Chapter 16: Communicating experiential learning through an online portfolio in Tumblr – The Plugged-In Professor


Communicating experiential learning through an online portfolio in Tumblr

Aaron J. Moore


This semester-long project uses an online or e-portfolio for students performing experiential work (internships, co-ops, fieldwork). Students use Tumblr as their online portfolio and connect their academic course work to what they are currently learning in a professional or field environment. The project calls for students to regularly update their portfolios with information and insight about the tasks assigned to them by their workplace supervisors. Along with posting relevant pictures and videos, students also write concise narratives and articulate how fieldwork is associated with the ideas and theories learned in other courses. Using Tumblr as an online portfolio allows instructors to regularly provide feedback and guidance to students during the semester. The feedback from the instructor and from other students forms communal discourse. This is useful in a class where students are geographically separated while engaged in field experience and don’t physically encounter their peers on a regular basis.

Key words



experiential learning

integrative learning



Discipline/Academic areas addressed

Applicable across all academic disciplines, including education, that incorporate experiential learning through internships, co-ops, and fieldwork. In the social sciences and humanities, the online portfolio works particularly well for English, communication, journalism, art, history, and psychology.

Instructional purpose

This project serves as a method to initiate and document integrative learning that occurs during an experiential course. Integrated or connected learning has both academic and professional relevancies. Criticism is levied by both academics and professionals regarding the mind-set of the millennial college student. Academicians have been critical when they contend students do not properly connect or synthesize material from one course to another, especially across disciplines (Arum and Roksa, 2011; Graf, 2009). Many employers have voiced similar displeasure regarding how poorly millennials connect different sources of materials in one final project, saying that younger employees have trouble “seeing the big picture”.

An online or e-portfolio for experiential work provides a platform for students to form connections between various subject areas and disciplines based on what they encounter in the field. Experiential courses serve as excellent opportunities for students to engage in and elaborate on integrative learning. Updating the online portfolio throughout the semester requires students to pull together their entire experiences inside and outside of the classroom and create a narrative that exhibits their intellectual and professional development. The final product becomes an effective tool that can be utilized for overall student assessment conducted by either an academic department or college wide.

As more schools encourage their students to take internships and co-ops, it is essential for instructors to make sure these experiences satisfy academic requirements and goals. Assignments must be cultivated that ensure both rewarding academic and professional experiences. An online portfolio as a semester-long project requires students to consistently make connections between class work and professional work in an effort to help them see the “big picture”. Also, an online portfolio allows instructors to regularly monitor student performance and provide expeditious feedback. It remedies a common situation in fieldwork courses where students hand in all of their academic work at the end of the semester, and there is little interaction between the student and the instructor over the course of the semester. The online portfolio facilitates a learning environment where students do consistent academic work alongside their professional responsibilities over the course of the semester.

This assignment also allows instructors to model proper social media communication. Using the concept of backwards design, the instructor creates his or her own online portfolio (a Tumblr page that students can model). This teaches students best practices for social media and lays the scaffolding for a positive professional image. Before academicians can demand their students use social media in a beneficial manner, they need to review proper examples (Cunnane, 2010).

Student learning outcomes

1. Students will use text and images to explain their work/duties at the field site.

2. Students will effectively communicate via social media by using clear and concise prose, properly citing any sources, and adhering to the rules of fair use of any copyrighted material.

3. Students will demonstrate integrated learning by composing a narrative with text and images that synthesizes connections among experiences outside of the traditional classroom with their scholarly work.

4. Students will demonstrate their self-reflection by making a progression of posts throughout the semester that build upon past experiences that have occurred across multiple and diverse contexts.

Prerequisite skills and knowledge

Digital natives are versed in communicating with peers via social media but for this project their main focus should be writing in concise paragraphs that serve as individual thoughts and ideas. Each post should have a consistent look and appearance.

For those students unfamiliar with blogging or writing for social media, instructors should direct them to the numerous online sites that provide such tips. Tumblr and Zemanta provide step-by-step instructions and a video tutorial on how to upload images and videos with proper attribution. Students should be at least second-semester sophomores in good standing (in order to have enough classroom experience to make connections).

Step-by-step directions

1. Get approval from the internship supervisor to create an online portfolio documenting your fieldwork. If this conflicts with the organization’s confidentiality requirements, contact the instructor to make alternative plans. Do not create a Tumblr page without consent from a supervisor. Also, get approval from coworkers before posting their names/images. In order to privatize a Tumblr portfolio for only the professor to view, the student must make a secondary blog by clicking on the plus (+) button located in the right corner of the Tumblr home page and select “password protect the blog”.

2. Go to the discussion board on Blackboard (WebCT, etc.) and list the location of your internship (fieldwork), duties, and URL to your Tumblr page.

3. Follow each classmate on Tumblr.

4. Design your Tumblr page so it clearly identifies you by name, the place where, and the industry in which, you are working. Download the free plug-in Zemanta

    This provides attribution for borrowed Web-based content.

