I am currently working with a student volunteer who is setting up her virtual portfolio space in Second Life. An experienced gamer who was quick to pick up on the potential of Second Life, she asked me after a few days of exploration if it would be possible to do something with her own writing in-world and what forms this could take place. Within two days, she’d created a living area with a couch, a vase, and a decorative knick-knack (a prim twisted into an spiral and colored red). I sat down on the couch with my avatar, took a snapshot, and sent it back to her. She has already worked on an ePortfolio for the writing class she is taking, and she will be able to connect a link to her virtual space in Second Life to the portfolio and to update a blog there on her activities in Second Life. I see this project as a gateway to future development of both the virtual space and the ePortfolio. Interest in one should continue to reinforce interest in the other. If she wishes, of course, she can disconnect them and keep the activities separate. She may decide that she wants to concentrate more energy on Second Life than on the web-based elements of her portfolio or vice-versa. From the perspective of ePortfolio learning, it is important that she reflects upon whatever she creates and connects it to other aspects of her life in a meaningful way. How and where that reflection takes place is going to be determined by her needs and the needs of her audiences—and that is the rhetorical part of the digital rhetoric being exercised, to recall Schirmer’s work in Acquiring Literacy.
Of course, although building and scripting skills can be learned, the imagination is the key to a successful vPortfolio. Carolyn Sofia, a colleague who reviewed an early draft of this essay, sent me the following inspired reflection on what she imagined doing with a vPortfolio:
If given a plot, I will build a huge tower of Babel with many rooms. At the entrance a picture of an inkwell. When a visitor arrives and takes off the top of the inkwell, letters in different fonts and sizes would float out and disappear into shaded doorways. This is the invitation to entreat the user to come and explore. Behind different doorways I would have different media corresponding to the different time periods of the communicators of thought, i.e., parchment on which to see Greek and Roman philosophers' thoughts and a vase full of rolled, blank parchment on which to place my own thoughts; a theatre stage on which to have my avatar "speak" Shakespeare and then an empty stage on which I can create my own play, etc. a printing room a la Gutenberg, to make newspapers and printed content so students could produce their ePortfolios on screens in the room (as links to). The media is thus highlighted, but the user is invited to use it in an immediate way. (Sofia)
A learning curve exists between what one can imagine and one can build in a technically-complex program like Second Life. My volunteer started with a living room: a couch, then a lamp, then pictures for the wall. After that, she asked how she could make a book so she could display her poetry there: a succession of events that echoes Professor Sofia's dreams of recreating the Gutenberg printing press. Since creators have already create books in Second Life and even printing presses, I was able to introduce technologies in-world that could get her working on a virtual book within the week. Book Island is a region devoted to the book and to writers, in all forms, and after a trip there, I was able to purchase a blank Intellibook for my student. She can study the manual and learn to customize it for her needs, as well as delve into the further complexities of virtual bookmaking at her own pace.