Warm Welcome from CEO and Founder, Shane Sutherland

Shane Sutherland, PebblePad

Shane Sutherland, Founder, CEO and Chief Mischief Maker at PebblePad welcome message. This recording is from our 2023 MiniBash community event which was hosted in Birmingham, England. Videos are for educational personnel only and require a live educational email to watch. You can read the video transcript below.



I don’t recognise that old person in the picture It looks like some shady solicitor.

There was no solicitors here at all.

First foot in mouth.

Kenny said like the opening keynote originally I had twenty five minutes and they got fifteen minutes and they did an awful thing by making me responsible.

For the next session and hosting it so I can’t steal any time from Kathy and Rachel. So I’ve got to stick to fifteen minutes.

I’ve goodness knows how I’ll do that. So I either have to skip a pile of content or talk really really quickly, which is my normal default, but I’ll try to keep it calm.

Oh, wait.

That’s not on my slide.

I’ve been travelling quite a lot since we were last together. Who was at the last last time we were at a Bash, who was here?

A few. We’re not as many as I thought. Who’s who’s been to a Bash anywhere before?

Who’s been to about forty three Bashes, Rachel.

Since our last Bash, I’ve done quite a bit of traveling.

I’ve been up to Glasgow to see Jonathan and Aliya.

Been to Edinburgh, been to Northumbria, been all over the place, but I’ve also been down to Australia twice actually.

Canada America, Leeann, whereas Leeann again hosted a senior leader’s round table for us.

Over in British Columbia, Jonathan hosted one for us, Glasgow Glasgow, Cathy, hosted one for us Nottingham. We had three MinBashes out in Australia as well.

Ali, we should make sure that all of those recordings from the Australian MiniBash or on the email we send out after this because fabulous fabulous stuff.

I’ve spoken to or been to and spoken to about forty five universe say about forty five universities.

Lots and lots of conversations. And I learned some things along the way.

Some of those things are even when you plan for a weekend, you lose it by moving on to the next place or taking your pants to the launderet to clean them because there’s only so many pairs you can take with you. However, bigger seats you book on an airplane, it’s never big enough when you’re shane sized.

However, many lovely people and places you visit, it’s lovely to come home.

One of the other things I learned was the things that we’ve been talking about for years now was and you are really, really starting to resonate.

Everywhere I went, there was a really warm, indeed, enthusiastic reception for the kinds of uses that you are putting pebble pads to, the kind of challenges you’re trying to fix, the kind of The the things you’re doing to improve student learning outcomes and the student experience, And I think part of the reason that the things that I was talking about are resonating is I think it seems to me there are sort of five crises in education at the moment. I think there’s a crisis of confidence in content Now this has not just happened since our last PebbleBash, of course, but just knowing stuff is clearly no longer good enough. Teaching lots of stuff and then testing it by exam.

It’s about the application of knowledge in multiple contexts. You know this stuff. It’s about developing the skills of ethical decision making of communication, problem solving entrepreneurship, developing a growth mindset And none of these things can be broadcast as content.

They they all have an experiential base to them.

They have to be an experience is an interesting thing, isn’t it? Because experience is a difficult and complicated an expensive thing to offer.

And so why do we keep on dropping students into the middle of experiences when they haven’t had chance to really think about what that experience is gonna mean to them, to plan effectively for it, to make sense of it during an after and where where relevant to gather evidence of that learning.

So there’s an issue around content.

And my goodness. Everyone knows there’s a crisis in confidence of their own assessment. I’m not sure. I can’t remember whether I knew about Chat GPT when we stood here in June last year. And then come the autumn, you couldn’t turn your computer on without some apocalyptic story of how higher education was going to collapse.

And I think Chat GPT didn’t really change anything. What it did I think is shone a light on some of our assessment processes which really weren’t fit for purpose.

We asked students to write, you know, a three thousand word essay on non ferrous welding.

Eight weeks later they hand it in and we make judgments about it, not knowing all the things they went through to arrive at the essay.

So one of the things that’s been really heartening and of course I’m, you know, cherry picking examples and stuff, but One of the things that’s been really interesting is that significant increase in attention to the to surfacing the process of learning. And process, you know, that we’ve got assessment of learning, got assessment as an assessment for learning, really coming to the fore. And of course that for us, that’s been baked into pad ever since we first produced the platform.

