The session started with a refresher of what PebblePad is and its development over the years. PebblePad is the market leader in the ePortfolio world and we have been using it at UoC since 2005. All staff and students have accounts at UoC which can be accessed from the Staff and Student hubs and even from within Blackboard itself. The system is complemented by a wonderful app, PebblePocket, which is free from Google Play and iTunes. If anyone leaves the university, they can register for an alumni account, which is free forever.
We outlined a few of the many ways PebblePad can be used: creating a wide variety of assets such as portfolios, blogs, activity logs, or by creating assets from the in-built templates provided by the system. These assets can then be shared with other PebblePad users or those without PebblePad account. Items can also be created and provided with a weblink which the intended audience can click on without the need for a username and password, so it’s also an excellent web publishing tool.
We then continued to talk about how PebblePad can be used for assessment and the various ways of getting the best out of students. Custom templates can be designed (workbooks) – usually by academic staff – which can provide the student with structured scaffolding on which to build their work. We also looked at the many ways of giving feedback – both formative and summative.
The session ended with a quick demonstration of how to easily add items to PebblePad and we had a glimpse of some good examples of templates currently in use at the University of Cumbria.
Once users login, PebblePad provide lots of in-built support via their homepage (called the Learning Centre) and we in AQD have supplemented this information with various articles and helpsheets via our TEL Knowledgebase which can be found here.
Anyone interested in using PebblePad with their students is encouraged to contact firstname.lastname@example.org to start off interesting conversations!
Click the image below to view the recording (university login required)
The session started with a brief recap of how Blackboard usage has grown at the university, with the system now being classed as “mission critical”. A move to module-site delivery and a consistent approach resulted in a set of protocols being developed, and these were shown during the webinar, along with other support available, such as a staff-facing knowledgebase.
Access to these resources can be found via the Staff tab on Blackboard, along with the route to accessing your Blackboard module site, which was demonstrated during the webinar.
The option to review and reuse existing content was highlighted, and a tour of an exemplar site showed how a course could be organised; following the protocols and making the most of the tools available.
A quick walkthrough of adding a profile picture to your site, and making a screen-recording introduction to your course then followed.
Finally, there was a quick update on some system changes that are being planned for 2018/19
A additional question asked outside of the recording was about creating a banner on Blackboard.
Click the image below to view the recording (university login required)…
View “preparing and enhancing your Blackboard site” webinar recording (university login required)
There are some exciting changes coming to Blackboard for 2018/19 academic year such as:
- Course Creation and Automated Template Application
- System Home Page Redesign and Responsive Theme
- Summer Upgrade
Course Creation and Automated Template Application
The Blackboard course creation route has remained largely unchanged for a number of years. Although it has worked well, it is fairly inefficient and is not robust enough to support future developments and tighter integration with SITS.
Currently, apart from student enrolments, there is a lack of two-way communication between SITS and Blackboard for our module deliveries. All modules created in SITS (via a MAV) and completed with the correct data are automatically created in Blackboard however if the course should subsequently be removed from SITS then this is not reflected on Blackboard which has caused issues of incorrect sites being used.
Students no longer associated with the MAV are not automatically removed from the Blackboard site.
To begin working on a site a tutor needs to select a course from within Blackboard (this relies on the module site creation process above), redesign or apply the correct template and, if required, copy any existing materials across from the previous instance of the course manually.
The new system will:
- Improve and increase updates in both frequency and capability of enrolments and course creation
- Simplify the route to consistent Blackboard sites
- Reduce the risk of incorrect Blackboard site selection
- Limit the number of sites created to only the ones which are actually required
- Establish the foundation for an enhanced dynamic link between SITS and Blackboard
- Create more accurate SITS records
Once in place, Blackboard sites will only be created when the lead tutor is assigned to the MAV within SITS, this is critical as Blackboard sites will not be created without this data. Once the data has been entered on the MAV in SITS the Module Blackboard sites will be available to a tutor within a few hours. Requests for “non-module” Blackboard sites will be via a form request.
The identified tutor will automatically be attached to the newly created site and will find it listed under “My Courses”, or within the “Pending” category if the tutor has enabled “Terms”.
On selection of the site you will be taken through the two-step process of attaching a template and optionally, copying selected content from a previous instance. The basic site is now ready to add/update content and attach other tutors as required.
If you plan to deliver a course where a number of modules are taught together then the system can help you create a combined site by prompting you to identify the modules (MAVs) to be included.
Only students who are on the MAV will appear on the Blackboard site.
The new system will be in place for all 2018/19 courses.
