Tag Archives: Evidence-informed change

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.

Whose flexibility? Being, belonging and becoming

Stella Jones-Devitt & Graham Holden

Parallel session 3, CoLab 3.4

See an animation which describes the project process on YouTube (opens in new window)
Project Overview .docx
Aggregated Responses From Key Informants .docx
Student Case Studies .docx

Short Abstract
This is a joint venture between Catherine Arnold, Jean Harris-Evans, Graham Holden, Stella Jones-Devitt, Rebecca Khanna and Ann-marie Steele.

The flexibility of our academic infrastructure, our pedagogies and our curricula are key enabling factors in learner engagement. This session will share the outcomes of a HEA-sponsored project aimed at gaining a better understanding of the University’s conditions of flexibility and the barriers to learner engagement.

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Detailed Outline
SHU’s diverse student population includes 10,000 part-time students (HESA 2013). The University strategy (2014-2020) has prioritised enhancing work with part-time students and employers as a key part of its flexible ambitions. The Learning and Teaching Strategy (2014) aligns by striving to provide students with a high-quality inclusive experience, facilitating high levels of engagement with their learning.

This implies going beyond the HEFCE definition of flexible learning which allows students to have information they need to make informed choices about what, where and how they want to study. This ‘information-marketplace’ approach fails to capture complex tensions identified by Barnett (2014) when constructing conditions of flexibility. Given the University’s strategic commitment to inclusivity, the approach resonates with Tinto’s (2008) recognition that access without support is not opportunity.

SHU needs to establish institution-wide responsiveness to the flexibility agenda to create a necessarily unique profile to establish conditions of flexibility. In response to this agenda, the University successfully applied in November 2014 for inclusion in the HEA’s Strategic Enhancement Programme (SEP) on Flexible Learning.

This session shares the outcomes of the resulting project Whose flexibility? Being, belonging and becoming which was established to scope a range of diverse voices in order to help us in beginning to understand what flexible learning might mean to the institution in both systems and pedagogy across the student lifecycle. These voices initially comprised a set of ‘key informants’ deemed able to offer often under-represented views such as those of in-work students and the institution’s staff committed to pushing boundaries for inclusive practice. They were asked to comment upon the 12 Conditions of Flexibility (Barnett, 2014) and nominate further key informants as part of a research snowball method in order to build an emerging understanding of some alternative perspectives. This evidence-base helps examine whether there is any cogent Institution-wide understanding concerning the significance of ‘flexibility’ in beginning to build a compelling rationale for future developments.

This session explores the methodology developed – within the constraints of time and resource – to appraise the widest range of stakeholder expectations for flexible learning. It will go on to explore the outcomes of this work and the implications of these expectations for our flexible learning offer and the University’s strategic ambitions concerning inclusivity.