ePortfolio: A Self-Branding Tool for Students

by Allie Wigginton - February 12, 2020

Ali Jafari
Professor, Entrepreneur

Companies are no longer the only entities that distinguish and differentiate themselves from others by branding. Self-branding, or personal branding, is a form of marketing that an individual uses to create a uniform public image demonstrating his or her values and reputation.

This form of branding is a common practice among celebrities and politicians as an essential marketing strategy. But what about college students? Increasingly, they need to self-brand themselves for today’s competitive career market, given the pervasive role of social media in a highly volatile and mobile employment environment.

My growing awareness of this phenomenon, as a by-product of the social uses of technology, led me to research and develop a platform at the CyberLab of Indiana University on the IUPUI campus that addresses the growing need for individual students to manage their own brand. We have called it the CN ePortfolio.

Schools have invested significant resources in helping graduates prepare for employability and their first job after leaving campus. Still, few have considered the importance—even necessity—of individual branding as a requirement for life-long employability. Schools need to help students to think outside of the resume and transcript box.

As students are about to graduate, advisors and faculty advise them to go to the school career center for help in creating and tailoring their resumes. However, even a well-written resume, along with a high GPA noted on an official transcript, is no longer enough to secure a job in today’s competitive market. Employers want to see evidence of students’ actual learning and proof of competency in the areas necessary for their positions, including those qualities that are not so often assessed by grades such as creativity, ability to work with diverse colleagues, the capacity to learn from mistakes, even punctuality.

For instance, an A grade for a graphics course recorded on a transcript does not offer any insight into the artistic talent of an applicant for a frontend software developer job.

The employers want to see the students’ work, including authentic design work, class assignments, badges, even certified recommendations, and endorsements written by classmates, instructors, and—especially—internship supervisors who know the real requirements of effective job performance.

An old-fashioned text-based resume may not be enough to secure employment in any field of work, not just technology. A personal, professional web page--what we began calling an ePortfolio decades ago—can be crafted to serve as the primary source of employment qualifications and as a personal brand. By going beyond a transcript or letters of recommendation, a personal brand site allows invited viewers to see a personality and to glimpse a unique presence, validated by actual evidence of accomplishment.

School administrators and instructor communities need to catch up to the radically shifting employment marketplace by understanding the need for ePortfolios and personal branding. Interim steps being taken on many college campuses to update transcripts with links and notes that try to capture competency, as well as elective achievements outside the classroom, are too little, too late.

Instead, educational institutions from high schools to colleges need to assess the importance and the benefits of ePortfolios to integrate curricular artifacts and records with the capacity for self-branding. Schools could thus furnish students with the tools they need to easily collect their learning evidence and to reflect on them in videos and other documents, introducing such evidence as they believe best portrays their achievements and capabilities. Because of technological innovations, ePortfolios can also embed secure links to official institutional sites, including transcripts.

The key differentiator in the ePortfolios—at least the one CN has designed—is making the student the co-owner and manager of one’s own learning record, now integrated with other social achievements outside the classroom. Students can build their own brand, drawing on the official records of not only colleges but also employers, clubs, external credentialors that award badges or certificates for specific skill mastery, and so on. Students—continuing throughout their careers—have a means to fully represent who they are and what they hope to contribute to employers, to family, and to society.

We, at the IUPUI CyberLab, with our growing number of global collaborators, have conceptualized and developed the CN ePortfolio as a cloud-based software-as-a-service product worldwide with seed funding from Indiana University. In our design thinking and business modeling, anyone from anywhere should be able to create their lifelong CN ePortfolio—for free, without personal cost--the same easy way they create their Gmail or Facebook accounts. Students then own their CN ePortfolio account for the rest of their lives, without dependence on their college or school. They can access it when they switch to another school or anytime to store newly created artifacts for future career use or to modify their personal branding. Once students are ready to apply for internships, jobs, and volunteer assignments or just to create a professional profile and presence, they can send the web address of their CN ePortfolio to select individuals without making their ePortfolio—and their personal brand--public. See, for example, my student’s ePortfolio and my own.

As a successful serial entrepreneur and the Founder and architect of CourseNetworking, I have given significant attention to the development of the CN business modle. I’ve known it is not easy to sell institutional licenses to schools until we create a substantial value proposition for it. With this founding principle, we have decided to offer free multiyear institutional licenses to any academic institution and to provide them with a free dedicated gateway page where their students may sign up for their lifelong CN ePortfolio account. Employers can also visit the schools’ gateway pages to search for qualified candidates that may fit their open internship or employment positions. Despite making CN ePortfolios available free to any student, our business model will be sustained by selling optional paid licenses to schools that would like to use the CN platform for institutional purposes in a more comprehensive manner such as integration with their LMS or SIS to automatically create and maintain ePortfolio accounts for all their students, single sign-on, custom setting, analytics, etc. Premium services, at an individual rate of $2.25 per month, will also be available to individual ePortfolio users who wish an enhanced, premium version that includes additional features, customization and career services.

The CN concept, technology, and business model were specifically developed to address both schools’ and individual students’ needs. It is designed by educators and ventured by academics. As an individual user, you may create a personal branding ePortfolio by clicking here without waiting for institutional adoption. As an institutional representative, you may send an email to receive a free ePortfolio Gateway for your institution. As noted, both of these opportunities are offered without charge.

CyberLab is one of the research centers of Purdue School of Engineering and Technology, IUPUI, Indiana University. CyberLab is the birthplace of a few high-profile educational technology software developments and entrepreneurial projects, including the Oncourse (Sakai), ANGEL Learning, Epslilen, CourseNetwokring (CN) and Rumi. https://cyberlab.iupui.edu/

CourseNetwokring LLC is an educational technology software company seed-funded by Indiana University, and Ali Jafari to develop and globally market CN software services, including CN LMS, CN ePortfolio and CN Social (all are available as SaaS for free and for a fee). https://www.thecn.com/

Related Article: Why do students need a CN ePortfolio when they could use LinkedIn®?