Or, to give it it’s proper title, “Creating an Effective Environment for Personal Tutoring and Research Supervision”. This was part of PebblePad’s 2015 webinar series ‘Experience Better’ and was delivered by Ian Palmer of the University of Sheffield who presented their experience with using PebblePad in their Doctoral Development Programme.
PebblePad was adopted around five years ago in order to inculcate reflective practice in students, encourage personal and professional development, and to reduce paperwork. Feedback has been very positive, with Ian reporting very few technical queries from either students or staff, but did note that for maximum effectiveness PebblePad was not just taught to students in a one-off session, but was fully embedded in the programme. PebblePad is now being deployed more widely throughout the university following this success.
A particular benefit which Ian reported was the submission of regular updates from students, their training needs analysis and supervisory meeting reports, to ATLAS, where staff on the team where able to monitor progress and provide early intervention if any students were identified as potentially struggling. This has helped to break down the old ‘secret garden’ model of student / supervisor relationships.
This was an excellent case study demonstrating how ePortfolios have been used to improve a programme for both students and staff, but I was also keen to attend today for a couple of other reasons. First of all, although we use Mahara at Sunderland, I was very heavily involved in supporting PebblePad at Northumbria, especially towards the end of my time there, and am keen to keep current with developments. Leading on from this, Sheffield are piloting a couple of new PebblePad features which the webinar promised to discuss a little. These are the new Home screen which replaces the current minimalist screen with a dashboard of recent activity and tasks which are due, and Flourish which offers to provide a defined pathway for students through a programme, with tasks and milestones which will help guide them, while also giving staff a better way of supervising their progress. I took a couple of screenshots of these features from the webinar, so apologies for the low quality.
As part of my handover arrangements I have had to write a set of instructions on how to compile the learning analytics report I have been responsible for. This document alone was such an extensive piece of work that it warranted a separate project in my handover to do list and took me pretty much an entire day. The resulting seven page, 3,000 word document covers how to update and complete the master spreadsheet, where to find all of the various measures in Google Analytics and Blackboard, and how to create the report on PebblePad usage, the most complex one as it involves database queries and I was handing over to someone with little experience of databases, so the instructions needed to be detailed and precise.
One of my first projects after being seconded to TEL Support was writing procedure notes for my colleagues on the Senior Helpline covering all of the customer support I provide for Blackboard, PebblePad and associated systems. When I was offered the position at the University of Sunderland only a little later this became a much bigger job. Thus to date I have now written or updated some 61 procedures, mostly for the Helpline, a 5,000 word handover document which covers everything else and for which TEL Support will be responsible going forward, compiled a small knowledgebase gathering together every piece of documentation I have on supporting PebblePad, delivered four training sessions to the Helpline, spent an entire afternoon training a willing and brave volunteer on everything to do with PebblePad, and finally delivered a whole day of training to members of the TEL Support team covering absolutely everything I could think of and the aforementioned handover document. And this is just the ‘official’ work, the amount of informal training I have given in the form of additional assistance to individual queries would total days.
For the past three years now I’ve been running Google Analytics on Blackboard and compiling a monthly report for senior management and steering groups. A standard was agreed for what this should contain by consensus fairly early on and it has changed little since, until a couple of months ago when, due to the changes in management, I was asked to revamp the report to remove some things which weren’t required any more and to report on anything new which I thought pertinent. The biggest change was the request for a ‘commentary’ on each page explaining some meanings and trends. I have also integrated the PebblePad usage by Faculty report I wrote last month into this, as PebblePad has a tendency to be overlooked and almost forgotten about.
From a student:
“Excellent, it’s there! thank you so so much for this! I’m so grateful honestly! Thank you so much for helping me :)”
She had lost some work from PebblePad which I was able to recover from the server, with some difficulty. Feedback like this reminds why I love my work; it’s wonderful to be able to help people.
After receiving confirmation that what I had done worked I did a little more experimentation and worked out exactly how and where the backups were being created and then wrote a short procedure on how to recover documents for future reference.
A complex report for a simple request – how many people are using PebblePad per faculty? Complex because the user data in PebblePad doesn’t contain any information beyond key, username, forename, surname, email and a few other non-pertinent bits and bobs. But I am not easily daunted.
One of these ‘non-pertinent’ bits of information is a ‘last login’ date so I was able to restrict the report to people who had logged in during the past thirty days. I ran a query on the PebblePad database to get all relevant username data for this time period, and then ran a query in Blackboard to get all user data full stop. Why? Because the ‘user’ table in Blackboard does have a field for Faculty. Well, actually it is in a different field because of the way the user accounts are imported from Active Directory, but it was sufficient. Then it was simply a case of importing both resulting CSV files into an Access database and running a join on the username.
Unsurprisingly our Faculty of Health, Community and Education Studies were the biggest users, but it wasn’t as clear cut as I had suspected. They accounted for just under half of all usage, with Engineering and Environment accounting for around a quarter, and the remaining two faculties and service departments sharing the remainder.
The wonderful, magnificent, brilliant Alan gave me a demonstration of PebblePad 3 today using his private account – it looks great but retains all the same functionality. This is a long overdue update, the old Flash interface was okay five years ago when we first got PebblePad, but technology has moved on so much it’s a bit embarrassing now, and of course doesn’t work on tablets.
I wasn’t able to see ATLAS though as you need at least two accounts and Alan is the only person I know who has one on account of his special relationship with Pebble Learning (or he just paid for one in an act of admirable selflessness). ATLAS will be the stumbling block for us as it is such a big change for our academics; the students, with the exception of a few areas, will be just fine with the new interface I’m sure.
Hopefully we can upgrade this summer.
In preparation for my official* move to TEL Support my two bosses wanted to know more about the quantity and type of customer support Blackboard and PebblePad require, as I will be transferring the bulk of this work to the Senior Helpline to concentrate on technical admin and content development in TEL Support.
Creating a suitable report was an interesting challenge as there was nothing in SupportWorks, our call logging system, that quite did what was required.
The closest was a report on the number of calls resolved by category and person but it was all in code so I had to combine this with data from other sources, using Access and some joins, to turn the username code in an actual person’s name along with the team there were in, and another data set to convert the category code into the actual human-readable category, ‘INCI-BB00-BB01-BB14’ turns into ‘Incident > Blackboard/eLP > System Issues > Site/Module Content’ for example. Finally I turned the data into a pretty pie chart showing number of calls resolved by team.
The results of this exercise were fascinating. I now know that while I resolved 180 calls during February, which feels about right, our front line Helpline combined resolved a massive 481! I had no idea our front line were fielding and resolving so many calls at the first point of contact – it just goes to show what a great service we have.
* Bureaucracy is a magnificent beast is is not? Almost a month since I got the news no-one is sure if my secondment has actually started yet, though the bulk of my time is now spent doing work either directly for TEL Support or preparing documentation for the Senior Helpline. It also means I have two line managers.
Delivered a training session to a cohort of around a dozen nursing students today who had been having multiple problems completing and submitting a particular portfolio. I had been working with one of their tutors on this for some time but wasn’t really getting anywhere as the portfolio was set up correctly and working for a test student account I put on the Gateway. In the end it was, essentially, a training issues as the student’s didn’t realise that they couldn’t just upload a Word document and submit to the Gateway, but had to complete the portfolio or copy and paste anything they had written in Word into it, and it was then the portfolio itself which has to be submitted to the Gateway.
It was a very useful and successful session. I not only cleared this long-outstanding problem, resolving three calls in the process, but was able to fix a number of more general issues too.