Tag Archives: PebblePad

Effective e-Portfolio use at Aston University

Connecting the Eportfolio Community : Copyright Alison Miller

In this blog post I report on two different uses of e-portfolios (PebblePad) here at Aston University.  Both have similar stories to tell, in respect of the methods the academic staff have used to scaffold and support student’s reflective evidence, and their methods of teaching critical reflective writing. Finally we ask the question of how they assess reflective portfolio evidence.   I should also direct your attention to five new enlightening JISC produced video case studies on e-Portfolio use across UK HE and FE: http://www.jisc.ac.uk/eportimplement .

Now it’s time for a serious look at the new and improved PebblePad 3– following the recent unveiling by the PebblePad team.

Dr Roy Smith: Combined Honours

At our recent Aston e-Portfolio interest group (ae-pig) meeting we had the pleasure of talking to Dr Roy Smith  (former Director of Combined Honours).  Dr Smith was invited to talk about his use of e-portfolios for the combined honours cohorts in recent years.  Dr Smith has been using PebblePad to allow students to build up evidence of skills and competences beginning in year 02.  Students are encouraged and guided (using a template webfolio) to continually reflect upon their experiences. They continually create a body of evidence that displays their development during their undergraduate studies and work placements.

In the initial stages of using PebblePad Dr Smith provided little scaffolding (with Pebblepad), but soon found this to be counter-productive to effective learning and their grasp on the importance of a reflective journal.  The lessons he learned echo others adoption of e-portfolios, namely;

  • Provide initial support for the students. This ensured they understood the longer term employability benefits of using an e-Portfolio as a “living” document.
  • Use simple scaffolding mechanisms to provide a framework for collated evidence, i.e. webfolio. Dr Smith utilised the skills and competences frameworks provide by our careers department for this purpose.
  • Promote and provide effective reflective (academic) writing skills. In his case Dr Smith used the work of Dr Jenny Moon , by running writing workshops.
  • Use secure gateways to manage large cohort reflective assessments.
  • Add weighted assessment grades to both the live journal and the final CV parts.
  • Final assessment of the journal ensured that students displayed evidence of higher order thinking skills, by collating and synthesising critical incidents. The critical reflections on their developing skills and competencies would therefore help guide them in their chosen careers.

Dr Smith concluded his talk by commenting upon another portfolio he implemented for an area of lecturing he covers. This is a paper based portfolio, and is extremely successful with the students recording lab experiments and field tests.  Fitness for purpose is the key here for “technology” or lack of in this instance. Don’t let the technology dictate the learning and teaching.

Whilst discussing the evasive subject of both teaching and assessing reflective writing, Dr Errol Thompson proffered an alternative method of defining assessment criteria; using the depth, width , and journey framework . This utilises the SOLO taxonomy   by Biggs and Collis (1982)

Dr Ann Hartley: The Aston Certificate

At our previous ae-pig meeting in November 2011 we invited along Dr Ann Hartley to discuss how she uses and assesses the reflective aspects of student portfolios for the Aston Certificate:  An Introduction to Learning and Teaching in Higher Education.

Recently, this programme has adopted the use of PebblePad to enable students to reflect upon their teaching practice, for both continual and final assessment – using a web based platform.  Dr Hartley has been involved with the Aston Certificate for quite a while now, and has embraced the potential of continual (developmental) and critical reflection afforded by a web based tool such as PebblePad.
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Learning platform updates

The vendors of three of our core tools have recently announced product updates. We will be monitoring and testing (some of) these during the forthcoming months; and will report back on progress.


Two new major updates are currently being planned for later this spring:

1)   Updated Basic integration;

  • Upgraded Instructors interface, enabling better tracking and monitoring of all scripts in assignments
  • Instructors being able to view any requested matched papers from within their own institution – without needing to contact Tii support
  • The ability to attach audio feedback to scripts.

