In 2009, during my first year of supporting the implementation of PebblePad at an Australian university, I came across an interesting phenomenon. Two academic staff members were both using PebblePad with their students for the first time, in the same unit of the same degree, for the same teaching and learning activities. Yet their experiences and outcomes were extremely different. One was on the phone almost every day, reporting difficulties that their students were experiencing, apparent bugs that they had discovered, issues with connectivity and saving, and a myriad of other problems and concerns. The feedback from that cohort of students was overall quite negative. In contrast I hardly heard from the other staff member and when we met by chance around campus I received enthusiastic reports about how well it was all going, that the students were enjoying working in PebblePad, and that they were having fun learning the tool together.
Why, when I had introduced PebblePad to both these staff members myself, was their experience and the experience of their students so different? I had very little experience with PebblePad myself at that time and so all I could put it down to was a difference in approach but I was unable to articulate it any further.
Over the next 5 years during my work for PebblePad I encountered similar scenarios in our customer institutions. Lots of conversations about this phenomenon have lead me to conclude that a lot of it comes down to attitude. My impression is that there are two attitudes that are crucial for success:
1. "This is the way we now do things."
If this is a given then everyone can move on to focussing on making it work for them. This is where the terms ‘pilot’ or ‘trial’ are so problematic – these give people permission to complain that they don’t like it, it doesn’t work for them, or something else would be better.
2. "PebblePad adds value for me as a teacher and/or my students as learners."
A teacher must believe that there is value in the use of PebblePad. It takes time and effort to embed it in curriculum and a teacher will only prioritise this and do it effectively if they believe that there is something in it for them and/or their students.
So, what does this mean for practice?
Normalisation is key. Where possible PebblePad needs to be introduced to students and staff as part of everyday business. This is what we use to facilitate these kinds of activities ...
Those who are working with academic staff to embed PebblePad must do so with confidence and enthusiasm. A teacher can be won over or lost at this point. Priscilla Trahar, a Learning Designer at USC, says to the staff that she works with, “Trust me … go and play and you will get it!” And they all do. Priscilla’s attitude of ‘This will work’ is an extremely powerful part of creating teachers who focus on making it work for them.
Time and resources must be allocated to helping teachers at all levels identify the value in PebblePad for them. This has to go all the way down to the casual tutor who often has the most direct contact with students and therefore can be extremely influential in terms of student engagement. If their attitude is one of disbelief their students are unlikely to embrace PebblePad.
So, we disregard the power of attitude at our peril. Not just the attitude of any one individual but the collective attitude at all levels within the organisation. If, at any point, the attitude is not one of ‘Can do …’, there are always those who are ready to agree with, accept, or move towards the attitude of ‘Can’t’ (or ‘won’t’) and use this to justify their non-engagement.