Operational Issues 1a) An understanding of the constraints and benefits of different technology.

You should show how you have used (or supported others to use) technology appropriately, given the constraints and benefits it provides within your context. Evidence in support of such statements might include a brief commentary on the choices behind the development and use of learning technology that influence its fitness for purpose. (This might discuss issues as affordances of the technology, viability, sustainability, scalability, interoperability and value for money.) You may already have something like this in the form of a design outline, proposal, conference presentation or similar. You should include such existing documentation wherever it seems relevant. Alternatively, you might want to take this opportunity to find out more about a technology you have deployed and produce a report on its viability.

REVISIONS REQUIRED *All content in this portfolio area has been revised in response to feedback from CMALT assessors. 

The previous examples were also covered in the Specialist Option area. 

Description

In this area I will discuss the platforms available at the University of Northampton for collaborative blogging. I have considered the term blog as a web platform for students or staff to record and share text and media in a chronological order, however the term e-portfolio is also relevant, to avoid confusion I use the single term ‘blog’.

Using examples I will show how I have recommended these for a range of teaching and learning needs and considered the constraints and benefits of each.

The four available tools for creating blogs are Edublogs (WordPress), PebblePad, Padlet and the Blackboard Learn Blog / Journal.

Edublogs

Edublogs is a managed installation of WordPress provided to us by the company CampusPress. It has been licensed by us at the University of Northampton since 2010, is available to all University users, it currently has over 11,000 recorded users.

Edublogs Dashboard
Above: Edublogs Dashboard
Below: Edublogs Page Editor
Edublogs - Page Editor

The benefits of using Edublogs: 

  • Users can create unlimited blogs (sites)
  • 50+ unique plugins and 500+ responsive themes available.
  • Posts are recorded and presented by date for simple blogs.
  • Compatible with WordPress Mobile App.
  • Customisable menus can order pages, categories and external URLs.
  • Site privacy options allow students to share online, restrict to UoN accounts, set a password and make private.
  • Site Building Plugins such as ‘DIVI’ extend functionality beyond the standard WordPress installation.
  • Installed accessibility plugins can be used to check content adheres to WCAG standards.
  • Log in authentication is linked to existing university accounts.
  • Class-blogs funtion allows tutors to administer student sites.
  • Comprehensive training materials are provided by CampusPress.

Considerations of using Edublogs.

  • Complex dashboard and range of theme and plugin options require an investment in time learning from users. 
  • Adding a navigation menu not as intuitive as other blogging tools.
  • Staff can not add feedback or grades within Edublog sites.
  • Unlike with self-installed WordPress sites, Edublogs users are not able to install additional plugins or themes.

PebblePad

PebblePad was first licensed by The University of Northampton in 2011 for a small limited number of users, this has since expanded to 3000 users undertaking placements and apprenticeships. Where workbook templates are created by academic staff and released to students for their assignments.

PebblePad can also be used by students to create their own portfolios or blogs but due to licensing it is not available to all students.

 

PebblePad Dashboard
Above: PebblePad welcome screen.
Below: PebblePad page editor.

PebblePad - Page Editor

Benefits of using PebblePad:

  • Staff can add feedback and grades to student workbooks.
  • Intuitive interface allows students to easily create portfolios and blogs and share access with externals, students, to the web or for assessment.
  • Users can easily add additional pages within the page editor.
  • Upon graduating students can continue to use the platform for free by transferring to personal alumni accounts.

Considerations of using PebblePad:

  • The tool is licensed per individual user and limited to subject areas where workbook creation is required.
  • Currently it not integrated with the Student Record System, this means that all accounts are created and administered manually.
  • Customisation is limited and users can not change the visual theme or create column layouts within blogs.

Padlet

Padlet can be described as an online post board, users can share text comments, images, documents, media and links, the formats of Stream and Backchannel and Timeline allow users to present posts in a chronological order.

Essentially a Padlet it is a single collaborative document, however users can add links to other individual Padlet’s manually to expand it’s use.

Padlet

Benefits of using Padlet:

  • Highly visual and intuitive collaborative tool that is ideal for online group activities, mind mapping and recording virtual notes.
  • Ability to create unlimited Padlets, and arrange Padlets into folders.
  • Embedded documents such as Word of PDF can be uploaded and viewed within Padlet, (250mb storage per item upload limit.)
  • Different Padlet types: Wall, Canvas, Stream, Grid, Shelf, Backchannel allow for a variety of uses – for example ‘Canvas’ posts can be used for ‘mind mapping’.
  • Padlet updates in real time – no need for users to refresh the browser to see collaborative changes.
  • Flexible collaboration – students, staff can use the ‘share code’ collaborate with professionals, schools, students from other institutions – without the requirement for users to have a University login.

