When you can’t find an off-the-shelf solution to meet your organization’s needs, you are left with two options. You can try to fit your requirements into a pre-packaged solution, or you can design and develop a custom application that meets the needs exactly. Faculty and staff at the University of British Columbia’s School of Nursing (UBC SoN) chose the latter option after completing extensive research on commercial and open source e-Portfolio solutions.

Due to the unique features of the school’s competency-based Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) and Master of Nursing – Nurse Practitioner (MN-NP) programs, the UBC SoN required a solution that the students and instructors would value and not view as extra work when compared to the previous pencil and paper-based system. After extensive collaboration with faculty, the UBC SoN’s Office of Information Technology designed and developed the Practice e-Portfolio (PeP) custom Web-based in-house solution. PeP has been in use by instructors and students since September 2009, and has received high praise from faculty, students, and schools across North America.

PeP overview

PeP allows students to enter log and journal entries about their clinical experiences that are tied to specific competencies as required by the CRNBC (College of Registered Nurses of British Columbia) and CNA (Canadian Nurses Association) provincial and national nursing organizations. (See Figure 1.)


screenshot of the College of Nursing User InterfaceFigure 1: PeP supports log and journal entries about nursing students’ clinical experiences related to specific competencies as required by the CRNBC and CAN.

Students and instructors can also agree on learning plans for each course outlining the skills that they are to acquire over the term of the course. Additionally, students can self-assess their ability for each competency within a course, and their instructors can formally assess them while taking their self-assessments into account. The system also allows for instructor-instructor and instructor-student dialogue through a commenting and note-making feature. The latest feature allows students to export their portfolio information outside of the system to use throughout their professional careers. Figure 2 shows the elements of PeP and how they relate to each other.


square graphic showing modular components of the system

Figure 2: The PeP modules are designed to support both the BSN program and the MN-NP program, and to allow exporting portfolio information outside of the system.

Since PeP had to meet the requirements of two distinctly different programs, one of the challenges of designing and developing the system was to create different workflows and modules for each program. This required developers to work with faculty involved with each program in order to gather custom requirements and to identify the similarities and differences between them. For instance, the MN-NP program version of PeP includes a Schedule module allowing instructors to keep track of when students will be on-site at their clinical placements. On the other hand, the BSN program version includes a Progression Reports module for instructors to assess student progression at the mid-point and final-point of a course. These differences indicate the subtle complexities involved when tightly integrating the system with the school’s curriculum.


After spending countless hours with faculty to develop the scope, requirements, and schedule of the PeP project, the UBC SoN’s Office of Information Technology went to work on developing the system. They built the system from scratch using the Microsoft .NET framework, the primary development environment used by the school’s IT Team. Led by IT Manager Alex Etesami, a total of six developers worked on the PeP system with at most five concurrent developers. “The ability of our development team to understand the PeP system’s detailed requirements — and to translate those requirements into a Web application — is the key reason for the success of the project,” Etesami explains. To keep the project on schedule, the development team utilized the open-source Redmine issue-tracking system to monitor the status of tasks and bugs for each developer to complete. Additionally, a Microsoft SharePoint Web space was provided to facilitate communication amongst the development team and faculty.

Current status

The PeP system is currently in use by students and instructors enrolled in the BSN and MN-NP programs at the UBC SoN. The users have received the system very well, but a formal evaluation has yet to take place. The school plans on conducting an evaluation of the system by the end of this year.

For more information on the technical design of the PeP system, contact Alex Etesami, IT Manager at the School of Nursing. He is also the Project Manager for the Practice e-Portfolio system. Alex can be reached at alex.etesami@nursing.ubc.ca.

Dr. Bernie Garrett (lead faculty designer), Cathryn Jackson (faculty), and Dr. Maura MacPhee (faculty) are part of the faculty design team for the BSN portion of the system. Gloria Joachim (faculty) and Barbara Boyle (staff) are part of the faculty design team for the MN-NP portion of the system.

The development team includes Dan Helmer, Fahim Kanji (former), Amar Khangura (former), Brian Leung, myself (Fareed Teja), and Shane Wang.