…Or do they disappear into the deep, dark void of cyberspace? The ePortfolios, not the students.

An image from the European Southern Observatory. An image of space. Bright stars can be seen through transparent red atmospheric clouds.
“Scarlet and Smoke,” from the European Southern Observatory Flickr. I call it, “Mostly void, partially stars.”

That’s the question that drives one of my current research projects. My interest in this question stems from my own experience as a student. As a Master’s student in Auburn’s Technical and Professional Communication program (or, for short, the MTPC program), I created an ePortfolio (in lieu of a thesis) that housed several projects I’d worked on in the program, along with reflective analysis of those projects. I’d link to the project here, but… it eventually turned into something else–the site you’re reading now.

The ePortfolio is an interesting genre because of the dual functions it serves. First and foremost, my MTPC ePortfolio was an assessment tool. My committee members used it to assess whether or not I’d fulfilled the requirements to earn a master’s degree, and most other programs requiring ePortfolios do the same thing, whether the program is for a degree or a certificate.

But as my colleagues and I put together our ePortfolios, much of the guidance we were given around what projects to include and how to frame those projects centered on an outside audience: potential employers. What knowledge and skills did we want to showcase? How did we use that knowledge and skills in creating those projects? What did we learn in the process of creating them? These were all questions that potential employers might have that could be answered through the portfolio.

Whether or not my colleagues used their ePortfolios as they searched for employment, I can’t really say. My ePortfolio, on the other hand, stayed online but started gathering cyberdust–until I began to search for academic employment in Fall of 2015. Rather than entering industry once I graduated from the MTPC program, I entered a PhD program, so I had no need for the ePortfolio at that point. Four years later, I began preparing my job dossier and thought, “Why not finally use that ePortfolio?”

Because my audience and purpose were so different this time around, I re-constructed the ePortfolio with all new content. I listed the URL on my CV with no way of knowing if anyone would actually look at it.

For the most part, they didn’t–or if they did, I never found out about it. With one exception. During a phone interview, I actually got asked a question about something in the ePortfolio. I don’t remember with which institution I was speaking or what the question was, but I do remember my frantic scramble to look up the post to see what the heck I’d written!

At any rate, this experience made me wonder what experiences other students had had with their ePortfolios. Did their ePortfolios languish in the dark corners of cyberspace or did they actually send them out to potential employers? How did they send them–in emails? Resumes? On business cards? Did employers actually look at them? What did employers find impressive? Unnecessary? These questions and more are the ones I’m now exploring in my study.

To answer these questions, I’m analyzing ePortfolios and conducting interviews with students and alumni of technical and professional writing programs and with employers who employ students and alumni of those programs. I’m currently in the data collection phase, and I’m already finding some really interesting things. I can’t wait to share what I find with tech writing programs, teachers, and employers.

And of course, I’ll keep you all posted–in my ePortfolio.

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