PDP and academic literacy

Looks like PDP is back on the agenda. Not that it ever really went away of course, but it did rather get overwhelmed by Blackboard. (For the uninitiated PDP stands for Personal Development Planning and is about getting students to take a more rigorous and reflective approach to their learning. If I’m honest, I don’t think we’ve yet had much success with rolling out PDP across the university, though it’s not for a lack of effort or investment.  I’ve certainly done numerous training courses, and we’ve invested in Pebble Pad, which I think is probably the best tool on the market for supporting PDP. Here’s a useful little PowerPoint video explaining PDP (annoyingly though it cuts off a few seconds before the narrator ends. And between you and me I think it could have done with a professional voice actor too. )


The thing is PebblePad is quite an expensive product and we do need to justify continuing spending money on it.  I don’t think the problem is with the technology though. (We can also use the Blackboard Portfolios for PDP although they’re not as good) I think it lies with the fact that there is very little interest in study skills. I’ve been starting to argue for a reconceptualisation of study skills as “academic literacy” I’ve taught on skills programmes in the past, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the high level of skills that most students actually do have. Of course there are some students who do need a lot of help with what might be termed basic skills, but not that many.  Where many students are weak is in what might be termed disciplinary and some generic HE skills (Historical writing, writing up experiments, referencing, assessing the quality of information, reflection.)  I like the concept of academic literacy because it doesn’t start by telling the students they’re generically weak, rather it emphasises what you need to do to become a good physicist, lawyer or whatever.

My problem though, which I’m going to have to think hard about is how to present Pebble Pad in this light. I think it could be done through the use of the proformas – through working with colleagues in the disciplines we can get students to self assess in relevant areas, build action plans and thus get them into the habit of using Pebble Pad for some aspects of their future work, especially around CVs and Webfolios. (Shame about PP’s blogging tool though – it’s not a patch on WordPress!)
Never mind. I think I feel a project coming on!

2 thoughts on “PDP and academic literacy

  1. Personal Development Planning like every other educational agenda becomes so educationalised that it seems to miss the point. PDP is about individuals taking responsibility for their own development, personal, academic, social, employment…etc A structured PDP programme like pebblepad is limited by trying to make everything one size fits all. All pebblepad asks students to do is follow the instructions and supposedly that is Personal Development Planning, but it doesn’t help them understand the concept and run with it. Still I guess it’s better than nothing and if it is used and supported then the use of it and reflecting on the assets within it could get some students really running with it?

  2. Couldn’t agree more. Tools are not the same as the process and I think educators sometimes focus a little too much on the tools. But they do have their uses, and this is my reasoning

    I do have considerable reservations about PDP as a mandatory process. Firstly, done properly, it forces you to think about what you are doing, so it might persuase students to withdraw from courses. Morally that seems right (if they are sure it’s the right thing for them to do) but it doesn’t sit well with retention strategies.

    Secondly, I’ve never believed you can mandate PDP anyway. If you assess it then students will focus on the assessment criteria more than they will on their personal development.

    But, if you have a tool like Pebble Pad which is easy to use, friendly, and makes useful products that students can use, then I think it is easier to persuade students to participate, and those who do use it might encourage their friends to do so too. (Doesn’t solve the retention problem though!)

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