PebbleBash 2016

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I recently attended the above Conference at the Technology Innovation Park, University of Wolverhampton. This Conference was a ‘global gathering’ and brought together established users of PebblePad from Australia and the UK with new users of the system, Canada and America for the first time. PebblePad conferences happen in the UK every 2 years and are renowned for their friendliness, collegiality and the obligatory ceilidh. The two days were brimmed full with the sharing of good practice, inspirational speakers and plenty of ideas to take away. As with any conference, it is good to get totally immersed with like-minded people and hear fresh ideas and approaches to current PebblePad usage from all over the world, by universities and professional bodies alike.

The University of Cumbria has been a user of PebblePad since its inception in 2005, and thus, we were one of the more established users at the event (along with Bradford, Edinburgh and Wolverhampton). We have seen it through its various stages from early ‘Classic’ (remember those plopping pebbles?) to Version 3 (our current version) and to looking ahead at Version 5 which most universities transferred over to this summer. (By way of explanation, we didn’t feel that the product was ‘ready enough’ for our students and staff at this moment in time, as major functions such as ‘Collaborate’ aren’t in the new version yet. They will be by the time we transfer across in the summer of 2017.)

Newer users of PebblePad have solely begun to use Version 5; so-called as it is written in HTML5 which means it will work on any PC, laptop or mobile device and will behave in exactly the same way on whichever device is used. Flash has now been written out of the operating system entirely, which proved so troublesome for Apple-based products for many years. These new users were brimming with ideas of how they currently use the system and are discovering more about it as time progresses. One clear theme that came through is, once students get to grips with using the system, the standard of creative work which emerges out of given tasks is far superior to standard written formats. Version 5 is heralded as the easiest yet to use, with items added via drag and drop.

Some of the ideas being showcased were not new to us, for example, using PebblePad for annual review processes, but others were quite unique, for example, using PebblePad to track dissertation proposals through from initial idea and meetings, through to allocation of supervisors, recording of meetings and collecting all the paperwork surrounding this complex process into one place. What did emerge is that where PebblePad has been enthusiastically adopted, students and staff were reaping good rewards out of the system.

Throughout the course of the two days, I saw demonstrations of how some institutions use PebblePad to map their NMC (Nursing and Midwifery Council) Professional Standards; others use it to track their TTA (Teacher Training Agency) Professional Standards, and many more use it for a variety of ‘soft’ employability skills – equivalent to our Career Ahead offer. Students in many institutions are ‘gifted’ (yes they speak of it as a gift they give to their students) with PebblePad and are expected to use it to chart their development through their studies. Inspiring talks demonstrated how PebblePad were used for health OSCEs (practical assessments); paramedic training, history artefact creation and website design, dentistry to name but a very few subjects.  All inspiring stuff.

I particularly liked the use Plymouth make of PebblePad. All students compile a portfolio – called their Compass. There are 4 elements to their portfolio and students are tasked with collecting evidence and reflect on the following areas:

  • The Critical and Creative Learner
  • The Sustainable and Global Citizen
  • The Confident and Competent Professional
  • The Resilient and Thinking Individual

If students compile their Compass, overseen by the Employability Skills service they get acknowledgement for the work and recognition for it is added onto their final transcript upon graduation.

A clear pattern emerged, success stories come from institutions who have senior management or service buy-in to PebblePad; where managers model good behaviour; where student support in the use of the system is available and where it is just ‘the norm’. It does make me realise that, in attending an event like this, we are not using PebblePad to its full potential and that it can be used for so much more than it currently is. We will be moving onto a new version of PebblePad next summer and it would be great to get some revitalisation into its use. Showcasing, show-stopping, show-offing  – that’s what it’s all about. Let’s make ourselves future ready in our use of this creative and innovative system. If you’d like to talk PebblePad to me anytime, my email is sarah.ruston@cumbria.ac.uk

All the presentations and videos can be found here: http://www.pebblebash.co.uk/2016/presentations.aspx

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