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At the OSP Future Enhancements BOF (Birds of a Feather) meeting in Paris on July 1, 2008, the conversation on where to begin with needed changes to the OSP user experience focused on the Portfolios tool. Complete notes for the BOF can be found at Sakai Paris OSP Future Enhancements BOF Summary , but here is an initial description of the current tool and expressed user needs in relation to possible UX improvements. We invite community members to critique, enhance, expand, contract, and focus this text so that the community can move ahead on getting final requirements in August 2008 and set up a small team to do the work before the 2.6 code freeze. This conversation is in conjunction with the larger Sakai Community decisions described at Sakai 2.6 Statement of Ambition .

A portfolio is a collection of items that a user selects to share with a particular audience for a particular purpose. Portfolios allow students to assemble collections of their work along with reflective comments in order to document their learning, demonstrate their mastery of standards, and/or offer evidence of their accomplishments for the student's employability, admissibility to an institution, or suitability for scholarships or awards.

Portfolios fit into the larger Sakai picture in the following ways: By creating a portfolio, students are able to share any set of items they have created in Sakai with anyone via membership in the same Sakai instance, an email address, or as a public URL. Institutions may offer students complete freedom and creativity in what they share or provide specific portfolio templates guiding them in sharing specific items and/or offering appropriate layouts, color schemes, and graphics to frame the presentation of portfolio items.

Current OSP functionality has evolved over time and has progressed through numerous designs. The community builds on and adds to previous work rather than redesigning OSP tools for each new version of Sakai. Therefore, most of the current OSP design has historical underpinnings. Changing the current approach is possible and often desirable but can entail substantial consequences for the persistence of end user data at institutions currently using OSP.

Description of Current Portfolios Tool

  1. Users open the Portfolios tool to a screen displaying portfolios they have already created and portfolios that have been shared with them. The user may click the name of any portfolio to view it. Listed under portfolios the user owns are options for sharing, editing, viewing statistics, downloading, deleting, or hiding each portfolio. Listed under portfolios shared with the user is the is the option to hide each portfolio.
  2. Hiding a portfolio created by or shared with the user requires clicking Remove Hidden Items. Any hidden portfolio may be shown again by clicking Show Hidden Items. Any hidden portfolio may be reset to be shown again.
  3. There are continuing problems with the download function for portfolios. Also, users may only download portfolios they have created.
  4. Permissions for the Portfolios tool are limited to Delete, Comment, and Create.
  5. Users may view a complete list of comments on their portfolios by clicking My Comments and/or Comments from Others.
  6. Users click Add to create a new portfolio.
  7. The Add screen requires a choice between Design Your Own Portfolio and Use a Template. If there are no portfolio layouts and styles available in the site, Design Your Own Portfolio is grayed out. If there are no portfolio templates available, Use a Template is grayed out.
  8. Portfolio templates may be local to the site but cannot be made global through Portfolio Admin.
  9. The items within a particular portfolio template may be previewed by selecting the template and clicking Preview Template. These items are complete if the creator of the portfolio template has filled out the description fields for the template as a whole and for each component of the template (in step 3 of 4 in creating a portfolio template). The items in preview, however, are listed in an order that does not match their order in the portfolio template itself.
  10. There is some confusion about whether portfolio layouts and/or styles can be local to a site. They definitely can be made global by publishing them in Portfolio Admin or by suggesting them for global publishing and having an admin publish them globally through Portfolio Admin.
  11. If users select a portfolio template, they must choose a specific portfolio template from the drop down menu.
  12. Regardless of the choice between a portfolio template or portfolio layouts and styles, Step 1 of 3 in creating a portfolio is the same. The user is required to give the portfolio a name. There is an optional description for the portfolio (which the portfolio template creator may use in the portfolio - otherwise it does not appear anywhere). There is an option to set an expiration date beyond which viewers can no longer access the portfolio. There is a check box to invite comments or not.
  13. If the user selects a portfolio template, before getting to step 2 of 3, a Portfolio Properties (Outline Options) page may appear (if the template creator has added it) asking the user to fill in simple text fields for such purposes as a title or subtitle, the user's name, a date, the browser title, captions for images, or reflections, all to be included somewhere in the resulting portfolio. The fields may be edited by the user at any time.
  14. Step 2 of 3 in creating a portfolio with a template involves the choice of items from menus. These items may include matrices, completed wizards, form items created in wizards or Resources, and/or uploaded files stored in Resources. Users may not upload files or create new form items from the Portfolios tool. Menus may require the user to select one item or allow the selection of multiple items (according to how the template creator set up the process). These choices may be changed during a subsequent edit.
  15. If a user selects Design Your Own Portfolio, Step 2 of 3 allows the user to select a layout and a style for the entire portfolio (which can be overridden by a new choice on any page) and allows the user to add any number of pages to the portfolio. Adding a page brings up a new screen with options for the layout and style of that page and a set of FCK editors representing the layout selected for the page. The FCK editors may include instructional text (placed there by the creator of the portfolio layout) providing guidance in how to use each rich text editor to create a section of the page. Once a page has been created, the thumbnail image for the page is displayed on the creation or edit screen.
  16. Users designing their own portfolios may use the check box in Step 2 of 3 to add page navigation, but this navigation is limited to moving from one page to the next. Otherwise, users may create their own navigation buttons allowing movement from any page to any other page or link using the Select Attachments button in the FCK editors to highlight text within the editor and link that text to any page that has been created for the portfolio.
  17. Any item from Resources shared in a portfolio via the FCK editor must be made public in Resources in order to be shared via the portfolio.
  18. Step 3 of 3 in creating a portfolio (regardless of the method) allows the user to share the portfolio with any user in the site or instance, any role in any site in which they are a member, any email address, or as a public URL. It also allows users to notify viewers that a portfolio has been shared with them. Notifying by email produces two emails to the viewer, one to notify them that they have a guest account in the instance, and one to notify them that a portfolio has been shared with them. These viewers must use the URL and password for their guest account to access the portfolio that has been shared with them.
  19. The option for placing the portfolios tool in My Workspace allows users to access any portfolio they have created or that has been shared with them through My Workspace.

