas of focus can range from strengthening foundation levels, finding the right major, or engaging in extra-curricular activities, etc.  

Pareto E-portfolios in Undeclared Majors

The process of selecting an institutional study major is complex and requires clear guidance, direction, and consistent follow-up. Given many students face the difficult excursion of selecting a major, figuring out their strengths, weaknesses, and interests can pose as a foundation to make such decisions. Students may also find it difficult to learn about majors, career opportunities after graduation, or their educational passion, and may not have access to speak to the right people. In addition, undeclared students are generally going through a race against time, as they may lack clarity around their futures, and need a solution in an urgent and timely manner. This will encourage undeclared students in adapting quickly to the e-portfolio process, while supporting their major discovery phase to ultimately find their fit.. Pareto E-portfolios can therefore specifically assist students with undeclared majors and act as a tool for advisors to utilize accordingly.

Application of E-Portfolios in Educational Institutions

This is a great time for institutions to consider the significance of e-portfolios. The utilization of e-portfolios is key given that online learning and educational technologies are booming and institutions are continuing to strive for data-driven resources (Dorninger & Schrack, 2008). By doing so, e-portfolios will play a role in enhancing institutional retention rates by providing learning analytics that captures a student’s learning journey. “Learning Analytics is focused at the level of the individual learner and on giving learners actionable information to make their decisions about study within a given course or set of courses” (Pelletier, 2015, p. 2). One way to apply learning analytics is by “monitoring and predicting students’ learning performances and spotting potential issues early so that interventions can be provided to identify students at risk of failing a course or program of study” (Bienkowski et al., 2012, p. 26). The application of e-portfolios in educational institutions is therefore essential for early intervention.

With the competitiveness of the higher education industry, it is necessary for institutions to continue to apply and utilize advanced technologies that capture student behavior. By focusing on learning/academic analytics, the data gathered will support the institution’s operational and financial directions, and ultimately decrease overall attrition (Pelletier, 2015). More specifically, the world is moving towards customization, creativity, and technological reliance, which is why institutions need to continue to be agile. This will emphasize on developing life-long learners and will support in being proactive. The utilization of e-portfolios can also turn into a more popular platform with a high number of users, such as social media platforms.

E-portfolios require a high level of commitment, as they require continuous updates and feedback. In order for an institution to successfully implement e-portfolios, it is important to ensure commitment by both staff and students. An internal desire to utilize such a platform needs to be approved and fostered by all departments of the institution. For students, this internal desire can center on e-portfolios representing: (1) their own individual self and previewing to the audience what they desire; (2) their progress, accomplishments, and overall creative achievements; (3) their prospective career areas and advancements. This will create synergies between internal departments and students, to collaborate effectively and professionally.

By creating an e-portfolio structure, students will be able to establish a deeper sense of belonging to their institution, and can positively engage on campus. They will also view their institution and campus as a place of growth, development, and achievement. With the deployment of such a platform, institutions can continue to adapt to the changing forces of technology and compete in an industry that requires effective data analytics for overall student success.

Amani Al-Nassar
Academic Advisor & Higher Education Entrepreneur
Academic Support Center
American University of Sharjah, UAE
[email protected]

Amani M. Gharib
Innovation Expert & Management Consultant
Queen’s Management School
Queen’s University Belfast, UK
[email protected]


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Pelletier, S. G. (2015). Taming "big data": Using data analytics for student success and institutional intelligence. Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, 23(7), 1–8.

Cite this article using APA style as: Al-Nassar, A., & Gharib, A.M. (2020, December). Is e-portfolio in advising the next big thing? The role of big data in student learning. Academic Advising Today, 43(4).



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