Capturing the fun and themes from our first North American PebblePad Mini-Bash conference.

by Gail Ring


Capturing the fun and themes from our first North American PebblePad Mini-Bash conference.

~ PebblePad events ~

SEPTEMBER 7th 2017· by Gail Ring



Even before our morning Stumptown Coffee arrived, participants were buzzing with excitement over the first North American Mini-Bash. Our friends from Portland State University generously provided space for the day-long event that consisted of sharing, reflection, generating ideas, and, of course, showcasing a wide variety of exciting PebblePad uses. Participants and presenters included all of our North American partner schools, video presentations from Australia and the UK, as well as a presentation from a student who traveled from California to share her experiences. The theme centered on the importance of a space to think, reflect, and create - whether in private or publicly, whether as student or faculty.

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Portland Oregon banner
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Portfolio types - like me, and probably you since you are reading this blog - talk a lot about the benefits of portfolios. They include, but are not limited to:

  • Supporting life-long, life-wide learning
  • Facilitating connection-making among the various aspects of our lives
  • Supporting reflection in and on practice
  • Making learning visible
  • Building identity

all of which are very much part of PebblePad’s mission. So it’s not surprising that the examples we saw and the conversations we had revolved around these issues.

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We began our day with student presentations from Emmanuel Macias, Portland State’s recent ePortfolio Award Winner, and Sara Willis, a recent graduate from the School of Business Administration at Portland State. Emmanuel’s and Sara’s words reminded us why we teach and why we believe in the power of portfolios. The reason for both, at least for me, is because maybe one or more of our students will have the transformational experiences that these students described.

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I can’t say enough good things about PebblePad, I can’t say enough good things about this process. I thought I was going to dig this tiny little hole, and I ended up going to the core of my being on a level I wouldn’t have without this.

Sara Willis, Portland State University Graduate.

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Sara began by explaining how this experience allowed her to: “take a stroll down an avenue of my life that I would never have gone down if not for PebblePad.” Melissa Pirie (of PebblePad, formerly from Portland State), Sara’s Instructor, set the stage for her presentation, stating: “the kind of portfolios students generated in a completely private space blew me away. I have never experienced the caliber, quality, depth and serious integrative learning connection in the 17 years I have been working with portfolios.”  Sara elaborated on the process: "I can’t say enough good things about PebblePad, I can’t say enough good things about this process. I can’t say enough good things about the fact that I was instructed to do this. I thought I was going to dig this tiny little hole, and I ended up going to the core of my being on a level I wouldn’t have without this."

PebblePad eportfolio example
A page from Sara's portfolio
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We heard more than once from students and faculty in the room that engaging in portfolio development helped them gain insights that they would never have had otherwise. Emmanuel described the experience as an “idea generator” that allowed him to delve into his reflective and his creative sides. And boy did he! The video he created about his experiences in Cuba demonstrates the importance of spending time in another culture, and his story is made more compelling through the photos and music he selected.

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The experience was an "idea generator" allowing me to delve into my reflective and creative sides

Emmanuel Macias, Portland State’s recent eportfolio Award Winner

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From Spring Arbor University, we had Dr. Wally Metts sharing his experiences using PebblePad in his study abroad course and how it enabled him to make a simple tweak to the final assignment, moving away from a final paper to a portfolio that allowed for images and video. He stated:  “the kinds of entries were seldom recognized in the papers I’ve seen over 8 trips I’ve made with students to China, Ireland, Argentina or India.”

Wally pointed out a potential problem to using portfolios, as articulated by one student who commented: “I probably thought too much about the final product than the content itself.” Conversely, however, 88% of the students surveyed said that the images helped them reflect on their experiences. Wally ended his presentation with a wordle he created from student comments regarding their portfolio experiences. As you can see, the word that stands out is Creative which is consistent with what we hear from students around the world.

A wordle with the word creative being most prominent
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Elise Mueller from Duke University discussed “ditching the final exam for PebblePad” and posed the question: “Do final exams reflect actual learning?” Elise contends that among language instructors, pedagogy supports the belief that a brain dump of vocabulary and grammar does not accurately reflect student learning. Reflection in and on learning is key; however, as Elise pointed out, without good prompts it is difficult to get deep self-reflection from learners. Prompts were designed in PebblePad to help the students identify their competency levels, tap into previous knowledge, and identify goals.  


Fair selection processes


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Dr. Robert Fleisig from McMaster University provided an example of how he uses PebblePad to surface the process of learning in his Impact Project. In this project, first-year engineering students are tasked with developing an augmentative device for people with mobility problems. This project involves students and faculty from multiple disciplines, along with community partners. At various stages in the process engineering students receive feedback from occupational therapy students; thus beginning the iterative process of getting feedback, reflecting on that feedback and revising their work. Robert identified the following student outcomes:

  • Increased confidence in ability to critically apply knowledge to problems
  • Increased awareness of community health issues and motivation to contribute to their community
  • A strengthened sense of a broader campus cohort
  • Transformation that they can make an impact to help others

Did I mention that Robert is using PebblePad with 1000 first-year engineering students (in 200 teams), more than 200 student volunteers, and instructors from three faculties? For a more in-depth look I encourage you to watch his webinar.

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For years I was part of an eportfolio group with my colleagues called Out of Practice where we shared our portfolios with one another and had monthly conversations about them. Not only did my portfolio change as a result of these conversations, I changed. I experienced many of the benefits listed at the beginning of this blog and I am not unique. Faculty from PSU shared their portfolios and in their presentations they discussed the impact this process had on them and their work.

Dr. Oscar Fernandez, Portland State University, views his portfolio as a space through which he connects with students and peers in meaningful ways. Some of these connections are made through his choice of images while others are made by advancing social causes. For example, using the blog feature in PebblePad he issues a call to action for viewers to go and out connect with the community.  Most of all, Oscar urges us to “get busy and create your own portfolios!”

For Zapoura Newton-Calvert, Portland State University, her portfolio became a way to model and build trust with faculty and instructional designers.  She, like Oscar, reminds us that it starts with us. Her sage advice stresses that you must: "Build trust. It’s about people, not the technology; it's about our relationships and working together." Moreover, having one place to put her academic and personal work serendipitously encouraged Zapoura to transform a personal project, Reading as Resistance, into a bigger project that she is working on with her students. “Just seeing everything in one place allowed me to integrate them and use them in my academic world which I hadn’t really thought of before so that was exciting for me.”

By now you are recognizing the power of PebblePad events as a place to share ideas, helping us to rethink practice in new directions.  I encourage you to begin to make plans for PebbleBash 2018 in Melbourne, Australia.

I will end this blog with Oscar's challenge to build your own portfolio because as Zapoura states: "Authentic use begins with you!". My request to you is to add your portfolio to the comments of this blog if you are willing. Let's see how many of us are walking the walk! I hope to see you in Australia in 2018!

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References & Image Attribution

The 'Fair selection' image used in this blog is taken from Standardized Testing

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Gail is a great believer in the power of portfolios for learning and has been using them in her teaching and research since her graduate work at the University of Florida. Formerly the Director of the ePortfolio Program at Clemson University, Gail joined the PebblePad team in 2015 as she wanted the opportunity to share her knowledge and passion for the transformational nature of portfolio with a broader audience. Therefore, on any given day, you'll most likely find Gail eulogising all things portfolio somewhere in North America (albeit with a healthy bias towards a rather wonderful portfolio platform going by the name of PebblePad).



Gail Ring

You can view my portfolio at