Expressed Needs for UX Improvement

  1. Users want more options for expressing themselves in creating portfolios.
  2. Users want a more intuitive and less complicated process for creating and sharing portfolios.
  3. Users want a more blended experience taking the best from both methods of creating a portfolio.
  4. Users want to be able to include any object they have created in Sakai in their portfolios.
  5. Users want a simpler way to share a URL for a portfolio.
  6. Users want a more seamless way to download a portfolio.
  7. Viewers (e.g. employers) accessing portfolios from email notices want a less complicated method for obtaining access to portfolios.
  8. Site organizers want a way to allow users to have a full range of options for creating portfolios for their personal use but also want to be able to guide users in creating specific portfolios for course, program, or institutional use.
  9. Site organizers want a less complicated process for creating data structures to allow users to create and share portfolios. Ideally creating whatever data structures take the place of portfolio templates, portfolio layouts, and styles would not involve site organizers having to know and use .xml coding.

Specific Suggestions for Upgrading the Portfolios Tool in Relation to User Services


  • Users should eventually be able to collect any item they have created using any tool in Sakai and store access to this item in Resources for sharing in portfolios.
  • Users should be able to collect the content of matrix cells and wizard pages for sharing in portfolios.


  • Users should be able to attach reflections to any item they have created in Sakai.
  • Users should be able to choose to share or not share reflections attached to an item to be shared in a portfolio.


  • Users should be able to tag any item they have created with attributes including goals, standards, and outcomes.


  • Users should be able to associate any item they have created with any other item they have created.


  • Evaluators and reviewers should be able to evaluate/review any portfolio from any user to which they have been given evaluate/review access.
  • Evaluators and reviewers should be able to evaluate/review any item from any user to which they have been given evaluate/review access.
  • Users should be able to view all evaluations/reviews to which they have been given access.


  • Users should be able to include any item they have created in Resources.
  • Items should NOT have to be made public in Resources in order to be shared.
  • Users should be able to make their own choices about layout, pagination, navigation, and style in each portfolio they create.
  • Users and viewers should have a simple and effective way to download portfolios.
  • Sharing lists longer than a certain limit should not be displayed.


  • Users with permission should be able to create reports on the status of user portfolios within a site or across sites.
  • Users with permission should be able to create reports on the evaluation of any portfolio or the items from any portfolio within a site or across sites.
  • Users with permission should be able to access and download any portfolio or items from any portfolio within a site or across sites.

