Instructors and researchers at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA found that for many emerging professionals, it is sometimes hard to stand out from a pool of applicants. A great way to assist students in showcasing their skills and archive projects (sample assignments, internship projects, or research) is to publish work using an online, electronic portfolio, or “ePortfolio”. This is not a totally new concept—but a team of Communication instructors at ODU have worked together since 2013 to design a semester long, multi-part project that will allow students to build, edit, and publish work in a professional new way. Students have a chance to edit their work after receiving feedback so they are publishing only the best possible work for their Communication ePortfolio. A staple of the curriculum now, as of Fall 2018 the program boasts over 2000+ student ePortfolios created, 19 participating faculty members, and available in 18 courses.
Modern communication students are often hired into roles where digital competencies (e.g., social media proficiencies, web development, communication and web broadcast platforms) are expected. Developing an ePortfolio throughout their junior and senior years allows for students to take greater professional ownership of their writing and multimedia projects. Instead of just “for a grade,” these projects take on new life when they are uploaded to their personal ePortfolio page, contributing to a developing professional identity and online presence.
Given Old Dominion University’s selection of disciplinary writing as the focus of its Quality Enhancement Plan, we feel that communication students have much to gain from additional focus and emphasis on analytical writing ability. Communication students that join the professional world are expected to have mastery of different “hard” and “soft” communication competencies: Interpersonal skills, group facilitation, public speaking effective writing ability, as well as mastery of mediated communication (e.g., social networking applications, emailing, professional correspondence, “Web 2.0” familiarity) (see Robles, 2012). Furthermore, communication professionals that can express themselves clearly and effectively in their writing abilities can not only best represent their employer, but also advocate for their own expertise and educational training (Adams, 2013).
University faculty members have an opportunity to intervene and shape students’ online professional identities and share “digital wisdom.” Student writing assignments and multimedia projects, as demonstrations of their professional identity, can be developed and showcased in ways that increase their relevance and quality. Such an approach would be in line with Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), or the expectation that all employees will act in accordance with the best interests of the company (Sims, 2003). Poor social media identity representation of self, colleagues, and company run counter to this prevailing perspective.
The Communication ePortfolio Project will improve communication student’s writing by:
1. Providing professional development to faculty teaching upper-division courses in the Communication & Theatre Arts department.
2. Coordinating efforts across communication faculty in the refinement of writing assignments and assessment rubrics that address key communication writing genres.
3. Facilitating/support of the students’ upload of writing assignments to ePortfolios.
The Communication ePortfolio is a cross-class online platform that individual students each contribute to and maintain. The material that students upload to their own ePortfolio will come from writing assignments structured through ePortfolio-supporting classes and faculty. In such classes, students would complete normal assignments but contribute writing to their ePortfolio in five specific assignment areas: Create/curate, Problem posing, Problem solving, Public presentation, and Reflection. These five areas are meant to address the scientific or practical problem solving application of course content, as well as enhance disciplinary writing and showcase professional development.
Ultimately the goal is for each participating student to upload assignments as a part of courses throughout the student’s junior and senior year. As the student lines up interviews for pre-senior year summer internships, or for employment post-graduation, a developed ePortfolio serves as digital resource for the student, advocating for their skills and education. The link to the ePortfolio can be inserted at the top of cover letters, in the signature line at the bottom of emails, and even on a business card.
Adams, Susan (2013). The 10 skills employers most want in 20 something employees. Forbes. Retrieved on January 23, 2014, from http://www.forbes.com/sites/susanadams/2013/10/11/the-10-skills-employer...
Robles, M. (2012). Executives Perceptions of the Top 10 Soft Skills in Today’s
Workplace. Business and Professional Communication Quarterly, 75 (4), 453-465.
Sims, Ronald R. (2003). Ethics and Corporate Social Responsibility: Why Giants Fall.
Greenwood Publishing Group.
The findings of an IRB approved related exploratory intervention study of this practice suggest the profound potential associated with creative activities that are available to communication students through online ePortfolio development. Especially for those students in the second half of their undergraduate experience, there is a clear desire to feel prepared and have success in the transition from college to the job market. This marks an incredible turning-point (Elder, 1998) in the lives and identities of emerging and middle adult graduates: One that often labeled somewhat unfairly as successful (i.e., finding relevant full time employment) or with failure (i.e., underemployment, or at worst, extended unemployment). Practically speaking students look toward their professors as not only content experts but professional role models (e.g., Bandura, 1986), endowed with the wisdom and awareness of what students need to succeed beyond the classroom. High impact teaching practices like ePortfolios present opportunities to bridge that transition with higher degrees of effectiveness.
