By Angela Pacienza
E-portfolios were once reserved for those seeking employment in the technology or graphic-design sector, but now people in other disciplines are catching on to the trend.
Imagine giving a prospective employer a CD-ROM or a Web address instead of a paper resume. The employer sees a comprehensive collection of work samples, transcripts, video testimonials from employers and teachers, photos of work, and anything else that illustrates your accomplishments and skills.
"There's really no limit of what you can put in there," said Diane Moore, career counsellor at George Brown College in Toronto.
"You want to take all of those things and find ways to translate them into something that looks good online," said Moore, adding that e-portfolios are much more than souped-up resumes.
Some career counsellors say online e-portfolios will be the next big trend in the work search industry.
They've already taken off in American schools with some institutions commissioning developers for easy-to-use software to simplify the process.
Earlier this year, several U.S. universities got together to form Electronic Portfolio Consortium (www.eportconsortium.org) with that goal in mind.
Another group, made up of more than 30 colleges and state universities, call themselves the Electronic Portfolio Action Committee. Penn State has a comprehensive e-portfolio Web site (portfolio.psu.edu) run by the school's Information Technology Services.
But e-portfolios are still far from the norm in Canadian career development.
"E-portfolios are still very much the cutting edge," Moore said. "But already anybody who wants to differentiate themselves in their field when they go out for interviews is using an e-portfolio."
George Brown College has been pushing students to create them for about three years. Concordia University in Montreal and Simon Frasier University in Burnaby, B.C., are planning e-portfolio workshops through their student career centres next year.
The trend isn't limited to technology or graphic-design careers. Moore said 10 years ago it was something only seen in professional arts fields, but she now sees e-portfolios in a variety of professions including early childhood education, social work and even her field of career counselling.
Michele Jacobsen teaches graduate students at the University of Calgary how to create e-portfolios as a way to highlight academic work, campus life and life accomplishments.
"It's part of their professional development, but it also serves multiple purposes," said the assistant professor in U of C's faculty of education, where e-portfolios have been taught since 1992.
"It's both a celebration medium to highlight their best work and also a learning medium so that they can solicit feedback from others," Jacobsen said.
The point, she says, is that the portfolios will be used for more than just employment.
Students in the Calgary area start learning how to display their work online as early as kindergarten in some schools, she said.
"It's becoming more widespread because the tools are getting easier to use. Publishing on the Web is a lot easier and the technology itself is much more available at all age levels."
As the students grow older and have more to display, their sites develop into professional representations of their skills and abilities.
The portfolios also allow parents to track a child's progress and later see what tuition money is paying for.
Another advantage is that portfolios validate an individual's credentials by offering tangible examples of skills.
"That means a lot to employers, because some of them have gotten burned," Moore said.
There's currently no standard software to develop e-portfolios, so anything goes. An obvious first step is to include an up-to-date resume. Then gather credentials, certificates and diplomas to post. Finally, try to get samples of work in whatever form is suitable. A teacher could photograph a bulletin board or show lesson plans or samples of quizzes. A psychology student could have someone videotape a class presentation.
"Everyone in every profession should have a portfolio," Moore said. "It's a logical next step that if you're going to show off your work, that you put it online or in a disc format that you can take with you."
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