Throughout the creation of my e-portfolio, I confronted a variety of challenges. However, I also gained several insights and skills, ranging from the importance of having an Action Plan and sticking to it to how to construct clean websites in Google Sites.
Not According to (Action) Plan
For both my LIM 598 course and my LIM 591D course with Dr. Haycock, I utilized an Action Plan to try and plan out everything that I would need to do to complete the course project throughout the semester. What I’ve found is that Action Plans only work when you regularly consult them and adjust as needed to compensate for unexpected events or frustrations. While I didn’t necessarily have to update the actual Action Plan document used on my e-portfolio website, having a personal version that I could update and revise would have been a good idea.
My Action Plan consisted of two main parts: an outline of the different components of my e-portfolio and a weekly timeline of activities with due dates, starting in Week 4 (with details on what had already been completed in Weeks 1-3). While nothing would change the contents of the outline, the weekly timeline was the most susceptible to change as a result of motivation, procrastination, or other challenges.
I thought that by spreading out my tasks over the weeks, inputting items into the Artifact Matrix and writing the corresponding essays, I could avoid last-minute stress by grouping tasks together by where they appeared on my e-portfolio site, e.g. filling out the entire Artifact Matrix before writing any of the Program Goal essays. In order to help me with this process, I utilized a series of spreadsheets that tracked not only which artifacts I matched with which program goals, but also which courses those artifacts came from. The “MMLIS Program Goals and Courses Where Those Competencies were Mastered” document and various course syllabi really helped with this, but not every syllabus had course objectives aligned with the MMLIS program goals, only the Marshall School of Business goals. However, what ended up happening was that I felt that several artifacts made sense for multiple Program Goals, but I needed to be able to explain how in the moment that I added them to the Artifact Matrix. There were also specific program goals that I struggled to find an appropriate artifact for, even knowing what courses had objectives that matched with the program goals.
Once I got my Artifact Matrix filled in, I needed to actually write the essays, which, despite having an outline with “interview questions” to answer to help me build each essay, proved to be extremely difficult for some essays. I ended up skipping around from essay to essay, doing what I could, stopping where I struggled, and starting other essays based on how comfortable I felt with each outline. I ended up doing the opposite of what I originally intended in my Action Plan: I filled in the entire Artifact Matrix before I wrote the essays, and I wrote most of the Program Goal essays at once, over the span of several days. This method was, unsurprisingly, very stressful, but it taught me that I need an even more detailed Action Plan in order to accomplish my goals on time.
My ideal Action Plan would have included a task for looking at the course syllabi and the “MMLIS Program Goals and Courses Where Those Competencies were Mastered” document ahead of time so that I could make a personal copy of the Artifact Matrix that breaks down the program goals by courses in which they were highlighted, what course objectives match with those goals, and what assignments match those objectives. One of the spreadsheets I created detailed what assignments I felt could make for excellent artifacts (though I wasn’t sure for which program goal). It also charted what courses I took, with whom, whether I had matched some assignment from that course in the Matrix, and whether the syllabus for each course had the MMLIS program goals matched to specific course objectives in it. I also matched up the “highly-emphasized” Marshall School goals with the course or learning objectives mentioned in the syllabi.
The Artifact Matrix served as the crucial starting point for virtually every section of the e-portfolio, even if it showed up “in the middle” of the navigation. A Gantt chart showing these dependencies may have also been helpful. I found that my Statement of Professional Philosophy really served as an introduction to my Program Goal essays, but I had treated it as more of an end piece, where I briefly recapped how I achieved each of the different MMLIS Program Goals. By not completing it on time, I ended up missing out on what could have been valuable feedback and would have proven useful for my Career Plan and Change Agent essays.
Syllabus Course Learning Objectives
Like every other course in the MMLIS program, this Capstone course had several learning objectives listed in the syllabus. These include being able to analyze skills learned in identifying and achieving the program goals; demonstrate an understanding of how coursework is relevant to the future of the field; demonstrate the ability to objectively assess one’s own accomplishments using critical and analytical skills to make connections between learning experiences and learning outcomes; identify strengths and resultant goals leading to an established career agenda and plan; illustrate multiple components of writing, critical thinking, and ability to integrate knowledge with career goals; and communicate effectively a mastery of research and project skills.
By structuring my courses and their assignments into spreadsheets, I analyzed the skills that I learned in identifying the artifacts that represented my achievement of each program goal. Breaking down my courses into parts such as objectives, program goals, and learning goals, I used organizational skills to sort my tasks and assignments into the appropriate areas of my e-portfolio. I also used decision-making skills when opting to use certain artifacts more than once, or revising what artifacts I used for a given goal if I struggled with writing the Program Goal essay because of an ill fit between the artifact’s creation process and my achievement of its corresponding program goal. In this way, I also used problem-solving skills, identifying a need for additional tools to help me with my writing process and revising my strategies as I moved from essay to essay.
I also demonstrated an understanding of how coursework is relevant to the future of the field, especially with my Change Agent and Career Plan essays, which required a focus on librarianship, rather than an individual course or its assignments. By tying the MMLIS program goals to necessary library skills, matching those goals to course objectives and statements solidified how what I did throughout the program will benefit me in my future library career, even if I didn’t make those connections when I originally created each artifact.
