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“I Just Thought I Did Insignificant Tasks”: Using e-Portfolios to Understand Co-Op and Undergraduate Research Experiences

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Innovative College-Industry Partnerships for the Future

Tagged Division

College Industry Partnerships

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.1720.1 - 22.1720.12



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Paper Authors


Kathleen F. Gygi University of Washington

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Kathleen Gygi is recent graduate of the doctoral program in Human Centered Design & Engineering at the University of Washington. Her research and teaching explores collaborative learning and professional socialization in e-portfolios and student research groups. She has extensive experience in higher education and industry.

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Jennifer A. Turns University of Washington

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Jennifer Turns is an Associate Professor in the Department of Human Centered Design and Engineering at the University of Washington. She is interested in all aspects of engineering education, including how to support engineering students in reflecting on experience, how to help engineering educators make effective teaching decisions, and the application of ideas from complexity science to the challenges of engineering education.

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“I just thought I did insignificant tasks”: Using e-portfolios to understand Co-op and undergraduate research experiencesCareer-focused learning experiences such as Co-op and undergraduate research activities areintended to help students prepare for professional activities. However, although programs usuallyrequire students to report, or even better reflect on these experiences, students may not have anappropriate context for projecting the relevance of these experiences to future preparedness. Forexample, students may not know what profession they will ultimately choose or they may notunderstand the importance of dimensions such as understanding organizational culture toprofessional success.This paper discusses our recent work with having students in industry-sponsored Co-op andsummer undergraduate research programs construct e-portfolios. We ask students to answer thequestion of “how Co-op or research prepared you for future professional practice.” Students thencraft their responses as arguments about preparedness, illustrated in the form of an e-portfolioconsisting of a professional statement and annotated artifacts explaining technical andprofessional skills and other competencies. Portfolios in this context are not an assessment tool,but rather a reflective tool for students to use to integrate their technical knowledge and relevantexperiences and relate them to imagined futures.Over time, students have provided us feedback on how the construction of their portfolios helpedthem see the value of their experiences in industry as well as helped them come to a deeperunderstanding themselves. In a pilot workshop, one Co-op student revisited a report and postershe had prepared several months earlier about her summer work. In reflecting on the process ofconstructing the e-portfolio, she commented that: “Being able to talk about my experience andhave feedback about what parts of it actually were important, when before I just thought I didinsignificant tasks.” She also said she better understood her Co-op experience and valued it morethan before: “It helped me sharpen my experience.”These comments were mirrored in the responses of other students in subsequent workshops whofound the process of constructing their portfolios to be a valuable opportunity to learn from otherstudents as well. “I found [another participant’s] personal statement the most surprising: Theamount each individual has grown through the Program. The demanding research pays off in theend and the individual comes out more knowledgeable, and interested about a subject.” Theseother students also reported recognizing the value of having a portfolio to show futureemployers.In this paper we report on this work, with particular emphasis on the following issues: a) thesignificance of asking students to construct arguments about their own preparedness, b) thebenefits of constructing e-portfolios in interactive workshops with peer review as an alternativeto traditional reporting methods, c) the potential benefits to industry partners of having studentsdocument their experiences in e-portfolios, and d) the opportunities and constraints associatedwith institutionalizing e-portfolios within existing experiential learning programs.

Gygi, K. F., & Turns, J. A. (2011, June), “I Just Thought I Did Insignificant Tasks”: Using e-Portfolios to Understand Co-Op and Undergraduate Research Experiences Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--17289

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