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 *The 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, therefore different examples have been provided in this revision. 

Description

In this area I will be discussing the platforms which are available at the University of Northampton for collaborative blogging, and discuss when each is most appropriate for different teaching scenarios.

The four available tools for building e-portfolios.are Edublogs (WordPress), PebblePad, Padlet and the Blackboard Learn Blog / Journal.  

Description of each tool.

Edublogs

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

Users can create unlimited blogs (sites) using the WordPress Dashboard, administer their own blogs and enable a large number of pre-installed plug-ins and templates. Unlike self installed versions of WordPress, Edublogs users are not able to install additional plugins or themes, 

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

The benefits to using Edublogs are: 

  • 50+ unique plugins and 500+ responsive themes available.
  • Compatible with WordPress Mobile App.
  • Customisable menus can link to pages, categories or URL’s.
  • Site Building Plugin ‘DIVI’ extends functionality beyond the standard WordPress installation and allows responsive column layouts.
  • ‘DIVI accessibility’ plugin checks content adheres to WCAG standards.
  • Log in authentication is linked to existing university accounts.
  • Privacy settings include the option to release online.
  • Class-blogs funtion allows tutors to administer student sites.

Considerations for using Edublogs.

  • Users with low digital capabilities may struggle to become familiar with the WordPress platform due to the large amount of options available.
  • Adding a navigation menu is more complicated than other blog tools.
  • Staff can not add feedback or grades within Edublog sites.
  • Due to the flexibility within the platform students can become focused on the ‘web building’ aspect of creating the blog.

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.

It is more commonly used at UoN for students to complete workbooks – these automatically submit to an assignment. However it can also be used by students to create their own portfolios or blogs.

The building interface in PebblePad is comparatively easy to use with a limited number of page building tools available, users can easily add additional pages to the navigation bar whilst they edit the content.

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

PebblePad - Page Editor

Benefits of using PebblePad are:

  • Staff can set up assignments and add feedback and grades
  • Intuitive interface allows students to easily create portfolios and blogs and share access with externals, students, to the web or for assessment.
  • LTI integration with Blackboard Grade Centre is available.
  • Upon graduating students can continue to use the platform for free by transferring to personal alumni accounts.

Considerations of using PebblePad are:

  • 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.
  • Users can not create column layouts.

Padlet

Padlet is a online interactive post board where students and staff can share ideas, images, documents, media and links.

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

Padlet

Benefits

  • Highly visual and intuitive collaborative tool that is ideal for group activities, mind mapping and making notes.
  • Ability to create unlimited Padlets, and arrange Padlets into folders.
  • Linked 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 are suited to 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 changes.
  • Flexible collaboration – students, staff can use the ‘share code’ collaborate with professionals, schools, students from other institutions such as erasmus without the requirement for everyone to have a NILE login.

Considerations

  • Padlets shared using a share code are anonymous and not authenticated 
  • There are better platforms for building larger portfolios.

Reflection - is one e-portfolio platform more suitable for teaching and learning than the other?

Whilst there are many similarities between these tools they are recommended for different pedagogic uses.

Recommending PebblePad?

Although PebblePad has tools for creating individual student blogs, it is almost exclusively recommended as a tool to create and release workbooks for students on placements. Mostly this is for Nursing students who require their external assessors to evidence the key skills required for validation. 

I recommend PebblePad for the purpose rather than other tools as it (uniquely) allows users outside of the University to validate work. It also includes an area for grading student work called ‘Atlas’ where tutors can manage assignments and give feedback within individual workbooks.

As access to PebblePad is currently restricted to 3000 licenses I would currently not recommend it as a general blogging tool, however should we aquire a site license then this may change.  I have supported this tool since 2018 and helped staff to both create and deploy workbooks for students. 

Testimonial: 

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. 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. We did discuss how PebblePad may have different options to support my needs and the needs of the students. Also, PebblePad has been used successfully within other faculties and within the field of Apprenticeships. 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, did a demo. 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.”

