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PechaKucha Session 4: Personal Development Planning online – concept and actuality -- 249

16:15 - 17:15 on Tuesday, 11 September 2012 in 2.220

Strategies for encouraging students to reflect upon and evaluate their own learning experiences and plan for their own development have become institutionalised in higher education as Personal Development Planning (PDP). For first year students of biology at Queen Mary, University of London, PDP has, since 2010, been carefully designed into the core Essential Skills in Biology (ESB) course. Students use PDPWeb, a dedicated online environment, to record activities including reflective writing, coordinating group work and setting themselves goals. These episodes and pieces of work are drawn together in a task for which students write their own employment reference using their PDPWeb records as evidence.

Students have been less active on PDPWeb than intended. An evaluation exercise took place in 2011-12. Semi-structured discussion group interviews with academics uncovered a range of interconnected contributing factors. Operational aspects such as restricted features and settings in PDPWeb, technical glitches, and difficulties with integration posed initial barriers. Despite reassurances that PDPWeb would reduce the workload of faculty staff, the precise integration of PDPWeb exercises into the course required instructions, and unfamiliarity with these led to frustrating and time-consuming disorientation. An ongoing faculty restructuring exercise created an unconducive climate of apprehension that the role of teaching might be deprecated in favour of research. Against this background some academics were doubtful about PDP in general as a valid faculty undertaking, perceiving it as symptomatic of a government preoccupation with badging employability.

Refinements were made on the basis of these discussions with academics, and an evaluation of the redesigned ESB course was subsequently conducted with students. Students appreciated the importance of their personal development and favoured the concept of PDP. Students with an engaged academic advisor and no technical problems found PDPWeb a well-designed and relevant learning experience, while others perceived a gap between concept and actuality. All were alive to detachment on the part of some academic advisors and this proved infectious with PDPWeb unless individual student enthusiasts managed to enthuse their peers in turn. Students used Facebook energetically to supplement PDPWeb but found that its informal register prevented it from being a suitable place to represent themselves to their advisors – something they hoped would help the advisors to get the measure of them as individuals, recognise their strengths, and intervene with suggestions for improvement.

This presentation sets out the interconnectedness of technical and social factors in the adoption of a PDP environment, considers the relative merits of institutional and third party web services for personal development planning, and outlines the attributes of a holistic approach.


Presentation slides online at

Thursday, 27 September 2012, 14:31