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Improving Students' Skills in Creating Professional Portfolios Department of Communications 

By Karen Russell, Professor of Communications 
Tennessee State University

With one of the largest departments on the campus of Tennessee State University, the Department of Communications is focused on student learning and preparing our students for careers in media, entertainment, theater, and corporate communications. This goal could not be reached by the efforts of just one person or even a committee of people. This task requires full faculty buy-in and participation...and that starts with assessing student learning and using those results for improvement in our curriculum and our course-based objectives. 


Our student learning outcomes assessment changed from a theoretical method of assessment to a combined method of assessment of theory and practice. We sought to have a more integrated system of assessing our curriculum.  We used our portfolio process as the linchpin for pulling the pieces together.  In a department of industry professional and practitioners, there was an understanding of the importance of being able to demonstrate a set of skills as well as and understanding of the foundations and history behind them. We also found that for students who excel in the hands-on, practical part of our curriculum, the portfolio provided tangible proof of their mastery of material and ability to secure employment post-graduation.

After this shift, we soon realized that some areas of our curriculum did not focus on the elements of the portfolio rubric we had established for assessment. For example, Student Learning Outcome 1 (SLO1) states that “Students will be able to create professional content for the media industry.” In 2018-2019, analysis of results found that of the 34 students enrolled in the senior capstone course, only 26 students (76%) completed their portfolio for review. Those 26 students averaged a score of 72% on their portfolio assessment. While this score was sufficient to meet our criteria for success, it highlighted two significant areas needing improvement. First, all students should have a portfolio as they leave the university and second, it should be career-ready. Media students are expected to come into the workforce with a certain level of expertise in writing, shooting, editing and storytelling. Theater students must rely on perfecting their auditions to be able to secure employment in the arts.

The 2018-2019 assessment also indicated students did not have the five (5) high-level projects required on the rubric. In response the following action was taken to address improving student learning and the student learning experience. In 2018, we implemented course-based projects with real-world professionals to better prepare the students for the level of work required.  These projects included working with marketing firms around the country to create media re-branding campaigns, bringing television executives to campus to hear student pitches, and creating mock interviews with hiring managers with local television stations. We also implemented a system for portfolio reviews at the sophomore and junior levels as well. Various courses in the curriculum were chosen for students to submit their current portfolio, review, and receive feedback. This was to ensure a higher level of completion and a more comprehensive, career-ready portfolio. 


After implementing this intervention, the 2019-2020 assessment cycle showed not only an increase from 76% to 82% in portfolio completion, but also the average score on the rubric had increased from 72% to 85%. Faculty also observed a noticeable improvement in writing skills as we implemented multiple portfolio reviews throughout the curriculum. Writing had fewer mechanical errors, more creativity, and more professional in substance. Students were also more engaged and have found the results valuable to their post-graduation endeavors. Recent alums have gotten jobs before graduating or immediately following graduation and attribute that to the quality of their professional portfolio. Our media partners and partners in talent acquisition have also shared that the improvement has made the students more marketable in the workforce.


The use of results for improvement is a team effort. It takes participation, accountability, and dedication from our entire faculty. At the end of each semester, we meet as a group to discuss the results of our assessment report and how best to address the shortfalls. Through this collective effort, we can decide what is best for our students, our department, and in the end, the university.

Additional Context

This learning improvement project is a story of alignment: identifying what skills students need to be successful, creating relevant learning opportunities, and providing feedback across their journeys. The Communication BA/BS is one of the largest programs at Tennessee State University and has approximately 300 majors. Tennessee State University, a Historically Black College and University is located in Nashville, Tennessee and received the Carnegie classification of R2 (Doctoral Institution, High Research).

Keywords: portfolio, learning improvement, communication studies

Suggested Citation

Russell, K. (2024). Improving Students' Skills in Creating Professional Portfolios Department of Communications. Learning Improvement Community. Retrieved from

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