Transitioning after School
In This Chapter ▶ Creating an ePortfolio of your work ▶ Finding a job upon finishing your online studies In Chapter 5, we talk about finding a program and institution that meet your needs. Why are you in school? The vision of your goal should be a constant driving force throughout your academic career. Keeping your main objective in mind helps motivate you to complete courses and stay on track.
If you plan to look for the perfect job after you finish your online education, collecting a few artifacts throughout your journey can help you when it comes time to prepare for interviews. Artifacts are like souvenirs of your trip. They should demonstrate your skills and abilities within the field. This chapter introduces some ideas on how to find and prepare for that dream interview through the creation of an ePortfolio.
Developing an ePortfolio A portfolio is a physical document that outlines a person’s past work, both academic and professional. It demonstrates skills and abilities by providing sample work created in various work and school settings.
An ePortfolio does the same thing, but instead of sharing a physical document with prospective employers, you simply provide them with the URL to a Web site where the same information is stored digitally, either for public viewing or by private invitation only. Figure 15-1 illustrates what a public ePortfolio may look like (specifically, this figure is the public view of the Desire2Learn® ePortfolio 2.0). The illustration displays a single project a student documented on his ePortfolio site. On this particular student’s site, he allows visitors to interact with him by providing the ability to leave comments specific to the information being displayed.
In this section, we explain how you can use an ePortfolio to your advantage, and we describe its components. We also help you choose a method for building an ePortfolio, provide pointers for successful design, and tell you how to include items that aren’t a part of your online coursework.
Understanding how to use an ePortfolio You can use an ePortfolio in two important ways:
✓ To satisfy educational requirements: Many degree programs now require students to build and maintain an ePortfolio throughout their academic career as a way of documenting growth and highlighting their academic accomplishments. In this situation, students are often asked to also reflect on the experience of creating the artifacts added to the ePortfolio as a way of assessing the student’s understanding of the project overall (see the later section “Reflection statements” for more information). As a degree program requirement, graduating is dependent upon the completion of the ePortfolio. Some institutions even require a formal presentation to accompany the project.
edge, skills, and abilities to prospective employers. When applying for a new job or promotion, you can share your ePortfolio’s Web site address (URL) with the hiring manager. The hiring manager can visit your site and get a clearer picture of your academic and work experiences to facilitate the hiring decision.
Checking out typical components of an ePortfolio You can choose several items from your online coursework to add to your ePortfolio. Choose the pieces carefully and organize your site in a manner that’s logical and easy to navigate. This section reviews different types of items and provides some examples of specific information to include.
Attaching artifacts such as papers and projects Artifacts are objects created by you that can be added to your ePortfolio as attachments. When adding artifacts to your ePortfolio, you want to be sure your audience understands why you included them. Therefore, for each artifact be sure to include a title, description, and the context in which the artifact was created.
When adding artifacts to your site, keep in mind that visitors will be downloading your work directly to their computer. Therefore, consider protecting files before uploading and linking them to your ePortfolio (we show you how in Chapter 3). This allows visitors to open and view your documents, but not edit them.
Here are a few examples of the different types of artifacts you may want to consider adding to your ePortfolio (Figure 15-2 shows the administration page for uploading and organizing different types of artifacts in the Desire2Learn ePortfolio 2.0):
✓ A document: For example, an essay on the connection between Bloom’s Taxonomy and ePortfolios as it relates to education. Consider using text to briefly summarize the essay’s contents with a link to click on to download the document in its entirety. ✓ Images: Perhaps a series of digital images that you took and modified for an online photography course. Consider using text to describe the images and the purpose for taking them. ✓ An audio file: For instance, an audio interview you conducted with a professional in your field. Consider adding a written transcript and general description of the assignment when attaching an audio file to your ePortfolio.