Bandura, A. (1986). Social foundations of thought and action: A social cognitive theory. Prentice-Hall, Inc.
Elder, G. H. (1998). The life course as development theory. Child Development, 69, 1, 1-12. Doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.1998.tb06128
Like any effective teaching practice, the COMM ePortfolio relates to all of the
pillars in some ways. This application will focus on four: Learning Effectiveness, Access, Faculty Satisfaction, and Student Satisfaction by way of student testimonials.
1. Learning Effectiveness: The Communication ePortfolio Project is focused on the following learning objectives:
Students will learn how to conduct an initial investigation into a target company or topic, in order to complete academic research appropriate for the course level and material
This objective correlates to all five parts of the proposed Communication ePortfolio, but especially Part 2: Problem Posing. Students will be instructed in disciplinary research and begin to narrowly tailor questions that address a particular problem or need within the context being explored. These assignments require students to look for communicative solutions to topics and creatively engage with research in a new ways as they share their project proposal, sample bids (or other genre writing styles appropriate to a particular course) in their Communication ePortfolio.
Students will learn how to complete a variety of genre writings while catering to the needs of a specific audience.
This objective correlates to all five parts of the proposed Communication ePortfolio, but especially Part 3: Problem Solving. Instructing students to write for a specific audience orients their thinking beyond the classroom, and addresses the learning issue by offering more specific opportunities to write for a discipline while showcasing the work for future instructors, or professionals. This additionally directs the student to connect project concepts and theory over multiple courses.
Students will design discipline-focused projects wherein analyses are presented in logical ways, using disciplinary writing that incorporates scholarly and professional resources.
This objective correlates to all five parts of the proposed Communication ePortfolio, but especially Part 4: Public Presentation. Creative solutions found in Part 3 can then be shared in Communication ePortfolios in visually appealing and interesting genres—bringing scholarship to the forefront of a project as students consider larger implications and applications of their work.
2. Access: The Communication ePortfolio is housed within our Learning
Management System (Blackboard), and the University content sharing space, called the PLE (Personal Learning Environment), and implemented with WIX (www.wix.com).
The COMM ePortfolio chose WIX for its supported platform of choice. Other sites might have an initial free start up (SquareSpace for example or Wordpress through ODU), but in many cases a monthly fee is likely. WIX has multiple (free) templates for the variety of industries our students might enter into. Wix works well with both PC and Mac users, and is relatively easy to use. It is mostly ‘point, click, and drag’—and while faculty and students might find that initial set-up is time-consuming, it is likely due to the options available while choosing a design and internal set up that reflects an individual’s career, specialties, industry, etc.
The main goal for integrating the Communication ePortfolio into a class is to assist students in identifying, reflecting, and promoting their strengths as emerging professionals (or re-emerging for those that are seeking a change of career or returning to school).
Writing Genres represented within student COMM ePortfolios:
Examples of Material that Goes into an ODU Communication ePortfolio (varies by Major Concentration, but could include)
Community Engagement/Experiential Learning/Service Learning
Internship Diaries & Reports
Professional Commentary & Critique (reactions to current events in field)
Research Proposals & Projects
Resume and Personal Narrative
Social Media Links and Feeds
Webcasts (Youtube, Jing, etc.)
Work experience statements
Variety of Offerings with the Department of Communication & Theatre Arts (https://www.odu.edu/commtheatre/academics):
As of Spring 2019, the following courses offer the COMM ePortfolio:
COMM 200S Intro to Human Communication
COMM 302 Research Methods
COMM 303 Introduction to Public Relations
COMM 305 Professional Communication
COMM 314 Nonverbal Communication
COMM 315W Communication Between the Sexes
COMM 323 Leadership & Events Management
COMM 333 Persuasion
COMM 351 Interpersonal Comm in Organizations
COMM 368 Internship
COMM 372T New Media Technology
COMM 401 Communication Theory
COMM 494 Entrepreneurship and PR
COMM 495 Topics: Health Communication
COMM 495 Topics: Public Service Campaigns
COMM 495/595 Topics: Theme Parks
COMM 601 Lifespan Communication Theory and Research
DANC 416 Modern Dance
3. Faculty Satisfaction: A key component of the practice is a focus on faculty expertise and flexibility to course objectives. To maintain flexibility, each individual course will differentiate in the types of assignments required to fulfill a Communication ePortfolio project. For instance, the problem being posed or question that a student may be investigating for a film course is rightfully different than an organizational communication course. This flexible innovation allows for multiple genres of writing to be included, and part or all of the ePortfolio to be implemented into a course. This allows for the instructor to direct the most appropriate methods of evaluation and assessment while students design and maintain a diverse archive of communication writing. In addition, the Department of Communication & Theatre Arts funds the work in several ways (more on this in Estimate of Probable Costs of the Practice).
