Cal Poly brings student portfolios into the 21st century

A rising trend among universities nationwide is a push for online portfolios, also known as e-folios or e-portfolios - and Cal Poly may begin exploring the concept on a university-wide scale.

The university sent a team to a statewide CSU meeting Wednesday at the San Francisco State University Downtown Center to specifically discuss how students and faculty can use e-portfolios.

“E-portfolios are an educational tool that more and more schools, colleges and universities worldwide are adopting,” said Associate Vice Provost for Academic Programs Cheryl Ney via an e-mail interview. “They have a variety of uses. Students are using them for their resumés and apparently there are some companies that are now asking for them as a part of the interviewing process.”

On a small scale, Cal Poly already has a class that teaches the basics of e-portfolio creation.

Jack Phelan, a kinesiology professor with a background in producing and filmmaking, is an early adopter of the concept. He introduced the course KINE 470 “Media and Technology in Science and Human Performance” to Cal Poly’s curriculum for winter quarter.

The class focuses on using online tools to promote student work. Teaming with career services, Phelan recently proposed another class - “Personal and Career Development in the Digital Age” - which would be offered in the winter and spring of 2010 if approved.

Both classes teach an underlying lesson of applying new tools to help students market themselves to a fast-paced, information-driven world.

KINE 470 teaches students to create documentary-style video resumés, graphic-based technical white papers, build Web site portfolios and use Web logging technologies.

“The goals prior to this quarter were for students to be able to take their area of specialization and not only to develop them through a Cal Poly Project but to be able to disseminate their findings and their results utilizing media and technology,” Phelan said.

The centerpiece of the class is a project - either something new, or an expansion of a senior project - which students use to market themselves online.

“Everything in the course culminates what we’re calling an e-portfolio,” Phelan said. “But essentially it’s a personal Web site.”

The students learn programs like Adobe Photoshop (for photo editing), Illustrator (to create graphics), Dreamweaver (to design their sites) and Keynote and Powerpoint (both for creating multimedia presentations). The e-portfolios contain information about the students’ backgrounds, relevant experience, projects and education.

“It’s almost like a break out of their resumés,” Phelan said. “But it goes beyond that because it really highlights the work they’ve done at Cal Poly, which is hands-on, experiential activity and group oriented and project-based.”

online-portfoliosAnother key component to the course is a media-rich electronic resumé and cover letter, which students can e-mail to potential employers.

The digital version of the resumé contains hyperlinks to student work, meaning a potential recruiter could click text that says “View a video about this project” and be directed to the students’ video somewhere on the web. “The premise behind the course is personal and program advocacy,” Phelan said.

Because a majority of Cal Poly students are receiving terminal degrees at Cal Poly - meaning they don’t intend to go on to higher degrees - they will graduate ready to enter the workforce.

Phelan wants them to be prepared for the world of information technology when the time comes.

He said students who take his class and go into small business will know how to advocate for themselves and promote their business using video. A course requirement is to create a 10-minute long documentary about their projects. The key, Phelan said, is the narrative structure.

“A future employer will understand that in being able to tell a story in video and through documentary, they’re using one more tool that is really becoming ubiquitous across the Internet,” Phelan said.

Being able to record, edit and compress video for the Web or output it to a disc is a valuable skill for students entering the workforce. With the rise of sites like YouTube that make video publishing and sharing easy, businesses are increasingly turning to the medium.

“They are entering the world of information,” Phelan said of the students, and those who best learn how to manage that information are a step ahead of the game.

Fiona Graham, a kinesiology senior and student in the class, said she enrolled in KINE 470 because she saw it as a chance to jump-start her career after college.

“What is great about this class is all the skills are life skills we will use once we get into the real world,” Graham said.

“The best part is at the end of it we will have our own personal Web site to send to potential employers so they can learn more about us. I think it will put us ahead of the rest.”

Journalism senior Aaron Bevan, one of the five students enrolled in the class winter quarter, is building his Web site around a new teenage after-school program called Pink and Dude Chefs. He is filming a documentary to publicize the program, which teaches seventh and eighth graders nutrition and culinary skills.

“It’s really important to promote yourself as a student,” Bevan said. “You need something to communicate to (recruiters) that you’ve done something, and what better way than on the Web?”

Although tackling complex web languages is a challenge, Bevan said, it’s easier to learn in a class setting than on your own.

The curriculum seems intimating at first, Phelan said, but because students are applying the technology to a project they’re passionate about, it’s easier to grasp.

“These are user-friendly programs. Dreamweaver, which is the most sophisticated Web building software program on the planet, happens to be the easiest, most intuitive (and) helpful,” Phelan said.

His students were able to create basic Web sites with hyperlinks on the first day of class, and some have gone onto more advanced, highly-graphic based sites and HTML coding.

“That’s the exciting part,” Phelan said, “To see the students tackle these projects and complete them with energy to spare.”

The KINE 470 class will be offered again spring quarter and is offered to students with at least a junior standing.