PDP, skill development and learning support (11 Nov 05)

Date: 11 November, 2005
Location: CILT, London
Event type: Workshop

Personal development planning, skill development and learning support in Modern Languages at HE

Programme | Event report

workshop attendees

Past event summary

With the QAA requirement for PDP (Personal Development Planning) to be implemented at HE from Autumn 2005, most universities are either reviewing their current practices - to see whether they fit into those outlined by QAA - or are creating new practices from scratch.

The QAA specifies ways in which the new student progress files should relate not only to Programme Specifications, but also to subject benchmarking. This is a particular challenge for Modern Languages. Modern Languages have to address not only the issue, common to all subject areas, of selecting which are the significant benchmarked subject or transferable skills which should be monitored, tracked or developed - and the process that ensures that this happens! Modern Languages also have to address the issue of how to monitor progress in skill development in students who spend periods of up to one year away from their home university. In addition issues of employability, widening participation and student fees are having an impact on how students are to be supported throughout their studies. A good learning experience, therefore, will be reflected not only in a student's acquisition of their subject but in how far they have developed as learners with the skills and abilities to put that learning into practice in their future lives and careers.

The workshop was of interest to modern language teaching staff, support staff working in or with modern languages, learning and teaching coordinators and staff working in university careers or learning and teaching centres.

Programme for 11 November 2005
Time Session
10.00 - 10.30 Registration and coffee
10.30 - 10.40 Introduction
Tony Simons, University of Reading
10.40 - 11.10 PDP
Rob Ward, Centre for recording achievement
11.10 - 11.40 A case study of the effects on student attainment, and on retention of personal development planning (PDP) via departmental mechanisms for improving student learning and through the institutional Progress File
Susan Beigel, University College Chester
11.40 - 12.00 Coffee
12.00 - 12.30 Using personal development planning for the year abroad
Robert Blackwood, University of Liverpool
12.30 - 13.00 Enhancing graduate employability through PDP
Jane Stapleford, Leeds Metropolitan University
Download: PowerPoint presentation (194Kb)
13.00 - 14.00 Lunch
14.00 - 14.30 SS4LL (Study Skills for Language Learners): An Integrated Learner Training Programme
Kirsten Söntgens and Juliet Laxton, University of Southampton
14.30 - 15.00 A survey of the ways universities cope with the needs of dyslexic foreign language learners and, in consultation with tutors and learners, the piloting of appropriate assessment methods
Jenny Hill and Jannie Roed, University of Sussex
15.00 - 15.45 Plenary discussion
Chair Tony Simons, University of Reading

Event report: Enhancing the Student Learning Experience in Modern Languages: Personal Development Planning, Skill Development and Learning Support in Modern Languages at HE

by Hilary Rollin

Excellent description of work being done giving food for thought and motivating for me and the rest of the staff.

- Workshop attendee


Tony Simons, University of Reading

Tony Simons set the scene, putting people at their ease by explaining that on a topic such as this, there was inevitably a wide range of prior knowledge, and that the day's programme attempted to cater for all levels of familiarity with PDP. He reminded us that the QAA specifies that the student Progress Files should relate both to Programme Specifications and to Subject Benchmarking. The objective was to promote each student's specific and general skills, producing graduates who would have acquired the skills for their future lives and careers.


Rob Ward, Centre for Recording Achievement

The role of the Centre for Recording Achievement was outlined, namely as a membership organisation, a centre of professional expertise and a one-stop shop for HE Progress Files. Workshop participants were reminded of Recommendation 20 of the Dearing HE Inquiry: in addition to having a transcript following a common format recording a student's achievement, the Progress File must be a means by which students can monitor and reflect on their personal development. In measuring student achievement, factors to be taken into account include: summative and formative learning to support reflective thinking; a holistic approach; personally recognised learning' (e.g. self-evaluation, analysis and problem-solving) alongside subject-based learning; the need to engage students in their learning, enabling them to communicate this information to others. Particular emphasis was laid on it being fundamental to the success of PDP to reflect on the process while engaged with it.