System Home Page Redesign and Responsive Theme
System analysis, sector trends and our experience tells us that students are increasingly accessing learning materials via alternative devices year on year. Whilst analytical data from Blackboard confirms the traditional desktop is still top of the list for access, a significant proportion of logins are from mobile and tablet devices and has been increasing for a number of years.
With our current system, display response to this wide variety of devices is difficult to predict but we are aware it can sometime cause issues, unpredictable behaviour and, on the whole, results in an inconsistent user experience.
To help mitigate this frustrating user experience, we are developing a new interface using a Responsive Web Design approach.
Responsive Web Design will make the site mobile-friendly and improve the way it looks on devices with both large and small screens as it automatically scales, reorders and prioritises content and elements to match the screen size on which it is viewed. It also keeps images from being larger than the screen width and prevents users on mobile devices from needing to do extra work to read content.
The Blackboard App is constantly being updated, and the responsive theme will work in conjunction with the App to provide a much more seamless experience when using a mobile device.
As part of this project theme functionality, the Homepage and other “non-course” areas will be reviewed to provide a much more engaging experience.
The annual system update will take place during summer. The date has yet to be arranged, but it is likely to be at a similar time to previous years – around the end of July / early August. Please be aware that Blackboard will be unavailable for up to 24 hours during the upgrade.
Regular and timely upgrades are necessary to ensure we have;
- Full system support for each academic year
- Access to the latest features and updates
- Support for current client software – operating systems, browsers, etc.
- Up-to-date security and performance settings
We will publish further information regarding dates and any new features of interest as soon as they become available.
Details and descriptions are subject to change, and more information will be circulated as necessary and as it becomes available.
The system updates highlighted in February are now in place. Early August has been a time for refreshing some of our core learning technology systems.
- PebblePad has moved to Version 5
- Blackboard has been updated
- The Turnitin Document Viewer has changed to Feedback Studio
- Medial has been updated to Version 5.
The PebblePad update replaces legacy Flash technology with HTML5, which, along with a redesigned interface, makes the system more intuitive and accessible. Find out more ….
As well as security enhancements, and ensuring that we maintain full system support for the next academic year, there are some new features with the Blackboard upgrade. Find out more …
Turnitin’s Feedback Studio has all the same features as the previous Document Viewer, however the interface makes better use of space, and is more accessible and responsive. Find out more ….
Like PebblePad, Medial has moved their interface to HTML5. They have also added a useful multispeed player option. Find out more …
PebblePad has moved from v3 (used Flash) to v5 (uses html5). The main difference is to Pebble+ – the personal space within PebblePad – where assets are created, shared and stored.
ATLAS, the assessment area within PebblePad, remains unchanged.
Everything in your Pebble+ account has transferred over into the new version.
The main differences:
- Works on all mobile devices and looks and behaves the same, no matter what device is used.
- Drag and drop to add files to your asset store.
- Improved text editing functions – you can use your mouse to copy and paste text.
- All Assets and Resources are in one place – no separate tabs for shared assets any more.
Here are some guides to help you navigate your way around the new version:
PebblePad v5: click the link to see what the new interface looks like; how to create assets; upload files; share with people or for assessment and Alumni information.
Academic PPDR instructions: click the link to find out how to fill out your Academic PPDR for the first and subsequent years.
Don’t forget, you can take your PebblePad account and all its contents with you if you leave or graduate from the university and you can continue to use it FREE forever. Just register for an Alumni account before you leave or graduate.
What was the problem/challenge you were trying to address?
The Pre-Registration Undergraduate Nursing Programme used one large Blackboard site per cohort.
With multiple instructors across multiple locations, all modules (28) were within this one site. Announcements were often sent to all users when they should have been targeted to a specific group of students or a specific site.
For Instructors undertaking marking, the numerous Turnitin portals made it difficult to find work to mark, and this also applied to External Examiners reviewing work online. For students, there were a number of Turnitin portals for modules and this sometimes led them to submit to all portals they could see (just in case….) due to confusion.
What did you do/implement?
We adopted SITS-linked module sites initially for all first years starting in September 2015 (including the Working Together modules). The rationale for starting with the first years was so that this was accepted as the way they would see their modules, and not seen as a change half way through their teaching. It would become the new ‘norm’. The other programmes would continue on the old-style sites until completion.
In addition, we created a whole cohort Programme site for generic programme-level information that applied to all pathways. Information included External Examiner reports, student forum reports, job opportunities, programme overview (which included placement information, timetables and holidays) and PSRB specific information. This is a non-teaching site.
By using the module approach for teaching, communication was much more targeted and students were clear about where to look for module related information. We were also able to link to electronic reading lists.
