Creating a Social Portfolio


This is a guest post by Nathan Garrett for the On the Horizon series on distributed learning environments. Nathan is two weeks from being an PhD Candidate at Claremont Graduate University, where he has been going to school since 2003. He pays bills by working as an Institutional Researcher at Woodbury University. Nathan researches various aspects of educational technology, and currently maintains the Folio wiki/portfolio add-in for the Elgg social networking system. He lives with his wife Corrie, son Silas, daughter Rose and a pet cat in Burbank, CA. Blog:

Is this our modern course management system?


Sitting at a desk, staring at a screen, and punching buttons in a Pavlovian manner works for educational technology nerds like myself. It’s an efficient way to transmit information, but it doesn’t provide the rich education that liberal arts colleges promise. A college diploma is more than a set of facts; it is a maturing of the entire person through a conversation with other people, theories, and disciplines.

Studio education is used in many design disciplines as a way to bring students into a discipline. Making learning public, these disciplines give us a model for the next generation of educational technology. Rather than worrying about peer learning “leading” to cheating, why don’t we think about its power to engage and inspire?


Social software like blogs and wikis work. Claremont Graduate University has been using Elgg, a social software system, to support courses for the last two years.
We’ve learned that:

  1. Students place a high value upon ownership of their content.
  2. They benefit from peer learning.
  3. Most are motivated by the public nature of their work.

Taking these principles, and building on educational theory, I have developed a design theory on how to build social portfolio software.  This design centers around three core principles.

A social portfolio should:

  1. Support student ownership
  2. Enhance peer learning
  3. Focus on ease of use

Below is a walkthrough of my eportfolio software.  It is currently in its 8th major version, and is used by a wide variety of organizations and schools around the world.  While still having a ways to go, it helps to demonstrate some of my beliefs about how a portfolio system should work.

Elgg and my plug-in are both licensed under the GPL, meaning that anyone is free to download, use, and modify it as they please.  People interested in learning more are encouraged to visit my blog at for updates, or to contact me through email at [email protected] Credits:
•    Writeable Walls InQbate CETL in Creativity University of Sussex
•    1975: And the Changes To Come

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4 Responses to Creating a Social Portfolio

  1. Nathan Garrett says:

    As one last aside, you can find the Elgg project at:, and the company sponsoring development of the project at

  2. Pingback: A E » Blog Archive » Creating a Social Portfolio

  3. Nicole Hansen says:

    Please please, could you re-record the audio in the above video? I couldn’t stand to watch more than half of this because your blowing in the mic was so irritating on the ears! It sounds like an interesting project but the torture of hearing it was too overbearing to be able to follow what you were saying.

  4. Interesting project for 2008 about social portfolio. Would be interesting to see how you would write it again now with all these facebook, google + etc…

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