Coronavirus - creative ideas to keep the learning wheels turning when students need to keep their distance.

by Shane Sutherland


Coronavirus - creative ideas to keep the learning wheels turning when students need to keep their distance.

~ Distance Learning ~

MARCH 16th 2020· by Shane Sutherland

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I have crafted this blog post in response to the many questions being asked of our global Implementation Specialists as everyone tries to work through the challenges and issues presented by Coronavirus. Typically those questions are general in nature, but with a common theme - are there ways we haven’t thought of that we could use PebblePad (if we have significantly more students studying remotely)? With an abundance of great practice it’s going to be difficult to suggest things you may not already know or do, but for simplicity we have made a small list of possible approaches, designs and affordances.

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This has already happened for lots of courses, typically housed in a workbook, with the best examples incorporating lots of student activity e.g. having watched the video above, what 3 relatable lessons would you draw? Of course, moving content into PebblePad in a thoughtful way that enhances the student experience is time consuming, and there may be better environments for bulk content - like the LMS.  But one of the most powerful ways in which we see PebblePad used is as a tool for scaling up the kinds of searching questions that are often only possible in 1-2-1 situations, whether that’s to support research planning, projects, tutorials or independent enquiry. Wrapping some thoughtful questions around content (and using Atlas to provide feedback) is a pattern reflected in many excellent learning designs we have seen.

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PebblePad is not always the best place for content, but it’s a great place to help students make sense of content that lives elsewhere. We have seen great examples where videos, lecture capture, TED talks - or even complex spreadsheets - are embedded in a template alongside prompts, questions and activities that require students to properly engage with the embedded content, rather than passively consume it. Where lecture capture is widely used it can be an effective way of reusing existing content whilst bringing to bear questions particularly germane to this current cohort.

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In an effort to maintain a social element of learning, and to support individual student needs, many institutions expect to conduct many meetings through various remote meeting/conferencing tools. This is going to be hard work for everyone involved so how do you make the very most of your time together? We think you can draw upon the experience of some of the large scale tutoring projects that already use templates to scaffold the preparation for, and subsequent reflection and action planning of meetings and their outcomes.  A series of meetings, perhaps geared around student projects, can be easily created as pages of a workbook.

Images shows a project collaboration in PebblePad

Project Collaboration in PebblePad

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We know there are some concerns for those students who simply don’t have access to great broadband or who are worried about the costs of extended online work. It’s not going to be a perfect solution for everyone but there is already extensive use of PebblePocket for recording learning wherever it happens. You can capture video or images of practice, and the standard templates provide good support for reflection and sense-making. The competency record also allows any external to authenticate the learner’s record.

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ATLAS allows considerable flexibility over assessment. Individuals can be given extensions, work can be paused, you can look back in time to see how work has developed and the permissions allow you to involve many different people in supporting student learning, reviewing work, and giving ongoing (iterative, supportive) feedback - helping students feel connected to their course and their teachers. ATLAS also supports some aspects of assessment not well supported elsewhere so if you need to assess large files, assess anonymously, or move peer assessment online – ATLAS might be a suitable solution for you.

Image shows the PebblePad Assessment Space, ATLAS
Assessment and Feedback in PebblePad

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In addition to online meetings, group work or peer review are two suggestions for helping students feel engaged and connected to their peers. PebblePad allows Collaboration on assets, enabling group projects to be presented via a co-owned portfolio and creation of a group blog detailing plans, processes and actions. We’ve seen these types of activities supplemented by individual blogs in which students offer a personal reflection on their input and involvement in the groupwork as a self-assessment mechanism.  In ATLAS you can set up a peer review workspace, possibly using sets to group students, and allow peer sharing and feedback. 

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It’s impossible to provide sufficient detail in this message to really help you deal with the many challenges you’ll be facing right now – but maybe it’s a start, and here are some other things we’re going to do. First off, we're cancelling any non-urgent work we have planned to free up our Implementation Specialists to help you think through, plan for, and implement ways to help your learners - and your teaching community. Secondly, we’ll be asking our community to share examples of how they use PebblePad to support learning at a distance, and we’ll curate those and make them available to everyone. And, of course, we will be doing everything we can to keep PebblePad performing effectively as demands upon it increase.

And, finally, if you're reading this as a valued member of the PebblePad Community, please don’t let worries about how many licences you have stand in the way of tackling the immediate learning, teaching and assessment challenges you are grappling with – and don’t fret that we’ll use convoluted language to hoodwink you into a licensing minefield. We will not charge you for any additional licences needed as part of your efforts to support learners and learning during this crisis.

Our very best wishes as you, your colleagues and your learners work through the challenges ahead.

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UPDATE: In the post above, Shane said we'd be looking to share examples of practice from our community. Well, we've done just that. Our new video channel, PebbleVision, is filled with pebblegogical goodness and ideas inspired by the brilliant PebblePad community. 

Go to PebbleVision Hubspot CTA 
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CEO and founder of PebblePad, Shane has been a big presence in the world of portfolios and personal learning ever since the company's inception in 2004. It's not just his boundless enthusiasm and towering capacity for innovation that keeps PebblePad at the top of its game ... when you're 6' 10" having a list of great ideas 'as long as your arm' is somewhat of a competitive advantage!