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Integrating Personal Development Planning into the Curriculum

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					              ENHANCING STUDENT EMPLOYABILITY:
           Higher Education and Workforce Development
 Ninth Quality in Higher Education International Seminar in collaboration with ESECT and The
                      Independent. Birmingham 27th-28th January 2005



Integrating Personal Development Planning into the
Curriculum
Margaret Davis, Mike Mannion
Glasgow Caledonian University, Glasgow, G4 0BA
E mail: m.davis@gcal.ac.uk, Tel 0141 331 8619




Abstract
Employability means having three skill sets: traditional academic skills, enterprise and
business skills and personal development skills. Personal development skills can be acquired
through Personal Development Planning (PDP), a structured and supported process undertaken
by an individual to reflect upon their own learning, performance and/or achievement to plan
for their personal, educational and career development. This paper reports the experiences of
building and running a PDP structure in a degree programme curriculum, explains the status of
the accredited PDP modules, and describes proposals for future development.


1.0    Introduction
 (Dearing 1997) recommended the adoption of Personal Development Planning (PDP) defined
as “a structured and supported process undertaken by an individual to reflect upon their own
learning, performance and/or achievement to plan for their personal, educational and career
development”. Most universities now recognise that PDP should be an integral part of a
student‟s university learning experience because it is a significant contributory factor to
developing a student‟s employability attributes, and hence should be embedded firmly within
the curriculum and not be seen as a separate activity. It should link to previous work in
schools and FE, be relevant at all stages of a student‟s study in Higher Education and include
work experience, vacation and extra-curricula experiences. In this paper we report our
experiences of designing and using PDP throughout a 4-year programme from 2002-2004.


2.0    The Caledonian Degree
The flexible undergraduate programme offered at Glasgow Caledonian University, the
Caledonian BA/BSc (Hons), was designed to foster success through increased self-reliance
during and beyond university years, but also supports the university aims of widening
participation and improving student retention. It provides students with an opportunity to
undertake a variety of module combinations and negotiate individual pathways to a degree.
The principal pathways are combinations of on-campus taught modules across disciplines and
work-based/lifeplace learning modules. The programme environment differs in content and
style from traditional programmes in which students and staff work together to aid discovery
of individual learning strengths and weaknesses, through reflection and analysis and where
choice of modules, module content and assignments can be negotiated by the student. At the
heart of the programme is a coherent set of 4 Personal Development Planning (PDP) modules.


3.0    Structuring PDP

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The PDP modules exist at levels 1 to 4 and take the student, by way of reflective analysis,
through life experiences and future planning, to encourage confidence and develop the ability
to create and apply a variety of learning strategies to differing situations, thereby increasing
autonomy and successful lifetime learning.
The design of the PDP modules was informed by Yorke‟s (1999) evidence of the positive effect
of giving students an „academic home, Moxley et al‟s (2001) view that an exemplar student
retention programme for the first year would contain:
          an opportunity for students to appraise their preparation for higher education
          a support system for the students and the opportunity to develop their readiness, as
           a credit bearing programme
        provision of basic skill modules in college level reading, computer technology,
           numeracy, deductive and inductive thinking and writing skills
        an opportunity for personal and social development and confidence building
        career development, work experience and a welcoming base to which they can turn
           for assistance;
and Davis‟ (2002) argument that expectations of higher education which are unfulfilled add to
the lack of success.
Table 1 shows a PDP structure. Each module is worth 20 credits; one GCU credit= 10 hours of
study and the student is expected to undertake 200 hours of study within each module.
Module 1; Personal Development Planning and Core Skills Development, addresses the
students‟ expectations in coming to university and their reasons for being there. It asks them
to look back in order to look forward. They have to develop a personal development plan and
also choose an area of interest to study in relation to higher education itself. This module also
deals with basic skills such as essay and report writing, punctuation and grammar, referencing
and basic numeracy.
Module 2; Advanced Personal Development Planning and Skills, continues the skills theme but
introduces a requirement to word process documents, group working and information
gathering. It deals with the organisational environment in which students will eventually find
themselves working but also gets them to appreciate that the very lifeplace is such an
organisation.    Students continue with their personal development planning, this time
formulating a slightly longer plan in order to understand that goals are time dependent, but
continuing where they left off in the first short term plan in level 1.
Module 3; Personal Development and The Wider Context, invites students to produce another
personal development plan but this time they must evaluate its success. It considers the
wider environment that affects organisations and the person. Students have to complete a
report on an element of choice from the wider environment and apply it to an element of
choice form his/her own personal development. In addition presentation and employability
skills are examined including interview and CV presentation. Students have to undertake a
stand up professional presentation.
Module 4; Advanced Life Skills and Personal Development Planning, addresses advanced skills
such as emotional intelligence, leadership and ethics and again relate these to a particular area
of interest. Unlike the previous modules where the PDP, reflection and research on skills and
environments are in the most part evidenced within summative assignments, in this module
they become compulsory, formative assignments (Yorke, 2001). Feedback and an indication of
the standard that the student is achieving is given, with only the final assignment (in whatever
form the student chooses) equating to 100% summative. Discursive and persuasive skills are
encouraged in this module through class debate and argument.
The 4th level module is the most independent of all although all modules encourage
independence and student –centred learning from the start. Development of the core modules
is ongoing in terms of appropriateness of content, relevancy of assignments and pedagogy.
Lifeplace/workplace learning modules (which in themselves are being evaluated by another
project) have been included to increase flexibility and widen access and a fast-track
programme has also been developed to encourage part-time learners.