Considerations

  • Padlets shared using a share code are anonymous and not authenticated
  • Padlet is less suited for the creation of portfolios than other systems as it creates standalone pages and does not have navigation / menu system.

Blackboard Learn Blogs/Journals

Blackboard Blogs / Journals are located within our central VLE Blackboard Learn. They are commonly used by academic staff for blogs and journals where design considerations and adding customisable navigation are not desirable.

Blackboard Blog Screengrab
Above: Blackboard Blog entry.

Benefits the NILE Blog/Journal:

  • Basic editor within the tool allows user to add text and images.
  • Students can add media files such as videos and audio using our integrated video server ‘Kaltura’.
  • Option to add HTML content via text editor expands the capacity of the tool.
  • Users blog posts are reliably dated.
  • Easy to set up and grade as an assessment.
  • Group blogs support collaborative work.
  • Journals access is limited to individual students and module tutors.

To consider:

  • Blackboard Blogs and Journals cannot be visually customised.
  • Custom navigation is not available. 
  • Options are limited to those within the Blackboard text editor.

Tool recomendations

PebblePad:

Hayley Henderson, Senior Lecturer in Human Resource Management.
September 2019.

“I initially needed help to find a tool or platform that would adequately address the needs of a brand new programme and a new approach to supporting students who would be working with external assessors. The tool or platform also needed to meet the needs of the University’s academic requirements and the needs of the ESFA requirements for Apprenticeship programmes.

After a brief discussion with Richard he identified that PebblePad may be a good option to support me here as it allows users from outside of the University to provide feedback on student workbooks.

Initially, I booked an hour-long session with Richard where we reviewed PebblePad and discussed what it could offer. Richard then showed me how to use workbooks within PebblePad. I then explored workbooks myself within the session and went away from the session with a good idea of how I might progress going forward.

I had been introduced to a brand new piece of software and was feeling comfortable and happy with how it could be embedded within my programme. Once the programme had been validated I contacted Richard to follow-up on a few issues as a result of the conditions from the validation and we progressed from there. Progress included developing content and embedding learning outcomes and creating pages for students. After this follow-up session I was then very happy and empowered to continue to work on this independently. I have been very happy with the support and have always recommended Richard to other colleagues.”

Melanie Cole, Senior Lecturer in Practice (Midwifery)
Faculty of Health & Society
May 2018

Richard worked with me on Pebblepad midwifery workbooks to ensure that the documents were developed and ready for launch to the student midwives in the academic year 2017-18. Whilst Pebblepad in midwifery was not completely new at that time, it was in its infancy and a key agenda was to respond to feedback from students and clinicians to address areas of concern and to enhance the layout, content and features to meet the requirements of a professional programme.

His dedicated support and input throughout the whole development and implementation phase enabled me to gain a better understanding of how workbooks are created and what the strengths and limitations of the system are. What was particularly helpful was how flexible he was, arranging remote reviews of our progress using the online meeting rooms in Collaborate. He supported me to participate in aspects of the development of a workbook which upskilled me in the use of Pebblepad and has since enabled me to support other Pebblepad users in the academic team and in the clinical area.

He dedicated a significant amount of time listening to the feedback from myself and other users of the workbooks and working on strategies to improve the user experience and was always keen to understand what the specific needs of midwifery students and assessors are so that you could make constructive and logical suggestions to enhance the functions of the workbooks.

His highly organised approach ensured that the progress made by each of us was documented in a robust way that enabled us to effectively meet deadlines and avoid repetition. This meant that if for any reason any other members of the learntech or midwifery team needed to pick up from where we were, they would have had a clear timeline of our progress which included tasks that had been completed and those still outstanding.

The support has equipped me with the knowledge and skills to continue to work effectively with the Pebblepad system and to share my expertise with new and existing users.

Edublogs

I first used the tool Edublogs when supporting the courses of Media Production and BA Journalism as a ‘Technical Demonstrator’ in 2013. In this role I helped students to set up portfolio sites for a range of media projects and to publish of Journalism content.

Since joining the Learning Technology team I have become the team lead on Edublogs and have provided team updates on it’s new features. I have also run a number of ‘Blogging with Edublogs’ face to face training sessions for staff and have provided to support subject tutors who are using Edublogs for teaching and learning. In addition, I have developed a number of online training resources using Edublogs (covered in my specialist option) and assisted other faculty staff to produce websites using Edublogs for a range of academic projects.