Some other specific suggestions

  • In the portfolio tool, users find the choice between Design your Own and Template difficult. It's also not obvious that you need to start by selecting "Add". I think the best explanation is likely to be specific to the portfolio. I recommend allowing the designer to configure that page, by having instructions that you can edit in FCK, and checkboxes for "disable design your own" and maybe "disable template", although disabling the template if there are no templates may be good enough.
  • In the sharing page, the list of users can get very long. We expect to have 6000 users in a portfolio site. That's going to take too long to download and to display in the browser. I recommend either allowing the designer to configure what roles they want displayed in the list, or simply not showing members of any role if there are more than say 100. We don't want to lose the user list completely. IN the big site we'd like to show all administrators. It's just the student list that is too long.
  • In the sharing page, the list of roles is confusing. Entries look like "role (site)". The best display would be sitename with the roles listed under it indented. This may be hard with this kind of widget. I think "site: role" would make things easier to find. Actually if I couldn't do the indented list I think the next best choice would be "site: role" for the first role in a site and "____ role" for all other roles in the site, where ____ is lots of blanks.
  • Users assembling a portfolio based on a template should be able to create pages within context. That is, when picking forms of a given type, the user should be able to create one for immediate inclusion.

OSP Glossary


An OSP form or uploaded file saved in Resources by an end-user for association with a matrix cell or wizard page or sharing via a portfolio.


Feedback from viewers of a shared portfolio to the owner of the portfolio.

Completed wizard:

An OSP workflow (sequential or hierarchical) created by a site organizer and at least partially completed by a user.

Create a Portfolio:

The act of assembling content from the user My Workspace and/or from a matrix or a completed wizard using a portfolio template or freeform portfolio for sharing with other users, email addresses, or as a public URL.

Create a Portfolio Template:

Using .xml coding to create a layout and style sheet for individual user display and sharing of portfolio items or artifacts.

Data Structure:

An individual form, matrix, wizard, portfolio layout, style, portfolio template, or report created by a site organizer or developer for use in OSP.

Design Your Own Portfolio:

See Freeform Portfolio.

FCK Editor:

The open source rich text editor selected for use in Sakai and used in forms and portfolio layouts.


An OSP data structure created by a site organizer using .xsd coding or the Form Builder, consisting of a set of fields and prompts to provide structured data, filled out and stored in any number of times by end users as a form item in Resources, associated with matrix cells or wizard pages, and shared via portfolio templates and freeform portfolios.

Form Item:

A form completed and saved by an end user in My Workspace Resources or as part of the workflow of a matrix cell or wizard page.

Freeform Portfolio:

The act of using one or more FCK editors to create pages defined by portfolio layouts and combined with one or more styles. These pages can be linked to each other and populated with content from the user My Workspace, hyperlinks, images, graphics, audio, and other digital content before sharing them with other users, email addresses, or as a public URL.

Global Publishing:

A form, glossary item, portfolio layout, or style that is published in the Portfolio Admin site for use in all portfolio sites.


A set of short mouse-over and longer pop-up definitions for the names of rows and columns in a matrix. These items appear in the glossary tool as well as via mouse-overs and pop-ups in a published matrix.


An uploaded file or completed instance of a form stored in MyWorkspace Resources for association with a matrix cell or wizard page or selected for sharing in a portfolio.


A form of a wizard that focuses on the intersection of rows and columns juxtaposing criteria, outcomes, standards, activities, and/or time intervals. Each intersection of a row and column is called a matrix cell and provides a workflow based on the interaction between the definitions of the row and column.

My Workspace:

The end-user's private workspace with a MyWorkspace Folder in the Resources tool for use in collecting and selecting portfolio-worthy artifacts or items.

Outline Options:

See Portfolio Properties.


An end-user selection of items or artifacts for sharing with others in an institutionally defined portfolio template or a user-defined freeform portfolio.

Portfolio Admin:

A worksite providing for global publishing of forms, glossary items, portfolio layouts, and styles.

Portfolio Layout:

An OSP data structure consisting of an xhtml file providing a series of FCK editors and optional graphic and style information to layout and enhance a freeform portfolio.