2)   Direct Integration (currently in beta test). Main features;

  • Multi-part and continuous assignment types
  • e-rater grammar checker
  • removal of the roster synch button
  • Export grades to Excel format, user un-mapping ability, ability to recycle /rollover old assignments (with new cohorts)
  • Releasing grades only on “Post” date
  • Improved support for moving assignments.

Read more here: http://submit.ac.uk/en_us/support/integrations/blackboard-direct

Note: some of the features listed above (e.g. audio feedback, or upgraded instructors interface) will be implemented as standard for the web document viewer, so they will ultimately appear in both the direct and basic integrations.

In addition to the above new features on the horizon are;

  • A whole new set of analytics tools will be made available to assignment instructors.
  • A phased roll out of fully iPad enabled Turnitin access will begin in spring 2012 through to winter 2013.
  • Translated paraphrasing will also be available this year. This relatively new method of converting text into different languages – then back into English, can be now be “checked” to detect this practice.

Book your place on the free Turnitin webinars running spring 2012.

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Blackboard news

Latest Blackboard news I gleaned from attending the recent West Midlands Blackboard users group.

•    Confidence was high after the recent acquisition by venture capitalists – and was reported to “be business as usual
•    The new rubrics tool (available in Service Pack 6) can be deployed at assessment creation stage – this ensures constructive alignment is built into the assessment process. Multiple rubrics can be utilised on a single assessment. Students will be able to view easily all the feedback and feed forward comments.  This has the potential to provide very detailed feedback – and has appears to be more flexible than GradeMark.  GradeMark only offers 10 single rubric criteria, whereas the Bb version has up to 100. You are also able to export rubrics and therefore share them amongst courses.
•    There is a new SCORM player – that allows tighter integration (of Adobe Presenter) with the Grade Centre.
•    We saw a demonstration of the flexibility offered by the overarching Community feature. Amongst many portal type features this allows local administration and finite control of blocks using the Community addition.   For example one School could purchase a “block” and it could be controlled to serve only the students of that area. This feature is not available at Aston.

•    Kaltura + Sharestream are now official Bb partners. Both offer viable options for a video streaming solution via BB?

•    BB Collaborate (replacing Elluminate & Wimba) is out now:

Blackboard blocks/extensions;

•    Durham have developed a Twitter and sign up block
•    There are now Google Doc’s and Microsoft Live blocks
•    Birbeck have developed a Federated Access Management Block
•    Developers have the ability to use the Google Apps engine to create new features. i.e. Edinburgh  has developed a virtual field trip.
•    Purdue have developed the Purdue Signal block. This delivers “learning analytics” from data derived by tracking student engagement with the course. This can then be subsequently used to predict assessment failure or attrition rates.
•    There is a BB STATS tool that can be used to deliver real-time course usage data to an Android phone.

Open Standards;

As yet; no one, apart from the JISC funded CELTIC project (integrating ELGG, WebPA, and PebblePad) appear to making any use of the LTI Open Standards!  I found this to be quite surprising, considering the potential it offers.  Maybe it is just too new for universities to experiment with, as we are all too busy testing service packs!

e-portfolio reflections

PebblePad Mobile

Our final e-portfolio interest group (ae-pig) meeting of the year was held this week, where we reflected upon the year with e-portfolios here at Aston. Dr Matthew Hall (Business) and Dr Fiona Lacy (Pharmacy) spoke at length about designing and refining programmes to ensure frequent and reflective work could be elicited form their students. Dr Hall has been using PebblePad on a new programme this year, and explained how he intends to refine the assessment process to make use of PebblePad features such as the Gateway archive to encourage (frequent) personal reflective statements. Dr Lacy explained how she uses the Profile tool to map evidence against a professional standards framework. We all agreed the crux of effective teaching and engaging learning with a tool such as PebblePad, was leaner scaffolding (webfolio templates), frequent feedback (including peer), and teaching reflection using recognised frameworks, i.e. Driscoll. Dr Hall and Dr Lacy are also embarking upon designing new resources to include soft/employment skills into their programmes – assisted by Steve Thompson from the Careers & Employability Centre.