What advice would you give to others looking to implement something similar? (positives, negatives, lessons learned
On the whole it has been a positive experience. Staff on each module know where they are posting information/resources. Marking is easier to access and the new External Examiners’ reviews have been easier to find. The module teams have reported that they enjoyed the freedom to develop their module specific sites based on the template applied, and some changed the look-and-feel of the site by changing the banner/colour schemes, etc.
Negatives: Staff needed to get used to having a long list of sites on their Blackboard My Institution page. We had to be careful about the naming of each site so that the cohort was clearly identified, as staff would be teaching the same module for both the September intake as well as the March intake.
Lessons learned: Use of groups when large numbers of students were involved was very helpful. Groups can be created which the students don’t see, but can be used for administration, for example, groups for each pathway or site of delivery. This then enables more targeted site or pathway specific information to be delivered. We could also use these groups for marking when multiple teams are working on the same module. We also discovered that a single submission portal for assignments means it is clearer for the students to submit to. Previously, we had made portals for each site and pathway and for extensions and students had submitted to more than portal when unsure which one to submit to. We were also using anonymous marking, so these errors were not immediately apparent.
Have you adapted/changed anything subsequently?
Since then, the subsequent intakes are all on SITS-module sites and staff are now used to this way of working.
What is the evidence on the impact of students and their learning?
The changes we made were not to the way that we delivered our teaching, but more to the administration and organisation of our delivery. Students just see this as the way we work, so it is difficult to measure impact. However, we are certain that students are now clear where to look for information and also, where to submit their assignments to.
What do you plan to do next?
We review the template each year to ensure that it reflects current information and is user friendly for both students and staff. Staff are being encouraged to implement further use of educational technology within their sites, such as podcasts, narrated PowerPoints and we hope to develop the use of PebblePad further within the programme.
Here is an example of one of our OLD Blackboard sites, with 27 separate Menu items:
As we used one Blackboard site for 3 years of study, the Turnitin submission points became very busy. At the end of the three years, this site had 95 separate submission points.
This is how things look now:
All teaching delivered via separate Module sites following the same stucture:
The ELESIG (Evaluation of Learners’ Experiences of e-learning Special Interest Group) North West group meet at Liverpool John Moores University on 15th March.
This was an afternoon event, which began with Dr Amanda Mason & Jim Turner from LJMU feeding back about a project to set-up and run a virtual Journal Club.
Dr Rod Cullen from Manchester Metropolitan University then discussed how they had used data from a student survey to gain some insight into students experience of TEL. A greater level of consistency across the student experience was a key finding – the most vocal reports were often when a student had a good experience on one course and a poor experience on another.
Other themes emerging were communications (clarity around how often & when to respond, for example), VLE content & organisation (timeliness of content, clarity of purpose, organisation, etc.), and an interactive teaching & learning experience (a desire to be involved in learning & teaching, not just passive recipients of information). Most of the issues were around learning design, rather than the technology. One idea was for better discussions with students regarding expectations with technologies, and how they can/should be used in their studies.
Daniel Roberts and Tunde Varga-Atkins from the University of Liverpool discussed a minimum standards VLE baseline. They found that the staff who were aware of the baseline, were generally positive about it, but didn’t want it to be too prescriptive, whilst 95% of students surveyed felt that a baseline was important – again, highlighting the need for consistency (students reported less provision on the VLE than staff thought they were providing).
Ashwini Datt from the University of Auckland then talked about a couple of MOOCs her university had developed and run. She discussed the idea of MOOC blending – where some of the resources for the MOOC were used in “on-campus” courses.
Professor Rhona Sharpe from Oxford Brookes University then discussed “rising to the challenge of education in the digital age”. She talked about the diverse ways that learners respond to technologically rich environments, and how it is difficult to generalise.
She felt that learner voices were important, as the student experience is a strategic priority, however internal systems can be slow to adapt to rapid technology changes.
Currently, the focus is on blended learning, digital literacy, distance learning & MOOCs. The goal is to prepare learners for the digital world; a global, networked society. Users need to be confident users of a range of technologies for personal, academic and professional use.
As with most of the speakers, consistency was again seen as vital. Curriculum redesign was happening with multi-disciplinary teams to help ensure consistency and embedding of digital skills. A mapping exercise using the Jisc NUS Benchmarking Tool was also mentioned.
A very useful session, highlighting again a number of key areas that can help support the student experience and develop vital digital skills.
There are a number of learning technology system changes expected to happen prior to the start of 2017/18;
- PebblePad moving to version 5
- Turnitin GradeMark moving to Turnitin Feedback Studio
- Blackboard upgrade and theme change
- Medial moving to version 5
Details and descriptions are subject to change, and more information will be circulated as necessary and as it becomes available.
