Using Pebblepad for e-portfolios in the medical sciences

Offering students in the medical sciences the option to create an e-portfolio – and allowing them to follow their creativity when designing its structure – was a success at ATU Galway, in Ireland. Choosing the right tool and giving them training and support was also key.
Using Pebblepad for e-portfolios in the medical sciences
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ATU Galway’s Medical Science (B.Sc (hons)) students complete 1,000 hours of training in clinical placement in hospital laboratories as part of their year 3 studies. This mandatory component of the Practice Placement module posed many challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the past, evidence of student training on placement involved the accumulation of pieces of information including laboratory kit inserts, standard operating procedure documents, and scientific journal articles, in addition to training logbooks and the compilation of all this into a folder. In a pilot study (see video at the end of the post), Dr Joan O’Keeffe and Helen Cregg (lecturers in Medical Science), in conjunction with the Teaching & Learning Centre at the university, sought to transform this paper-based evidence into e-portfolios using the Pebblepad platform. This platform is very versatile, allows students to be creative, and is suitable for the upload of a large variety of information in different formats.

Design your own

To use the software, year 3 students received training from the Teaching & Learning Centre at the university with input from the experts at Pebblepad UK, in conjunction with their course co-ordinators Helen and Joan. The students were given the option of using a custom-designed template reflecting each of the medical science disciplines (Haematology, Cellular Pathology, Transfusion Science, Clinical Chemistry, Medical Microbiology, and Clinical Immunology) or creating their own in line with Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles. Students embraced the challenge, with many opting to showcase their creativity in choosing to design their own template.  Mindful of the guidelines given for this assignment, students uploaded a multitude of different pieces of information which included in-house competency sheets; notes (handwritten, or typed and annotated or highlighted); images and videos of work they completed on clinical placement; blogs; and daily records of their training in each medical science discipline.  The e-portfolios also contained reflective logs and the use of the electronic platform made it easy to store all of this in an organised and individual format within. All aspects of their professional experiences while on placement were easily captured, with easy upload to their asset store in Pebblepad. They could subsequently link their e-portfolios to their individual ATU OneDrive accounts with the Pebblepad app on their mobile phones. A discussion forum was available for students to ask questions on Moodle, the virtual learning environment (VLE) in ATU Galway where owner-designed (i.e., Pebblepad) “how to” videos were also available to aid student design and to enable completion of the task.

The feedback from the students on completion of the module was hugely positive, with several students using their e-portfolio to capture and highlight development of core laboratory skills while on their placement journey. The e-portfolios demonstrated students’ creativities, and each was a jewel of individuality.  Many found the Pebblepad platform allowed for ease of material retrieval and, with organisation, one could easily navigate around each of the disciplines. The e-portfolios were reviewed by several Medical Scientists at practice sites throughout the country, as well as by core Medical Science academics at ATU. Overall, the results were impressive and many agreed that the e-portfolios generated using Pebblepad captured the student learning journey for those 1,000 hours of training very well.

A tool for life

There are several advantages in completing the e-portfolios for placement students in Medical Science and other programs and these include: improvements in digital literacy skills (typing, uploading documents, linking documents, embedding videos), in planning and organisational skills, and in communication skills, with this task giving students the confidence to build something from the beginning. Students with different abilities were able to use Pebblepad with ease, enabling accessibility and inclusivity and facilitating student learning at a pace which suits their individual needs. Moreover, e-portfolios for our Medical Science graduates provide an invaluable tool for life-long learning and ensures the evidence of training on clinical placement is portable beyond the university. Finally, creating e-portfolios is a sustainable resource contributing to ATU’s response to achieving the sustainability development goals in working towards a zero-carbon future. We look forward to the continued use of e-portfolios in Medical Science.

This project won a teaching innovation award from LearnSci UK in February 2022 for innovative use of digital tools in science teaching at university level. Helen and Joan presented  at the Horizons in STEM Higher Education Conference 2022 hosted by the University College London on June 29th and 30th. They acknowledge the year 3 Medical Science class of 2020_21 students’ work. You can watch a presentation given at ATU Galway about their pilot study on the video below.


Photo by Bonnie Kittle on Unsplash 

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