Patchwork Text, PDP and e-portfolio approach to Curriculum Design

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A regional workshop programme delivered by the Centre for Recording Achievement with support from the Higher Education Academy was run at  Millenium Point in Birmingham.

Starting Points:

In some institutions Personal Development Planning (PDP) has run the risk of being seen as marginal and bolt on. Yet we also know that PDP connects directly to ‘core institutional business – curriculum, assessment and overall student development/experience.

The International Research Synthesis conducted by the University of London Institute of Education (2003) confirmed that Personal Development Planning (a ‘proxy for a number of constructs that attempt to connect and draw benefit from reflection, recording, action-planning and actually doing things that are aligned to the action plan’) did indeed ‘support the improvement of students’ academic learning and achievement.’

In addition, institutions are increasingly paying attention to graduate attributes [1]  And ‘graduate attributes in their fullest sense are much broader than just employability – graduate attributes have relevance to all aspects of the student experience and therefore have a range of linked agendas, e.g. curriculum renewal, HEAR (Higher Education Achievement Report), work-related learning, PDP (Personal Development Planning) and ePortfolios’.[2]

At the end of the day, unless our graduates are capable of articulating and evidencing the learning and development that they have developed through their undergraduate education they are likely to be at a substantial disadvantage in the graduate labour market. In light of the enhanced offering for students in 2012, the notion of graduate attributes are in its fullest sense now back on the agenda e.g. curriculum renewal, HEAR, PDP and Eportfolios.

What is Patchwork text & how to use Patchwork Text to develop the curriculum?

McAteer, M (2009) suggests that the Patchwork Text (PT) approach is about blending several things.  It is an attempt to take account of the variety of different ways in which individual students learn and are able to present their learning.  It is also a coursework format in which a set of short pieces of writing or ‘patches’ is built up gradually, week by week.  Each patch can be shared with other students in small group discussions.  The format may require different kinds of writing e.g. a story, a reflection on a personal experience, a book review, a commentary on a lecture, the application of a particular theory to a specific piece of professional practice, notes from a field trip, etc. to represent diverse kinds of learning and/or content in the module.  Increasingly, electronic media are being used to diversify the forms of expression and communication of learning.

A 3 year JISC Innovations multidisciplinary project in 3 Institutions Anglia Ruskin, Nottingham Trent & Cambridge has incorporated the Patchwork text and successfully integrated teaching, assessment and collaborative learning to include:

  • Reflective learning, self- and peer-assessment, collaborative learning, metacognition
  • Increased student engagement through weekly, short tasks and immediate feedback

In practice, the collaborative group work was based on weekly short writing tasks which were shared with a small peer group for immediate discussion/ feedback. The students at the end of this module would write a reflective synthesis and use a selection of the writing tasks as evidence. The great thing about this module was that there was greater student engagement but you need to decide what is required to be assessed. The patchwork text today has gone beyond writing tasks but can a range of digital artefacts and is frequently associated with ePortfolio technology.

The key ideas of the project – an assignment built up gradually through a series of contrasted writing tasks over a period of weeks and shared with other students in small group discussions, ‘stitched together’ by a synoptic, reflective commentary – were powerful enough to live on after the end of the project. These are prominent features of deep learning. The project seems to have found a particular resonance within the e-portfolio community of practitioners, as this form of technology lends itself to collaborative and reflective learning using diverse evidence. The Project’s work has been published in a special edition of the SEDA journal Innovations in Education and Teaching International Volume 40 Number 2 in 2003. 

Other examples of building PDP into Curriculum Design at other Institutions

  1. Birmingham City University (BCU) created a Moodle resource which is a one stop shop for PDP. As BCU are early adopters of Mahara, the Business school provides an assessment of Mahara but its non credit bearing. Students create different ‘views’ of themselves from a ‘social’ and ‘professional’ perspective.
  2. A first year module in Geography involves ‘what have I learnt whilst on the module’ reflective prompts with invitations both to the careers center and the alumni. Here it’s about thinking of PDP in terms of academic activity rather than structure.
  3. In a Postgraduate Diploma course for staff on academic practice; staff develop and articulate their philosophy of teaching and learning every year and provide a ‘professional’ Mahara profile in year 1, 2, and 3. Students could also consider how their philosophy would have changed from one year to another.

1] ‘The qualities, skills and understandings a university community agrees its students should develop during their time with the institution. These attributes include but go beyond the disciplinary expertise or technical knowledge that has traditionally formed the core of most university courses. They are qualities that also prepare graduates as agents of social good in an unknown future.’ Bowden, J., Hart, G., King, B., Trigwell, K., & Watts, O. (2000)

[2] McCabe, G Graduate Attributes and Employability: helping universities and students prepare for the changing landscape, at

Bowden, J., Hart, G., King, B., Trigwell, K., & Watts, O. (2000) Generic capabilities of ATN university graduates, Canberra: Australian Government Department of Education, Training and Youth Affairs.
McAteer, M (2009) What is a Patchwork Text approach to curriculum and assessment in HE? Collaborative Action Research Project, Edublogs

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