✓ A PowerPoint presentation: Say, a group presentation on the benefits and challenges of creating and maintaining a Web site for your Web development course. Consider describing your contributions to the project and the tools you used to collaborate with your group in a reflection statement (see the next section). ✓ A video file: For example, a video illustrating your ability to take, edit, and encode video for your Introduction to Video Editing course. Consider adding a written transcript and general description of the assignment when attaching a video file to your ePortfolio.
If your institution doesn’t require you to use an ePortfolio system, please be sure to acquire your instructors’ permission before posting graded work with their comments on it. Instructors may ask you not to display their comments or grades publically. The reason for this isn’t that they treated you differently than other students; it’s because it has the potential to stir up other classmates who may not have done as well as you.
Creating reflection statements Reflection statements are used in the academic world as a way of helping the instructor assess your process as well as your final product. These statements can be very helpful to both instructors and employers reviewing your ePortfolio for either academic or professional reasons. For example, by seeing your reflections on a project you completed in school, an employer can see how you organize and process information in order to obtain a goal.
The length of a reflection statement can range from one paragraph to multiple pages, depending on the context. A good rule of thumb is to briefly describe the project, the educational objectives it meets, how the project can be applied, and what you learned from completing the project. For example, following is a reflection on an assignment requiring the creation of an ePortfolio Web site:
“By requiring me to organize and document all of my academic, professional, and volunteer experiences, I have been able to better understand where I have been, where I am currently, and where I am going. As a part of this project, I was required to learn about the resources and services available to create an online portfolio. The design process required me to develop a site that organizes my information into manageable chunks while maintaining an easy navigation structure for my visitors. This project also forced me to reflect on each assignment and how lessons learned could be applied in my life outside of the classroom. As a living document, my ePortfolio will continue to be updated, and therefore require me to continuously reflect and grow with my field.”
Providing informal transcripts of courses Posting transcripts on your ePortfolio Web site lets your visitors see your level of dedication and provides a general sense of the quality of your work. You can let your visitors know what grade you earned for each course or your cumulative grade point average (GPA) for a program in a couple ways:
✓ You can simply provide your cumulative grade point average (for example, 4.8/5.0) on the program description page and the actual grade earned (A, B, and so on) next to the title of each course. In this case, the reader has to believe you. ✓ You can scan your official transcript, adding it to your ePortfolio as an artifact and linking to it from your program’s description page. Of course, scanning your transcript, even an official transcript, takes away its official status. Prospective employers may still require you to send them official transcripts directly from the institution in a sealed envelope.
If for any reason you had a bad semester (and many people do), consider not adding this information to your ePortfolio. Most employers don’t require this information, and if they do, you can supply them with official transcripts upon request. Being consistent in presentation and supplying this information for all courses and programs is better than posting it only for those courses you did well in.
Including recommendations from faculty There are no better people to serve as your advocates than your instructors. They know the quality of work you produce and the level of dedication you put forth to complete your assignments. Therefore, be sure to build a professional relationship with them, and don’t be afraid to ask them for letters of recommendation. Here are some guidelines to follow:
✓ Be selective about which instructors you ask for a recommendation. You don’t need a recommendation from every instructor. One way of filtering is to ask only those instructors who teach subjects that most resemble the type of work you’re doing or hope to be doing in the future. ✓ Don’t wait until you’ve completed your program to ask for a recommendation. Timing is everything. Think ahead and ask each instructor at the end of the course, when your participation and the quality of your work are fresh in the teacher’s memory. ✓ Provide instructors with an overview of your professional goals and a link to your ePortfolio. Doing so helps them write a letter that matches your career goals. You can also send them your resume if your ePortfolio is still in progress. ✓ Provide instructors with two or three weeks to complete the letter. Extending this courtesy gives them time to turn in grades and review your information more before writing. ✓ Be sure to explain to your instructors exactly what you’re looking for and the fact that you would like to publicly display the recommendation on your ePortfolio Web site. Many institutions house instructor recommendations in the student’s file, but these recommendations are anonymous to the student, making them unsuitable for your purpose.
