Your Final Experience in the MLIS Program: E-portfolio and Thesis Options

iStudent Blog

Published: March 11, 2015

Even though you may be at the very beginning of your iSchool career, it’s never too early to start planning ahead, as they say. As an MLIS student, you’ll have the opportunity to choose your culminating experience—either an e-portfolio or a thesis.

During the current 2014–15 academic year, iSchool student groups sponsored two webinars about choosing your final project, reasons to consider each option and how to go about getting it done successfully (and even enjoying the experience!)

iSchool Faculty—Thesis vs. E-Portfolio
The first event, cosponsored by the SJSU ASIS&T and SLA Student Chapters in September 2014, featured instructors Dr. Debbie Hansen and Dr. Michelle Holschuh Simmons discussing the various challenges, merits and components of doing either a thesis or an e-portfolio. I’ll give you the major points here, but if you’d like to listen to a recording of the entire presentation, you can go to the Collaborate link here.

Dr. Hansen began the presentation by discussing the thesis option. With her background in history and teaching focus in archives, history and information and society, Hansen advises many students who work on a thesis as their culminating experience.

“Those students who have a deep interest on a particular subject using original research and scholarly writing will be most interested in doing a thesis,” said Hansen. “Students who wish to continue their schooling and go on to get PhDs are good candidates for doing a thesis, or those who would like to have a career in an academic or research library.” In fact, if you are interested in working in an academic library, a thesis may be expected because many of these positions carry faculty status that requires proficiency in scholarly research and writing.

Hansen warned that writing a thesis based on an original idea can be extremely challenging and time consuming. Consider that you might have to travel to do research, and whether or not you have the time and the money to do so. “It invariably adds an extra year or two to your MLIS program,” she said. “However, it’s also gratifying to have a tangible, permanent piece of writing that’s contributing to the profession and the scholarly literature of our field.”

If you are interested in pursuing a thesis as your final project for your MLIS, make sure to read the guidelines and take LIBR 285 Research Methods to verify that this is really the right path for you. A list of potential faculty advisors for your thesis committee can be found here.

In the second part of the presentation in September, Dr. Simmons discussed the e-portfolio option. Putting together an e-portfolio at the end of your coursework at the iSchool is a great way to see how your work and interests have grown, how you’ve connected ideas from different classes, and how you’ve acquired evidence of specific job skills. “It’s great preparation for job interviews,” said Simmons. “You can look at your coursework and the program holistically and say, ‘Sure, I can do that, and here’s the proof.’”

Students putting together their e-portfolios are required to write summaries and provide proof of all 15 of the Core Competencies as well as an introduction, a statement of professional philosophy, a conclusion and an affirmation.

Simmons suggests using the Core Competency map to help you connect classes and their assignments with competencies. But don’t use this as a hard-and-fast rule—some class assignments will work for different competencies, even if the competency isn’t listed on the map.

Each year, the due dates to turn in your e-portfolio to your advisor are the third Monday in November (fall semester) or the third Monday in April (spring semester). But that doesn’t mean you should wait until you sign up for the class. I can’t stress enough, and I hear it from instructors and staff all the time: start saving and organizing now.

Simmons recommended taking several important steps throughout the program to ensure that your e-portfolio experience will be a success:

*Be organized and back up all of your files!
*Review the 15 core competencies each semester.
*Brainstorm what core competencies mean to you, using your course assignments, articles, blogs, websites and any other ideas you may have.
*Set up an organizational system for notes and artifacts for each competency.
*Add artifacts to your organizational system every semester.

One of the most inspirational points of the presentation came when Simmons read an email from one of her advisees. If you listen to the recording, it is at about minute 43. The student discussed her experience with the e-portfolio, describing the way she first scheduled herself to complete two competencies a week. But then she got so excited about reviewing all her past assignments, discovering the connections between classes, and building on ideas presented throughout her coursework that she was motivated to complete her e-portfolio ahead of schedule. The process itself was both inspiring and enjoyable, and she could look at all she accomplished with pride.

Sarah Mundy—E-Portfolios Don’t Bite
On February 14, 2015, recent iSchool graduate Sarah Mundy gave a presentation sponsored by the SAASC to take some of the mystery and apprehension out of the e-portfolio process. You can listen to the half-hour presentation here.

Mundy added to the faculty presentation by discussing the advantages and disadvantages of using either the WordPress platform or the Canvas e-portfolio platform. She echoed the common advice—get organized (she used a Google spreadsheet)—and suggested using Google to search for a variety of previous e-portfolio examples, simply by typing in the search terms “SJSU e-portfolio.” Easy enough, right?

She also highlighted both Competency O, the discussion of professional goals and philosophy, and Competency J, in which she had to cite specific theories and models of information-seeking behavior. “It was so fun to go back and see what I’d done,” said Mundy. And when it’s all over, Mundy reminded listeners, remember to fill out the necessary paperwork for graduation, too.

During Mundy’s presentation, the attendees had some great questions and advice. Amy Totten noted, “I think it’s important to save assignment instructions along with your work; some of the assignments were so long ago and you have to kind of explain the assignment in the e-portfolio, so reviewing the instructions has been a lifesaver for me.”

Thanks to Mundy’s casual, upbeat attitude and the thorough presentation by Drs. Simmons and Hansen, I feel like I may be able to take on this beast known as the e-portfolio and in the end, receive that MLIS with pride.

Related Posts:
One of Your Best Resources at the iSchool—The Advising Site on Canvas

All About the MARA Program—Courses and Careers in Information Governance

The e-portfolio: Why Your Should Start Thinking About Your Final Class Now

Article Describing the E-Portfolio (This article is from the website The EvoLLLution and written by iSchool instructors and students about the e-portfolio experience.)

image courtesy of Stuart Miles


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