Cogitations on ePortfolio in the age of LinkedIn

Associate Professor Michael Sankey, Western Sydney University

For more than 17 years I have maintained a pretty full professional ePortfolio, and still do, that has been visited by many thousands of people. This was established well before things like LinkedIn, WordPress and other self-authoring website tools became popular. I originally set this up as a series of HTML pages, maintained on a university (not WSU) web server, until an ePortfolio tool was established, in my case Mahara (not that this matters). Since then, the advent of Web2.0 has meant anybody can establish a professional presence for themselves on the web, that can, to all intents and purposes, serve as an ePortfolio. Probably the most obvious of these is LinkedIn; originally launched some 15 years ago (believe it or not) which now has more than 100 million active members (and many more inactive ones). Wikipedia describes it as

a business and employment-oriented social networking service that operates via websites and mobile apps.  It is mainly used for professional networking, including employers posting jobs and job seekers posting their CVs.

I, like many of my colleagues, maintain a LinkedIn site and use it regularly to promote the work I do and to syndicate the really interesting stuff I come across for my peers, for them to also enjoy. However, disturbingly, most of LinkedIn’s revenue comes from on-selling our information to recruiters and sales professionals, so I don’t want to give too much away. This may not be an issue, as many want to be found by these people anyway, but for those who don’t particularly enjoy the unwanted approaches, this becomes a necessary evil to stay connected (possibly due to a FOMO).

Over recent years several universities have asked the question of themselves, ‘do we really need to support an ePortfolio system at X thousands of $ a year, when not all our disciplines are using it, unlike the LMS. Wouldn’t it be better for us to just ask our students to use LinkedIn, or set-up their own WordPress site?’  And on the surface that is a legitimate question, as LinkedIn does serve a useful purpose for the emerging professional.

Really the answer to that comes back to what we, as universities, are willing to do for our students to help them get a foothold in the workplace. To me it’s not a matter of which system will help them, it’s more about what combination of systems will help them, as no one system has yet been able to be all things for all people (otherwise we would all be using it).

Our role as Academics, Ed Designers, Ed Technologists, Academic Developers, Learning Consultants etc., is to be knowledgeable about the alternatives and able to unpack the tools at our disposal for those needing to use them. At the end of the day, we don’t use a screwdriver to punch in a nail and we don’t use a hammer to screw in bolts. But we do use an ePortfolio to provide a coherent picture of who we are as a professional, to demonstrate what we have achieved and, most importantly, provide the evidence for those claims in a constructively aligned way, without being so concerned about the social aspect (for that we use LinkedIn). On the other hand, we use LinkedIn to stay connected with our peers and to give them a taster of our professional life and experience, and then help them to make the connections to the fuller bodies of information that will help complete that picture (the ePortfolio).