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PebblePad 3

March 22, 2012

Yesterday I attended a demonstration of the soon-to-be-released PebblePad 3. This is not just a new release; the software has been completely rebuilt from scratch. However the new version will maintain backwards compatibility, so that assets created in the current version can be opened in the new. And it has been built according to the same concepts: it’s not just an e-portfolio system, but one which encourages users to reflect at every stage – What? So What? Now What?

The first thing to say is that PebblePad 3 looks much much better. Appearances shouldn’t be so important, perhaps, but students are less likely to engage with a platform that looks unattractive and clunky. Well, the new platform looks clean, uncluttered and much more contemporary.

And, as far as we could see from the demo of a system still very much in beta, it will be a lot less clunky to use as well. Simple things like being able to open more than one “pad” at a time, and having ready access to the tools you need, without having to navigate through a succession of screens.

Timing

Those who attended the current series of PebblePad roadshows will get access to a PebblePad 3 “workspace” (see below) in a week or so. Then after Easter, we can have preview access to our own systems in PebblePad 3 – this can be switched on for specific groups of users who want to try out the new functionality. There are some briefings later in April at PebblePad HQ for those considering switching to the new version this summer, and I shall make sure I get to one of those.

The software will be officially launched on 1st July, with a patch on 1st September to fix any bugs identified  over the summer.

What’s new – overview

PebblePad 3 will consist initially of two distinct components:

  • Pebble+
    this is the revamped core PebblePad platform, employing a Flash interface – this is the user’s Personal Learning Space
  • ATLAS
    = Advanced Teaching Learning and Assessment System. This is an HTML platform, which replaces Gateways – this is the institutional side of PebblePad

The differences between personal spaces (Pebble+) and the institutional space (ATLAS) are greater than now,  and will be deliberately emphasised to users to make the distinctions clear.

In due course, from 2013 onwards, there will be additional components e.g. the PebblePad  Community, allowing users to connect with individuals at other institutions; and others tbc (e.g. a content management system, a Quiz builder)

For Enterprise users (such as the University of West London) they will be moving towards:

  • Sub-organisations – differently branded, different resources available e.g. at a School level
  • Quiz builder
  • Advanced template elements
  • Shared organisational resources
  • Extensible CVs (including form elements)
  • Improved institutional integration

Mobile users

Pebble+ will still use Flash, so not compatible with all mobile devices, and certainly not iPads and iPhones. But users of non-compatible devices  will automatically be directed to the PebblePad  mobile site. And mobile access will allow you to do almost everything – about 95 of functionality will be available, rather than the 20% available at the present time. Use of the mobile platform will also now be the route for those using screenreader software such as JAWS.

ATLAS of course, like Gateways at present, is written in HTML so not a problem for mobile users.

What’s New – Assets

  • Uploaded files can be any size. Media files will be resized / optimised (like YouTube and certain other media server systems? This is a feature which could have a big impact).
  • Asset types have been rationalised and renamed. Post is a new asset type (and doesn’t actually have to be part of a blog); other asset types = File, Plan, Experience, Reflection, Talent.
  • There also “Categories” e.g. anything created from a template = a Record; also Documents, Media, Posts, Designs.
  • Users can select / move / delete multiple assets (hurrah!).
  • PebblePad still uses tags (like Gmail), rather than a folder structure; but old / rarely needed assets can be moved from “Current” to a new “Hidden” folder.
  • New terminology when “Sending” assets: Publish (to web), Submit (for assessment)
  • Ability to “favourite” assets for quick access
  • Some text formatting controls when creating assets – bold, italic etc.
  • Can have multiple “pads” open at same time
  • Tagging is improved; users can combine tags
  • Users can quickly switch between views: edit/preview/preview in ATLAS
  • When Sharing, a user can change the permissions on individual assets linked to a shared asset (e.g. share a webfolio, but retain control over individual assets linked to that webfolio).
  • In the Asset store assets are now divided as By Me, For Me, With Me
  • From the “Design New” option, a user  can create a
    – Blog
    – Folio Page: this is a single web page, but can incorporate multiple elements (drag and drop building tool)
    – Webfolio: you can now put anything in a webfolio

Tools

Forms and profiles are now combined as templates. Everyone gets the Template Builder.

Building a template is like building webfolio – you choose elements (long/short text, rating, multiple choice, tables etc.); looks very easy to build templates.

Everything you build goes into your Resource Centre. You can then Share it. There will also (in future) be a global Resource Centre for the institution, with a user rating facility.

ATLAS

  • From PebblePad + a user sends their asset to a Workspace, much as now with Gateways.
  • The Gateway hierarchy has gone, but you can create Regions (like folders) with delegated admin rights
  • Users can see all their submissions to any workspace in one list – so can see immediately when feedback received
  • LTI integration will enable you to link e.g. from Blackboard to a specific section of a workspace
  • For Gateway managers, there is the option to Pause an assignment  – this locks the Gateway but doesn’t lock users’ assets
    Able to take a “snapshot” of work at set points – and go back to this in future to review progress
  • Workspace has 5 tabs: About, Submissions,  Resources, Conversations, Management.
    As Workspace manager you can turn off those you don’t want
  • Users can save specific conversation posts as an Asset

My notes were made while watching the demo – hopefully I’ve got the details largely correct, but we’ll be able to see in a week or two.  And hopefully when we start “playing” with the new system it will live up to these very positive initial impressions.

Quote of the day – PebblePad’s Shane Sutherland, on finding that what he was trying to demo didn’t seem to be working: “Now I think that’s because it’s broken”!
There were a few of these moments, when we were assured that it does work really, but not all the features have been made active yet, that it will work when it’s released…  There seemed to be general agreement that, if we were hearing this about a new release from a certain well-known VLE vendor, we wouldn’t touch it with a bargepole. But PebblePad have built up an enviable reputation as a trustworthy software supplier: their support is really good, and even when their current product doesn’t do quite what you’d like it to, it does do what it’s supposed to.

 

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