• Another great catch - James Blackburn joins the team and reflects on his first PebblePad event.

    by James Blackburn


Another great catch - James Blackburn joins the team and reflects on his first PebblePad event.

~ Meet the team ~

SEPTEMBER 14th 2017· by James Blackburn

insert new block here


Well, our list of internal blog authors has yet again been incremented by a count of one as we welcome James Blackburn to the PebblePad gang. Affectionately known as James Blackburn Rovers within the team (well, at least by those who follow football or soccer) we are delighted to have him on board. James, who famously once wore a hula skirt in a PebblePad workshop whilst still with the Institute of Swimming (though none of us can remember exactly why) has authored a very personal blog post, reaffirming  why he's such a great catch for PebblePad (despite showing questionable judgement when it comes to appropriate workshop attire).


insert new block here


Every year I grab a train to my home city of Birmingham for the PebblePad conference which has affectionately become known as Mini-Bash. However, this summer was my first time as a fully fledged member of the Pebblepad team, and maybe this is why I found it so interesting. In my previous roles as a Learning Designer at The Institute of Swimming and a Senior Learning Technologist at Loughborough College, I have been guilty of doing a bit of ‘Pick N Mix’ when it comes to events like Mini-Bash. I only really engaged with the ideas I thought would work for us at the time and all the other great stuff passed me by. However, this year I was attending the MiniBash with a different perspective, I wasn't there to learn about a specific challenge I wanted to solve and so I was able to truly open my eyes to how much PebblePad can do.

We heard so many stories through the ignite sessions at this year's MiniBash that it's quite challenging to pinpoint the most useful takeaways as there is just so much 'goodness' to choose from. This year, I took away five key themes from the conference, and I don't mind admitting to the fact that if you’d asked me before the conference, I don't think I would have thought of some of them.

insert new block here

I looked around the room and I could see that everyone was thinking ‘we need to do this’, ‘how do we do this?’ and I couldn't help but think - ‘why didn’t I do this?’


insert new block here


Andrew Kirke’s presentation, for me, summarised how responsive PebblePad can be as an assessment tool. Andy’s paramedic team at Sheffield Hallam University have been using PebblePocket to record OSCEs (summative assessments for clinical skills). Students work together, under guidance, to add their videos to a portfolio, self-assess, and then share this for peer and summative assessment. As I looked around the room and I could see everyone was thinking ‘we need to do this’, ‘how do we do this?’ and I couldn't help but think – ‘why didn’t I do this?’.

Away from Mini-Bash, I’ve heard many students discussing video as part of the assessment process. They talk about how they found the inclusion of ‘about me’ videos difficult at first but understand why creating them is an essential skill in the age of Skype interviewing and working online. I found myself reflecting whether video assessment will have become common practice by the time PebbleBash 2018 arrives. I couldn't help but conclude that for PebblePad users keen to exploit its capability, this may well be the case.

insert new block here


Noëlle Quénivet from the University of the West of England told us about how her law students are using PebblePad for peer feedback. This is such a simple use of PebblePad, but that’s not a bad thing. Even though as Learning Technologists we say we won’t get distracted by the technology, we often do. Noëlle’s example shows how simplicity is often the best way to get students to buy into the pedagogy.

insert new block here


Another topic of conversation, away from the presentations, was scaling up. I’ve had this in previous institutions and it shows just how successful an implementation is when you have people knocking on your door asking if they can be part of it.

Magic is something you make happen

Graduate Awards are a great way to encourage learners to collate evidence throughout their journey
and a great way to start conversations with staff. This was brilliantly articulated at Mini-Bash through the work Durham University are doing with its Durham Award, which is resulting in PebblePad becoming central to the overall student experience.

insert new block here

The University of Sheffield is encouraging every doctoral student to complete a portfolio alongside their academic study. This is an effective way of knowing how your students are developing over time.


insert new block here


One of my current research interests is contract cheating (buying your essay online). If I survive my MA in Education I’ll share my thesis (or at least a shorter version) on the PebblePad community site. As a result of this practice, universities are increasingly looking at ways to design out contract cheating and this is an area in which PebblePad can help.  

As I mentioned earlier in this post, video assessment can help mitigate opportunities for contract cheating but there are also some really simple examples of measures that don’t just prevent cheating but aid learning at the same time. The University of Sheffield is encouraging doctoral students to complete a portfolio alongside their academic study. This is an effective way of knowing how your students are developing over time. Swansea University has also shown how group work can be underpinned by an ongoing blog to really understand how much an individual contributed to a group project, whilst allowing the group to work autonomously.  

These are just two simple examples of how good technology allows the focus to remain where it should – on the learning process, not the product!

insert new block here


Now, I’m not a technical guy, I first thought 'API Data Extraction' was a band rather than an item on our roadmap. I do, however, recognise the need institutions have for learning analytics. But one of the things that attracted me to PebblePad as a product and as a company to work for is the value placed on the learner’s privacy.

We had some really interesting conversations during the fireside chats and I personally found it quite challenging to think about how I might satisfy stakeholder expectations for 'big data' whilst at the same time being able to say to learners - ‘this is a private space for your learning and development’. I realised through my chats at Mini-Bash that many of our customers find themselves trying to strike a similar balance. This often leads to searching questions about what constitutes 'useful data' and how it can be used to enhance the learning experience (especially data related to feedback and assessment).

insert new block here
insert new block here
PebblePad Cake
insert new block here
insert new block here


I'm going to close on a rather sentimental note. I thoroughly enjoyed Mini-Bash, I have always enjoyed the unique feel and sense of community (not to mention the cake) you get at a PebblePad event, and I knew as I hopped on the train back to PebblePad HQ that I had made the right decision about joining the team. Above and beyond everything that I experienced during the event there was one consistent theme which resonated with me, and it is what made me fall in love with PebblePad when we first bought it at The Institute of Swimming – putting the student at the centre of the experience. Every customer example at Mini-Bash was built around student engagement and making the experience personal to the learner – you simply couldn’t ask for better customers. And I count myself very lucky to have the opportunity to work with them each and every day.

If you've enjoyed the post and are keen to learn more about our work and how PebblePad is used, download a free copy of our conference case studies.

Download now Hubspot CTA
insert new block here


Before joining PebblePad, James worked with learning technologies (and humans) in the further education and sport sectors, and he was formerly part of the elearning team at the Institute of Swimming. Outside of PebblePad, you'll most likely find him documenting his ski adventures and reflecting - in PebblePad of course - on whether it was a Bode Miller or Eddie the Eagle kind of day out on the slopes. Whilst his favourite hobby sees him travelling downhill at speed, our customers know that they can rely on him to do the exact opposite when it comes to upping the PebblePad customer experience.