Using technology to support real world learning.

by Alison Poot


Using technology to support real world learning.

~ Real world learning ~

MAY 11th 2018· by Alison Poot

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Evidence of real world learning is what employers are looking for and universities are responding.

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Real world learning for future ready graduates

The AAC&U Employer Survey of 2015 found that: “When it comes to the types of skills and knowledge that employers feel are most important to workplace success, large majorities of employers do NOT feel that recent college graduates are well prepared. This is particularly the case for applying knowledge and skills in real-world settings, critical thinking skills, and written and oral communication skills — areas in which fewer than three in 10 employers think that recent college graduates are well prepared.”

A similar trend towards graduating students from university with experience in real world settings is evident in Australia with the National Strategy on Work Integrated Learning in University Education, and in the UK with the introduction of Degree Apprenticeships. In short, evidence of real world learning is what employers are looking for and universities are responding.

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Of the 50 teaching and learning strategies we recently reviewed from universities across the globe, creating opportunities for real world learning featured in almost 68%, with many identifying the development of self-reflective skills and a lifelong learning mindset as important.

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Real world learning challenges

Providing opportunities for real world learning at scale brings with it a wide range of ‘real-world’ challenges. Students are off-site, potentially geographically remote, based in a wide range of work environments, and likely to be engaging in vastly different activities and experiences, with varying degrees of supervision and support. Universities need to not only manage the administrative aspects of work placements but also, and perhaps more importantly, find ways to support, record, monitor, and assess the real world learning that is occurring.

Traditionally this was managed through large, paper-based workbooks and folders which students carried around with them and handed over to supervisors in the workplace and tutors at university as required. Limited access to student work, the inability to track progress, and the risk of work being lost or damaged were some of the many limitations to this approach. Expanding work placement opportunities from the traditional programs such as nursing, teaching, medicine, etc, to all students in all programs requires a different approach. This is where technology comes to the fore and offers options for managing real world learning that were never previously available.

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Image shows a high-tech environment
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Requirements for successful real world learning

It would be hard to contest the fact that technology has a huge role to play in supporting remote students on placement, but our ethos here at PebblePad is that any technology implementation needs to be purposeful and practical. Below you'll find 5 'must-have' requirements when it comes to effectively implementing technology to support real world learning.

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'Must-have' requirement number 1:
Make it easy for students to record and reflect on their varied, life-wide learning experiences.

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Students venturing into the world of work typically encounter many new environments and experiences. The aim is for them to learn from these experiences and develop the skills and attitudes to be successful in the workplace. Students need to be able to record their experiences as and when they occur, and be guided to reflect on these experiences so that they become opportunities for learning. PebblePad can be used online on all mobile devices and offline using the mobile app, PebblePocket. This supports the recording of experiences on the run through text, photos, videos, or audio. Both default and custom templates within the personal learning space, Pebble+, scaffold the process of reflection, enabling students to extract maximum meaning from their experiences and teaching them the skills of the reflective learner.

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I really liked what PebblePad had on offer as a student and how far I could take it as a professional. I then decided to use it as a continuing professional development log to record and share experiences with academics and clinicians in the field.

Pratik Vageesh, Monash University graduate

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As an example of this in practice, PebblePad was introduced into the Bachelor of Radiography and Medical Imaging program at Monash University in 2014 as “ … an innovative clinical learning platform to replace the existing paper-based approach and improve communication between university staff and clinical supervisors.” Pratik Vageesh, one of the students in the first cohort to use PebblePad, went to India for a holiday over the summer break. Once there he decided to take the initiative to spend a week at a private radiology and diagnostic centre to experience radiology in India. He chose to use PebblePad to document his experiences and reflect on the differences in service delivery between the two countries. You can learn more about Pratik’s experiences using PebblePad on our community site.

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'Must-have' requirement number 2:
A common understanding (university staff, placement staff, students) of the placement requirements, assessments, and timelines.

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Student work placements typically have complex requirements, made all the more difficult by the fact that they occur offsite and sometimes in quite remote locations. It is generally impractical for all stakeholders (students, university staff, workplace supervisors) to meet at the same time and so having an agreed understanding of the requirements is essential but can be challenging. Throughout our community of users, an online PebblePad workbook is often used to bring all of the requirements together in one place, which is accessible in real time to all stakeholders.

