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Student Secondary Use of ePortfolio Data: A Need for Digital Ethics Guidelines

Thursday 4 July: Conference day two, 11:30am – 12:00pm parallel session



Room 4 – 303-G16, Sem



Dr Misty M. Kirby
Charles Sturt University, Australia

Dr Christine Slade
University of Queensland, Australia

Professor Christine Brown Wilson
Queen’s University, England

Terri Downer
University of the Sunshine Coast, Australia

Marie B. Fisher
Australia Catholic University, Australia

Associate Prof Zarrin Siddiqui
University of Western Australia,Australia

Associate Prof Stephen Isbel
University of Canberra, Australia

Lynn McAllister
Queensland University of Technology, Australia

Allison Miller
Digital Capability & ePortfolios Australia



An ePortfolio is a digital tool, often used for assessment purposes, in which students may share responses, within a closed environment, with educators. However, ePortfolios are also used as personal learning spaces, allowing students to share with others, at their discretion. EPortfolios can also be used to showcase students’ professional identities through social media. This practice could result in unintended ethical consequences (Brown Wilson et al., 2018).


The Issue

Placements, often supported by ePortfolios, are central to health care and education degree courses and involve multiple, potentially vulnerable groups (eg. students, the clients they care for, their families and carers) (Fawns & McKenzie, 2010). Current ePortfolio literature discusses ethical issues, such as privacy and protection of data in an online environment (Poot & Austin, 2011). However, discourse about privacy, repurposing, consent and confidentiality of secondary use of students’ and others’ data, is limited (Slade et al., 2018).

Our international, multi-university research project investigates how to assist educators to guide students’ ethical decision making, in ePortfolio practice with vulnerable groups. Preliminary results reveal that students tended to not perceive any unintended consequences from ePortfolio use. University teaching staff report concerns of privacy and confidentiality of those in vulnerable groups, but most state they are primarily focussed on introducing ePortfolios to students.


The Investigation

A Mixed Methods design was employed to survey staff and student participants recruited at partner institutions, as well as focus groups and interviews of staff to identify participant experience and beliefs pertaining to privacy and security of ePortfolio content.


Intended Outcomes

  • Increased awareness of the problem
  • Development of guidelines for educators and stakeholders

Guidelines, which will go out for public comment to support digital ethics, are being drafted from the findings of this study and from our published systematic review of the literature. Universities, public health services and accrediting peak bodies will review and adopt these guidelines to protect the privacy and confidentiality of members of vulnerable groups. Further research will support best digital ethics practices, to support students’ decision-making processes when using ePortfolios.



Brown Wilson, C., Slade, C., Kirby, M., Downer, T., Fisher, M., & Nuessler, S. (2018). Digital Ethics and the Use of ePortfolio: A Scoping Review of the Literature. International Journal of ePortfolio, 8(2),115-125.
Fawns, T., & McKenzie, K. (2010). How to ensure e-portfolios are a valuable resource to students’ learning. Nursing Times, 106(30), 21-23.
Poot, A., & Austin, L. (2011). The personal learning space-technology enabling engaging pedagogy. Proceedings of Ascilite, 2011, Hobart, Tasmania, 1015-1020. Retrieved from
Slade, C., Brown Wilson, C., Kirby, M., Downer, T., Fisher, M., & Isbel, S. (2018) A New Concern: Ethical Decision Making in Students’ Secondary use of Data from their ePortfolios. In: ePortfolios Australia 2018 Forum Exploring, Experiencing, Engaging, Energising, Expanding. Griffith University, 9-10 October 2018.


Presentation topic

Tertiary – Technologies

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