Robert R. Bubb, Jamie Sailors, Sharon Wilbanks, Margaret Vollenweider, Emily Cumbie, & Hannah Ferry
Indicators of student success at colleges and universities take many forms (Suskie, 2009). One indicator is the ability to produce employable graduates (Hoachlander, Sikora, & Horn, 2003). Students’ successful marketing of their skills, experiences, and knowledge can influence employment opportunities following graduation (Floyd & Gordon, 1998). A national survey found that 80% of employers valued an electronic portfolio that summarizes and demonstrates applicants’ key skills and knowledge (e.g., teamwork, oral and written communication, critical thinking) when determining whom to hire (AACU, 2015). The ePortfolio Project at Auburn University is a campus-wide initiative that encourages students to develop a personal website that highlights students’ skills, experiences, and knowledge through reflective contextualization of artifacts. ePortfolios provide a modern, 21st century context for students to communicate with a professional audience; ePortfolios are more professional than Facebook and more personal than LinkedIn. The ePortfolio initiative at Auburn University is implemented at the department level. The following essay highlights the Human Development and Family Studies Department (HDFS) promotional efforts to implement an ePortfolio within its major that will be useful for the implementation of ePortfolios at other universities, departments, and courses.
HDFS majors complete a basic ePortfolio as an assignment in a required professional development and ethics course. This initial ePortfolio draft includes an About Me page, a resume, at least one professional image of the student, a contact page, and one artifact. The artifact reflects a skill, experience, or knowledge gained as part of the course. As students traverse the major curriculum, faculty in other courses assign specific assignments such as written papers, course reflections, presentations, and field experiences that can be used as artifacts. Prior to graduation, the ePortfolio is reviewed in the capstone internship course during the students’ last semester.
From implementation to finalization of the ePortfolio, students meet the following learning objectives:
- · Articulate a professional philosophy that identifies and supports professional goals;
- · Engage in self-reflection to identify personal strengths and areas for improvement;
- · Think critically about how accomplishments relate to career goals;
- · Write effectively to convey a clear message to a professional audience;
- · Apply classroom knowledge to professional practice; and
- · Demonstrate technical competency in basic web design, visual literacy, and presentation.
Auburn University supports four free website platforms that students use to create ePortfolios (i.e., Wix, Weebly, Wordpress, Googlesites). Each website has different strengths and weaknesses; however, Wix, Weebly, and Wordpress rate similarly on ease of use, customization, storage, user support, and administrative settings. Anecdotally, students prefer Wix or Weebly. These two platforms provide clear descriptions and intuitive customization tools. A comparison among the platforms is located at the following link: http://wp.auburn.edu/writing/wp-content/uploads/Choose-A-Platform-8-17.pdf
About Me Page
A basic ePorfolio commences with the About Me page. The About Me page introduces the student, explains her or his professional goals, and articulates the purpose of the ePortfolio. The page clearly identifies the students’ post-graduation goals and centers on an overall theme that connects the student’s skills, experiences, and knowledge to her or his professional goals such as major, interests, and future plans. Essentially, the page is similar to the job interview question, “Tell me about yourself,” and emphasizes the professional, rather than the personal, aspects of the student. Any personal information or stories should directly support professional goals. The About Me page also includes navigational links to content pages that contain evidence of the student’s skills, experience, and knowledge.
An ePortfolio includes several content pages that can focus creatively on several themes; however, the most common pages center on professional, volunteer, study abroad, and service experiences. Content pages about professional experiences highlight academic coursework, internships, employment, study abroad, and research and teaching experiences related to career goals. Pages on volunteer experiences and service focus on work with charities and memberships to professional organizations that relate to the student’s career goals. Pages on interests and honors discuss awards and hobbies that demonstrate professionally relevant skills, abilities, and knowledge.
Each content page contains artifacts. Artifacts serve as evidence and communicate to a professional audience the skills and knowledge students learn from their college experience. Artifacts may include text, images, videos, PowerPoint presentations, course assignments, class presentations and papers, and conference presentations. Each artifact is contextualized through reflective writing. Reflection provides a brief explanation of how each artifact relates to the student’s goals, to other experiences, and to the skills needed for successful employment or graduate studies. The written text informs both what the artifact is (what?), why it matters (so what?), and how the experience informs the future (now what?).
