Changes coming to Learning Portfolio

Rachel Katz
September 10, 2015
This article was published more than 2 years ago.
Est. Reading Time: 3 minutes

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With the start of the new school year, McMaster has begun the process of phasing out the old Learning Portfolio platform. Just before the start of the classes, the university completed the purchase of licenses for a new system run by PebblePad, a company based in the United Kingdom.

The Learning Portfolio is designed to be a virtual scrapbook for students to collect achievements, reflections, and goals and share them with friends, professors, and employers.

Historically, the Learning Portfolio has had a negative reputation, with students complaining about the tool’s clunky interface. However, with the purchase of the PebblePad platform, the university is hoping to change that.

“Over the last couple of years we’ve been collecting information, [by] asking faculty what they like and don’t like about the portfolio,” said Catherine Swanson, Learning Portfolio Program Manager at the McMaster Institute for Innovation and Excellence in Teaching and Learning.

Swanson explained that over the course of several months, students and staff from all of McMaster’s faculties tested different portfolio tools and eventually agreed on PebblePad. “It has so much more flexibility and it’s much easier [to use] and the students who tested it for us absolutely loved it,” she said.

Unlike the old portfolio system, which was run by Desire2Learn (D2L), the company that also runs Avenue to Learn, PebblePad’s specialty is its e-learning portfolio system.

Swanson is eager to see how the change affects both students and faculty. Once the system is fully up and running, students will be able to access PebblePad directly through Avenue to Learn just like the D2L platform. She emphasized the fact that unlike D2L, PebblePad is constantly releasing new versions so the system remains up to date with developments in web design.

The PebblePad platform certainly looks more polished than D2L’s design. It features built-in help videos and pop-ups to guide students through an online reflection. Its design is intuitive and streamlined. In the past, many students struggled with sharing their portfolios with professors who were using the system for assignments, but the new platform has clearer sharing instructions to ensure only those marking the Learning Portfolio can access it.

Despite the change in platform, the number of students who will be engaged by the Learning Portfolio is still uncertain.

Patricia Kousoulas, a third year Life Sciences student and President of the McMaster Science Society, has conflicting thoughts on the tool. She has used the Learning Portfolio in her studies at McMaster to explore specific skills such as leadership and communication in tutorials.

“The tool was a good way to capture my thoughts, however because it was for marks, people didn’t appreciate it […] the academic factor honestly scares people away—it scared me away too,” she said.

Kousoulas said that in addition to the PebblePad help videos, she would love to see a student testimonial to promote extra-curricular uses for the portfolio.

“The problem is that the first time students hear about [the portfolio] is during class time, and then it doesn’t excite them.”

She thinks that it will likely take a long time to find students who genuinely want to use the platform. “If someone like me who is involved with the project [...] isn’t really jumping up and down to do it, I don’t know how other students will feel about it,” she said.

PebblePad will be gradually implemented over the course of the year, and while the system’s features look modern, it may still have a long way to develop.

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