In his most recent book, What To Do When It’s Your Turn, Seth Godin laments that many people who apply to his seminars or for internships have no hard skills to brag about and that:
They’re happy to check off boxes like “business development” and “making a rukus” but they rarely say that they know how to code or to use CSS or even InDesign. They’ve spent so many years following instructions, fitting in, and getting good grades that they have failed to learn to do anything that independent.
The side effect of a lack of hard skills is that these very same people almost never have much to show for themselves in the way of a project portfolio, online or off. They can’t point to something and say, “I made that.”
Other than a degree or certificate these people all too often have nothing tangible to show for their many years in education. It isn’t just the evidence of being able to create something that is lacking, many of these young graduates are not able to tangibly show that they can think critically and solve problems. Godin has been pointing to this inability of many students not being able to make meaningful connections for the past several years – see my blog posts Connecting Dots vs Collecting Dots and Experts Connect Dots not Just Collect Dots. His fundamental argument bares repeating:
Without a doubt, the ability to connect the dots is rare, prized and valuable. Connecting dots, solving the problem that hasn’t been solved before, seeing the pattern before it is made obvious, is more essential than ever before.
Why then, do we spend so much time collecting dots instead? More facts, more tests, more need for data, even when we have no clue (and no practice) in doing anything with it.
Their big bag of dots isn’t worth nearly as much as your handful of insight, is it?
It isn’t just the likes of Seth Godin who is concerned about the plight of our young graduates. Generation Jobless, a Doc Zone documentary by CBC points to the crisis of an increasing number of university and college grads who are underemployed – scraping by on low-paid, part-time jobs that don’t require a degree. The documentary reveals that while there “there are no official statistics in Canada, it’s estimated that after graduating, one in three 25 to 29 year olds with a college or university degree end up in a low-skilled job.
While there many systemic ways of addressing this issue that may include more co-op programs in higher education and resolving the embarrassing fact that Canada is the only country in the world without a national body responsible for education there is a very simple and effective way for students to show everyone what they have made, the problems they have solved and the insights they have gained.
A purposefully designed learning portfolio, ideally in the form of an electronic portfolio or eportfolio, would give students a platform that they could show future employers what they have done, what they are capable of doing and perhaps most importantly how they learned how to learn. I have been very explicit in calling for a purposefully design learning portfolio because the typical assessment portfolio that too many institutions purchase separately or as an add on to their Learning Management Systems (LMS) are simply glorified digital filing cabinets where students dump artifacts (assignment documents).
These LMS add-ons or other assessment portfolio tools are not useful eportfolios because they miss the primary point of creating a portfolio. An eportfolio is not just a digital file cabinet where one show how many dots they have collected– it is domain of one’s own where the student reveals their learning journey and shows through reflection, speculation and documentation all the meaningful connections that they have made. The eportfolio itself is a space that the student creates. Perhaps most importantly, an eportfolio can be used to show a students growth and how they have matured over time and how they have made a connection between their schoolwork and their personal and professional lives.
An eportfolio developed over the span of high school to the end of undergraduate or even graduate studies is a tangible asset that can explicitly show what a student has made and who they have become. Why aren’t we striving to give all our student this type of learning and growth experience?