Thursday, 21 April 2016

PebblePad V5 demo

Matthew Wheeler from PebblePad visited the University this week to demo the new version (v5) to users across the institution.

The biggest change is the move from Flash to HTML5, which leads instantly to a more responsive and versatile layout, which will be fully-usable on all devices including tablets and smartphones. This has come with a fresh new design, which instantly makes the system look more visually appealing.

As well as technical improvements, many criticisms of PebblePad have been addressed. The stark welcome screen of Pebble+ has been replaced with a more friendly dashboard, guiding users through the system much more intuitively, including a "What's Happening?" section where students will see upcoming deadlines and recently shared items. Icons have been replaced with words, and help videos and animated gifs are found throughout in sensible places, further reducing confusion that can arise in the current version.

There is also a change in some of the language that has been known to alienate PebblePad users - "Webfolio" simply becomes "Portfolio", "Folio Page" becomes "Page". "Assets" and "Resources" remain, but are easier to locate, with the cumbersome "For Me", "By Me" and "With Me" tabs removed, replaced by a simple list with the Asset or Resources clearly labelled with their origins, uses and whether they've been shared or submitted.

Other improvements include the ability to drag and drop multiple files, and a vastly superior Portfolio tool, both in terms of ease of use and the quality of the output, which makes this an option for students wanting to create simple webpages with a modern design. Gone also are the irritating pop-up boxes to input text, with text typed directly into the page as it will be viewed. Imminently the Workbook and Template builder will be replaced to the same standard.

V5 uses all the same architecture under the hood as the current version, which means there is no need to recreate existing material when the new version launches. Workbooks and Templates will be carried across as they are, with the only main difference (other than a more appealing look) that side menus in Workbooks will be moved to a horizontal menu at the top of the screen. This is to allow for responsive navigation on all devices, including small screens of smartphones.

Future improvements, likely to be available before we move to v5, include the introduction of rubrics, and a more functional progress tracker, which will tell Managers exactly where changes have been made in a Workbook. ATLAS (the part of the system where assessment and associated admin takes place) will remain the same in the short-term, eventually coming into line with the new Pebble+ in the following year. This will mean tutors will not immediately have to relearn both sides of the system.

While maybe not addressing every issue people may have with PebblePad, v5 is certainly a great leap forward for the system, and issues I raised that aren't immediately solved in the new version were all known and on the company's roadmap. While always a powerful tool for ePortfolios and personal reflection, this has not been matched in terms of usability and design in the current version. A great many of these issues have been addressed in v5, both with the move away from a creaky Flash interface and the associated limitations, and the addition of new features and design elements that have been implemented with careful thought as to how users navigate around PebblePad.

We will be consulting with current users on the exact timing of the change to V5, and how we can manage any conflicts caused by existing assessments running outside regular term-time. Anyone who has any queries or comments is encouraged to get in touch on the usual email address - tel@sheffield.ac.uk.

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