It seems that the University may have acquired a space programme overnight. Are we about to become the first University to put a student in space? The rocket seems a little small for human exploration, perhaps we’re starting with a student’s hamster instead? The alternative explanation is a weapon’s programme. Are we about to make a decisive pre-emptive strike against some of our competition, Northumbria perhaps? It’s one way to get up the league tables I suppose.
Seriously though, I made some enquiries and the rocket visit, courtesy of Starchaser Industries, is in connection with a programme to raise awareness of the practical applications of chemistry in schools, and there were a lot of school children on campus today and I saw some of them with their own smaller scale models.
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.
Attended the New Lecturers Programme as an interloper, or mole, in order to meet the latest batch of academics and to try and inculcate a close working relationship between themselves and WaLTS. Also, still being new, it was a useful opportunity for me to learn more about the academic side of the university. Particularly enlightening was Iain Rowan and Fiona Jackson’s session which covered a broad range of academic policies and procedures including valid grounds of appeal for students and how honours degrees are calculated (more complex, if possible, than the OU’s with which I am well versed!). The course carried over to Friday morning which was given over to Student and Learning Support, my directorate. Familiar territory, though I still learned about some services the Library and Sunderland Futures offer that I wasn’t aware of. There is always something new to learn!