Category Archives: 2. Featured Articles

Help Students Showcase Skills with an E-Portfolio

Today’s job seekers need to market themselves with a variety of materials: several résumés in different formats, a LinkedIn page with a fleshed-out profile, and a professional social media presence.

Another potentially useful tool for job searchers is the e-portfolio, a collection of digitized materials that give viewers a snapshot of a candidate’s work and showcase an individual’s talents and accomplishments. Often e-portfolios link to copies of original work such as written communication and examples of graphic or film projects.

Teaching students to put together an e-portfolio works well in the business communication classroom. For instructors, it provides a venue in which students can rewrite graded work so it is polished for a professional audience. E-portfolios also appeal to students, especially those about to embark on their job searches, and that buy-in helps students dedicate themselves to producing their best work.

Below are some teaching tips for linking this important element of the job search to an e-portfolio assignment. Note: The skeleton assignment at the end of this post is designed to be adapted to individual instructors’ needs.

Discuss the relevance of e-portfolios. Regularly remind students that the work they do for the course can be used to demonstrate their written communication skills to a potential employer who may want to see a writing sample. Stress that these skills are on employers’ wish lists for new-hires.

Show samples. Project samples of recent graduates’ e-portfolios, which are easily found online. (After initially teaching the assignment, instructors can use their own students’ samples.) Discuss the elements that make e-portfolios valuable to a potential employer and the kinds of samples that best illustrate a candidate’s qualifications.

Create in-class activities. Teaching the e-portfolio lends itself to group work. Students can find samples online and discuss their pros and cons. Groups can work together to isolate the categories of samples they want to include on their individual sites. Instructors can use class time to help students sign up for free templates and guide them through registering and choosing a template.

Add an e-portfolio assignment. Consider including a final project that showcases students’ rewritten work uploaded to an e-portfolio. These rewrites can be graded or not, depending on course design, but requiring students to think through the process of what to include and rewriting previous assignments can only reinforce learning outcomes in the business communication classroom.

No doubt students today face daunting preparation as they ready themselves for a job search. Adding an e-portfolio to their arsenal further arms them with cutting-edge materials to improve their odds of success.

E-Portfolio Skeleton Assignment

Spreading Information Literacy: Our Most Basic Job

At the most fundamental level, college instructors teach students to find answers. We may lecture, assign, and grade, but those tasks support the ultimate goal of instilling in our students the ability to think critically about what they hear and read. There’s no denying that this task has become much more difficult in the age of disinformation and fake news, and it behooves us to take another look at how we teach information literacy.

Although the critical assessment of information has always been a part of education, recently academics have been researching the proliferation of inaccurate information online. Unexpectedly, they have found that people who read fake newsare also avid “real” news readers.

However, the problem arises when a portion of readers actually believe the false news despite being contradicted by facts or scientific evidence. Studies also show that the more people read inaccuracies, the more likely they are to repeat and believe these falsehoods, which is why researchers are also looking into methods to stop their spread. But until they discover a remedy, the misinformation will continue. The need for knowing how to discern false from real has become ever more critical.

This is where information literacy–the ability to assess the need for information and to “identify, locate, evaluate, and effectively use” it–comes in. Identifying involves determining the question to be answered and the extent of the information required to do so. Locating information sources requires the skill to conduct research and knowing how each source of information is produced and distributed. Evaluating information and sources means critically examining their reliability, validity, authority, and bias. The final outcome is using the information effectively to accomplish a specific purpose.

The business communication classroom can be the perfect forum in which to teach these important skills. Below are some activities instructors can initiate to help students become better prepared to assess the onslaught of information they face daily.

  1. Team up with librarians. Many campus librarians are also great teachers, and setting up one or two sessions with a knowledgeable librarian can familiarize students with campus resources and thereby kickstart the process of learning to critically evaluate what they read and hear.
  2. Focus on information rather than sources. Assignments typically call for students to assess the reliability of sources, but they must also be able to evaluate the truthfulness of claims, and to do that, they must examine sources other than the original. Called “lateral reading,” such cross-checking is similar to what journalists do before reporting spurious claims.
  3. Teach fact checking. Between library databases, reputable fact-checking websites, and Google Scholar, students have access to a wealth of information that can help them prove a fact. Likewise, a fact that has already been verified as false will appear with a simple search. Students should also know how to follow a trail to find the original source of a fact by examining the path of citations.
  4. Emphasize the interpretation of information. To really teach information literacy, instructors must discuss humans’ culpability in the interpretation of information, including confirmation bias and selective attention. This can be accomplished through cognitive strengthening exercises that help students understand their own blind spots.

Ultimately, today’s landscape calls for information literacy that goes beyond assessing sources. For our students to leave our classrooms as better educated citizens, they must understand how and why falsehoods thrive and how their own thoughts and ideology influence their interpretations of what is true and what is not. It’s a tall order.

Virtual Office Hours—A Win-Win

We recently wrote about ways to encourage students to take advantage of office hours. But it’s a reality that many simply cannot get to instructors’ spaces during scheduled times. That’s why virtual office hours can be a great way to reach students while giving faculty more flexibility.

Moving to an online version of the traditional face-to-face student-instructor meeting has other benefits. Instructors can cut down on replying to multiple e-mails on a similar topic, work from home, and set times advantageous to both parties. For students, virtual office hours can be especially attractive for a number of reasons:

  • Anonymity can encourage even quiet or shy students to participate freely.
  • Archives of discussions let all students reap the benefits of what was said and provide the opportunity to review the material at any time.
  • Chats or forumsallow students pop in on a discussion and leave when they learn what they came for.
  • Attendance during virtual office hours may facilitate reaching more students, especially those who work.

Instructors who successfully employ virtual office hours recommend a combination of both in-person office hours on campus for students who prefer the traditional one-on-one sessions and virtual office hours held at specific times set by the instructor. Experienced users of virtual office hours suggest establishing clear times of online availability and policies dictating what students can expect during virtual office hours, such as the timeframe within which the instructor will answer questions.

Another piece of advice is to anticipate times of high need (often before an assignment is due or an exam will be given) and to prepare a short, videotaped lecture or slides to address common questions. Finally, old hands urge new adopters to select easy-to-use technology. Many schools offer such tools through course management systems such as Canvas or Moodle.

Online availability can prod even the most reticent students to reap the knowledge instructors have and want to share. It’s worth a try!

Do you conduct virtual office hours? What’s that been like? Start a conversation!