Henderson State's student portfolio tool shows that universities are evolving

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A new tool at Henderson State University in Arkansas is giving students the chance to use their coursework as a part of their professional portfolios — even after graduation.

Since the university last year integrated an online portfolio tool, called Portfolium, into its Canvas learning management system, students have been able to curate their coursework and professional work samples into portfolios they can use for job searches. Instructure, the company that owns Canvas, acquired Portfolium last year before fully integrating it into Canvas last October. For the university, the tool’s relatively straightforward integration project represents an evolution in the role of technology officials and data within institutions of higher learning.

Chelsea Goza, assistant director for the Henderson State University Center for Student Excellence, said both students and faculty love that the portfolios can continue to be used after graduation.

“When you graduate, you are in this Catch-22 where you have the education, you’ve done some great projects and some great work, but employers don’t see that you have the relevant work experience to make you qualified to do the position that they’re needing,” Goza said. “Having Portfolium, you’re able to actually show those employers that you do have the skill set and the abilities, and you have implemented those through your projects.”

Within Canvas, users must manually grant Portfolium access to the course materials they want included in their portfolios. From there, students can seamlessly move data between the two platforms. The university, meanwhile, gains access to more data that can be used to improve student outcomes.

“A big metric that we want to look at is after students graduate, where do they go to work and what types of jobs and career opportunities did they get?” Goza said. 

The opportunity to create a cohesive data story on students after they leave campus is also key for universities that want to maintain active alumni networks and show what their graduates have gone on to do, she said.

The tool’s adoption also aligns with a growing trend among university chief information officers to become “integrative CIOs,” a term popularized by Educause that refers to the role acting as more of a business enabler, rather than a back-office technology provider. Last fall, the group named the integrative CIO as one of the top issues facing university technology leaders in 2020.

Jared Stein, an executive with Instructure, told EdScoop the acquisition and integration of this tool is part of that trend.

“CIOs have a really great opportunity now to expand their role in the scope of what they did, as technology becomes just more a part of what we do every day, and people take it more seriously because it’s critical to the operations of the school,” Stein said. “The CIO is at the heart of that.”

Installing and customizing learning management systems once required more technical expertise than it does today. Outside software that adheres to technical standards, like the Learning Tools Interoperability standard, can now be connected to Canvas simply through the use of an API. And while that requires some work from the university IT shop to configure, the software is now simple enough to manage such that decisions about how to use the technology have increasingly included not only technical staff, but also faculty and administrators.

“There was a time when IT made the decision on the LMS,” Stein said. “And it quickly changed to: ‘No, this actually needs to be a consensus-driven decision with faculty deeply involved.’ I think that’s still true. Now CIOs are really in a spot where they’re thinking: ‘Well, I’m not just here for the technology part of the conversation. I’m here for the comprehensive institutional technology ecosystem.”

For Instructure, making Portfolium available on its platform furthers its mission to promote lifelong learning and bridges its product offerings between the education and corporate markets.

“We know that there is a vision for a learner to have a continuous profile that they own and maintain across their different experiences — K-12, college, university, grad school, career, whatever,” Stein said. “People need to continue to develop skills and access positive learning experiences.”

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