There’s clearly a crisis in confidence around student well-being and belonging Lots and lots of initiatives around that. I think this was true before the pandemic but of course it just came more to the fore during the pandemic and now post pandemic some universities have come to how they manage the pandemic.

Post pandemic, they’re really struggling to get students back on campus.

Students not quite sure how to work independently or in groups.

I think there’s a sort of a a deluge of decision making that they have to face all the time around prioritizing, not just prioritizing their university work, but they’re learning life and work balance and that’s really troubling some students. Lots of efforts been made around trying to help students.

And interestingly, I went to one university and talked about some of the fantastic initiatives that are going on around things like pre arrival, welcome week, first year experience, personal tutoring, alumni mentoring, and that’s just what’s happening at leads. Where’s our leads contingent?

There’s two so far, the others must be on that stuck train. Oh, some more little hands going up.

And and happening else when I know we’re here from Aston shortly about the about your tutoring as well.

But I I talked about some of these various uses of PebblePad and talked about uses in student well-being or belonging. And the senior leader in one of the meetings said, Why aren’t we doing that here? Now this is this was a big university that’s used PebblePad for a long time and the answer was Well, because we’re only funded to support learning and teaching initiatives.

And that was quite an opener for me. The fact that, you know, that this silo the the silo still exists in universe. It’s not a sense of the whole student experience that people aren’t talking to each other. And I think The reason I mentioned that is I’ll come to in a moment in a swim lane’s diagram.

I think there’s a crisis of confidence in platforms and processes.

The LMS, of course, has always been the most important platform in the university, has always been And because of the huge investment in it, clearly, universe has always wanted to get the very very most out of it. But the LMS tends to be geared around content in core shaped chunks.

It doesn’t really help with a much broader student learning experience. So I think what’s been really heartening in those many, many conversations around the world is a maturing of understanding about the real benefits of the LMS and also some of the limitations around what the LMS can do. And how we sort of backfill some of the things it can’t do.

And at the other end of the spectrum, we saw that thing during the pandemic where institutions bought whatever platform was advertised to them. And there are universes I’ve been chatting to who’ve got four or five licenses for the same bit of software.

Or, you know, where students are told to have to join a teams meeting tomorrow. And then the next class is on a Zoom meeting and the one after that’s in a hangout. And the sway for presentations and Adobe for something else and and it’s just this cognitive overload And so the real concerns that tie into the whole student well-being piece, but also staff well-being.

How do we support these things. And then also from the IT folks I talked to kind of a lack of confidence in the security, scalability, reliability, privacy, etcetera. So lots and lots of conversations going on around the world around a, understanding the limitations of the LMS. And for us and clearly I’m biased wear pebble pads six alongside the LMS. And I think those customers you Kenny, most of the people who are joining us now are joining us at enterprise level. This is not for small programs like it used to be, but still happening in some places, but it’s an enterprise platform to support enterprise challenges which I’ve come to.

And a trying to a reduction of fragmentation So there’s a limited suite of tools within the university that can support the main challenges and aspirations of the institution.

And then I think there’s a crisis of confidence in the university experience itself.

A chat to a PVC I I see you nodding your head, Jonathan, which is brilliant. Jonathan’s PVC Learning teaching up at UWS. I chatted to another PVC beginning with it. So this is a real challenge for us and particularly in Australia, Canada at the moment.

I think it’s possibly the same here. Where there’s such high levels of employment, students are saying why would I even bother going to university? What am I gonna get out of it? Particularly have after the experience of some of their friends over the last few years, why would I bother taking on all of that debt So somehow we’ve got to sell, learn to resell the benefits of university education, and it has to be much more than a degree, isn’t it?

So there are some of the things I think are happening and what a universe is doing about it. One of the interesting things I think is the huge number of curriculum transformation projects that are happening. So who who here is from an institution where there’s a currently Cirkland transformation project.

That’s quite a few. Yeah.

One of the things that seems to be happening is I suppose the view that curriculum mapping software will solve all your ills.

And I think it’s a necessary part of the fix because it’s necessary to get a sense of how all the bits of the curriculum fit together. But it’s only ever a plan, isn’t it? When you, you know, say a little a Susan of experience here, a bit of teamwork here, placement here, a bit of numerical computation here. All of those things are things you plan to do, rarely is a curriculum delivered in the way it’s planned because resource constraints and all sorts of things happen.

