Learning Innovation Unit, Dublin City University

Learning Innovation Unit

Teaching Portfolios

Teaching Portfolios provide a way to document, reflect on and ultimately (hopefully) improve teaching practice. Part of the ‘Reflective Practitioner’ ethos, teaching portfolios have become popular in the US in particular, following on from the work of Schon (The Reflective Practitioner) and Boyers’ concepts of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (1991) among others. Teaching Portfolios are also used as a means of demonstrating excellence in teaching to support an application for promotion. This document provides an introduction to Teaching Portfolios in the context of reflective practice and to give an overview of the introduction of teaching portfolios to DCU.

Academic Staff Professional Development

Iain MacLaren of NUI Galway, in the AISHE publication Emerging Issues in the Practice of University Learning (2005), identifies three main trends in the area of academic staff development: Reflective Journals; Teaching Portfolios and Accreditation. For a variety of reasons and in most western countries, these areas have been receiving increased attention in recent years. Whether from a quality perspective and driven by governments, or as a result of movements from the academic community itself, these areas are very much on the Irish agenda also.

What is a Teaching Portfolio?

There is no easy answer to this question! Brockbank and Magill (cited in Light and Cox, 2001) describe a portfolio as “a compilation of learning intentions, accounts of learning activities, learning outcomes, records of reflective dialogues. It includes evidence from a variety of sources including your private learning journal/diary/log, and most important of all, a reflective document detailing your learning process” (p34). Teaching Portfolios, by their nature, can be very personal documents. There is no template or pro forma for what a teaching portfolio should look like and attempts to structure portfolios would probably be to their detriment. In many respects a teaching portfolio - its appearance, the medium used to store it, and its content, will vary depending on the purpose of its existence. A portfolio which is primarily maintained for the purpose of critical reflection on ones’ practice, will most likely be very different from one which is being submitted for the purpose of promotion.

What should go into a Teaching Portfolio?

The content of a teaching portfolio will differ from person to person and from organisation to organisation. However sample content would include:

Professional Biography
Research Interests
Subjects/Modules Taught

Journal- or Diary- like recording of practice
Description and reflection on teaching approaches:
What was done
Ensuing Changes
What was learned
A teaching portfolio provides a useful means to archive approaches, practices and materials for future use/reference.

Note: A very useful document to illustrate possible items for inclusion in a teaching portfolio is the (Irish applicant specific) application form for membership of the UK Higher Education Academy (formerly the Institute for Learning and Teaching ILT). This can be found at
http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/documents/Individual Entry Route Irish Application.pdf.

Why maintain a Teaching Portfolio?

As a matter of course we document research. Why do it if we don’t intend to disseminate, publish or present the findings? Yet few people in higher education adopt the same approach with their teaching. Some the common attitudes regarding teaching include “anyone can teach”; “it’s a natural skill – you either have it or you don’t” and “it’s not really a research area is it”. Yet many innovative, radical changes in teaching approaches and understanding of learning and assessment techniques, have resulted from educational research and sharing of best practice. At its simplest, reflecting on teaching in order to improve it will not only provide a better experience for learners, it will most likely lead to improved satisfaction for the teacher also (Ramsden, 2005).
Teaching portfolios are increasingly becoming a tool for evaluating applications for promotion. Many organisations lay down criteria associated with progression from one level to another and the meeting of such criteria is often demonstrated through teaching portfolios. In an era when the research/teaching nexus is very much to the fore, and academics struggle to demonstrate teaching excellence, a portfolio is a useful way of demonstrating teaching practice. A note of caution should accompany this however. It is all too easy for a teaching portfolio to become nothing more than a ‘glorified CV’ if it is only prepared for the purpose of obtaining promotion. The ideal approach is to maintain a portfolio from which can be extracted a suitable subset for a promotion application. Maintaining a portfolio solely for promotion purposes is to take the most minimalist approach and indeed to have nothing more than an electronic CV!


Teaching portfolios can be a useful means of demonstrating and illustrating excellent practice which can be difficult to understand or appreciate if one is removed from the experience. By its nature teaching is a relatively isolated profession in that academics seldom experience or witness each others teaching. Researching pedagogy, writing about and disseminating innovative practice, all provide a mechanism for academics to share and learn from each other. A teaching portfolio is one way of recording and reflecting on these areas and then contributing to the educational research field. 

With respect to promotion, it is often said that demonstrating research excellence is straightforward but demonstrating teaching excellence is much more difficult. A promotions panel may more fully understand the impact on teaching standards, student learning and experience and contributions to pedagogic research and practice, if they can see a demonstration of the approaches used.

Must a Teaching Portfolio be Electronic?

Teaching portfolios are often equated with ePortfolios although it is not essential to maintain a teaching portfolio electronically. In theory a teaching portfolio could be kept in a physical journal, a file folder etc. If the learning innovations themselves have used technology then it makes sense to include these in the portfolio so that they can be demonstrated if appropriate. However the advantage of using technology in general is that it is media-rich and gives the opportunity to illustrate (graphically and visually) ideas, concepts and approaches. For example, including a video of a particularly successful approach being used, will likely have a much higher impact than simply speaking about it. (This of course raises issues of permission of the other participants).

Reflective Practice

Reflection on- and in-practice (Schon, 1983) is a concept widely used in certain professions – medicine and law being two of the most prominent examples. Without reflection a teaching portfolio is simply a record of actions, concepts, ideas and approaches taken. There is not necessarily any information about the impact, success or failure, rationale behind, or lessons learned from, unless the practitioner has reflected and drawn conclusions. Schon (1983) coined the term “Knowing in Action” to reflect the tacit knowledge (Polyani, 1983) that guides us through our professional practice and helps us to deal with routine situations which arise on a daily basis. When something unusual happens (an unexpected question one cannot answer in class; a particularly difficult group dynamic; a new technique is tried etc) one tends to move into ‘Reflection-on-Action’ (Schon) and evaluate, look for previous situations with similarities, possible solutions etc. Paul Ramsden, CEO of the UK Higher Education Academy, says that an experienced teacher who is suddenly asked to produce a portfolio without having developed it over time will have great difficulty. Reflection takes practice and becoming reflective, especially about oneself, is not as easy as it may seem.

Developing Teaching Portfolios in DCU

UCC originally pioneered teaching portfolios in Irish higher education and all of the universities and some of the institutes of technology have already engaged in their use to some degree. The new DCU Learning Innovation Strategic plan (to be launched on Dec. 5th 2005), states that “all staff will be supported in developing and maintaining teaching portfolios to become more reflective practitioners”. The “Thinking About Learning” lecture series, which commenced in October 2005, is one activity in support of this, (and other strategic learning objectives). A pilot project (see below) will be run with an information session to be held in January 2006.


Bolton, G. (2001). Reflective Practice. Writing and Professional Development. Paul Chapman Publishing Ltd.

Boyer, E. (1990). Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professioriate, Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

Light, G. Cox, R. (2001). Learning and Teaching in Higher Education – The Reflective Professional. Paul Chapman Publishing Imprint.

MacLaren, I. (2005). New Trends in Academic Staff Development: Reflective Journals, Teaching Portfolios, Accreditation and Professional Development in O’Neill, G., Moore, S., McMullin B (eds). (2005) Emerging issues in the Practice of University Learning and Teaching. AISHE/HEA.

Polayni, M. (1983). The Tacit Dimension. Doubleday & Company Inc

Schon, D. A. (1983). The Reflective Practitioner How Professionals Think In Action, Basic Books.

Teaching Portfolio Web Links






Personal Portfolios (examples)