BY MICHAEL BUGEJA
Capstone classes document what students have learned over the course of their academic careers. Assignments must have practical purposes, especially given student debt, higher tuition rates, and competition for paid internships and employment.
Students in the Greenlee School’s senior media ethics class, accessible at myethicsclass.com, create a digital portfolio with a personal ethics code. The assignment plays a major role in our assessment and placement efforts, key compliance components for accreditation or reaccreditation by the Accrediting Council for Education in Journalism and Mass Communications. You can view a selection of portfolio links by clicking here. (Students have given written permission to share their links on the class website.)
I began requiring professional portfolios upon teaching media ethics at Ohio University in 1986. Until the late 1990s, student projects were created via video or audio cassette, photographs and print projects, from posters to brochures.
Some students who graduated years ago still maintain their sites. Here’s an example from Angela Krile, president and CEO of Krile Communications, who took my class at Ohio in the mid-1990s. She writes:
Our Core Values
While they are fairly straightforward, we live by them in everything we do:
- We follow the Golden Rule and the Ten Commandments.
- We do it right, and when we don’t, we make it right.
- We care about each other, our work, our clients, and our community.
- We harness our creativity to help our clients tell their story.
- Good work and good life are both important. One won’t work without the other.
- We hire people, not positions.
In this article, I will be posting YouTube instructional videos to save space and to illustrate visually methods and finished products. The portfolio project involves an entire semester’s work. You can view the process via this YouTube video:
Here are portfolio requirements as outlined on the syllabus:
Home Tab : This page is a showcase of what’s inside. Design it attractively with visuals (photo of you) and menu.
About Tab : This page gives viewers a sense of your personality, your dreams, goals, hobbies, etc. Again, include a photo that meshes with your personality.
Resume (or My Bio): The resume has to be designed as a web page. Do not take a photo of your resume and then post it. Do not put a document in a download link. Employers won’t download content onto their phones. This web page represents you. Make it shine.
Work Samples (or separate tabs/dropdown devices for my internship, multimedia, videos, photography, campaigns, social media, class projects, blog, etc.): You should have at least two platforms. Again, DO NOT just provide links and downloads. If you link to another site, such as The Iowa State Daily, to showcase an article, then take a screenshot of the article, make it a thumbnail, briefly describe the content, and then design the page with external links.
Ethics Code: You must have 5-6 values, and again, this must be designed with visuals, illustrations, etc.
Contact Information: Add a visual or even design this tab as a final reminder to attract the viewer.
Students can have other tabs or rename these (as long as they contain the requisite information). You can see a video about these requirements on YouTube:
The portfolio assignment is worth 500 points, half the grade in media ethics. We also have a 250-point midterm and final based on philosophy, history and theory. The goal of these exams is to ensure that students know ethical definitions and concepts and can articulate them in discussions. The goal of the portfolio project is to infuse technology and professional practice into what typically is categorized as a theoretical class (as opposed to the 20-seat maximum in skills courses).
To be sure, ACEJMC advocates for media ethics apart from considerations involving technology and practice. It includes ethics in its mission statement, noting that professional programs should be accountable to “the public interest for their knowledge, ethics [my emphasis], competence and service.” In its statement about professional values and competencies, found under its guiding principles, ACEJMC includes these tenets:
- present images and information effectively and creatively, using appropriate tools and technologies.
- apply tools and technologies appropriate for the communications professions in which they work.
ACEJMC also urges programs “to advise students to acquire appropriately supervised experience in campus media and professional internships.” Media ethics courses should live up to those criteria. In addition to theory, such courses can be transformative if technology, practice and internship preparation are added into lesson plans.
In August 2022, the Wall Street Journal reported on “ Five Skills College Students Will Need for Their Future Careers.” They include “Entrepreneurship in the Metaverse,” “Ethics and AI,” “Networking 101” and “Building a Personal Brand.” The fifth skill, “Designing for Natural Disasters,” focuses on architects, engineers and planners. However, entrepreneurship, artificial intelligence, networking and branding are topics of the mass communication capstone experience, which a digital portfolio illustrates.
Incorporating such a project into a course may require departmental support to ensure that students have access to digital tools that help create impressive portfolios. For instance, ISU’s Greenlee School provides Adobe Creative Suite to media ethics students. We expect our juniors and seniors to have basic digital competency by the time they take our academic capstone class.
Upon entering media ethics, many of our students already know how to construct a portfolio using templates from popular applications such as WordPress, Wix, Blogger, Tumbler, Square Space or Webley. We recommend WordPress because that is the easiest to manipulate via coding into a full-blown website.
We do devote one class session to portfolio creation and utilize YouTube videos and other digital and instructional resources so that those topics do not detract from class time spent on traditional media ethics fare. To get them going, we share a YouTube video that serves as a step-by-step guide with HTML primers:
I also award extra credit—as much as 50 “wow” points for dazzling portfolios; however, to qualify, students must have video content. That’s essential these days in securing a job. Avatar Studios writes in “ The Importance of Video in Communication”:
Videos have taken the world by storm over the past few years. They are trending everywhere be it social media, websites, television, advertisements, etc. Videos always have a strong impact and are easy to understand when compared with static content.
Some of our students know how to use video production software such as Adobe Premiere Pro. Many, however, have no or little experience creating videos. We recommend that they learn the simpler Adobe Premiere Rush. We post a YouTube instruction guide explaining the basics:
Personal ethics codes are essential. I tell students that hundreds of others from competing schools will be touting their skill sets, but employers will be looking for hires that also know the value of fact-based truth, personal responsibility, fairness, collegiality and diversity, equity and inclusion.
Students are given detailed instructions on how to create such codes in this downloadable presentation.
As instructor, I present dozens of ethics codes from advertising agencies, public relations firms, and media outlets. If students aspire to work for a specific company, they are asked to research the organization’s mission statement, compliance site and ethics code and align their own values with desired corporate ones.
Sometimes students are surprised to see that their values—concern about the environment, say—are not shared by a company or media outlet. Eventually students identify companies with compatible values. That tip goes a long way during job interviews. The personal ethics code is a discussion starter.
Upon completion of their portfolios, students have a leg-up on the competition. While others ask potential employers if they can send a resume or samples of their work, our students simply send a portfolio link in any job or internship query. Moreover, they include their links on email signature files and LinkedIn, along with other social media sites.
The result has been outstanding job placement within six months of graduation. Our 2021 statistics during the pandemic have just been released, with 88.3% of 60 advertising majors procuring employment. Some 90.7% of 45 journalism majors and 95% of 59 public relations majors also secured jobs, with a few entering the military or graduate school.
Our alumni often review student portfolios while in progress and suggest revisions or additions. This is part of our assessment efforts. Portfolios are important for assessment purposes as they represent “direct measures” or evidence of quality (rather than “indirect” or perceived measures as illustrated, perhaps in student evaluations).
To be sure, media ethics classes should cover history, philosophy, political science and psychology, along with a handful of case studies that set legal or ethical precedents. Comprehension thereof can be measured in exams. When it comes to assignments, a portfolio with personal ethics code is more appropriate than the term paper, critical essay or book report. Such a project showcases the application of moral principles while emphasizing digital prowess in preparation for internships and first jobs.
Image by Headway on Unsplash