Friday, 5 June 2020

PebblePad Review

This was to be published in a learning technology magazine as part of a 'edtech review' section.  However, the publishers changed tact on this and I wrote a different piece for them instead.  I'd rather not see the material go to waste, so here it is...


Daniel Scott broadly defines himself as a Learning Technologist who began his learning technology career at a further education (FE) college.  He proactively researches, evaluates and reflects on the effective use of learning technologies, online course design and digital practices and specialises in analysing pedagogy to digital technology.

Moreover, he is an external consultant that works with The Education and Training Foundation and is an External Quality Assurer.  He is a Certified Member of the Association for Learning Technology (ALT) and winner of the ALT Learning Technologist of the Year award 2016.  He holds a Technology Enhanced Learning MSc and is a qualified teacher, assessor and lead internal verifier.  He is the author of the acclaimed Learning Technology: A Handbook for FE Teachers and Assessors.  He frequently shares his experiences on his professional and personal blog:

Daniel currently works at Nottingham Trent University as a Digital Practice Adviser.  He assisted in the institutional implementation of PebblePad and leads on staff pedagogical support.  As well as delivering introductory PebblePad workshops, he introduced and developed a new workshop ‘Designing Workbooks’ that focuses on and underpinned by learning design principles and methodology.

What is PebblePad and what does it do?

As defined by PebblePad themselves, it is a Learning Journey Platform, an online learning space that primarily operates as an ePortfolio tool but has more benefits and features than just your average repository of evidence.  It has the features of a Virtual learning Environment (VLE), but chooses not to be one and complement existing platforms with active digital learning.  Instead, its focus is on user activity and them being able to organise, structure and shape their learning wherever it derives from.  I find PebblePad a complex but powerful learning technology.  Once you understand how it works and its terminology, you can unlock pedagogical pathways that not only enhance the learner and teacher experience, but the learning process itself and boost employability prospects.

What makes PebblePad stand out amongst other learning technology tools and systems? Here are my top 15 reasons for using PebblePad:

1. Helps learning and evidence be more visible that might otherwise be hard to realise and obtain, identifying learning and development gaps much quicker

2. Emphasis on using and creating a variety of live digital content file types and multimedia, rather than just uploading documents. Plus, it doesn’t rely on version control

3. Encourages critical thinking, reflective practice and storytelling leading to purposeful and quality content, what’s needed in PebblePad rather than treating it as a repository of files

4. Compartmentalises records of learning. Individual inputs are much more visible and are often more important as the main output

5. Develops digital literacies and skills through applied contexts that build up wider digital capabilities in: creativity and innovation; communication and collaboration; technology proficiency through use of applications and personal devices; managing information, data and digital identity

6. Empowers creativity and self-expression to illustrate your learning, competencies and persona that can be shared to potential employers

7. Supports and enables the following portfolio types/pathways:

a. Personal and professional developmental purposes (learning portfolio)  Informal – capturing information

b. Presentation of own work purposes (showcase portfolio) 
 Becoming formal

c. Fulfil assessment purposes (assessment portfolio) 
 Formal – confirming/confirmation of learning

8. Flexible across different learning design approaches and supports blended and online approaches, structured and free-form activities, self-directed learning, reflection, work-based learning, placements, formative and summative assessment

9. Allows academics to see learner work develop as it happens rather than seeing it upon submission. In turn providing more opportunities for learners to receive feedback in order for them to improve

10. Supports and facilitates most assessment processes including:

a. Summative and formative feedback

b. Grading

c. Peer review

d. Moderation

e. External assessment

f. Blind and double blind marking

g. Audit trail and archiving for quality assurance purposes

h. Feedback templates

i. Comment banks

j. Approval statements

k. Creation of tutor groups

11. Capture on the go using the PebblePocket app, on or offline. Acts like a portable Asset Store where you can take pictures and video as well as reflecting, which can then be uploaded to your Asset Store to be later worked into something more substantial

12. Supports workplace learning, i.e. your own Continuing Professional Development or evidencing appraisal objectives

13. Supports lifelong learning, allowing learners to convert to an Alumni account to continue to access and record learning throughout their career

14. Embed external/third-party content like Microsoft Forms, H5P objects, YouTube etc

15. Integration options into existing VLE’s and other organisational platforms for seamless access

What can you do next?

There are so many things you can do with PebblePad, however be clear in your approach.  Think about the learning design – what do your learners need to do? What are the activities, assessment and feedback opportunities?  What kind of reporting information do you need to gain from them?  These and much more informs the approach and design of PebblePad.  Remember; just because you can do lots of interesting things with digital technology doesn’t mean you always should.  What is the identified need?

If you have PebblePad in your organisation, I recommend doing the following to get better acquainted:

  • Contact your learning technology/VLE support team to see what support and guidance is available to you
  • Understand PebblePad terminology: know difference between Assets and Resources. The PebblePad Learning Centre and In-Depth Help features are ideal for this
  • Play with it and explore possibilities. Create some Assets, perhaps a Page or Blog, or a Template, a single worksheet to get a feel for how they work and the kind of content you can put in them
  • If you have ideas for PebblePad already, share them with a colleague for further feedback and consider starting small and build it up. We often rush through the development stage which is crucial for testing, identifying problems and solutions
  • Access the PebblePad Community for case studies, exemplars and keeping informed of all things PebblePad

Further reading

Shane Sutherland (founder and CEO at PebblePad) - For 15 years I’ve struggled to concisely explain what #PebblePad is and what it does - you’ve nailed it, and I’ll be committing your explanation to memory! I particularly like "It has the features of a VLE, but chooses not to be one” Thanks for sharing your thoughts Daniel