The online Bachelor of Applied Arts and Sciences (BAAS) degree is designed to integrate the traditional methods and values of an Ivy League liberal arts education with opportunities to develop career-enhancing practical and professional skills. One of the culminating requirements to complete the degree is an ePortfolio, or digital collection of materials compiled by each graduating bachelor’s degree student to showcase their academic abilities and make connections to their current or future careers.
But what should be included in an ePortfolio? How do you demonstrate the education you’ve earned to employers—especially the soft skills and conceptual or problem-solving abilities that many of today’s jobs demand? The ePortfolio component is designed to fulfill that very purpose.
What is the purpose of the ePortfolio?
“The BAAS is a career-focused program, and the ePortfolio is a signature of that initiative,” says Kristin Sowden, Associate Director of Career Advising at Penn LPS Online. The Bachelor of Applied Arts and Sciences degree was developed in part with feedback from an employer advisory board made up of representatives from local and national organizations such as airlines, cable providers, and hospitals. “We wanted to make certain that our curriculum was informed not just by what we thought would be helpful to students, but also by what we were hearing directly from employers who are responsible for developing job opportunities and making hiring decisions in different fields,” says Kris Rabberman, Assistant Vice Dean and Director of Academic Affairs at Penn’s College of Liberal and Professional Studies.
To that end, the ePortfolio is a tool to ensure that each BAAS student’s academic studies align with their unique professional goals and personal aspirations—and for that reason, no two ePortfolios are alike. This academic year, Sowden has been working with transfer students who are preparing to complete their bachelor’s degree requirements; for these soon-to-be graduates, the ePortfolio is an opportunity to look back at all they learned and accomplished during their college education, to tell a story about the resultant skills and knowledge they’ve earned, and to reflect on how they can continue to apply those lessons after graduation.
For new BAAS students just starting out or returning to college, Rabberman expects that the ePortfolio will help students take charge of their academic journeys and define their goals as they go. “As students work on their ePortfolios, they can bring them into conversations with their academic advisors and use the requirements to figure out what direction they want to go in, or what they want their culminating projects to be,” she says. Rabberman also points out that the process of curating a personal portfolio is itself an analytical skill. “The more reflection students do, the more they’re thinking deeply about making connections between their goals inside and outside of the classroom,” she adds.
To best summarize your academic progress as well as your future plans and aspirations, the ePortfolio requires several different types of documents or materials. Assignments and materials from coursework—including but not limited to academic papers, exams, and videos—showcase your fulfillment of the BAAS degree’s target learning outcomes. Polished professional documents such as an up-to-date and well-written cover letter and resume are included to demonstrate career readiness. Short written reflections tie everything together and demonstrate your ability to synthesize or make connections between your life, your career, and your interdisciplinary education.
What is “career readiness,” and how do I demonstrate it?
Career readiness, as Sowden defines it, is the demonstration of competencies or outcomes that prepare college graduates for the workplace. For Bachelor of Arts and Applied Sciences students, many of whom are already working professionals and are pursuing a bachelor’s degree to open new doors, demonstrating career readiness may entail preparing to advance in an established career or to shift into a new field.
Although the ePortfolio as a whole is intended to enhance career readiness, your ePortfolio includes three items that spell out career intentions in definite terms. The first two will be familiar to most BAAS students: a cover letter and resume. Whether you intend to use the ePortfolio cover letter and resume for an active job search or simply update those documents in case of future opportunities, their inclusion in the ePortfolio encourages you to spell out your professional skills and competencies—and also gives the career development team an opportunity to review your job application materials with a trained eye.
The third item is a concise, written reflection that summarizes your knowledge, skills, abilities, and aspirations. Sowden encourages students to think of this reflection as your elevator pitch or the “About” section on your professional profile: if you walk into a job interview or meet with a mentor, and they say “Tell me about yourself,” what will you say? How can you summarize your strengths and accomplishments in just a sentence or two? “We want students to be interview-ready and able to talk through their educational experience in a meaningful way,” she adds.
“The employer advisory board thinks it’s important for students to have the ability to tell their own story—that is, to look at the experiences they’ve had, decide which ones to talk about and how to frame them, and to make a connection between what they’ve learned and what employers are looking for,” adds Rabberman. “The ePortfolio requirement gives students some training and practice in that kind of storytelling.” The final reflection or synthesis will probably be the last thing you write for the ePortfolio as you prepare to graduate and reflect on what you’ve just accomplished as well as what lies ahead.
