Towards a common and semantic representation of e-portfolios

Publication Date04 Sep 2018
AuthorKalthoum Rezgui,Hédia Mhiri,Khaled Ghédira
SubjectLibrary & information science,Librarianship/library management,Library technology,Information behaviour & retrieval,Metadata,Information & knowledge management,Information & communications technology,Internet
Towards a common and semantic
representation of e-portfolios
Kalthoum Rezgui
SMART Laboratory, Institut Supérieur dInformatique et de Multimédia de Sfax,
Université de Sfax, Sfax, Tunisia
Hédia Mhiri
SMART Laboratory, Institut Supérieur de Gestion de Tunis, Université de Tunis,
Tunis, Tunisia, and
Khaled Ghédira
COSMOS Laboratory, Institut Supérieur de Gestion de Tunis,
Université de Tunis, Tunis, Tunisia
Purpose Since the early 1980s, a paradigm shift, caused by the work undertaken in the field of cognitive
psychology, has occurred. This shift is known as the move from teacher-centered instruction to learner-
centered or learning-centered instruction, and emphasizes the importance of building new knowledge on
previous ones, interacting with peers, making meaningful and reflective learning and being engaged in his
own path to foster learning. This new vision of teaching has created a need for new learningand assessment
instruments that are better adapted to these pedagogical realities. In this context, the electronic portfolio
or e-portfolio is one of the most versatile and effective tools that have been proposed for this purpose.
More specifically, the interest in e-portfolios has grown considerably with the emergence of the competency-
based approach and portfolio-based competency assessments. The purpose of this paper is to describe a
semantic-based representation of e-portfolios, defined on the basis of official e-portfolio standards and
specifications. Moreover, a comparative study of several well-known e-portfolio solutions has been carried out
based on different facets, such as functional features, technical and organizational features. The objective is to
identify those features that are mostly supported by e-portfolio solution providers and accordingly to gain a
fairly accurate idea of the common structure of e-portfolios. In addition, the authors take advantage of an
already implemented ontological model describing competency-related characteristics of learners and
learning objects and combine it with the e-portfolio ontology, with a view to support a more reliable and
authentic competency assessment.
Design/methodology/approach The proposed e-portfolio ontology was built following the ontology
development methodology Methontology (Fernandez et al., 1997). In addition, it was constructed using the
Protégé ontology environment (Protégé, 2007) and was implemented in OWL (Web Ontology Language)
(Antoniou and Harmelen, 2004).
Findings The proposed e-portfolio ontology provides humans with a shared vocabulary that enables
capturing the most important elements in e-portfolios and serves as the basis for the semantic interoperability
for machines.
Originality/value The main advantage of the e-portfolio ontology lies in its ability to provide a common
and semantically enriched representation of e-portfolio artifacts, thus facilitating the interoperability and
exchange of competency evidences between different learning systems and platforms. In addition, capturing
the semantics of e-portfolios helps to make them utilizable by intelligent applications.
Keywords Ontology, Evidence, Competency assessment, e-Portfolio, Leap2A, Semantic annotation
Paper type Research paper
Over the last years, the portfolio concept has been implemented in the USA in K-2 schools to
assess student learning and to shift some of the responsibility of assessment from the
teacher to the student (Barker, 2005). Recently, e-portfolios have been increasingly used in
medical education and similar health sciences as an assessment tool, documentation of
competencies and for revalidation and accreditation purposes (Walton et al., 2016; Haldane,
2014; Garrett et al., 2013; Wassef et al., 2012). For instance, at the University of Dundee
Data Technologies and
Vol. 52 No. 4, 2018
pp. 520-538
© Emerald PublishingLimited
DOI 10.1108/DTA-01-2018-0008
Received 15 January 2018
Revised 15 May 2018
Accepted 29 June 2018
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
College of Medicine (, as a main element of the final
examination process, each final-year student was required to complete and submit a
portfolio documenting his progress in achieving the programcompetencies. Similarly, as a
means of encouraging the integration of competencies, each first-year student portfolio at
the Faculty of Medicine at University of Maastricht ( should
submit a portfolio including reflective essays on his own development in four identified roles
of the doctor (Dannefer and Henson, 2007). In nursing education, e-portfolios have been
introduced as part of a broader move toward assessing practice competencies (Butler, 2006).
In particular, they have been employed in an attempt to assess both the learning that takes
place in hospitals whilst at work, and learning in an academic setting. In teacher education,
e-portfolios have been used to teach prospective teachers how to be reflective, to assess their
readiness to graduate as part of the process of registering beginning teachers and as part of
teacher education program accreditation (Butler, 2006). The aim is to make sure that
teachers meet certain competencies before they can gain a teaching license. However, in
order for an e-portfolio to support competency assessment and development, learners need
to be able to easily transfer their practical experience evidences from one information
system to another. Equally important, the integrity of evidences moving through these
systems should be ensured, otherwise students will abandon their e-portfolio efforts.
However, a common and interoperable representation of e-portfolios has not been devised
yet. The remainder of this paper is organized as follows: a brief discussion of well-known
e-portfolio definitions and main e-portfolio uses is presented in the second section. Next, in
the third section, a clarification of the terms e-portfolio system and e-portfolio management
system is given as well as an overview of existing e-portfolio solutions. In the fourth section,
we present and analyze the current state-of-art in e-portfolio modeling. Next, in the fifth
section, we present the concepts and relationships used for modeling e-portfolios. In the
sixth section, we introduce the main results of our research. Finally, conclusion is presented
in the seventh section.
The e-portfolio concept
The objective of this section is to outline and discuss the key concepts surrounding the
term e-portfolio.
e-Portfolio definition
In the literature, different definitions of the e-portfolio concept could be found. In fact, while
some authors view the e-portfolio as a purposeful collection of evidences, others regard it as
an archive or a tool that manages these evidences. The diversity of definitions is well
illustrated by the following examples of e-portfolio definitions: first, EDUCAUSE National
Learning Infrastructure Initiative (NLII, USA), quoted by IMS ePortfolio (2005a), defines the
e-portfolio as a collection of authentic and diverse evidence, drawn from a larger archive,
that represents what a person or organization has learned over time, on which the person or
organization has reflected, designed for presentation to one or more audiences for a
particular rhetorical purpose.The term e-portfolio, then, is shorthand for two items: the
digital repository (archive) which is generally only accessible by the e-portfolio owner and
the views (presentations) that are built from the content of the repository and can be
selectively accessed by other interested parties, e.g., teachers, colleagues, assessors,
awarding bodies, prospective employers. This definition preserves the link with traditional
portfolios as specific collections of information for specific purpose (e.g. gaining a
qualification, gaining access to education or employment, achieving a grade or a promotion,
getting a license or certificate). However, according to Ravet (2005), this functional
description fails to capture the true essence of an ePortfolio.Moreover, Ravet (2005) adds
that an ePortfolio can also be viewed as a digital profile, a digital representation used to
Common and
of e-portfolios

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