Normally, I use these blog entries to reflect on my teaching practices. However, before this Spring semester even started, I received an e-mail from a new student that got me thinking in a completely different direction. I have been wrestling with some of these ideas for a while, but this email was “the straw that broke the camel’s back”. My new student wrote in her very first communication…

“ [Help!]. I have an interview with a marketing company next Friday and they are asking for writing samples.”

As a senior, she needed to prove in front of a potential employer that she could write a marketing piece, and she was struggling to find samples from her previous courses.

The use of students’ portfolios in some disciplines is well established; art, photography, architecture, music or web design students are able to collect their work during their college years in order to share it with future clients, employers, agencies, galleries, studios, art brokers, etc. These students have created visual, virtual or tangible “artifacts” that they can share with interested parties, portraying their talents and what they have learned about expression and technique during their college experience.

But how does the idea of a portfolio translate to other less “artistic” disciplines and, specifically, how does it apply to business? As students get trained in traditional business disciplines such as finance, accounting, strategy, HR, operations, marketing, etc. and additional competencies and abilities (communication, team work, critical thinking, cross-cultural awareness, interdisciplinary, etc.) how are they able to show to the world that they not only know the “theory” but also that they can apply it fruitfully and even that they HAVE already done it ?

Aligning Our Teaching to Support Student Portfolios

What would an “experiences portfolio” look like for these disciplines? What are the “artifacts” that show evidence of mastering knowledge and skills in front of future employers? What are the experiential activities that they can proudly share?

The following ideas come to mind:

  1. Experiential learning can be a powerful tool for “experience portfolio” building. (Schindehutte and Morris, 2016). For instance, through experiential Student Team Consulting (STC) projects, they are partnered with local or international business. Under faculty guidance, the teams address problems faced by their assigned businesses (problem-based learning or PBL). At CI, Dr. Andrzejewski, Entrepreneurship & Small Business Institute’s Executive Director has been coordinating and running these type of efforts with upper division-students with promising results.
  1. Service Learning (SL), as a subset of experiential learning, it also allows students to engage with non-profits while reflecting on their own learning and discovery of a social problem. CI’s California Institute for Social Business incorporated this type of experiential learning in the minor’s core classes with the valuable help of our Center for Community Engagement.
  1. Learning Artifacts are “objects created by students during the course of instruction. To be considered an artifact, an object needs to be lasting, durable, public, and materially present […] making knowledge visible.” (Wikipedia)

To start experimenting with Learning Artifacts, last summer, I introduced some minor changes in my Principles of Marketing course design for Fall 2016. Marketing is a discipline well suited to push the importance of the visual element.

The goals of the team project and homework remained the same, but I introduced the idea that since this was a Marketing class, I was also going to evaluate the “look & feel” of their output. As they prepared the Marketing Plans and the Marketing Research Reports for both their qualitative and quantitative efforts, I encouraged them to move away from submitting just a Word document with their name and class name. Instead, I challenged them to be creative and used some of the wonderful freemium tools available in our Marketer’s Tool Kit . I wanted students to produce a Market Research Report or a Marketing Plan that they would be proud to show to a client, both in content and format.

Artifacts: Before and after
Learning Artifacts: Left page represents the “old days” approach; Right page my new “thinkers and makers” approach

But wait! Where’s the connection to technology?

Well, technology is exactly the connection; while all these concepts and learning pedagogies have been around for a while (Student Team Consulting was first established by Rutgers’ M.B.A. program back in the early 70’s and Service Learning emerged in higher education in the 80’s) and students’ portfolios in Business Schools have been discussed since the 90’s (check references below), technology is the element that allows students to easily demonstrate the impact of those pedagogies.

Different online platforms are allowing the students to share their experiences in a way that goes beyond the traditional resume, which by the way, the average recruiter spends less than 6 seconds reviewing (Time 2012).

Examples of such digital solutions, beyond the well-known LinkedIn:

  • Portfolium, a San Diego start-up called by its CEO Adam Markowitz the “largest student talent showcase,” is an online platform that allows students to create accounts and upload samples of their works, not only written but also visual pieces (videos, presentations, etc.).
  • Students’ own web pages. If we faculty are creating websites to build our Digital Identity, students should also build their own site and showcase their accomplishments and artifacts. I understand employers cannot browse for whom they don’t know, but these personal pages can be hyperlinked in their LinkedIn Profiles. Weebly, Populr, Google Sites and our very CI Keys  allows the students to build their own sites without programing knowledge.
  • Digital Badges represent a “verification of acquired accomplishments”. CI has been piloting the use of digital badges for students in the Nursing program (Go Dr. Hannans!). Also Teaching & Learning Innovations assigns badges to faculty that completed the Online Teaching and Blended Learning Preparation Programs (OTPP & BLPP) as well as to those who participate as ambassadors in the openCI initiative. Both faculty and nursing students that have been awarded badges can share them into their LinkedIn or Facebook profiles and embed it on their own website.

What would a digital badge reflect if used in your program or discipline?

Some companies are also bridging the gap between university and workforce. See for instance intriguing Canadian start-up Riipen. They connect Problem-Based Learning (PBL) class projects with real organizations. Interestingly, their job doesn’t stop there. They are tagging skills to each project and then, the companies are invited to “rate” those skills based on students’ performance. Recruiters can search for candidates with those “verified” skills. Students will emerge from a class that uses Riipen with:

  1. Experience working with real companies with real problems
  2. External validation of their performance beyond the grade.
  3. Tangible artifacts to add to the portfolio.

As Riipen’ CEO, Richard Tuck, explains: I want to be able to help students build their experiences and virtual portfolios with relevant micro-experiences.” And this is a message that certainly has resonated with CI business professors that are using the Riipen platform this semester.

None of these solutions is perfect, and I don’t think as professors we can really impose “how” students decide to share; however, we certainly have a voice in  “what” students can be creating in our classes. How we design our courses, projects, activities, assignments, assessments, etc. will help the students to build those pieces of their portfolio puzzle so the next time they are called for an interview, they can look at it and feel proud of sharing what they have learned and created while at CI.

As a teacher, I believe in a philosophy of becoming. Like us, our students will never be finished products but I think it is important to give the students opportunities to show the world how their infinite potential is materializing during their time at CI.

Let’s keep the conversation going!

 Maria Ballesteros –Sola
Teaching and Learning Innovations – Online & Blended Faculty Community Lead




  1. Maria, what I like about this is you point out that the technology, while useful, will have little value if we fail to help students do the kind of work that will generate meaningful content for their portfolios. Arts instructors assume the role of “portfolio mentors” because they know their students need a portfolio to find work or to continue their education. Tradionally, most instructors have assumed that a letter grade was enough to signal what their students have learned. Seeing their role as co-creators of student portfolios is a big shift for most instructors, but the outcome will be students who better understand their own capabilities and can communicate their abilities to others. I’m glad to see how far you have gone down this path to the benefit of your students.

  2. Professor Ballesteros, I enjoyed reading your blog very much so and it makes me think about really what I need to start compiling in order produce a good enough portfolio to be hired be the companies that I desire to work for. I have noticed the this semester at CI I already have many classes in which I will be assigned some sort of project that I can use to help me start building my business portfolio. Thanks for the extra knowledge Professor Ballesteros and I look forward to another great class with you tonight.

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