Software that knows you & the future of ePortfolio tools

Trudging up the hill this morning, with Spark 98 in my ears, listening to Nora interview Yorick Wilks about the Companions Project (Yorick, by the way, has one of the best names I’ve heard lately).

COMPANIONS aims to change the way we think about the relationships of people to computers and the Internet by developing a virtual conversational ‘Companion’.

This will be an agent or ‘presence’ that stays with the user for long periods of time, developing a relationship and ‘knowing’ its owners preferences and wishes. It will communicate with the user primarily by using and understanding speech.

We’ve seen the kernels of these connections in tools like Apple’s iPhoto faces and Google’s Similar Images. There are similar tools, but these jump to mind.

This got me to thinking about the future of ePortfolios, and other tools built on the foundation of collecting student work that to exhibit learning and achievement over time. I think some of the ideas behind the Companions Project could effectively be built into eP tools. Here’s the kind of thing I’m envisioning:

The learner is presented with a simple question: What are you learning?. The learner responds with a topic of research, theoretical examination, fact-based inquiry, or whatever’s relevant to their current situation. The student-to-“eP agent” conversation continues:

agent: What resources have you been looking at?
learner: Book X, public lecture Y, thisURLhere.com
agent: Tell me more about thisURLhere.com, what did you take away from it?

agent: I see in your repository that 20 months ago, you uploaded a file called “ABC*5555_Final”. We’ve scanned that article, and notice that “Author B” is included in your bibliography. “Author B” is one of the contributors to thisURLhere.com. How has your thinking changed from when you uploaded this article? Would you like to read more about Author B’s work?

agent: We’ve scanned your digital images (with your permission, of course), and noticed some potentially relevant pictures of your trip to “Mount Wonderful”. Would you like to look at those now, talk about them on them, and include these images and reflections in your ePortfolio?

The learner could grant permissions to the eP companion to scan their emails, documents, web history, and data related to their academic activity (transcripts, past grades, library record, etc). The engine behind it would make inferences and connections between these digital artifacts, and then prompt then be prompted to comment and reflect on them. The natural extension from this would be for the companion to branch out to other learners’ eP repositories and make connections and suggestions between them.

Eventually, the eP agent could ask, “Would you like me to create a draft presentation based on your collected artifacts and reflections on this topic?” or “You’ve clearly demonstrated activity and growth in the subject area of Woodland Ecology, and I notice you’re in your fourth year of studies. Would you like me to assemble a presentation for future employers?”

Sign me up for the beta.

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5 thoughts on “Software that knows you & the future of ePortfolio tools

  1. Bingo!

    In addition to the ePortfolio, I think this learning agent would be a part of the next generation of personal learning environments.

    The PLE should enable–even prompt–the user to reflect, make connections, and publish. Rather than a only an instructional repository, I think the next gen learning environment needs to be a platform for writing, collecting, sharing, and conversing.

    I’m quite curious to see the results of Downes’ recent PLE survey out of the NRC.

  2. The ability to reflect on one’s experiences, learning, challenges, etc is extremely powerful and largely underplayed today.

    Reviewing your own reflections (especially over a period of years) provides insight that is often lost to many people. Our memory doesn’t serve all that well and has a limited ability to formulate themes and passions that lead to better and more educated decisions in careers and life.

    ePortfolios create an functional interface to streamline a process that has been going on for years (i.e. journaling or writing in a diary). Reflection tools within eP are still largely underutilized, so complementary tools that encourage and prompt users to capture this are wonderful.

  3. Pingback: Research & Instruction Services » Future of Academic Support?

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