A successful ePortfolio requires a high standard of quality. Once published online, the ePortfolio is available to anyone with Internet access. A poorly created product may reduce rather than improve a student’s chances to gain meaningful employment or acceptance to a graduate program. Students are encouraged to release their ePortfolio to a professional audience only once it meets a professional standard. The university and the HDFS department provide several resources to assist students in producing a quality product.
The Miller Writing Center at Auburn University provides online and in-person resources. Online resources include tips on identifying artifacts, choosing a theme, learning how to write reflectively, understanding ethical literacy, and ensuring that essential criteria have been met before publishing. Examples of ePortfolios are also available. In-person resources include appointments with writing tutors and ePortfolio workshops. In addition to student resources, the Writing Center also provides resources for faculty who wish to incorporate an ePortfolio as part of their course. Faculty resources include introductory materials, peer support from faculty across campus, internal grants to promote ePortfolios, and rubrics for assessment. The following link contains resources for implementing an ePortfolio: http://wp.auburn.edu/writing/eportfolio-project/
The HDFS department also developed a rubric and support materials to encourage ePortfolio quality at the professional level. The Roadmap helps students identify and develop potential artifacts that are presented as required assignments in HDFS courses. The Roadmap is introduced to all incoming freshman interested in the HDFS major and encourages critical thinking through reflection as a means to provide context for how a particular artifact applies to a student’s career goals. The following link contains the HDFS roadmap: http://humsci.auburn.edu/hdfs/files/HDFS_ePortfolio_road_map.pdf
In addition to the roadmap, both the introductory professional development and ethics course and the final internship capstone course implement a rubric that informs students about the expected outcomes. To promote clear communication about these outcomes to both students and faculty, a rubric support document defines the evaluated facets included in the rubric. The following link contains the rubric support document: http://humsci.auburn.edu/hdfs/files/HDFS_ePortfolio_rubric_definitions.pdf
The HDFS rubric went through multiple revisions and the department tested it prior to implementation. The final rubric resulted in a good inter-rater reliability coefficient when tested on student ePortfolios available online, ICC (3, 6) = 0.88. The rubric consists of 18 items across four domains: effective communication, critical thinking through reflection, technical competency, and visual literacy. Each item is rated on a six-point scale where two points represent each of three levels of quality: novice, developing, and professional. Student ePortfolios are expected to be rated at the developing level by the end of the professional development and ethics course. By the internship course and prior to public release, student ePortfolios are expected to be rated at the professional level. The following link contains the rubric: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BwX2mM8EONjaR185Uy1Bb3NnOWs/view?usp=sharing
Finally, the HDFS department offers two workshops per semester and an ePortfolio departmental award to encourage and promote ePortfolio excellence. The two workshops are held in the department computer lab and are open to all HDFS students. One workshop is targeted toward a novice audience who are in the beginning stages of an ePortfolio. The other workshop is focused on more advanced work for students who have already started an ePortfolio.
Each spring semester, the HDFS department recognizes two excellent undergraduate ePortfolios. The department awards an HDFS Undergraduate Award for ePortfolio Excellence to a sophomore-junior level student and another to a senior level student. The winning students receive recognition by the department, a ceremonial plaque, and a small monetary award for producing a quality ePortfolio.
A high-quality, professional ePortfolio has the potential to highlight the experiences, skills and knowledge necessary for students to be successful applicants in today’s job market or graduate programs. In addition to highlighting student qualifications, the process of creating an ePortfolio develops skills and abilities that are desirable in today’s emerging fields. Critical thinking and self-reflection are valued, adaptive qualities necessary in an ever-changing employment landscape. While effective communication, writing, and technical skills are highly sought in most professions, ePortfolios demonstrate student qualifications through the artifacts presented, reflective contextualization, and the creative process. Through this process, students are better prepared to answer questions such as, “Tell me about yourself?” in face-to-face interviews. Additionally, the personal nature of the ePortfolio provides employers and graduate program selection committees a window into the less tangible characteristics required for a good person-organizational fit. Finally, university and departmental encouragement and support can facilitate the resources necessary for students to publically release professional ePortfolios of high quality. In turn, successfully turning college graduates into employable professions—an indicator of a successful collegiate education.
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