Support from Lead & Instructional Coordinators (peers within the department):
Also includes course design materials for adoption: (sample directions sheets, ePortfolio resource library folder within LMS, Instructional Coordinator as informal TA in course for adoption questions from faculty or students). See Supporting Resources for Faculty for individual samples.
Support from Center for High Impact Practices (CHIP):
Professional Development events (hosted by COMM ePortfolio ‘Team’, made up of project designers, coordinators, and previously adopting faculty). See also, Gallery: https://www.commeportfolioodu.org/interdisciplinary-support
Related COMM eP completed research:
Lietzenmayer, A., Beck, G., and French, M. (2019, February). Integrating the COMM ePortfolio into the Basic Course (and Beyond). A presentation to be given at the annual meeting of the Western States Communication Association. Seattle, WA.
Mize, M., Lietzenmayer, A., and Stafford, L. (2018, November.) Oh, now I get it: ePortfolio assessment as an on-going high impact professional development practice. A presentation given at the Virginia Assessment Group Conference. Charlottesville, VA.
Lietzenmayer, A. & Beck, G. (2017, July). Developing professional identities through ePortfolios: Reports from early implementation across a communication department. A presentation given at the annual conference of The Association for Authentic, Experiential, and Evidence-Based Learning. Portland, OR.
Beck, G., and Lietzenmayer, A. (2017, March). Fostering hope through a communication ePortfolio: Online professional identity development towards transitions from higher education. A paper presented at the annual meeting of the Central States Communication Association. Minneapolis, MN.
4. Student Satisfaction:
Student Testimonials (used with their permission):
Sample Student work (used with their permission):
Top COMM eP Award (used with student permission):
Faculty utilize Blackboard (our institution’s current LMS), along with www.wix.com to facilitate the COMM ePortfolio project. Coordinators for the Department (Lead and Instructional) do the same along with maintenance of the project website with a WIX Pro subscription (www.commeportfolioodu.org). Other free online resources are utilized for project support (faculty training, student workshops, tutorials, and other supporting materials as needed). Some of the preferred online tools are: Canva, Screencast-o-matic, Trello, Jing/Techsmith, and Powtoon, (among others).
The COMM ePortfolio project could not have been implemented without the support of the Department. It is important to note the specific support with a thanks to the Chair (Dr. Avi Santo) and the CommONLINE Program Director (Dr. Kyle Nicholas). The practice is funded in four main ways: travel funding for Coordinators (Lead and Instructional), course release for Lead Coordinator, stipend payments for Lead and Instructional Coordinators, and Faculty Development Funding (incentive payments for adopting faculty, and incentive payments for faculty workshop participation).
The Lead Coordinator: The primary coordinator for the Communication ePortfolio will be responsible for programmatic planning, curriculum planning (e.g., identifying and recruiting particular courses and faculty to support the Communication ePortfolio), and external communication (e.g., meetings, administration talks). As such, the Lead Coordinator will be the formal contact to represent the Department of Communication & Theatre Arts program and Communication ePortfolio program, as well as advocate for our student-centric, showcase model as a benefit to students and adopting faculty. The Lead Coordinator will also work with the Alumni Association and/or the Career Development Services to build connections with our alum that have completed a Communication ePortfolio (for workshops, trainings).
The Instructional Coordinator: The Instructional Coordinator will be responsible for more of the hands-on education and training for adopting faculty. This would entail supporting current and new faculty with content, materials, answering pedagogical and course management questions and troubleshooting technical issues. The Instructional Coordinator can directly support up to 5 new adopting faculty per AY (i.e., serving as a observer in courses, coping resources, fielding difficult student questions). The Instructional Coordinator will work closely with the Lead Coordinator, meeting regularly to discuss the advancement the program, as well as plan and direct the logistical and pedagogical needs of the department and consultation of external groups.
Students do not incur costs from WIX unless they choose to purchase their own
Pro account for personal use. The free service offers multiple templates with minimal boilerplate design, and with easy drag and drop site development capability.
While we incentivize faculty adoption with stipends, the dedication and time-cost during the start-up process is sustainable based on the incredible effectiveness of our instructional colleagues and hard work of the Coordinators. The adoption of a COMM ePortfolio is absolutely manageable, however there is a need to account for the work of developing, maintaining, and mentoring the project in a variety of ways during the Academic Year.