Saturday, February 2, 2008

student portfolios

i started to write a response to philip about the great idea of starting student portfolios. mid way in writing the response, i noticed i lost the point of my email, but really liked what i wrote. so, instead of sending it to him i am posting it here.

Here is my initial reaction.

First, I think the blogs were a major success last semester. Blogging has become a great tool for Austen and I to communicate our ideas and actually writing them down helps a lot. (a side note, is that I think you are missing out on the Google Reader fun. google reader has totally changed how i learn and how i learn about others.)

With that being said, I am a little disappointed that the students don't blog on their own. I know its a hard thing to do. But, it is really useful to practice communicating. (i find it funny actually, its kinda like PSP, good while in class but students stop after class is done). To be honest, to a certain degree we are watching them and they have an opportunity to impress us (and the rest of the world). I think we are looking for insightful posts about teamwork, software development, ideas, etc - it takes practice and they should start now. and i'm not sure i saw a lots of communication between blogs, like comments etc. it would be great if that happened more.

Now on to the professional portfolio. I've noticed that a lot of the students blogged about creating their portfolio and their blogs say that they learned a lot by just creating the initial version. Thats great! Learning is the most important part. I think learning what value you add is far more important than showing it on a web page. After looking at a few of the students pages, i noticed that it didn't keep my interest. So, i thought about that for a while and came up with a list of things that does interest me.

Here is what i am interested in learning about a student:
- students that can communicate clearly
- students that are confident in what they have studied
- demonstrate that they have learned concepts and apply it to the real world
- demonstrate that they have worked on teams and in different situations
- show that they have been a leader
- show that they have been a follower
- prove that they have critical thoughts about a subject
- prove that they are driven
- prove that they have problem solving ability and then demonstrate it
- highlight something they wrote
- highlight a successful project
- explain why a project was not successful
- tell them why the company should hire them
- explain why they want to work at the company
- show the company that i did my homework
- have technical ability

the bottom line is that if the students did all those things; i'm going to check HIRE on my evaluation form. if I found a student like that, then who cares if they know Java. i guess i've learned that learning how to hack is the easy part. being able to show, demonstrate, prove, explain, and communicate those other things is not easily learned. i much rather teach someone java, than teach someone to communicate effectively. i even would rather teach someone the concepts of software engineering, than teach someone how to critically think.

thats why, i think portfolios are probably a small part of the story. teach the students how to think, communicate better, evaluate teams, learn from past experiences, and collaborate effectively and then you'll get a superstar student ready to soak up even more technical knowledge and theory.

but that's just me. i tend to be the type of person that thinks people are not replaceable. a person's potential is defined in their personality and drive; its not in their current technical skills.

with that being said, i do think a professional portfolio can highlight things i just said, but it takes a different focus. i have some ideas on how you can focus things differently... i'll leave it up the students to figure that out.


austen.ito said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
aaron said...

> on their way to being great!

no doubt, these students already have a leg up on the rest of the department. i'm sure they'll figure it out.

separate yourself, demonstrate your abilities, show you have critical thinking, and prove that you are driven!

austen.ito said...

> After looking at a few of the
> students pages, i noticed that it
> didn't keep my interest.

I'm still gathering my thoughts on the portfolios, but I understand what you mean by "[The pages] didn't keep my interest". I feel that portfolios should be a way for you to stand out from the rest of your peers. It felt that everyone's portfolio was the same saying, "My name is x", "I worked on MyISERN", It felt very resume-ish. Portfolios should build upon your resume because you have unlimited space to say "I'm awesome. Hire me!"

That being said, I think that the portfolios are still in their beta stage and are on their way to being great!

Philip Johnson said...

> no doubt, these students already have a leg up on the rest of the department.

That's not their real competition. I want them to be competitive against new CS graduates from other, top-ranked schools.

It would be cool if we could get the local high tech community to start keeping detailed data on (a) who you interview, (b) what their background was (degree, univiersity, etc.), (c) how you found them, and (d) whether you offered them a position, and (e) whether they accepted. We don't need names, of course, we need demographics. And we would need a "trusted source" for this (maybe Gerald Lau) who would not reveal the information except in aggregate form without ties to particular companies.

During the 17 years I've been in the local high tech community, I've heard lots of things every year from lots and lots of people, both positive and negative, about our students. There is not much consistency in these opinions, so it would be a great service to our department if we could start getting some objective evidence from multiple sources that we could use to benchmark ourselves against and measure the impact of changes in our pedagogy.

Of course, it's not all about optimizing the chances of a B.S. in ICS to fill a niche in the local high tech community. Our very best and most creative students might be better served by pursuing their personal passions which might not have immediate local high tech industry application, but which instead prepare them for graduate school at top-ranked institutions. They can get a Ph.D. and come back to be a professor in ICS at UH. :-)

Jon Lao said...

Thanks for the valuable review. I think you just gave me a good dose of motivation.

aaron said...

great idea philip, some sort of survey would be pretty useful for the department.

i was going to put this in my original post but decided to leave it out, but here it is: it definitely seems that the students returning from mainland schools that are looking for internships have a leg up on the UH ICS students in various areas. and yes, this could be that i'm not exposed the the "right" UH ICS students. but, it is a generalization that i make anyway.

one of the differences that i'm noticing is that it seems that the mainland students have more resources. for example, i talked to a student that was in charge of a gaming club; they get money from their department/college to setup gaming tournaments. he learned quite a few valuable leadership skills in doing so. in addition, he has a community in which talks about game theory, develops their own games, and continuously learn outside the class room. another mainland student talked about how their department/college sponsored a programming competition, where they interacted with industry mentors to solve a programming problem over the course of 3 days. the winner was sponsored to move on to a larger competition. these types of resources-for-students events and programs make a huge difference in the "extra" qualities that companies are looking for. gone are the days of just doing good in the classroom.

the bottom line is that companies are looking for students with (1) solid development skills, (2) domain experience, whether it is software engineering, artificial intelligence, algorithms, etc, and (3) soft skills: communication, leadership, writing, and team work.