Incorporating your resume and work history Have you ever wanted to add more details to your resume so that prospective employers see what you really do on a daily basis? The nice thing about having an ePortfolio is that it gives you the ability to expand on things you can’t fit on a two-page resume.
Though this is a great feature, don’t forget to spread chunks of information across multiple pages so that everything isn’t on the same page — you don’t want to overwhelm the reader. Arrange chunks of information by dates of service and organization. Following is a list of components to add when including work history in your ePortfolio:
✓ Organization profile: Provide the organization’s name, geographic location, and mission. ✓ Position title: Include the title of the position(s) you held within the organization and a brief description of the position’s overall purpose. ✓ Dates of service: Sequence your position titles within each organization by dates of services, in descending order. This puts your most recent experience at the top of the list. ✓ Accomplishments: Provide a bulleted list of the accomplishments by stating the tasks you handled, how you accomplished each task, and the end result in quantifiable terms when possible. For example, you might say: “Created a database that analyzed recoverable charges to the organization, which led to the company’s recovery of 1.5 million dollars.” ✓ Project artifacts: Provide artifacts for the accomplishments listed when possible. For example, you could provide an empty copy of the database that was created to recover the 1.5 million dollars noted in the preceding bullet.
Don’t forget to remove private information that could violate the law or have negative repercussions. For example, in the preceding database example, you’d want to share the database with either no data or fictitious data in it, so that viewers could see what you developed without seeing the private information used by the organization, such as names, addresses, dollar amounts, and so forth.
Sharing favorite resource links Providing your visitors with a list of resources proves that you’re aware of what’s going on within your field. Plus, it provides you with a single location to return to when you need to find information yourself. Resources can include links to professional blogs, podcasts, journal articles, associations, conferences, citation style resources, career help, and other academic resources.
This is not the place to link to your favorite satire blog, cartoon site, or daily word puzzle; stick to professional links.
Choosing a method for creating an ePortfolio You can go about creating an ePortfolio in three different ways: You can use institutional resources, subscribe to a service, or create your own from scratch.
Using institutional resources Your institution may incorporate the use of an ePortfolio system in its program curriculum, which you are subsequently required to use. This system may be either built-in or external:
✓ Some institutions build ePortfolio programs into their course management systems and tie them directly to each major assignment’s rubric. This allows the student to upload the assignment and import the instructor’s assessment with comments to the ePortfolio system. ✓ Some institutions alternatively use an external service in a similar fashion, but it requires the student to log in to a separate Web site using a different username and password. The system may also have the capability of allowing instructors to create rubrics to attach to artifacts. However, in this situation, the instructor is required to also log in to a separate system and copy/paste rubric elements and assessment comments to that system.
To find out whether or not your institution provides an ePortfolio system, first ask your academic advisor. If he is unable to help, you can either contact your instructor or career services staff. Some institutions provide a career-oriented ePortfolio product, which is often available after graduation for a yearly or monthly fee.
Either way, this type of ePortfolio system allows the institution to dictate some of the artifacts to be added, along with their respective grades and instructor comments. Required artifacts could include course essays, final projects, or reflection assignments. By having all this information in one place, program faculty and deans can see each student’s growth throughout the program as a way of assessing student performance and program effectiveness.
One benefit to using your institution’s required ePortfolio system is that you’re already paying for it through program fees. Therefore, you won’t have an external cost to use it while you’re a student. However, the possible down side is the fact that you may be required to subscribe to that service upon graduation in order to maintain your site and its contents. In some situations, you get to continue using the service for one year after graduation before having to decide whether to subscribe to that service or re-create your site by building it yourself or subscribing to a different service.
Subscribing to a service You can subscribe to a service if your school doesn’t have a required ePortfolio system or you prefer to exercise more control over its contents. Several subscription-based services offer Web space for you to house and display your ePortfolio. These services offer templates for adding content and disk storage for uploading documents and other artifacts. Following are a few such services:
✓ TaskStream: http://www.taskstream.com ✓ Pupil Pages: http://www.os4e.com/pupilpages/pupilpages.htm ✓ Live Text: https://college.livetext.com/college/
One advantage to subscribing to a service is that it provides online templates for you to complete, requiring only Web navigation skills and your portfolio content. Another advantage is the ability to lock down your site so that only invited guests can view it.