5. Post your biography and resume.

6. Go to Tumblr

    to see the proper way to create and work with a Tumblr e-portfolio for the class. The following video gives an overall Tumblr tutorial:

7. Two to three times per week you will make Tumblr posts that recap and explain the assignments you did during the week. You will upload visual (stills or videos) examples of your work (projects, assignments, reports) done in the field along with a written recap of the fieldwork. Explain with a brief narrative of what the experiential assignment is and how it relates to your academic work. Examples of your fieldwork can be press releases, promos, designs, videos, professional emails, advertising copy, field reports, pictures, etc. Also, you can upload previous examples of your academic work conducted in class and write a narrative on how it relates to work done in the field. Find a way to explain how the work you did in the field connects to previous academic work.

8. When documenting your experiences (both positive and negative), don’t use common informal social media abbreviations – keep in mind you are writing this for a professional audience. Communicate as a professional in terms of tone, content, and style. Social media writing is based on concise sentences (12 to 15 words per sentence). Use professional terminology associated with your industry when explaining your experiences. Avoid long blocklike paragraphs with a number of sentences tacked together. Rather, have each separate idea broken up into a unique paragraph.

9. Each post should include either a picture or video. Part of this assignment is to communicate your experiences visually. If there is no picture/video of your fieldwork, find a picture online that represents your experience for the week, and post it with correct citation. Each post should have a similar word count in order to create a visual consistency.

10. Submit 15 to 20 posts per semester (updated consistently – not just periodically). Also, embed links to source material.

11. For the final post(s), give an extended reflection on the entire experience and what you learned in the “big picture” sense. Reflect and articulate how this experience will shape your career goals.

a. In order to write an effective self-reflection, students should look to answer questions such as: What did I learn; what am I most proud of; what will I do with the knowledge gained during the experiential class? These answers should be formulated by separating yourself from the work – (don’t rely on “I” opinions or use clichés such as “I learned a lot …”).

b. Write your self-reflection as if you are talking about someone you observed, not about yourself (this helps eliminates excessive use of the first person. Readers who don’t know you or where you did the experiential work, should be able to ascertain your placement and duties by reading your self-reflection. Use specific examples to document and highlight your learning experiences - don’t assume the reader knows details about you or the industry.

c. To enhance your self-reflection, use an expert voice to develop and answer other such questions as: what communication/technical skills are needed for those in this industry; what are the ethical responsibilities of those in the industry; what recommendations would you make for those looking to enter this industry; what are the pros and cons of working in this industry; how would you rectify a mistake you made during the internship? This should be the longest post(s) of the semester in terms of word count.

Approximate time required

 Project runs over the course of the semester.

 At least two Tumblr posts every 10 days.

 At least eight to ten comments posted on other students’ Tumblr portfolios.

Required resources

Students should familiarize themselves with Tumblr and its applications before making their online or e-portfolio. The site is similar but different in a number of ways compared to Facebook and Twitter. Several tutorials have been included in “Step-by-step directions”. Here are some more:

Necessary technology includes:

 Internet access

 Blackboard, WebCT, or other platform that connects students through a discussion board.

Variations on the basic theme

Tumblr is the best social media platform for this project because it provides for an effective combination of pictures and videos with the narratives. The layout of the site and the ability to put extended amounts of text alongside visuals is consistent with the appearance of an online portfolio. Tumblr enables students to create a developmental portfolio that could in the future be converted into a professional portfolio. During their experiential course, students can conveniently upload material to their Tumblr page making the project an ongoing formative, rather than a summative, activity.

Instead of the informal appearance of Facebook, Tumblr allows for modifications that help students create unique blogs that can also be used for professional branding purposes. Students can articulate their ideas with more support and analysis on Tumblr than they can on Twitter. Other sites such as WordPress and Blogger could be used for this assignment.

The Tumblr portfolio can also be used with Facebook or Twitter as those sites could be used to send out a message to the instructor and fellow students that the portfolio has been updated.

For disciplines or organizations where privacy is a requisite factor, pictures and video should be eliminated. This online portfolio can be used for any discipline since it allows students to conduct a narrative using both text and visuals to convey their meanings and ideas.

Observations and advice

This semester-long project assists in enhancing the academic experiences of internships and fieldwork placements. Prior to using the online or e-portfolio, I rarely encountered students actively making connections of ideas between their different courses. This lack of dialogue and synthesis was especially true between different disciplines. Students now exhibit greater self-assessment when they write how field experiences remind them of what they learned in other classes. Having students communicate about their experiences through the online portfolio fosters integrative learning and a sense of interdisciplinary connection. In order to nurture this thinking, the instructor needs to explicitly detail the assignment’s expectations that students must critically analyze their experiences, not just log them.