Portfolio Properties:

A form inserted into a portfolio template to allow the end user to add text to a portfolio for purposes of creating titles, subtitles, reflections, captions, contact information, or browser titles.

Portfolio Template:

An OSP data structures consisting of an .xsl file combined with a .css file and a predefined set of forms and uploaded files to guide the end-user in creating a portfolio with a defined set of items and prescribed look and feel.

Portfolios Tool:

An OSP tool offering end-users the choice between using institutionally-supplied portfolio templates to create a portfolio or designing their own portfolios using a set of institutionally-supplied portfolio layouts and styles.

Preview Template:

The end user's opportunity (before creating a portfolio using the template) to view a list of the purpose and components of an institutionally-created portfolio template.


The Sakai tool housing the user's MyWorkspace Resources folder containing uploaded files and forms to select for use in portfolios.


An OSP data structure consisting of a .css file to define the look and feel of one or more portfolio layouts used in a freeform portfolio.

Uploaded Files:

Files created by the end user in the MyWorkspace Resources folder for use in matrix cells, wizard pages, and portfolios.


For a URL to be live in a portfolio, the end user must include it in a specially designed URL form and add the form item when creating the portfolio.


An OSP data structure created by a site organizer consisting of sequential or hierarchical pages, each with its own workflow.

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  1. If an institution has thousands of portfolio users, the current implementation of portfolio share listing all users will cause huge performance/usability problems. may address this.

  2. Perhaps the information I'm about to ask for is located somewhere else, but is there a chance someone can describe portfolios and some of the features in more basic ways?

    For example, a portfolio is ______ .

    It allows a student to ______ .

    We see portfolios fitting into the larger Sakai picture in the following way: _______

    Also, some of the terms used in your task descriptions are not clear to me. For example, what is a template and why/how is it used? Was there any thought given to some other methods to solve the problems a template solves?

    Sorry if my questions seems really rudimentary, but I'd like to get a better "fundamental" understanding of what portfolio is.

    Thanks in advance!

  3. My understanding is that 'portfolio' is not as simple as the question you ask implies. As I understand it there are several scenarios in which a student is asked to present information about her(him)self to different audiences. One is the student presenting him(her)self to peers, potential employers, etc. in a fairly freeform way, but perhaps with supports and guidance in the form of templates and wizards (e.g. a c.v. template similar to a LinkedIn structure, but also in a .Mac like "this is me" web site concept). Another is an institutional or course-based set of competencies (perhaps with different levels to be attained during the course or over the time spent at university) in which the student is expected to submit evidence to demonstrate the achievement of the set competencies. This scenario may involve tutor marking (grading) and/or feedback, or it may not. The competency evidence (matrix) may be shared with peers as well as instructors. It may also contribute to institutional evidence of student performance for accreditation purposes.

    A product that supports some or all of these goals is often called an ePortfolio product. It often exists separately and alongside a course management system. OSP is a presentation of Sakai that is optimised for this separate, alongside a VLE sort of world. But there are also Sakai schools that use OSP tools as part of their CMS provision to support the same purposes.

    So I think we need to hold several distinct 'products' in our heads; the standalone 'portfolio' system that is expected to exist alongside another CMS (and which parts of Sakai make sense for that scenario), the set of affordances to support free-form "about me" sites for students (and staff?) for use in either the standalone product or as part of a Sakai CMS, and the set of affordances that support student provision of evidence to demonstrate predetermined comptencies, with or without feedback, for use in either the standalone product or as part of a Sakai CMS.

    Somewhere is here Goal Management comes in. I sort of see it as a personal version of the institutional competence matrix, but I'm not sure that is what the creators intended.

  4. On the topic of the original page, I see this as a subset of a general "content should be susceptible to many 'organisations' and 'presentations'" I see the course site as one organisation of content in addition to student 'portfolios' Thus I think we are talking of a fundamental reconsideration of how Sakai handles content.

    A specific question: Do you really want to limit what I student can present to material they created? It seems to me there is an opportunity to demonstrate 'good academic practice' by properly attributing work. This idea would more readily support evidence from group work for example as well as presentation of exemplary material where the student 'work' was finding and selecting the 3rd party material.

  5. Thanks John. And thanks to whom ever put up the OSP glossary. It helps a lot!