Of course, these sites cost money, so prepare to pay for the convenience, and keep paying the bill. Imagine the embarrassment of sending a potential employer to your site and finding out that it’s not available because you forgot to make a payment!
Creating your own ePortfolio from the ground up The third method of building an ePortfolio is to create your own from scratch. The biggest advantage to creating your own ePortfolio is the ability to customize the design and navigation of the site to reflect your individuality. When you subscribe to a service, you’re limited to the number of templates available from the service provider, which means your portfolio may physically look like those of other students who subscribe to the same service.
The biggest drawback to creating your own ePortfolio is that you’re limited to your own programming skills. Programming your own site also requires more time because you have to create the design of the site as well as the content that will be placed within the site.
If you want to create your own site, you need the following:
✓ A Web hosting service: A service where you can store your site so that it’s available to others with an Internet connection. One example is http://dreamhost.com. ✓ A registered domain name: Domain names are used as the Web site address for navigating to your site, for example, http://kevinjohnsonresume.info. Most Web hosting services have a process that includes registering and paying for your domain. ✓ Programming knowledge: You need to be able to program using HTML or other Web programming languages, such as PHP. If your online education has focused on these languages, you’re set! But if you don’t
have this knowledge and want to learn, consider picking up Creating Web Pages For Dummies, 9th Edition, by Bud E. Smith (Wiley) to help you get started. You can also consider using an HTML editing program such as Dreamweaver, which uses a more visual approach to programming, allowing the user to enter information on the screen while it writes the code in the background. And, of course there’s a resource for that too if needed: Dreamweaver CS4 All-in-One For Dummies by Sue Jenkins and Richard Wagner, also from Wiley.
Some students have found creative ways to use free Web 2.0 tools, such as blogs and Wikis, to create ePortfolios for free. These tools often require less programming skills and don’t cost you a dime!
Designing a successful ePortfolio Think about all the things you’ve accomplished as an employee, a volunteer, and/or a student. You probably have quite a list. The most helpful tip we can provide is to advise you to find a way to organize your information into chunks so that visitors can quickly access data without being overwhelmed. Here are a few more tips for designing a successful ePortfolio site:
✓ Create a top-level navigation based on categories: Organize information into logical sections and create a Web menu and navigation system around that structure. For example, consider organizing your information using the following categories: Home, Overview, Education, Work Experience, and Community Involvement. ✓ Create a sub-level navigation within your top-level categories: Arrange and sequence the information in each of the top-level categories based on dates, organizations, job titles, and so on. For example, when a visitor clicks on Education, he should see a list of institutions you’ve attended, the dates you attended, a brief description of the program you were enrolled in, and links that give him the option to see a list of specific courses, course syllabi, and course-specific projects. When a user clicks on Work Experience, a page should appear with a list of job titles, organizations, brief job descriptions, dates of employment, and links to specific job responsibilities and projects for each job. Figure 15-3 illustrates what sub-level navigation in an ePortfolio may look like (specifically, this figure shows sub-level navigation in the Desire2Learn ePortfolio 2.0). ✓ Create a welcome page: The first thing a visitor to your ePortfolio site should see is a welcoming screen with basic information such as your name, current position, contact information, and possibly a picture. Think of this page as a digital business card. ✓ Create an overview page: The overview page should include a brief overview of who you are academically/professionally, what you’ve learned from your school/work experience, and how your education has
been applied in different situations. Think of this page as your digital cover letter, preparing visitors to view your digital resume. ✓ Know your audience: Understanding why you are creating your ePortfolio can help you design for and write to your audience. For example, you may write differently for your instructors than you would for future employers. Because your ePortfolio may be shown to multiple audiences, be sure that the description of each component reflects the intended context. For example, when writing for instructors, provide an overview of each assignment along with what you learned specific to the objectives of the course. When writing for a more general audience, again provide an overview of each assignment, along with how you scored, what you learned from the project, and how what you learned can be applied to other situations such as a work environment. ✓ Be authentic and cite sources when necessary: Displaying work that’s authentic in nature and providing sources when you share non-original ideas are important. Remember, this site is a reflection of you, including your ethical standards. ✓ Keep your information up-to-date: A portfolio is always a work in progress. However, unlike your physical portfolio, viewers may have access to your ePortfolio at any time. Therefore, it’s important to keep your information current.