After listing negative attitudes to PDP (perceptions of it as educational jargon, paper-pushing activity, box-ticking for the QAA, distraction from the real purpose), the speaker stressed that PDP is not really new, but amounts to harmonising what we already do, and can promote invaluable dialogue between students and institutions. It should, above all, be bottom-up. However, if left to students it will not happen. It was suggested, on the other hand, that any solution provided by the institution would be too broad. In other words, it is our responsibility to signal to students that PDP is important, and to help students improve their mastery of a skill at which they do not naturally excel: that of gathering evidence.

A case study of the effects on student attainment and on retention of personal development planning via departmental mechanisms for improving student learning and through the institutional Progress File

Susan Beigel, University College , Chester

This presentation, which was said to owe much to research funded locally and by the LLAS Pedagogical Research Fund, started by outlining the importance of PDP for employability, and the range of transferable skills needed for language learning. It then identified factors particularly significant to language-learning at Chester , most of them familiar to the rest of us, namely: limited contact time, the tendency for time to be blocked in one weekly slot, the diversity of student needs. On the positive front, it mentioned the opportunities offered by electronic resources, residence abroad, and the impact of PDP on improving students' learning.

An approach favoured by Chester is the allocation of 20% of module marks to a portfolio of self-directed study, comprising a self-audit of skills, learning agreement and reflective evaluation. Students are encouraged to include in their PDP any Tandem learning, this being reported as possible in Spanish, where numbers are larger than in French.

Participation in the British Council pilot project was perceived as particularly useful, with accreditation of assistantships. Personal and professional skills, as well as academic skills, are recognised, as evidenced in the electronic Personal Development Portfolio. A practical tip was given to forestall any slippage through lack of access to Internet; written up daily, the log can be keyed in prior to despatch on a monthly basis.

In addition to the predictable added value of employability, staff had reported increased student autonomy, a more holistic approach to study, and greater ability to operate within wide time margins. Preparation of students well in advance was, however, advocated. Statistical evidence from a survey of students spoke volumes for the portfolio system, not least the fact that whereas in 2003 60% of students had neglected to use a Progress File, by 2005 the figure had fallen to 10%. Although the sample size was small (100 students), the enthusiasm behind student comments underlined the advantages of the approach. The next step was reported as being to develop the Progress File into an e-portfolio.

Using Personal Development Planning for the Year Abroad

Robert Blackwood, University of Liverpool

Robert Blackwood outlined Liverpool University's participation in the British Council Personal Development Portfolio for Language Assistants which has grown from 11 candidates in the pilot phase to 37 candidates opting for the scheme in the current year.

The period of residence abroad, consistently highlighted as being fundamental to students' development -both linguistic and personal-, is also the component of the degree that raises the most serious issues about documentation of progress. Not surprisingly, the main point put across by this speaker was the maturing of students on their period of residence abroad, and alongside this, the challenge of enabling students to recognise these changes.

He emphasised that the impact of the PDP had far exceeded staff's expectations and that students who participated gained so much more from the exercise than they (or their tutors) thought they would.

Although initially fears had been expressed by colleagues that the PDP would attract an additional workload, Liverpool has managed to develop a system which is comparatively light touch', allocating 5 supervisees per member of staff. The final decision to accredit is made by the academic staff on the basis of the final report, CV and a 15 minute individual debriefing. The possibility to acquire a joint British Council - HEI certificate is a particular incentive for students to participate in the scheme. The BC PDP materials for tutors and students are now available on the Language Assistants website (www.languageassistant.co.uk) in the section for university tutors.