And even less rarely is the curriculum received by the student in the way you intended. Of course, all students are individuals. We all have different experiences they bring to the piece.

So I think it’s essential to have good curriculum mapping software, but I think it’s also really important that there’s also a place, a space where students can make sense of all of the things that have happened to them, all of the things they’ve learned a sense of their own becoming a sense of their uniqueness as they leave the institution.

And so we started to try and get a sense of what that looked like across the entire kind of span of the student journey. And this was a little model I brought to the to this group. Last year.

And if you remember for that for the Rucksack, we had a competition to see what we should call this model.

Sarah was laughing, she remembers. And someone suggested that And that was the winner. But it was the winner because of the strap line. We guess better I can do it this year. Tim’s here, Tim.

How you doing, mate?

So I I speak to Tim a few days later and said we had this thing going on at the the PebbleBash to come up with this title.

And he said, well, for me that’s not a winner. But it’s a solid number two.

And this wish I thought I’ve got in the day actually last year.

So we we We started taking that what I’d like to people and saying just do these things look like.

They reflect things that are challenges for you, or we got the right kind of themes and headings, And our, you know, our team of combined effort of Sam and the BD team and our marketing folks and Lisa work through sort of mapping from across the things you’re doing. And these were the themes that kinda came out.

And in fact, all of our work this year will be sort of pegged to these themes because we’ve tested it. We’ve road tested it Well, Road and Airmile tested it over the last several months.

And we’ve taken those themes and rebuilt the swim lanes model. And I think Ali, we’ve got handouts of these.

I’ve got five minutes.

I’ve got two minutes.

So these are all things that are happening. These are things that you and others in our community are doing. So around authentic assessment, lots of self and peer assessment, of course, going on, reflecting on work you’ve produced trying to identify how you’ve met the learning outcomes etcetera. A lot that I’m hearing from Rola later on about, I think she’s in a reference Capstone portfolios. And as I went around, I was hearing more and more about Capstone portfolios They sort of took a big diver, kind of a feature of American education to an extent. The idea that the end of a students three or four years with you. You give them a proper task around making sense of the entirety of their experience.

So all of those things happen in lab brilliant lab experiment, at Griffith University.

And then we’ve got this flexible learning design, some award winning, flipped classroom stuff, some active blended learning. Simon’s gonna talk about slicks shortly.

And of course, the other thing about placement preparation I’ve pulled into here. Again, because students quite often are let loose I mean let’s say let loose let loose on placement on study abroad and they haven’t had chance the scaffolding. And for me, three watchwords, scaffolding, supporting, and surfacing.

I think that if I had to sum up pebble pad in three words, it will be those three words. But then they haven’t had the scaffolding to help them make the best use of that placement because they haven’t thought deeply about it in advance.

And then we’ve got that belonging well-being and success part. And again, I know this is happening in lots of universities, but I think I’m going to call out leads again. They have this sense of the big hug, wrapping your arms around students earning, guiding them through the entire student experience. And in fact, Leanne, I’m coming in on I in another month’s time and we’ve got a bunch of BC universities talking about pathways to and through universities and guide students not just within a single university but on a complete trajectory for success.

Of course, there’s the employable and future ready part lots happening there. In in Australia, an awful lot of conversation around career self management, not career advice being sort of given and done to students, but actually them actively taking a a role in that.

And the whole professional identity and capability piece. So we’ve got handouts for this.

Not sure where they are, Ali.

If you want one of these, you can have it. We’ll give you them digitally Sam’s pointing over there And we have some other resources for building around these as well. Oh, so I skipped that down that time.

So you can start to rate where you are on different pieces and then maybe plan ahead.

So we’re gonna try keep keep on creating some resources. And certainly my experience as I’ve troubled around is people were desperate to take that swim lanes diagram and I’d love to now have a conversation with you, but to use it to have internal conversations So we’ll make those resources available.

I also have to just finish by saying, should have finished a minute ago by saying, I mean look how many people are here. It’s brilliant. We’re sad. We haven’t got the round table, so that was always much more fun. But the demand for this has been so great. So we’ll make sure that next year for our twentieth birthday bash, we have lots of space lots of dancing and piping and cake and food and all sorts of stuff, and our PebbleBash in Edinburgh. I’ll remind you about that at the end as well.



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