Transferring your existing portfolio to the Web You may have previous work, volunteer, or education experiences from an existing portfolio that you want to include in an ePortfolio. Great! The next step is to prepare that material for the Web. Here is a list of the different artifact types and considerations to make when transferring them to the Web:
✓ Word processing documents: Consider converting short (one page or less) word processing documents to HTML so that visitors don’t have to download them. Save longer documents as one of the more common file types so that visitors can view your work in multiple applications. Some of the more popular document types include .pdf, .rtf, and .doc. Each of these formats can be opened with either a free document viewer or a basic word-processing program that comes installed on most computers. ✓ Images/photographs: Unless you’re in the field of marketing or photography, consider reducing image size and resolution to a Web-friendly configuration. Web files should be set at 72 dpi (dots per inch) and around 20 to 50k (kilobyte) in size. A great free program has been created for both Windows and Mac machines that can help you do this quickly: Gimp (www.gimp.org). Reducing image size and resolution allows for quick loading. Common image file types include .png, .gif, and .jpg. Try not to place multiple images on one page when possible. The fewer the photos, the faster the page loads for your visitors. ✓ Audio files: Audio files are larger files and can take longer to download. Consider using a compressed audio file type such as .mp3 for adding audio to your ePortfolio. For the more advanced programmer or more up-to-date service providers, embedding streaming audio is better for longer pieces. Streaming refers to how media such as audio and video files are delivered to a user over the Internet. Audio and video files are often large in size. If visitors are required to wait for the entire file to download to their computer before listening to or viewing the file, they may get bored and navigate to another site. Streaming audio and video files are stored on a Web server and begin to play for the visitor immediately, while slowly continuing to load in the background, so that visitors have less wait time. ✓ Video files: Video files are large files that can take a long time for visitors to download. Consider streaming these files as well. Common video file types include .avi and .mpg. If large video files are needed, consider providing visitors with a clip of the video online and contact information on how to request a full-length video on CD or DVD via snail mail.
No matter what type of artifact you choose to add to your ePortfolio, we recommend that each element have some introductory content that allows your visitors to quickly look at your work and choose which elements they want to explore in greater detail.
Getting Help with Finding a Job Once your online coursework is done and your ePortfolio site is up-to-date, you may want to find a job that puts your newfound skills to use. Several resources are available to you online to help you in the job search process.
Utilizing career services at your school Most academic institutions have a career services department to help students who need career counseling, job-searching skills, and other career resources. Most of these services are available online so that they’re accessible by both campus-based and online students. If you’re not sure whether your institution offers such services, contact your academic advisor (we introduce the role of this important person in Chapter 5).
Services provided by these career centers include:
✓ Career counseling: A career counselor may meet with you one-on-one or in a group setting over the phone to help provide direction in the areas of self-assessment, goal setting, and basic job searching. ✓ Job and internship listings: Most career services departments have a private list where students can view jobs and internship possibilities posted by organizations. These listings are often organized by profession for easy searching. ✓ Career and internship fairs: The fact that you may not live in your school’s locality doesn’t mean you can’t attend a job fair. Online institutions are beginning to offer job fairs online. Organizations are asked to provide quick presentations via synchronous tools such as Elluminate (see Chapter 12), and students are invited to join the session, ask questions, and submit resumes. ✓ Career resource Webinars: Career services staff may also offer Webinars using tools like Elluminate to provide tips, tricks, and other resources on topics such as searching for jobs, building a resume, interviewing, and following-up with prospective employers.
