Friday, 5 August 2016

PebblePad 5 brings improvements to a powerful reflective portfolio tool

August sees big improvements to PebblePad, with the launch of v5 meaning a better experience for users of the reflective portfolio tool.



PebblePad is a personal learning space, used primarily for e-portfolios, and evidencing achievements and skills. The focus of the system is on reflection, allowing learners not only to log experiences, but reflect on their learning journey as they progress.

Learners can create their own material in PebblePad, using it to log and reflect upon any experiences they feel important. Alternatively tutors can create resources for learners to complete, which can then be assessed using the part of PebblePad known as ATLAS (Active Teaching, Learning and Assessment Space). Anything students create belongs to them, with learner ownership an important part of the PebblePad ethos. Free alumni accounts can be set up allowing unlimited access to learners’ material even after they leave the institution. Students can share anything they create with others, even those without PebblePad accounts, and even publish their material to the web for all to see.

 PebblePad can be beneficial to learners as it allows for a scaffolding of reflective practice. This can be for an individual module or assignment, the entirety of a learner’s time at University, or anything in-between. Tutors can check in with their students’ progress at any point, giving formative feedback and identifying learning needs. It also allows learners to think about and log their experiences as they progress through their academic career, and easily draw upon those at a later date. It is very flexible and can be used for a number of situations – it can be used as easily for tracking achievements in societies, hobbies or pastimes as it can for academic and professional development.

At the University of Sheffield, PebblePad is used effectively in a range of departments. It is used extensively across the Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health in Doctoral Development activities, and in Postgraduate Training Needs Analyses and other activities across the Faculties of Science and Arts & Humanities. It is also the method for staff members creating HEA-accredited portfolios for the Learning and Teaching Professional Recognition Scheme. Other users include Careers, Sheffield International College, the Department of Lifelong Learning and Social Work, as well as it being used for a number of individual modules and assignments across all faculties of the University.

While always a powerful tool for undertaking this kind of work, it has been let down by a Flash-based interface, which was feeling dated, was not compatible with mobile devices, and many users found confusing and unintuitive. On the 8th of August we move across from v3 to v5, which addresses a number of issues with the system. 
Most significantly Flash is replaced with HTML5, meaning full compatibility with all browsers, including on mobile devices. With this comes a fresh new interface, looking cleaner, more modern, and easier to navigate. Much of the functionality has been simplified, and the language used has been made clearer and less confusing. Uploading and managing files in PebblePad has been vastly improved, and is easy to navigate. Creating portfolios, and templates and workbooks for others to use, is now an easier and quicker process than before, with the end results looking attractive and professional. There are not many new feature as such (PebblePad are wisely focusing on making existing features better), although there are a few additions to workbooks and portfolios that make them more flexible than before.

As the new version works on the same technical system, all material will be automatically transferred, with no downtime and no loss of data. ATLAS is not changing in the short-term, meaning those members of staff who only use PebblePad to administer assignments or mark work are unlikely to need additional training. Eventually ATLAS will be changed to match the style and feel of the rest of the system. 

While there are some significant changes in the way the system looks and is navigated, we feel strongly that this will be easier for learners to use, and greatly improve the experience of both staff and students using PebblePad. It is also hoped that the new version will address some issues that may have put colleagues off using it in the past, and that the simpler, attractive and responsive new interface will allow more people to consider its use when setting reflective, portfolio-based tasks.

If you have any questions about PebblePad, and how it can be used with your learners, please contact the TEL Team at tel@sheffield.ac.uk

Pete Mella