Padlet

Alison Hawkins
Senior Lecturer in Occupational TherapyHealth Professions
July 2020

Richard recommended I consider using Padlet as a suitable platform for online activities. Different tools were offered and we discussed my requirements needed for teaching online. He was sensitive to potential constraints in time and capability.

After practicing a range of tools, I decided that Padlet was the most practical and student centred learning tool for my needs. Richard approached this collaboratively with honest advice and recommendations given. He always had the student learning experience in mind and balanced it well with tutor expectations and needs. He would use role-play sometimes to help me practise explaining tools to students during teaching.

Blackboard Blogs / Journals

Dr Marcella Daye, Faculty of Business and Law
University of Northampton
May 2019

Richard’s support has been invaluable to my gaining proficiency in the application of Blackboard blogs to engage students in online teaching and learning. With his guidance, I’ve not only improved my understanding of the use and deployment of Blackbaord Blogs within the virtual learning environment, but also deepened my appreciation of their pedagogical impacts.

I have benefited from his insightful critiques, timely interventions and above all from his suggestions that have challenged me to attempt new approaches and tools to add value to the learning experience. Always patient, calm and affable, Richard has been reliable and a ‘rock’ of support particularly in the frenetic and demanding periods of student delivery. He is generous with his knowledge and time, and have on occasions attended in person to my module workshops to assist me to engage students with using the online tools. Based on my interactions with him, I consider Richard as a genuine, professional Learning Technologist who has made an indelible contribution in facilitating my reflection on technology integration in my teaching and learning practice.

Blogging tools conclusions

 Of the four blogging tools presented in this unit PebblePad is the exception as it is not licensed for all users at the University and therefore as there an additional cost for each new user license it only recommended when there is a need for students to link to external mentors – as no other licensed tool has this feature. Should we change our licensing of this tool so that it is available to all users it would be recommended more widely to staff for creating blogs.

Of the tools covered Padlet is best suited for short online collaborative learning activities however, it can be adopted for bigger projects as users can link to a number of other Padlet files.  This tool has become very popular with staff due to its intuitive vibrant interface, support for a wide range of files and it’s ability to be edited in real-time by multiple collaborators.

Edublogs is the most feature-rich of the four blogging tools, to use this successfully users need to invest considerable time learning the interface and options within the platform than the other blogging options. It has the benefit that users are learning how to use a CMS (Content Management System) this is of particular benefit to academics who wish to develop their students digital literacy and web site creation skills to a professional standard.

Of the four options Edublogs is the least utilised by the academic staff I support, my experiences suggest that this is due to the amount of time required to learn and that for many staff it is hard to fit this into courses (especially in FBL) where there is both a need to cover a large amount of content and support large cohorts of up-to 150 students, however it has been successfully deployed in other subjects such as Arts and Education which have smaller student groups and I have used this within my web design and web management courses to develop students reflective blogs.

The blog tool within Blackboard Learn is the easiest of the four options for students and staff to use. It has the benefit that student progress can be monitored within the central VLE, of the four option covered here the Blackboard Blog is the most effective for scaleability and sustainability. However It’s lack of customisable themes or navigation make it most suited for blogs that are focused on text content only. 

Moving forward we will be shortly upgrading our VLE to Blackboard Ultra, I have been tasked with writing guides on how the new Ultra blog & journal tools can be used for assessment, these new guides are currently in development and will be released in January 2021.

Reflection

When making recommendations on blogging tools I consider number of factors including; staff skills, time available and nature of the learning experience. I, therefore, make sure I listen carefully to the needs of each tutor and present a range of options from which they can choose a tool which best suits their students needs. 

I am aware of my own bias towards the tools which provide the most features. Of the four options covered above, my favoured platform is Edublogs, as I have previous experience developing web sites with WordPress and I am very confident with it’s features.

However, my experiences with staff suggest that Edublogs is the tool that they are least likely to use with students after training – I think the reason is two-fold, 1. because learning Edublogs (WordPress) takes more time than the other options, 2. the interface and range of options are more confusing than the other blogging platforms we offer, and therefore staff have less confidence to explore it’s use. 

I therefore ensure that I give staff an opportunity to try out out a range of options and try out the tools with students before using them for assessment. I also aim to be available to offer support throughout the term, since March 2020 this has been done through On-line meetings using screen sharing to provide training.

The correct tool is not always the one with the most features, but is the one which the staff member feels best fits their need, and that they are most confident with.