✓ On-campus recruiting: Again, just because you’re not local, don’t assume you can’t work for the institution you’re attending from a distance. Most likely, some of your instructors didn’t live near the campus, right? Online institutions understand that work can be done even when co-workers aren’t in the same physical location. So, don’t ignore those campus ads when browsing the career service’s Web site. Your institution may provide both student jobs and full-time employment upon graduation.
Perusing general job search sites Whether your institution provides career services or not, you can still do a lot of things outside of the institution to promote yourself. Specifically, several job sites post local, national, and international job opportunities. The advantages of these sites include the number of employers that utilize them and the ability they give you to filter searches by profession and location.
Job search sites usually offer two types of services: free and paid.
✓ Free services provide you with general searching capabilities and give you access to several jobs available in your field. ✓ Paid services usually include more customized features, such as the ability to create a profile that is placed in a database that’s searched by employers.
Job search sites also offer free resources such as strategies for building your resume, searching for jobs, and interviewing. Be sure to review each site’s resources to get a variety of ideas, and then customize those strategies to suit your personality and needs.
Here are a few job search databases to consider when conducting your employment search:
✓ CareerBuilder: http://www.careerbuilder.com/ ✓ HotJobs: http://hotjobs.yahoo.com/ ✓ Indeed: http://www.indeed.com/ ✓ Monster: http://www.monster.com/ ✓ USA Jobs: http://www.usajobs.gov/
Establishing networks while studying online As you attend your classes, be cognizant of all the networking possibilities you run into. These could lead to future project collaboration or jobs. Here are a few networking opportunities to keep an eye out for:
✓ Student introductions: Pay close attention to the introduction of your peers. You’ll probably find that they come from a variety of backgrounds and experiences. Befriend those who currently work in your field of interest and/or have a lot of experience. ✓ Partner and group work: Much like the student introductions, you’ll also want to network with group-work partners. Take time to introduce yourself to your partner or group, and share your goals and your current situation. (Chapter 12 has the basics on working in groups online.) ✓ Volunteer and internship opportunities: Look for opportunities to volunteer or intern within the field you’re studying. By doing this, you connect with professionals in the field, demonstrate the quality of your work, and get experience to add to your resume. Many students end up working for the organization where they either volunteered or interned. ✓ Guest lecturers: If your online course has a guest lecturer come and interact with the class, be sure to document the guest’s name and contact information. One way to get on that person’s radar for future interactions is to send the guest a private thank-you letter with your contact information. ✓ Associations: Professional fields are often defined by their associations. Though they cost to join, most associations have a student rate. Take advantage of this while you can, and join the professional organizations associated with your profession. Doing this provides you access to professionals within the field, job bulletins, and conference discounts. ✓ Conferences: Look for and attend conferences within your field. If none are offered locally, consider traveling and asking peers within your program to split travel costs such as gas and hotel. Attending conferences is a great way to hear presentations on trends and issues within your field. Conferences are also great for networking with professionals and prospective employers. ✓ Social networking Web sites: You may want to take advantage of social networking applications available on the Web, such as Facebook (www. facebook.com), LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com), and MySpace (www. myspace.com). These sites provide networking opportunities on both social and professional levels. However, we recommend that you try to create separate profiles for your professional networking versus your social interactions. These sites often post updates from your friends on your site, and you may not want prospective employers to view that material on your site. It’s best just to keep the two separate to save any possible embarrassment.
Creating a business card with your contact information and the Web address of your ePortfolio on it is a great way to be prepared for those unexpected run-ins with prospective employers. For example, a friend of coauthor Kevin attended a conference in his field at the end of his studies and was provided several opportunities to network with professionals in the field. He was able to give prospective employers his business card, which directed them to his ePortfolio site. Within two weeks of the conference ending, Kevin’s friend had two interviews, one of which landed him a job.