Students transform professional identities with online portfolios


Students update their Facebook pages and Twitter feeds all the time, but soon they'll start tweaking their own websites thanks to Auburn's new ePortfolio Project.

The Office of University Writing is sponsoring the project and is working with groups such as the Media and Digital Resource Labs and the Career Center to set up support systems that will help students create online portfolios.

Margaret Marshall, director of University Writing, said ePortfolios are useful as a way for students to organize their achievements online.

"Putting together evidence of your learning just as you are preparing to graduate helps to see the connections between experiences you've had, both in class and outside of class, and to be able to represent what you're able to do to future employers," Marshall said. "It's a nice way to transition out of the University and into the world of work."

Laura Elmer, a student representative for the project's development committee, said an ePortfolio can be the first step in obtaining a new online identity.

"You have a social identity, but you also want to create a professional identity," Elmer said. "Putting this image out there with the ePortfolio will showcase your skills, not what you do on Saturday."

Having a website can be more useful than a conventional resume because it gives employers more information, Elmer said.

"What's missing from a regular resume is that you just have a list of things, but a list of things doesn't really give employers a feel for what you can actually do," Elmer said.

Making employees aware of an online portfolio can help during a job interview as well, Marshall said.

"When you add your website link on your printed materials, then employers go to that website and learn a whole lot more about you," Marshall said. "It seems to help students make the cut into getting an interview, and because employers know so much more about you and can ask specific questions about your experiences, it seems to give students an edge in getting a job."

Alessio Summerfield was a representative of Auburn's Media Club in a test group that was gathered over the summer. He said an ePortfolio might also help students learn technology that can be helpful in many fields of work.

"I think this ePortfolio thing is something to keep your eyes on because it's going to make it really easy for non-tech students to excel," Sumerfield said. "We have some people in our group that are not tech-savvy, and they've been doing a pretty good job of piecing together a patchwork site."

Most of the eportfolios will be made using online templates provided by sites like Wix and Wordpress, sites Summerfield said can provide starting points for students who eventually hope to make a website on their own.

"There's definitely more flexibility and customization if you do it from scratch, but I would say this ePortfolio program is the simplest way of being introduced to the concept," Summerfield said. "It's more like making a visual resume than a website. It's more like a shrine to yourself."

Elmer said she has already learned a lot from making her own portfolio.

"There's a lot of things that students like myself don't know," Elmer said. "I learned a lot about image copyright issues. When you're trying to make your website visual, you can't just rip things off Google. I would strongly encourage students to take their own photos."

The website may not send the right impression, however, if it is not well organized, Marshall said.

"These portfolios are about that moment of reflection, of thinking and finding connections," Marshall said. "I think too often students have the experience of having one course after another or being involved in one activity after another and don't have very many opportunities to pull those things together and figure out 'What does it mean?' and 'What do I know now?'"

Elmer said that's why it's important to include a reflective essay in the portfolio, so the website doesn't become a collection of unrelated documents.

"A document dump is really just a collection of things you'd want to show off, so you have to think about why you want to show them off, why is this a good representation of who I am," Elmer said. "If you think about the why, that's what you can put in a reflective portion."

Though the ePortfolios are beneficial to have, they will not completely replace paper resumes, Summerfield said.

"I think if your putting in for work from a distance or with a major company, a paper resume with sources and whatnot should be on the site as a downloadable pdf, and it's important to hand somebody something as you walk into an interview," Summerfield said. "The ePortfolio and a paper resume are always going to work hand in hand."

Similar ePortfolio assignments already exist in certain departments, such as building science, architecture and interior design, Elmer said.

"We actually did a survey at the beginning of the project to see who was doing something like this on campus already, so lots of departments either said, 'yes we do this,' or 'we do a paper version of this' or 'no, we don't do this at all, but we'd like to,'" Elmer said. "I wouldn't say that we're the first to do this at Auburn, but we're the first with these goals in mind."

The main objective is to incorporate ePortfolios into as many department curriculums as possible, Marshall said.

Elmer said the project will continue to grow in the spring as other groups are recruited.

"We've picked a set of first adopters because we don't want to bite off more than we can chew," Elmer said. "We've got six now, and in the spring we'll start looking for new adopters, departments that want to be involved in the coming year."

An 86-page document outlines the eventual goals of the project and states that, as these portfolios become commonplace, more incentives will be put in place for both faculty and students to participate.

The project won't be completely finished until next year, but Marshall said she'll probably ask students to participate sooner by suggesting possible nicknames.

"We were playing for a while with calling this the A.P.P. Project, so the Auburn ePortfolio Project, but the students this summer told us that was a really stupid name," Marshall said.

Elmer said she is glad to be involved and thinks the project will make Auburn students more competitive as they search for jobs.

"We all need to keep moving forward, and I'm so glad Auburn is doing this and saying 'how can we keep our students ahead of the game,'" Elmer said. "I just feel so honored to be representing students and helping to get their voices and opinions."

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