For further information please contact Joan Hoggan on joan.hoggan@britishcouncil.org

Enhancing Graduate Employability through PDP

Jane Stapleford, Leeds Metropolitan University

As Employability Officer, Jane Stapleford was able to pass on to academic colleagues some of the latest thinking about graduate linguists, employment and skills development in an independent learning programme, as identified by a five-year research project conducted by Dawn Leggott with Professional Language Studies students. After showing a list of skills and students' perceptions of the extent to which they had developed these, and their usefulness, she highlighted the skills seen to have been acquired on the period of residence abroad (maturity, employability, cross-cultural awareness, language skills and language learning strategies). This, at a time when some institutions have abandoned the compulsory residence abroad, or envisage doing so, was food for thought. Attention was drawn, (not for the first time, nor will it be the last), to the need to make students aware of the skills they are acquiring, and of employers' requirements. It was emphasised that much of the work of employability staff amounts to enhancing and re-packaging what is already there. An audit concluded that the following are often missing: input in Yr 2; preparation for work experience and/ or the residence abroad; career management skills; reflection and development of reflection skills; adequate support and feedback.

Ways of remedying the situation, and helping students focus on the acquisition of both linguistic and personal skills and intercultural awareness included the workbook kept while on the residence abroad and a Level 3 (Yr 4) work-related project. It was pointed out that support for the necessary skills can be given online (study skills, research skills, time management, IT skills etc). Outlined as new developments at Leeds Metropolitan University were the embedding of learning objects in WebCT, and new material on effective cvs.

SS4LL (Study Skills for Language Learners): An Integrated Learner Training Programme

Kirsten Söntgens and Juliet Laxton, University of Southampton

Drawing on data from 269 online student questionnaires, six focus groups and nine staff questionnaires, the project in question aimed to investigate students' experience of skills workshops, portfolio learning and assessment, and the role of technology in language learning.

The findings highlighted the need to link language tasks and skills; in the absence of any link, or if skills feature too prominently in a course, they are perceived to be the main purpose of the course, causing the course to be perceived as an extra. Responses also suggested that students like choosing tasks for themselves, prefer free tasks to set tasks, and find language-learning tasks more useful than the planning/evaluation tasks. Not surprisingly, tutor recommendation or the fact a task is required, were identified as being the most effective motivator.

When asked what components might be highlighted to improve the tasks, 57% of students stated oral dialogue, followed by time/workload issues (43%), technology (19%). It was agreed that in the immediate aftermath of a module, students tend to display an emotional reaction, and that a follow-up survey would be useful to assess whether at a later date students had views about the extent to which they had benefited.

A survey of the ways universities cope with the needs of dyslexic foreign-language learners and, in consultation with tutors and learners, the piloting of appropriate assessment methods

Jenny Hill and Jannie Roed, University of Sussex

This paper started with a debate about sympathetic marking: could all marking be described as such? Among the reasons given for undertaking the project were: the increasing numbers of students with dyslexia and mobility problems; new legislation in favour of widening participation requiring provision for learners with disability; the need to be accountable; concern among tutors about how to assess dyslexic students fairly without dropping standards.

Useful reminders given by the speakers included such common sense advice as: by providing user-friendly tasks and not rushing people, we give everyone a better chance, and that supporting students properly eliminates confusion. Other strategies recommended ranged from breaking actions down into smaller parts, colour-coding, repetition, writing/ reading back-to-front, and pair work, which appeals since students like organising themselves. It was pointed out that more time is not necessarily helpful since it allows more time to get confused, and that contrary to what the books say, gap-filling is not necessarily bad. It was also put across that fairness to students included the admission stage, and that there could be occasions when it was fairer not to accept a student in a course. The presentation ended with the revelation The beauty of the French language is the rules. One may safely conclude that dyslexic students in particular are at a disadvantage through not having learnt grammar at school.

Plenary discussion

Chair Tony Simons

Group discussion was lively, the main focus being on the last session. Key issues were the extent to which lecturers should strive to be fair to a student with disability if this might run counter to the interests of the majority; the relationship between disability and personality, whether in the context of vision-impaired, deaf, or dyslexic students or those with mobility problems; provision of appropriate facilities for disabled students during their period of residence abroad. The interest shown in the very broad area of disability and in employability indicates these topics could well form the basis of further events.

It was also clear that participants were in favour of being able to share the fruits of one another's labours. There was discussion of what the procedure might be, for example, for Leeds Metropolitan to make available its work on employability. Among the major constraints identified was time to research the mechanism for dissemination.