Cynthia Davidson, Stony Brook University
Photo used under Creative Commons from www.facts.org
Structured feedback systems are compelling engagement factors in games such as World of Warcraft that are generally missing from Second Life. These could be developed by constructing a feedback system through the ePortfolio portal in which viewers could offer “power points” for a build (see Urgent Evoke’s power point system) (note 2). By connecting a build directly to a blog in the electronic portfolio, viewers could rate and/or comment on the build, and teachers could offer structured feedback as determined by an agreed-upon rubric. This system could incorporate the best elements of portfolio and gaming culture to create and foster a social network of literacy learning.
The vPortfolio is not likely to be initially popular with formal assessment interests, as virtual content will be difficult to assess in many cases. However, it is possible that virtual content could serve as artifactual evidence just like other learning objects and be evaluated via a matrice like the ones developed by Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and Florida State University. Kathleen Yancey writes, “The logic of matrix thinking is that a matrix prompts students to place any single artifact in multiple cells, in the process seeing this same artifact in multiple ways and thus drawing different conclusions about it and yet also synthesizing its value.” For example, in our current Leadership program at Stony Brook University, a central assignment students undertake is the creation of a personal logo or brand. Students could create a personal logo in the virtual environment that would also serve as a personal “office” where others could meet and talk with them or interact with objects that they design and develop. Such as space could also serve as a hub for meeting with potential employers once they finish the program. This artifact and others could be placed into a skills matrix that demonstrated “communication, creativity, critical thinking, leadership, life management, research/project development, social responsibility, teamwork, and technical/scientific” abilities—the categories in FSU’s matrix. The matrix could be accessible by a link to a website. (For example, our program is currently using Digication, so the matrix on the website could be linked to the object in Second Life, and the web page would open when triggered by a touch from a visitor in the Second Life office space. That is one possible way to connect the information, but others are certainly easily imagined).
Yancey state that evidence and reflection are essential to all claims being made by researchers about the value of ePortfolios in education: “Whether outcomes are programmatically identified or student-designed, the process of connecting artifacts to outcomes rests on the assumption that the selection of, and reflection on, a body of evidence offers another opportunity to learn and a valid means of assessment.” Reflection was starkly obvious in Nana’s remarks about her Burn2 build, and the reflection there was embodied in her avatar’s words, through text chat mediated by the avatar’s virtual body. It could have been voice chat, as well, if we had chosen. The form of reflection is extended by and inseparable from the technology in which the ePortfolio is created. The reflection could also be situated on a different digital surface, such as a blog or website—even a Blackboard site—that is linked to the virtual object being reflected upon, similar to the assessment matrix (see the paragraph above). The importance of reflection is reliant less of the nature of the interface than the engagement of the portfolio author, according to the ePortfolio research team at George Mason University cited in Yancey’s overview of ePortfolios in academia. These researchers found that excellent ePortfolios revealed an “emergent typology on use of evidence in portfolios” informed by students’ use of evidence that varies along three dimensions” “(1) the characteristics of the item used as evidence, (2) the explicit or deduced purpose of the portfolio creator in incorporating the selected evidence, and (3) the characteristics of the learning activity reflected in the use of evidence. Excellent e-portfolios “align” evidence with context and with audience, and “there is a match between the content of the evidence and the way it is framed in the reflective narrative of the e-portfolio.”