When is it appropriate to use Edublogs?

Having previous experience as a web developer I find that Edublogs / WordPress is highly effective platform for building content as it offers more functionality and design options than of our other supported tools.

Edublogs has mostly been adopted within the subjects of Education and Arts but has been used across other subjects throughout the University and also by academic, support staff and researchers to create outward facing websites.

The high degree of customisation and features available allow all users to create complex blog / web sites for a variety of audiences.

Examples of where Edublogs has been effective are in the subjects of Education where students have created sites aimed at school children and in the Arts where students have created online galleries and portfolios to showcase their project work both for assessment and as portfolios for future employment.

The success of Edublogs in the subject of Education has been the result of ongoing support from the subject designated Learning Technologist Belinda Green who over a number of academic years worked alongside students to develop their WordPress sites, in order to help these students and staff become more self-sufficent she helped staff to develop and deploy Edublog ‘blog templates’ for the students to use.

Edublogs has also been successfully used by support staff in LLS (Library and Learning Services) staff to develop the ‘SkillsHub’: https://skillshub.northampton.ac.uk/  and ‘University of Northampton Plagiarism Avoidance Course’: https://mypad.northampton.ac.uk/academicintegrity/

 

Two key benefits of Edublogs are; that it is more affordable than other ‘e-portfolio’ tools and as a result it is licensed for all students and staff at the University, and that it integrates with our student record systems so there is no manual work required to make it available to students.

One drawback is that there is no way of grading or providing feedback within the platform. There is however a method of preventing students from editing thier sites at a deadline by using the ‘Classblog’ function which gives staff admin access to linked student blogs. 

 

Considerations – are these tools fit for purpose?

From my experiences working with these tools I can see that  both have benefits for teaching and learning,

Feedback from working with tutors in the Faculty of Business and Law suggested that Edublogs is more complex than they would like and that they have preferred to use the basic Blackboard Blog tool or look at alternatives such as Padlet and Microsoft OneNote which are considered easier alternatives for use with students.

Of the two tools platforms PebblePad is the easier for students to create new content. Unfortunately the prohibitive cost of licensing PebblePad per user prevents it from being widely adopted across the institution.

However it is a more complex product than Edublogs, and if the costing was to be put aside and the two platforms were to rationalised to one, then I think that many academic staff would consider that the ease of creating a blog in PebblePad outweighs the functionality and flexibility offered by Edublogs.

In the future should a new blogging tool which allows the creation of customisable menus be included in our VLE then we may find that the two platforms continue to be applied for limited applications.

However a blogging tool is not currently included in our next central VLE platform and if there is a need for a blogging tool that is less complex tool than Edublogs for students but features tools for grading and feedback for staff then increasing our licensing of PebblePad would be a possible solution.

Other options would be to look at whether our other licensed  tools like Microsoft Teams or ClassNote could provide this functionality by integrating with our core VLE.

 

Supporting staff with 'e-portfolio' tools.


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 blog sites, create custom menus and add content. I also developed sites for my subject area using this platform to showcase student work and to support students online publishing of Journalism content.

Since joining the Learning Technology team I have become the team lead on Edublogs and now provide the training and 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.

My induction to PebblePad was between September 2018 and April 2019 when I worked with Midwifery tutor Melanie Cole to develop three PebblePad workbooks and helped the team by supporting a range of PebblePad users with technical support by joining the PebblePad team.

In January 2020 I moved subject areas from the Faculty of Business and Law to work with Health staff. This new position I am assisting tutors who are using PebblePad by manually administering their PebblePad workspaces and student accounts, and providing training on how to release workbooks to students. 

I also now cover the PebblePad inbox once a week and answer student queries by email and when appropriate meet with students to provide additional support via online meetings. 

Each day I am learning more about the features in PebblePad and as this is a complex platform I expect this will continue for some time to come, I have booked onto the next available training session with the tool developers.

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