The online or e-portfolio provides a valuable tool for students to communicate with their peers about their internship or fieldwork locations. Prior to using Tumblr, most of my students were unaware of the places their peers were doing similar work. Students now share information and insight about what businesses in the area provide the best (and worst) internships or field experiences. This shared information has helped increase the academic and professional rewards students are able to receive from their internships and field experiences.

An effective portfolio will be one that is updated regularly throughout the semester, uses proper grammar and a professional voice, but still follows best social media practices of direct and concise sentences and paragraphs. Also, each post will provide a deeper understanding of the student’s learning by connecting it to learning in other courses or disciplines. The posts will also feature appropriate images or videos of the work. If students are unable to provide a picture of their work, they will use images (properly attributed) from the Web that best represents their experience. Finally the last few posts will be reflections or self-assessments of their experiences in the field, and students should articulate how this experience has shaped their future career goals. The reflective posts should be an overview of what the student learned about the industry and the expectations of those working in it.

From a social media standpoint, students will communicate more professionally than they were previously accustomed to when just used for informal matters. The instructor models the proper way of communicating (both text and visual) with his/her Tumblr page so students can see appropriate professional social media behavior. Students then do likewise, with the result that they have online portfolios that display their work and brand them as young professionals with field experience. The online portfolio is a way to transition students from just using social media for informal communication to professional outreach and development.

Recommended reading

Arum, R., Roksa, J. Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses. University of Chicago Press; 2011.

Benander, R. Experiential learning in the scholarship of teaching and learning. Journal of the Scholarship of Learning and Teaching. 2009, June; 9(2):36–41.

Challis, D. Towards the mature ePortfolio: Some implications for higher education. Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology. 31(3), 2005, Autumn.

Cunnane, S. Don't be afraid to share. Times Higher Education, 2010, October. Available from

Ferriter, W. Digitally speaking. Educational Leadership. 2011, April; 68(7):92–93.

Gikandi, J.W., Morrow, D., Davis, N.E. Online formative assessment in higher education: A review of the literature. Computers and Education. 2011, December; 57(4):2333–2351.

Graff, G., It’s time to end”Courseocentrism”. Inside Higher Ed, 2009, January 13 Available from

Kim, P., Ng, C.K., Lim, G. When cloud computing meets with semantic web: A new design for e-portfolio systems in the social media era. British Journal of Educational Technology. 2010, November; 41(6):1018–1028.

Mason, R., Pegler, C., Weller, M. E-portfolios: An assessment tool for online courses. British Journal of Educational Technology. 2004, October; 35(6):717–727.

Matteson, A. Do you Tumble? Tumblr could change the way you blog. School Library Monthly. 2011, February; 27(5):54–56.

Minott, M. Portfolio development, reflection, personal instructional theory and the scholarship of teaching and learning. College Quarterly. 2010, Spring; 13(2):6–13.

Moores, A., Parks, M. Twelve tips for introducing e-portfolios to undergraduates. Medical Teacher. 2010, January; 32(1):46–49.

O’Neil, L. A guide to happy and legal Tumbling. Wall Street Journal. 2011, May 21; 257(118):D9.

Torras, M.E., Mayordomo, R. Teaching presence and electronic regulation in online portfolios. Computers in Human Behaviors. 2011, November; 27(6):2284–2291.

Yi-Li, L., Chen, G.D. A coursework support system for offering challenges and assistance by analyzing students’ web portfolios. Journal of Education Technology & Society. 2009, April; 12(2):205–221.

Young, J. Creating online portfolios can help students see “big picture,” colleges say. Chronicle of Higher Education., 2002, February 21. Available from

Supplemental materials

Feedback and grade for internship e-portfolio

Since I do not want to post critical or evaluative comments on the portfolio which would then be available for public display, this rubric is presented to the students at the end of the semester. The criteria are based on the assignment and expectations presented to students at the beginning of the semester.

If there are issues with the quality of a student’s portfolio during the beginning of the semester, I email him/her and have them come to the office for consultation rather than post them on Tumblr. Grading is based on a 1–5 point system with 5 being superior work that surpasses all expectations and 1 being inadequate work.

Table 16.1

E-portfolio grading

Criteria Points
Comments (if any)
Consistent/timely posts throughout the semester (total between 15 and 20)
Proper attribution for outside Web content used in portfolio
Professional presentation of material (spelling, formatting, tone, language, visual consistency)
Appropriate use of visual material as support for written text
Bio and resume
Synthesis of experiential work with previous academic experience. Posts contain repeated connection with the fieldwork activities to ideas, theories and principles discussed in other classes
Final post(s) are self-reflective and focus on what the student learned about him/herself during the experiential class. Posts demonstrate a growing awareness of the industry and the expectation of those within it. Effectively provides a self-reflection without excessive use of “I”
Expert voice — over the semester, the student discussed topics such as ethical responsibilities, made recommendations about succeeding within the industry, and the pros and cons of working within the industry
Made between 8 and 10 substantial comments on other students’ Tumblr pages. Demonstrated a sense of communal learning