We finished the meeting discussing PebblePad+ out next year and it’s imminent integration with Blackboard and Turnitin.

We should also finish this post by congratulating PebblePad for winning Shropshire “company of the Year”.

JISC 2011 conference

YouTube Preview Image

A short report on the JISC 2011 conference,  of which you can revisit some of the live streamed sessions and grab the virtual goody bag.  The keynote speech by Professor Eric Thomas, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Bristol, contextualised our current shift in HE provision to an unavoidable consumer lead market model. The twitter back channel displayed next to the recorded videos makes for a useful resource, and a glimpse into personal reflections on the day. Maybe they should have used the tool created by Martin Hawksey (JISC) which enables Twitter feeds to by overlaid onto video?

Ironically, one of the most interesting sessions I attended – “amplifying events” run by Brian Kelly of UKOLN was not officially recorded – but Brian and colleague did record it on their iphones (see above). This session was a good overview of some of the techniques and tools available to event organisers to enhance F2F and blend them with online events – as JISC demonstrated his year. The green meeting guide, was also mentioned – which looks a useful resource. As does this article by  Marike Guy (co-presenter) entitled “10 ways to amplify your event.” This topic also resonates with my previous post on using Elluminate here at Aston to help with our sustainability agenda.

The session entitled “Using digital media to improve teaching and learning”, illustrated some interesting exemplars of effective practice at University of Bristol focussing on the role of students as producers of media rich learning content. This session was fronted by JISC Digital Media service, reminding me of their wealth of excellent resources.

I also attended a short workshop explaining the Co-generative (Co-genT) toolkit project, which guides you through the process of writing learning outcomes. These can then be exported from the Moodle toolkit into PebblePad. Very handy for course designers, and could also be used to assess activities. n.b a great deal of work has been done on this tool  to map outcomes/descriptive verbs against national standards.

The final session I want to comment on was entitled “Pushing the frontiers of ‘open education and research“.  This session outlined two new tools created by Plymouth University and The Academy. They will be extremely useful for people wanting to easily understand copyright and create OER resources. Both will be live in a week or so. I’ll wait until they go live to report back, as I will be using them myself.

ae-pig 02

‘sharsies’ – Creative Commons cleared image

During our second e-portoflio interest group, the vision and tangible outputs of our fledgling community of practice were discussed. The following themes were agreed;

•    collaboratively create assessment rubrics for e-portfolios, both process and product,
•    Identify key trends and drivers for UK research based HEIs,
•    Identify and share practice across Aston in respect to teaching reflection, electronic feedback, and the pragmatics of assessing large cohorts <link to process review>,
•    How to scaffold reflective practice for all students,
•    Logisitcs of marking large co-horts (assessment design), links to current process review outputs.
•    Electronic feedback (mp3) methodologies, the why and the how
•    Facilitating online collaboration
•    Ensure we achieve adequate SMT support, and targeted promotion the CoP to potential members (i.e. placement officers).
•    Effective support procedures for both staff and students

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Good CoP


from acorns.....

Creative Commons cleared image

We recently held our inaugural internal e-portfolio community of practice (ae-PiG) meeting.  The plan is to hold these on a regular basis both face to face and run an online dialogue. The online discussions will of course be using some of the tools built into PebblePad, e.g. blogs, or shared comments on specific assets.

The first meeting was well attended by representatives covering; placement roles, academic tutors, graduate employment support staff, technical support and students.  We discussed the application of e-portfolios in the current economic climate of enhancing graduate attributes, with regard to personal development planning (ePDP) and the Higher Education Achievement Record  (HEAR).

Minor technical gripes were thrashed out along with a look to the future, regarding our impending upgrade to version 2.5.  We discussed the potential of Blackboard and Turnitin “plug-ins” which are both on the horizon (summer 2011).  Enhancements such as these plug-ins promise to improve and potentially join up the core systems here at Aston, which will add value from both the teaching and students experience perspective.

Themes for future meetings were agreed as;

1)      Assessing and supporting reflective statements e.g. digital stories.