- Our current version of PebblePad is being moved to the latest version (V5) over the summer
- The underlying technology moves from Flash to HTML5 – more accessible, and in-line with browsers that are phasing-out/removing Flash support
- Accessible on all devices, such as smartphones and tablets
- Redesigned, and simpler interface
- ATLAS remains unchanged
- All Assets move across
- Our current version is no longer being developed, and will be phased-out shortly
Support & communication
Workshops for staff will be delivered over the coming months. Some have already taken place. Those who attend will have access to V5 via a temporary account that will remain available to them until the upgrade.
There are many “how-to” guides directly on the new home page. We will produce a transition guide, which will be applicable to staff and students.
Most users will move across on Monday 7th August, however, any reassessment students will be left on V3 (current system) until they have resubmitted, and will be moved at the end of August.
- GradeMark interface is being updated to Feedback Studio
- Same features, but improved use of space
- Easier to add comments & Quick Marks
- Can now add clickable URLs to feedback – support pages, documents etc.
Support & communication
A transition guide will be produced to help staff move to marking via the updated interface.
Some of the features can be seen on Turnitin’s demonstration site.
We are able to switch-on this feature at any time, with a forced change to all users initially planned from Turnitin by July 2017. We are checking current timings for this forced switch; however, the current proposal is to make the move at around the same time as the Blackboard upgrade (i.e. late July / early August).
We will be looking to perform our annual upgrade of Blackboard over the summer. There is no licence-cost impact to upgrading to a newer version of the system. All upgrades bring security improvements, as well as support for newer versions of client software and systems (browsers etc.). However, an essential reason for needing to regularly upgrade is to ensure full support for the system for the up-coming academic year.
The upgrade will bring some new features and an updated colour scheme and theme change.
Regarding the theme, we are proposing to move incrementally towards the – desired – responsive web design theme as it develops. The proposal is a move towards the look-and-feel, but maintaining the course design options for a period of time (these themes need to be turned-off when we move totally onto the responsive design).
The last two upgrades have happened towards the end of July / early August, and the proposal would be to do the same again (these upgrades didn’t appear to cause any major disruption issues). Blackboard should be on Managed Hosting by the time of the upgrade; this should offer more flexibility and options for upgrade timings.
- System update to version 5
- Updated and fully responsive interface redesign
- HTML5 player by default (Flash fallback still an option)
- Multispeed playback (i.e. 2x)
- Multi-bitrate playback
- Version 5 is required for MediaLecture (if we were to consider this option)
- More customisation & branding options
- Live-stream workflow improvements
Support & communication
Much of the current interaction with Medial is via the Blackboard building block, rather than directly through the interface. The main changes via this route will be the new options on the player, and the switch to HTML5. All the web interface features will still be there, just with an enhanced interface.
Support and upgrades of Medial is included in our annual licence. The upgrade is carried out remotely and is expected to take less than an hour (updates in the past have been around 15 minutes, with actual video playback disruption less than that). We just need to book an update “slot” with the vendors. As there isn’t a test system for Medial, updates always carry a slight risk, and we only see the changes at the same time as all system users (we rely on their demo server to view some of the potential feature changes ahead of the move).
“Rebooting learning for the digital age: What next for technology- enhanced higher education?” (HEPI. 2 Feb 2017)
The Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) has recently published a new report entitled “Rebooting learning for the digital age: What next for technology- enhanced higher education?”.
The report makes seven recommendations that HEIs should consider to make the most of the advantages and opportunities that digital technology can offer; even stating that technology can help support TEF’s three main components, namely teaching quality, learning environment and student outcomes.
The report recommends that technology-enhanced learning (TEL) should be built into the curriculum design process to ensure effectiveness, and that best-practice should be evidenced and shared to help support TEL use and continued adoption. A focus on digital capabilities is also recommended, as this is a key component of graduate employability; increased digital skills across the institution also helps drive TEL and the digital environment.
TEL can have a positive impact on learning outcomes when it is “designed-in” as part of the overall pedagogic approach. The report also discusses and recommends learning analytics to help measure engagement, increase retention and potentially predict outcomes.
There are many examples from across the sector within the report that help substantiate the arguments and recommendations being made.
Overall a very interesting read, with strong recommendations for making the most of TEL within Higher Education.
You can find out more on the HEPI website, which also includes a link to the report in PDF format – http://www.hepi.ac.uk/2017/02/02/rebooting-learning-digital-age-next-technology-enhanced-higher-education/
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 email@example.com
All the presentations and videos can be found here: http://www.pebblebash.co.uk/2016/presentations.aspx