What is a “learning outcome,” and how do I demonstrate it?
As a liberal arts degree, the Bachelor of Applied Arts and Sciences is designed to encourage students to dip into a variety of subjects in order to approach complex problems with a range of perspectives and problem-solving tools. The bachelor’s degree learning outcomes are broadly defined categories of knowledge and skills that help prepare students to be informed global citizens as well as professionally capable and academically accomplished graduates. They reflect the intersection between the core arts and sciences knowledge areas identified by the Association of American College and Universities and the career competencies defined by the National Association of Colleges and Employers.
The eight learning outcomes include:
- Analytical and critical skills include evaluating, analyzing, and interpreting a variety of source material, from best practices in data literacy to determining the credibility of sources to defining a persuasive argument or unique perspective that takes multiple viewpoints into consideration.
- Communication is the exchange of ideas or information using written, oral, numerical, or graphic media. The ability to communicate clearly, persuasively, and professionally with different audiences is an asset in any context.
- Creativity and innovation invite students to synthesize ideas, images, or knowledge in original ways. Exploring creativity in the classroom enhances your ability to think, analyze, innovate, and consider complex problems from a variety of perspectives.
- Digital literacy is defined as the ability to use information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create, and communicate information, which is both a cognitive and a technical skill.
- Ethics entails a deeper understanding of what it means to be socially responsible and to influence positive outcomes as both individuals and as community leaders.
- Global citizenship and diversity encompass a variety of skills that range in scale from interpersonal communication across cultural or ideological difference to global perspectives on history, economy, environmental impact, and cultural change.
- Historical perspectives offer students the opportunity to understand, interpret, and contextualize historical sources—and better navigate the present through advanced knowledge of the past.
- Scientific process and problem-solving skills help students understand how scientific knowledge is developed and communicated as well as to develop, test, and revise their own theories.
For the ePortfolio, you choose one artifact to represent each of the eight learning outcomes. The artifact for a given learning outcome could be an essay or report you wrote, an exam you completed, a presentation you gave and recorded as audio or video, an individual or group project you submitted for a grade, or another document or media file that exemplifies the skills or knowledge you developed. Most if not all of your artifacts will come from your coursework, but you may include one or two examples from your personal or professional pursuits; these co-curricular artifacts might include a conference program featuring a panel you spoke on, a work project, email correspondence, or a certificate of completion. For example, one recent student who focused on organizational studies included an email that demonstrated her communication skills in her capacity as a role in a professional committee.
You may choose to share your ePortfolio with prospective and current employers to provide examples of your accomplishments or career-adjacent skills. For many students, however, your best examples of academic achievement at first might not seem directly relevant to your workplace to outside readers. For that reason, just as your complete ePortfolio will be capped with your final synthesis, each of your artifacts should be accompanied by a short written reflection that explains the connection between the artifact, the learning outcome, and your personal or professional life. For another example, one BAAS student included an artifact from a course on folklore studies to demonstrate her readiness for a career shift into financial consulting: the ethnography project, she explained, helped develop her interview and interpersonal communication skills.
“A lot of the artifacts I’ve seen so far are based in the liberal arts—from religion, from creative writing,” says Sowden, who is among the program team members who review and assess ePortfolio submissions. “Students are taking abstract concepts and finding ways to connect them to their lives.”
So, what goes in a student ePortfolio?
In total, your ePortfolio must contain the following: your cover letter, your resume, an academic or co-curricular artifact to demonstrate each of the eight learning outcomes, a short reflection to accompany each of the artifacts, and the final synthesis that brings together all the different elements of your experience into a cohesive story.
But while your ePortfolio needs to include all of these components, the way you select and arrange them is entirely up to you. For the students who have graduated from the bachelor’s degree so far, ePortfolios have ranged widely in format as well as focus: there have been purely written ePortfolios and multimedia ePortfolios with video and sound; submissions have included gratitude journals, travel narratives, and personal reflections as well as coursework and co-curricular artifacts.
“The ePortfolio is designed to reflect you and your journey at Penn,” emphasizes Sowden. “You can’t make a wrong choice—it’s about showing how you’ve learned what you’ve learned.”
To learn more about how the ePortfolio fits into the online bachelor’s degree, visit the Bachelor of Applied Arts and Sciences Degree Requirements.