Being able to demonstrate the ability to objectively assess my own accomplishments using critical and analytical skills, and making those connections between learning experiences and learning outcomes turned out to be surprisingly difficult. I have a hard time writing about myself and “selling” myself, which I felt was the point of the e-portfolio. However, I objectively recognized the need to be able to assess my own work, state in my own words what I learned from the assignments, and how they demonstrated mastery of the MMLIS Program Goals. Being able to make those connections is crucial in librarianship, as much of the job revolves around information literacy and explaining things to people, whether they are patrons, co-workers, supervisors, or potential sources of funding. If I can explain the importance of a work artifact by connecting it to stated goals, missions, or values, I can demonstrate the need for repeating the work done to create that artifact, the resources that went into its creation, or the knowledge gleaned from it.
I identified my strengths and the resultant goals that led to an established career agenda and plan mainly through putting together my Career Plan essay. As the deadline for the Career Plan essay came after I filled in my Artifact Matrix and wrote my Program Goal essays, I had the opportunity to assess my work on my e-portfolio up until that point and further connect the program goals to their importance to librarianship. Portfolios in other industries serve as examples of one’s understanding of the important tenets of their profession: photographers use portfolios to demonstrate they understand concepts like light, composition, and retouching, while librarians might use the work completed during library school in a portfolio to show their comprehension of the core ethics and values of the information profession and the skills necessary to be an effective information professional and library advocate.
I illustrated the multiple components of writing, critical thinking, and integrating knowledge with career goals throughout the creation of my e-portfolio. From organizing my “best work,” other assignments, course objectives, MMLIS Program Goals, and Marshall School Learning Goals into a variety of spreadsheets, creating outlines, and then writing essays, I had to critically think about my work up through my final semester and write about the artifact creation process and what it taught me about the information profession. All told, I wrote over 15 essays for my e-portfolio.
The process of creating the artifacts throughout my library education and eventually writing multiple essays about those artifacts as they related to the MMLIS Program Goals required that I effectively communicate my mastery of research and project skills. Not only did I need to look back on previous course syllabi and research how each course’s objectives corresponded to both Marshall School and MMLIS Program Goals, but I also needed to organize that information into a usable form. Project skills take a variety of forms: scheduling tasks in my Action Plan, managing my time spent working on each component of my e-portfolio, thinking critically about which artifacts I wanted to include and how to write about them, and personal organization of my materials.
Advice for Future Cohorts
I started work on my e-portfolio with “obvious” advice from prior cohorts: to start on my portfolio work early and to tackle the Artifact Matrix first. Though it sounded obvious, it ended up being extremely important! Everyone has their own idea of what constitutes “early” when there’s a deadline that seems so far off. But knowing that the Artifact Matrix has to be completed before I could start on any of the other e-portfolio components really helped me prioritize, even if I ultimately made the mistake of not starting on it early, and instead having to cram much of my work into a matter of days, instead of spreading it out over weeks.
Beyond that advice, I found that for my personal workflow, I also needed to have a workspace outside of the e-portfolio. For me, this workspace took the form of a pair of Google Sheets files with multiple spreadsheets among them, along with a course-specific folder structure for my Personal Google account, my Dropbox where I store the majority of my files, and my USC Google account for team projects. I would advise future cohorts to adopt a similar strategy, so they don’t get bogged down by the templates they have to use for the final site. However, a student chooses to organize their thoughts and previous coursework, the Artifact Matrix and the resulting essays simply act as frames around that work. The ideal method is one that allows a student to easily move information from their workspace into the Google Site.
I would also advise students to carefully examine their Google Sites template before adding their own content to it. My template initially came with a lot of duplicate pages, and I needed to go to the Manage Site settings and Pages in order to delete them and arrange them properly. USC’s Information Technology (IT) doesn’t support Google Sites, especially on a personal account versus the university-powered Google Apps, so students need to learn about the inner workings of Google Sites on their own. There are a number of useful websites that can aid students in this, from the Google Learning Center to those created by other Google Sites users (including other universities and their students), as well as YouTube tutorial videos, and more.
Finally, I would suggest that students examine potential artifacts and think about how they actually demonstrate mastery of a given program goal in an apparent way, not just through the creation process. I ended up finding out the hard way that it’s not enough to have an artifact that I felt showed my understanding of a program goal through its creation; I also needed to show how the final work product made sense in concert with that program goal. I ended up needing to scrap my initial artifact and replace it with something else– something I only figured out as I struggled to write about an artifact that didn’t really fit.
Overall, I would say that creating an e-portfolio was probably the hardest thing I did throughout my time in the USC MMLIS program. Though I knew about the course’s existence, I would have preferred to prepare for it over time by knowing which assignments corresponded to which course objectives and/or program goals. Not every syllabus mentioned the MMLIS Program Goals, which meant I had to think critically about what connections I wanted to make between the Marshall School Learning Goals, the course objectives, the MMLIS Program Goals, and the individual assignments. Did I only want my Artifact Matrix to include items that I got a good grade on, or did I also want to include things that had the most helpful constructive feedback, even if the grade I got wasn’t perfect? I had to be willing to talk about my challenges and frustrations as well as how I overcame them, not just my achievements and accomplishments. Someone who only shows amazing work doesn’t demonstrate learning or growth and instead runs the risk of coming across as deceptive. Looking back on all my coursework, it seems as though it all went by amazingly fast, but I definitely learned a great deal and look forward to my future career in the information profession, whatever form it takes.