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Virginia Tech News / Articles / 2010 / 10 

Assistant professor wins grant to help enrich graduate student careers with e-portfolios

October 18, 2010

Lisa McNair
Lisa McNair

The days of a professional using a one-sheet resume with bullet points to land a job are fast becoming moot. Electronic portfolios are becoming more popular, and an assistant professor with the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech has won a $403,000 National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) grant to help engineering graduate students develop as reflective practitioners by using e-portfolios that could enrich their own careers.

Posted online, e-portfolios can include a mixture of scholarly teaching, research papers, video and links to research-related blogs, podcasts, and PowerPoint presentations to paint a highly personal narrative of a person’s professional experiences, according to Lisa McNair, an assistant professor with the department of engineering education.

“Future professoriate, engineering graduate students should be reflective practitioners who can leverage scholarly teaching approaches to contribute to the cycle of experience, learning and practice,” she wrote in her research proposal. “Specifically, graduate engineering students must be supported in developing professional identities both as educators and as engineers.”

McNair was awarded the five-year CAREER grant in September. It is the foundation’s most prestigious award, given to creative junior faculty considered likely to become academic leaders of the future.

E-portfolios can help graduating students become reflective practitioners and better compete in the marketplace as engineers and as educators, McNair said. Once finished, a student can post the e-portfolio to his or her own website, or use the Scholar online site hosted by Virginia Tech. Students also will be invited to have a direct involvement in the creation of their department’s e-portfolio assessment.

“E-portfolios are used extensively to enact meta-cognitive practices of learning development, professional career preparation, and program assessment,” McNair said. “E-portfolios are flexible, they promote student motivation and ownership, and they can be situated outside of established course structures and even linked with multiple institutions nationwide.”

McNair, co-director of the Virginia Tech Engineering Communication Center, will team with researchers at Georgia Institute of Technology, the University of Michigan and the University of Texas at El Paso to integrate e-portfolio work into their existing engineering graduate programs. Some of the schools already have burgeoning engineering education programs, as does Virginia Tech.

Each of the four individual university programs represent a different model, including an engineering education graduate program, teaching and learning programs established at different levels of the institutional structure -- university, college, and department levels, and – in the case of El Paso -- an urban, Hispanic-majority university that is promoting engineering education in its graduate program.

Graduate students will be able to edit, change and format their e-portfolio as they see fit and as their career expands and they learn from experiences, a cycle known as reflective practice. As part of her research, McNair will track progress of participating students’ professional identities as educators through annual surveys, portfolio assessments, and individual case studies.

McNair joined the Virginia Tech faculty in 2005. Among her awards won while at Virginia Tech is the 2008 Helen Plants Award for Best Nontraditional Session at Frontiers in Education, shared with Maura Borrego, an associate professor in the department of engineering education, and Lynita Newswander, then a doctoral student at Virginia Tech.

She previously worked at Georgia Tech as associate director of the university’s communications program. She received a bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English from the University of Georgia in 1983 and 1995, respectively, and a doctoral degree in linguistics from the University of Chicago in 2002.

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