EQUELLA 6.4 Pre-Release Webinar

Attended a webinar which demonstrated new and improved features of EQUELLA 6.4 and provisional plans for the next major release, version 7. It was useful as we are a few versions behind. Some notable new things include the gallery view for items tagged as images or videos, additional options for administrators to control number of attachments allowed per item and, in the case of images, the ability to restrict the size of images (dimensions, not file size), new MIME type restrictions, and myriad improvements to the way search, sorting and filtering works.

Also demonstrated was the new ‘Push to LMS’ feature and improvements to LTI integrations making it easier to configure EQUELLA integration into Blackboard and Moodle. When we asked if these features were going to be developed for LearningStudio we were told that there were no plans for this due to lack of demand. I find it more than a touch worrying that one part of Pearson is providing better support for Pearson’s competitors than their own LMS platform. What are we to conclude about Pearson’s commitment to LearningStudio from this?

Experience Better Tutoring Webinar

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.


Course Dashboard Demonstration

I watched the recording of the Pearson webinar which demonstrated the new Course Dashboard this morning, the imminent replacement of the Social Learning Module Home page. I would like to say that I was excited and impressed, but the truth is that it has filled me with trepidation. I understand that the Social Learning Module Home (SLMH from now on as that is far too long a name for anything) was problematic when it was first rolled out, but I have fortunately missed that and most courses at Sunderland are, in my anecdotal experience, using SLMH in preference to the classic course home page (which looks very dated and basic now), and it works well and looks reasonably nice.

This new version however, seems like a step back. It’s blocky, it’s not a responsive design so who knows how well it’s going to look across resolutions, the widgets seem to be using iframes which is something that the SLMH uses in places with disastrous results on mobile devices, and the person who gave the webinar could not tell us what the results of their mobile testing were. A big point they are selling the new dashboard on is the ability to customise it, but I have learned from the webinar today that this is rather disingenuous, as it can only be customised from the Admin Pages for the entire institution (or possibly node / term level, but that’s not much better), so there is no user customisation which is what I expected from their marketing and what has been available in Blackboard for many years now. The Course Checklist feature is also no where to be found. This is a really nice little tool which lets students see the whole schedule of the course at a glance, but it is only available on the classic course home. When I have queried why it was not available in SLMH I was told that it was a bug and to wait for the new dashboard, and now today I’ve found out that this is not the case, that the feature is gone and that the best I can hope for is that similar functionality might be implemented in a calendar view at some unknown time in the future. The interface of the new dashboard is not customisable either. The colour scheme (blue, white and grey), like the new Threaded Discussion tool, cannot be changed to match Sunderland’s branding, and other attributes like the font and font-weight are also fixed. Very disappointing.

Of course, being a software-as-a-service solution we will have no choice but to implement the new dashboard at some point, and probably sooner rather than later in spite of my reservations as there is no development being done on either of the older course homes which means no bug fixes. I can only hope that many of these issues are ironed out before general release, as my thoughts were echoed by participants on the chat many of whom are, or will be piloting the new dashboard.

The attached screenshots show the Classic course home, basic and dated, but it does have the oh-so-useful Module Checklist; and the much better SLMH which includes the Chat and recent activity widget and an Upcoming widget. I haven’t included a screenshot of the new version as the only place I have seen it to date is in these private webinars.

Pearson PAB (Product Advisory Board) Webinar

Watched a recording of Pearson’s PAB webinar which was held in lieu of the conference in Denver, where they demonstrated many new features which have either been made live recently or are due for release over the coming year. Highlights were the new look Threaded Discussions tool which is being rolled out piecemeal now, the new course dashboard which is going to replace Social Learning Module Home (here’s hoping for a catchier name this time round), the Android app, and the long overdue notifications centre – something which our students are clamouring for. Also tucked away, but of particular interest to me, is the new ‘External Tool’ menu item type which should make it easier for academics to deploy the new version of Turnitin we have been working on, which uses the standard LTI from Turnitin instead of the Dropbox integration which Pearson developed but that doesn’t work terribly well.