IT Innovators: Bringing ePortfolios to the eLearning Toolset

When it is time to launch new programs and tools at Ohio State, the Office of Technology and Digital Innovation (OTDI) is an important contributor, from collaborating with instructors to evaluating new digital platforms. The launch of a new General Education (GE) program with a focus on self-reflection generated the need for an ePortfolio tool to be used university-wide. In new GE courses like the Launch Seminar and the Reflection Seminar, students are introduced to a new strategy to reflect on their general education experiences with the chosen ePortfolio tool, PebblePad. Bringing new tools like PebblePad into Ohio State’s curriculum is a long process that involves information requests, meetings with vendors and stakeholders, and much collaboration between OTDI, the Office of Academic Affairs (OAA), students and instructors. And once a new tool is brought on board, continued support for all audiences is crucial.

Because there are so many variables in the process of implementing a new tool, there are a variety of experts needed to collaborate and create new strategies. From OTDI, Director of Learning Systems Travis Ritter played a pivotal role in the evaluation process, while Richard Henricksen stepped up as a subject matter expert to support the tool. From the Digital Learning Team in OAA, Professional Learning Manager Stephanie Rohdieck used her expertise to provide programs for instructors to use the tool effectively in their classrooms while Senior Instructional Designer Sarah Holt was instrumental in bringing PebblePad into the online course format to get the new GE program underway. 

Travis Ritter, Director of Learning Systems

When it comes to selecting a new tool, the process is anything but hasty. Ritter said that there “is always an in-depth evaluation process that starts with requests for information and proposals.” During this phase, all hands are on deck. Windows for bidding are opened, and “there is an evaluation committee with stakeholder areas, libraries, and members from each college. Those committees will see vendor presentations, review proposals, and work with a demo of the product. After meetings, recommendations are formed on which tool should be piloted. Depending on the number of instructors and students in these pilots, we also engage technical experts and subject matter experts.”

According to Ritter, PebblePad was the best ePortfolio tool for the university because of its overall “usability,” and that students could be creative with their work. As PebblePad is a dynamic tool, Ritter emphasized that “accessibility is one of the most important criteria, and OTDI is working nonstop with university policies to provide an equal experience for all users.”

Because OTDI wants to provide students with the best possible programs and tools, the journey to bring PebblePad to Ohio State was extremely involved. Ritter affirmed how proud he was of the team, who originally piloted a different tool initially, only to discover it did not perform as promised. Ritter said, “we did not settle for a tool that did not meet our needs. We put a lot of effort into the search for the best product, and it is a brave thing to go back to square one to find a new, better-suited product.”

Richard Henricksen, Senior eLearning Support Analyst

Once a tool is selected, it is important to put support systems in place. This is where Richard Henricksen comes in. Besides being a key player in the evaluation committee, Henricksen is now the lead subject matter expert for the PebblePad end user experience. Henricksen explains, “This means I lead efforts to provide faculty, student, and program manager support for the tool, create resource guides for the Teaching and Learning Resource Center, provide consultations on the tool, and so much more.” Henricksen also assists GE, Honors and Scholars, and other programs to ensure they are implementing the tool appropriately and consistently.

Henricksen also recently received a Capability Framework certificate from PebblePad. “Learning the more advanced skills through the certification process provided me great insights into how we might best support programs, instructors, or students to fully maximize their engagement with the tool with their unique curricular and pedagogical needs.” 

Stephanie Rohdieck, Professional Learning Manager

So, how exactly does PebblePad fit into Ohio State’s GE requirements? Stephanie Rohdieck explains that this ePortfolio tool is a high impact practice (HIP) “because it encourages students to take their learning to the next level. Other HIPs are writing intensive courses, capstone classes, and internships. A lot of these you can do in the classroom, some are more institutional, and ePortfolios are the newest! We call the ePortfolio tool a meta-HIP because it asks students to look at their curricular and co-curricular experiences and make sense of their time in college.”

Rohdieck’s role revolves around providing programming that supports effective pedagogical strategies, and as a long-time teaching consultant, she helps “individual instructors think why they want to use an ePortfolio and how they would want to use it.” As PebblePad continues to become a key tool for more classes around Ohio State, Rohdieck sits on “a number of committees and working groups that continually think about supporting instructors in how they can use ePortfolios as a pedagogy.”

Sarah Holt, Senior Instructional Designer

In undergrad, students enroll in a range of courses relating to their general education requirements, and it can be difficult to connect all the important themes of their studies. With PebblePad and the new General Education format, students can capture their GE journey with the ePortfolio and have the opportunity to reflect on their work. Sarah Holt played a major role in the GE transformation by setting up the introductory course, the Launch Seminar. Holt’s duties are to “keep an eye on student experience and bring a variety of options for instructors. Instructional designers look for effective options and help teachers pick the styles that would work best with their students.”

During the transition to the new GE format, Holt recalled her time creative prototyping and imagining what PebblePad would look like in an online course. “We wanted to make sure that we were delivering a course that meets all the needs for the university’s requirements for an online course. OTDI is looped in because it is such a large course. Because this is now a requirement for newer students, between 4,000 and 7,000 students will be enrolled in this course per year. I was brought in to imagine what this would look like if it were online or hybrid to free up class spaces for so many students.”

By fostering reflection and promoting creativity, the incorporation of ePortfolios into educational courses can be a transformative experience for students and instructors alike. Read more about PebblePad and learn about enhancing your course with ePortfolios.