  • The workbook is fully customisable and easily built by university staff to include all relevant instructions, documents, activities, assessments, etc.
  • It provides structure to the student so that they understand exactly what is required of them and scaffolds new activities to aid the learning process. All student responses are entered directly into the workbook.

  • Workplace supervisors are able to see what the student has been asked to do and the learning experiences they are expected to engage in.

  • Guidance can be provided for assessors who can add feedback directly into the workbook alongside the student responses.

Below is an example of how a PebblePad workbook can be used to monitor progress and skills acquisition on placement. You can find a number of additional workbook examples from our customers on our community site.

PebblePad WorkBook Example
An example of a PebblePad Workbook
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'Must-have' requirement number 3:
The ability to effectively monitor progress to ensure timely intervention whenever and wherever it is needed.

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Given the potential stresses and challenges for students in the real world environment, it is essential that their progress can be monitored, not only to ensure that they are meeting requirements but also that they are okay and coping with new experiences. One of the main disadvantages of paper-based workbooks is that student progress is largely invisible until the workbook is presented for review. It could then be too late for any meaningful intervention and the student has had to negotiate the experience largely on their own.

In PebblePad, student workbooks can all be viewed in real time by relevant staff at the university and in the workplace via the online assessment space, ATLAS. It is very quickly apparent when a student is not engaging, is falling behind, is doing things incorrectly, or is doing exceptionally well. Reports can be used to generate a snapshot of progress across a defined group of students or the whole cohort.

If you'd like to learn more about how PebblePad is used to monitor student progress including a fantastic example from La Trobe University where PebblePad reporting is used to identify students who have not yet reached the required standards for their program, you'll find a host of useful resources here from our recent event at the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) Education Forum and National Conference 2018

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'Must-have' requirement number 4:
Make it easy for supervisors and assessors to securely access student work and offer a range of feedback options

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One of the common challenges with technology solutions for real world learning is giving appropriate and secure access to workplace supervisors and assessors. Most university systems require university credentials for login and providing credentials for non-university personnel is often extremely laborious or not possible at all. Platform administrators need to be able to create accounts and assign differentiated permissions so that workplace staff can access online systems with ease, and, once logged in, only see relevant student work and the feedback tools that they are required to use.

PebblePad offers a range of options for external assessment from adding digital signatures directly to student work on a mobile device through to fully secure personal login to the assessment portal with access only to allocated students. As the following diagram outlines, these options differ in terms of the level of administration required and the degree of security provided.

Image shows the permission structure for External Assessor access in PebblePad

In addition to access options, PebblePad also offers a wide range of assessment and feedback tools including comment banks, rubrics, feedback templates, scorecards, approvals, and numeric or text based grading.

An example of using rubrics in PebblePad
An example of using rubrics in PebblePad.
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'Must-have' requirement number 5:
Ensure students can create quality artifacts that students can reuse as evidence in professional portfolios.

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Ultimately, the push for real world learning for university students comes from a desire to make them more employable. It is therefore vital that they are able to document their learning and skill development in reusable digital form so that it can be used as evidence into the future. Students must have ongoing access to this evidence following completion of their studies and the ability to continue to edit and add to their digital profile.

PebblePad is first and foremost a personal learning space, designed to help learners wherever they are learning (at study, work or play) develop, shape and share their unique skills and attributes for success in today’s world. All of their content in Pebble+ is personal, private and secure and any of it can be used to create beautiful portfolio presentations to showcase their development and abilities. Upon leaving the university, each student can take all of their work in an Alumni account and continue to use and add to this at no cost. As Pratik from Monash University concludes: “It is such a great tool to use. I am continuing to enjoy having this at my disposal with all the new features and updates that are constantly added.”

An example PebblePad career portfolio
An example PebblePad 'Career eportfolio'.

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If you have a question (or even lots of questions) about how PebblePad is used by universities across the globe to deliver end-to-end learning and assessment, including supporting students out on placement, click on the button below to request a call back from one of our friendly, expert PebblePaddlers.

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Alison is PebblePad's Australian Director of Service and Partnerships and leads a small team of implementation consultants supporting our customers across Australia, New Zealand, and Asia. Alison has notched up more than 30 years' experience working within the Higher Education sector and gets great satisfaction from helping our customers get the very most out of PebblePad. She is also passionate about developing and supporting the amazing PebblePad Community.  Alison lives on the beautiful Sunshine Coast in Queensland and makes the most of the climate and the location by filling her spare time with cycling, running, climbing, kayaking, and swimming.