2)      Assessing (or not) the quality of submitted webfolios.

3)      Collaboration/collaborative learning  was muted as common ongoing theme for future meetings.

The next breakfast meeting is planned for mid Jan’ 2011.

On that topic, I am also involved in a JISC funded project aimed at developing and fostering a community of practice for e-portfolio pedagogies for work-based  and life-long learning through a synthesis of existing practice focusing on identifying the key principles from that practice that can be applied elsewhere.  Please join our CoP, and attend some of the live sessions due Jan’ 2011:  http://cloudworks.ac.uk/cloudscape/view/2201

iphone app’s 01

iphone apps image courtesy of Erik Mallinson

iphone apps image courtesy of Erik Mallinson

After recently taking delivery of my new iphone I set about installing a few apps’ to try out some mobile “learning”.  The three app’s I’ve been primarily using are;


This allows you to view all your assets contained within your assets folder, and to upload a quick thought or file whilst on the move. First time users will need to go through a very simple authentication process to link the iphone app’ with your online account. The latest update to this app’ fixed a previous bug, and now allows you to upload a “thought” to an existing blog.  This app’ really does work very well, and extends the capabilities of recording thoughts and reflecting upon learning into the mobile domain. A must for any Pebblepad (e-portfolio user).


The second app’ I use heavily is the mobile version of Flickr. This allows you to browse any uploaded photo’s with ease. Filter by keyword or tag. And of course when you authenticate it with your own Flickr account, you can browse your own sets and collections – on the move.  I chose this app’ to experiment with, as I use my Flickr account to update my PebblePad blogs. I find it much easier to organise my photo’s in Flickr then drop those into a blog or webfolio.


The third app’ I’m using regularly is the Guardian news paper mobile version.  This app’ gives you latest news from the front pages, and you can easily drill down into subject specific stories, comments, and articles.  The ability to filter news by journalist, and subject type is very handy. And you can add “favourites” – to quickly jump to a regular topic you’re interested in.


I’ve been experimenting with the new Apple iPad for a week or so. A number of people have already bought their own, and with the millions sold already, that reflects their primary purpose – as a personal device. We are obviously looking at the potential to harness or integrate it as a tool for Learning and Teaching.

Like the iPhone and iPod Touch it runs a mobile version of MacOS X and is tied into Apple’s iTunes for syncing and managing apps, music, photos and other media. The iPad integrates well with Aston email and wireless networks – it ‘just works’. We bought the wifi only version and several CLIPP staff have already borrowed it to get a feel for it. I will bring it along to the LTWG Dissemination event on Friday 9th July in SW309 – try it with coffee and muffins!

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imagen2.aspxLast week I attended the PebblePad-bash 2010 conference.  It was a very inspiring event filled with some thought provoking keynotes + a wide range of really interesting case studies.  And they’ve collated them all into a snacky web resource  for easy navigation. We were even given a book of these, which you can also order from the site.

I’ll  post more about these case studies another time.   As well as a preview of PPAD 3 (sworn to secrecy – but it’s looking very good) – which will be a serious revamp & will embody the principle of web 2.0 (sharing & collaborating), we were reminded about their recent award – in parternship with Wolverhampton University. The IMS Global Awards are given out every year to innovative “e-learning” products from across the globe. Well done PPAD & Wolverhampton University people, a dedicated PPAD team, with the vision & drive of people like Julie Hughes & Emma Purnell.

Along with PebblePad - Xerte also quite deservedly won an award.   – see also a wiki page I authored  on rapid e-learning tools .

Last year JISC RSC Scotland NE won an award for their portable Edu Apps . Nb. take a look at their new project – MyStudyBar, the latest addition to the EduApps family; a dynamic floating toolbar that offers a range of carefully chosen applications to support literacy skills.

Finally talking of JISC, they’ve recently published a very useful Elluminate Live good practice guide,   [designed] to support teaching, learning and assessment, co-operative working and conferences.  Again see also a wiki page I authored on this topic for a list of tips and tricks using webinar tools :