PebbleBash 2012: Making the Case - Conference Publications
In 2010 I had the pleasure of editing submissions for the first PebbleBash case study book, ‘Effective use of PebblePad’. Having been with Pebble Learning for only 5 months this was a great learning experience for me and helped me to get a feel for the creative ways in which PebblePad was being used in education in Australia and the UK. It was clear from the submissions I was reading that many of the authors were grappling with the same issues as I was as a relatively newly appointed ‘ePortfolio Consultant’….. what exactly is this PebblePad ‘thing’? ….. how do we describe it and sell it to staff and students? ….. what should we be doing in/with it? ….. we think it’s going to be good but we’re not quite sure how or why.
Coming from an ‘ePortfolio Coordinator’ position at the University of Tasmania, many of the case studies in 2010 reflected my own experiences of managing the early implementation of PebblePad in a university environment. They were small scale, reliant upon brave and respected local ‘champions’, forging ahead with very little institutional or IT support, and struggling with the changes to curriculum and teaching practice that a more student-lead approach to teaching required.
And then there was the ‘ePortfolio’ word! That was what it was all about ….. eportfolios. Universities brought in PebblePad because they ‘had’ to have an eportfolio. Courses, particularly in areas such as nursing and education, started to explore PebblePad because students ‘had’ to have an eportfolio. ePortfolios were going to be the way for careers services to engage with and become relevant to students across the institution. But what, exactly, did this mean?
It took me a long time to figure it out (and I am sure I don’t fully understand it all yet!). What I do know now is that the ‘eportfolio’ term has been both a blessing and a curse. Associating PebblePad with ‘eportfolios’ has definitely raised its profile and brought it into the consciousness of many people who otherwise might have been blissfully unaware. It would be fair to say that most of our customers went in search of an ‘eportfolio’ and then ended up with PebblePad and I would hazard a guess that this will continue to be the case for new customers for some time to come. It is certainly how I became involved with PebblePad.
The curse is that the term ‘eportfolio’ has a tendency to constrain people’s understanding of what PebblePad can and should be able to do. They are looking for a system that can create ‘A purposeful aggregation of digital items’, our preferred definition of an ‘eportfolio’. Many systems can do that effectively and if that is what you are looking for then much of the power and value of PebblePad will be missed. Articulating what sets PebblePad apart is the hard thing. We know that it is ‘more than an ePortfolio’ – but how exactly?
Shane will remember well the day that I had my ‘Aha’ moment. It was October 2010 and I had been using PebblePad for more than 2 years and working for Pebble Learning for almost a year – this goes to show how long it can take (or perhaps I am just very slow). I was exploring the eportfolio system of a competitor when the pieces suddenly fell into place for me and I could see exactly what it was that set PebblePad apart. I emailed Shane full of excitement to which he responded something along the lines of, “Yes ….. and? That’s what we have been saying for years!” Just goes to show that you don’t really ‘get it’ until you work it out for yourself. The following is an excerpt of the email that I sent to Shane and articulates what, for me, makes PebblePad a Personal Learning Space:
The many templates in PP encourage users to consider their experiences and make choices about the best way to represent the learning achieved. The best way I can think to describe it is to use the example of a student who has been on placement for a week. In [other eportfolio system] they might keep a blog and upload an evaluation from their supervisor and lesson plans that they created. In PP however the student is confronted with options to create abilities, achievements, action plans, activities, etc, encouraging them to reflect on the week and create an assortment of assets about a variety of learning opportunities that might otherwise have gone unnoticed. Within each asset the student receives guidance on how to write a ‘good’ description and is encouraged to reflect on each asset individually. Through this process the student will end up with a much richer, more insightful account of their practicum and a great deal more evidence of their learning. This is the ‘personal learning ‘ that PP supports so well.
Basically you can store files and present yourself in both PP and [other eportfolio system] but it is only in PP that users are pushed to make sense of their experiences to a much deeper level through the inbuilt templates and reflection. Personal learning is the core of PP while presentation is the core of [other eportfolio system] (in a very social environment). Put another way, what goes on within PP is the most important while [other eportfolio system] seems to focus more on what comes out. (Personal Communication, 2010)
Reflecting now on what I wrote then I think that the statement in the final sentence, ‘… what goes on within PP is the most important …’ is at the heart of the matter. This is what makes PebblePad a Personal Learning Space and this is what people miss if the focus is on an ‘eportfolio’.
In the Introduction of the 2010 PebbleBash case study book Shane wrote:…. I would argue that we relinquish the term ‘eportfolio’ to the wider community but assiduously promote the notion of a Personal Learning System [Space] and rigorously defend what we believe the term stands for. (p. IX)
In training, at conferences, when conducting demonstrations, and in everyday discussion we have been focussed on promoting the notion of the Personal Learning Space, and using the term ‘eportfolio’ to describe not a system or a process but instead a product of learning.
It was, therefore, with great delight that I discovered, upon reading the submissions for PebbleBash 2012, that this shift in focus and understanding was being reflected in the case studies. Just as my understanding of PebblePad and PebblePad implementation has matured since 2010, so has that of our community.
The 2012 case studies describe larger scale implementations, integration with other institution systems, action research based on 1, 2, 3, or more years of practice, empirical research data, and a diversity of use of PebblePad that goes well beyond the creation of ‘eportfolios’. At a superficial level, fifteen case studies in 2010 contained the term ‘eportfolio’ in the title while in 2012 this has reduced to only six. The titles instead reflect the diversity of use with key terms such as: Performance and Professional Development Review; Employability; e-Workbooks; Research; e-Assessment; Collaborative learning; Distance learning; e-Laboratory notebooks; Personal Development Planning; Transition; Professional membership organisation; Operating Theatre; Remote supervision; Professional Development Portfolio. Behind the titles is content that demonstrates a developing understanding of the principles and power of the Personal Learning Space, and how this space enables engaging and innovative student-lead teaching.
The case studies have moved beyond the initial challenges of implementation and engagement, very much the focus of the 2010 case studies, and are instead discussing issues of curriculum design, e-assessment, and developing best practice based on experience. We also have two case studies from professional membership organisations, reflecting the increasing uptake of PebblePad outside the education sector.
The theme of PebbleBash 2012 is ‘Making the Case’, a theme that I have not overtly addressed at all in this Introduction. However, I believe that there is no better case to be made for any teaching and learning tool than to demonstrate its growth and the growth of its user community – not just growth in size and numbers but more importantly, growth in terms of shared understanding, maturity, and successful outcomes. To assist you to put this case to the ‘powers that be’ in your institution or organisation, each case study in this book concludes with a summary of key points that ‘make the case for PebblePad’. Put together, they start to present a powerful argument for the benefits of effective PebblePad implementation.
I hope that you enjoy reading these case studies from our passionate and dedicated user community as much as I have and that they help to inform your understanding and developing use of PebblePad, our Personal Learning Space.
Australian Director, Pebble Learning
Making the Case: More effective practice with PebblePad
A collection of case studies from PebbleBash 2012