Our reckons: 12 lessons we learnt whilst authoring in PebblePad

Authors: Tom Buckley, James Rawlings, Robyn Weeks and Husna Ahmed

This podcast and associated article were produced for those who are authoring on or supporting the use of PebblePad version 5. It is a little technical and might be quite dry subject matter and almost incomprehensible for the casual learning technology enthusiast. Tom apologies for his cold on the podcast version. All contributors were at UWE at the time of recording but Husna Ahmed now works for the RAU.

Authoring in PebblePad can be a challenge, especially with some of the quirks you may encounter. If you are new to authoring in PebblePad, then read on as the Learning Technologists from UWE’s Faculty of Health and Applied Science share their experiences and provide some useful tips.

1. Building a Workbook: The tab you need in order to start building your workbook is not in plain sight. Don’t use the ‘get creative’ box on the home page as this is for students to build their own content.  To find it, go to:

Pebble+ Image

The Burger menu > get creative > Create a workbook.

2. Finding and using the right elements: Understanding where to find the right element (or block) is tough, so it is best to familiarise yourself with these before you start. Counterintuitively ‘Popular’ does not relate to content that has recently or regularly been used. When adding content to a page within a workbook ‘Popular’ will give you the main block types for students/assessors to complete, such as single line entry or date picker. ‘Hints’ has block types for adding instructional text, images and video and cannot be used for students/assessors to fill in. As there is no ‘table’ block in this section this means you can’t add a table containing information. Some elements (such as radio buttons) come up several times, however they have different functionalities, so double check what you need them to do before you use them.

3. Some quirks are odd and you only learn by doing: PebblePad has a few interesting quirks, some of which can be frustrating if you are the meticulous type. For example, some block types will let you format text, others won’t and this can vary between different elements of the same block. Another interesting quirk is if you set a word count limit. The block will show the word count but will not inhibit an individual from exceeding it. Also, bullet points will appear smaller than when you are authoring them, so don’t wind yourself up trying to fix the unfixable.

4. ‘Assessor Only Field’ limitations: Not all blocks can be set as ‘assessor only’ (i.e. only an assessor can complete). This frustratingly applies to tables, which can only be used by students. Much of the paper-based workbooks we moved on to PebblePad consisted of tables that work-based assessors filled out, so we have had to think creatively to replicate the workflow without the use of tables for assessors. Rubrics can be used, but has its limitations, as you cannot enter text in every box. Check during authoring what is currently allowed to be an assessor only field before you end up too far down a dead end.

5. Assessor fields cannot unlock content: Assessor fields cannot be set as mandatory for progress. This functionality only works with blocks for student to complete.

6. Doing things at scale is problematic, check settings when duplicating blocks: Using the duplicate block function can lead to settings being lost, erratic displaying of horizontal lines, and other oddities, especially with assessor fields. If you are duplicating assessor fields add all text, leave privacy as default, duplicate, then go back and change to completed by assessor.Be aware that if blocks or pages are duplicated they are liable to lose assessor only settings, so be vigilant. Save block by block rather than after a whole page of content has been created.

7. Nesting needs planning and testing: Nesting is a way of creating submenus within a workbook and is achieved by creating additional workbooks which are then embedded within the original.
The nesting of workbooks

Nesting is complicated and needs to be planned in advance if you are going to use more than two levels. You will need to layer from the bottom up. A fourth level of nesting currently causes issues in ATLAS so plan ahead for possible problems. If you are nesting too deep then it may be worth revaluating the structure of your workbook.

8. Test as all stakeholders as ‘preview mode’ only gives you part of the picture: Preview mode (called ‘try this workbook’) will show you a version of the student view, but not exactly as they will see it. The most reliable way to view the workbook as a student (or an assessor) is to create test accounts. This will help you find any formatting errors (especially if you are copying over from Word) which you won’t be able to see in editing or preview mode.

9. Get organised with tagging and test accounts: Over time your asset store may get full of resources, making finding things like workbooks difficult.
Organise properly as early as possible by using features like tagging. A big thing we learnt was using programme specific accounts makes the authoring process so much cleaner, where workbooks can be created and assets stored for each course. So for each new programme we have an authoring and test accounts associated with it. Using tagging alongside this means we have all resources ordered correctly in one log in, whomever is in charge of supporting that programme at that time. You would be surprised how many programmes have a DOPS form and how different they can be so keeping them separately has now become essential.

10. It’s not your fault: If you live for the devil in the detail then you may find yourself battling with PebblePad’s formatting in order to create an aesthetically pleasing workbook. PebblePad leaves big blank gaps between elements so it is impossible to remove all white spacing. This is part of PebblePad, not anything you have done wrong.

11. Go live with as close to the finished product as possible and proceed with caution on live workbooks: This is very important. Once a workbook is in use by students, any edits that you make may result in work being lost. Therefore, don’t make changes to a live workbook unless absolutely necessary and you know exactly what impact the change will have. Rather than risk the myriad of calls from panicked students and assessors, use a master version of your workbook that you edit and then create copies to use on module/programme workspaces. This master version can be edited in a none destructive manner. That being said you can ‘add’ to live portfolios with little risk, well little risk of losing work at least.

12. Turning off progress tracking for certain pages: You can turn on progress tracking at the workbook level and disable individual pages, however, the checkbox on the side panel cannot always be relied on. It may look as though the individual page has not been disabled but when you check you will find it has. This is because it is showing you the setting for the previous page. As in lesson 8 (above) the most reliable way to check is with your test account.