Measuring the distance travelled is a phrase that is often associated with the use of portfolios in education. In many ways my attendance at the Pebblepad “ePortfolio in Professional Development event at Sheffield Hallam was a little like time travel. I have traveled some distance but I’m also travelling back, way back, back into time. My first role at LJMU in 2006 was to support the wide scale implementation of the Blackboard ePortfolio tool to support student Personal Development Planning and assessment. ePortfolios haven’t enjoyed the same uptake as VLEs within Higher Education and tend to be described as ‘troublesome knowledge’. Even the term ePortfolio isn’t widely agreed upon and PebblePad no longer use it to describe their product, preferring instead Personal Learning Space. That said, many Higher Education Institutions now require, broadly speaking, some process or tool to evidence staff and student progression. So it is with many hats on I attended this event. Part of my current role is to look after the upgrade to Pebbleppad V5 this summer, so I was keen to hear more about how this area of learning developed. In particular, how Pebblepad could potentially be used to support HEA Fellowship application and Professional Development Review.
While the topic was familiar, the environment for the day certainly wasn’t. Andrew Middleton introduced us to their SCALE UP room and how this environment would shape the activities for the day, but also connected the space to Pebblepad’s online learning space. SCALE UP stands for Student-Centered Active Learning Environment for Upside Down pedagogy. I was unfamiliar with the term but recognised the flipped classroom approach. SHU and neighbours NTU have invested in this approach as it supports the flipped classroom methodology, and student as partner approaches, encouraging more active group working in a technologically rich environment. The aim is to remove passivity in the classroom and engage in higher domain learning accordance with the Bloom’s Taxonomy approach. Lectures are replaced by problem solving and enquiry based activities carried out in strategically-assigned groups.
The event was hosted in a large room and was divided into 7 round tables which could comfortably sit 9 staff or students. Each table has a laptop to capture work on that was connected to the LCD displays surround the room. Also in the middle of the table was range of power sockets and USB inputs for power-hungry working. Each table also had a 6 foot portable white board which Andrew stated was an integral part of the approach. He also suggested that the set up afforded structure and flexibility to the teaching experience, and the fluidity to remove the hierarchy of one central speaker but devolve it into the “spotlight” groups. This layout supported the structure of the day. Short presentations from experts, round table discussions, writing up ideas and feeding back to the group. I really enjoyed the social element of this approach, as well as white-boarding ideas and sharing. If I’m being a little critical (and selfish!) I would have liked to have the opportunity to do that with all the speakers for the day, as there were so many interesting topics.
I was fortunate to spend the most time in a group with Dr Karen Ford at University of Sheffield. She detailed the work done at the institution over the past few years in using Pebblepad to support flexible pathways to HEA recognition. With the help of Pete Mella from the TEL team, they created self-contained workbooks for each of the different routes to recognition. The workbooks act like mini websites packed full of contextual information to help the applicant submit statements at the appropriate level. The workbook acted as a scaffold to allow individuals to provide evidence that allow them to meet the UKPSF criteria. Pebbelpad also doubles as an area where individuals can store evidence, reflections and artefacts privately, before electing to share or add them to the application. These methods were backed up by face-to- face explorer events, mentoring and successful writing clinics throughout the year. She commented that the new version of Pebblepad has made the process and usability much easier. The technology, support and tailored design process has been a success. Over the past two years there has been increase in applications across the board, including a significant rise in SFHEA applicants – from 6 to over 100.