Ditching the dissertation? The patchwork text process as a more productive tool for assessing learning and engaging students

Stella Jones-Devitt & Ann-marie Steele

Parallel session 4, CoLab 4.3

Short Abstract
Workshop draws upon key principles of A Marked Improvement (HEA, 2012) calling for significant reappraisal of assessment processes through evidence-informed change.
• Introducing patchwork text assessment processes and exploring significance for student engagement
• Sharing lessons learned and how these can be addressed
Key focus: Gauging interest in further University-wide application

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Detailed Outline
Presents a critical account of some of the tensions inherent in designing appropriate assessment activities within a marketised university context; specifically linked to the context of the health and social care curriculum. It draws upon experiences of reconciling NHS employer-driven needs for reduced contact time for off-site employee development, counterbalanced against student expectations of enhanced contact time and assumptions about engagement.

The example concerns an undergraduate leadership course in which attempts have been made to turn these tensions into something more positive by using a ‘patchwork’ text approach to leadership development at meta level across a whole course. We will argue that the patchwork text (as introduced by Scoggins and Winter, 1999) – in which small episodes of learning are placed into a wider context by students ‘stitching’ together a justified meaning or narrative of their theory and practice – can provide a tool for wider critical thinking development; the process neither privileges the retrospective synthesis as illustrated by the dissertation nor the wholly reflective component as characterised by reflective diaries. Instead, the patchwork text draws upon synthesis and reflection concurrently to develop both student autonomy and application to practice.

The process is presented as a practical mechanism across a whole course for developing innovative assessment for learning processes, drawing upon notions that putting a complex theory into practice – or praxis – should be given more attention. The approach draws heavily upon key principles of the A Marked Improvement document (HEA, 2012) which called for significant reappraisal of assessment processes through evidence-informed change.

Workshop Outcomes:
• Introduce the concept of patchwork text assessment processes and explore range of application
• Share lessons learned about potential pitfalls and how these can be addressed
• Explore wider application and utility for participants’ own contexts

The workshop shares ‘lessons learned’ but argues that this continuous process is more effective than many traditional end-point assessment approaches such as the classic dissertation. The relationship to colleagues’ own contexts will be explored throughout and we will end by gauging interest in taking this process further within the University.