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  Table 1: Personal Development Planning Structure on BSc/BA Caledonian Degree
                 PDP                 Skills            Theme                   Assignments
 Module     Reflections       Writing,              Higher           1   Reflective essay
   1        and short         referencing,          Education        2   Personal Development Plan
            term Personal     communication         Environment      3   Ongoing reflective diary
            Development       Confidence            and Self         4   Negotiable Report
            Plan              building
                              numeracy
 Module     Reflection        Group working &       Organisational   1 Ongoing Reflective Accounts
   2        and medium        communication         Environment      2 Personal Development Plan
            term Personal     IT skills             and Self         3 Negotiable Peer Assessed
            Development       Peer assessment                        Problem Based Group Project
            Plan              Problem Solving
                              Confidence
                              Building
 Module     Reflection        Presentation skills   The Wider        1 Critical Analysis of life
   3        and short         Employability         environment      events
            term Personal     skills                and Self         2 PDP and evaluation
            Development       CV and Interview                       3 CV and presentation
            Plan and          preparation                            4 Negotiable Report
            evaluation        Confidence
                              building
 Module     Assessment        Persuasive skills,    Advanced Life    1 Report on life skills
   4        of current life   Discussion skills,    skills and       2 Assessment of own level of
            skills,           Independent           Environment      advanced life skills
            strengths and     working skills        of choice        3 Personal Development Plan
            weaknesses        Research skills                        4 Negotiable summative
            and plan for                                             assessment
            achievement
            of skills still
            required


4.0    Building and Running the PDP on a degree programme
One of the biggest problems of incorporating PDP modules into the undergraduate degree was
convincing the academic community of its value. PDP was not seen as knowledge development
nor was it discipline specific, so, it was not an easy task to convince the academics of its value.
There are 2 separate points about (1) whether to deliver it separately or whether to embed
and (ii) whether there should be separate assessment. If it is delivered separately with no
assessment students won‟t do it because of other commitments. The perception of PDP in
students‟ eyes appears to be similar to that of the academics, i.e. that it is neither relevant nor
valuable, and indeed the problems that come out of the evaluation of the modules (detailed in
the next section) would ensure that students would avoid the process.
When designing the modules the Development Board was also concerned that the Programme
Leader/developer should ensure that there was knowledge content included which
complemented the PDP element to ensure academic relevance. This resulted in the themes
being included (see table 1) which allowed the student to research an area directly relevant to
them but which facilitated information gathering about that area which could be learned and
evidenced within an assignment. In addition, knowledge of (not simply practice of) personal
development and reflection was a large part of the programme. The modules consequently
went through a number of configurations before the content was finally agreed and this
resulted in three distinct areas running through the modules; personal development planning,
skills development and understanding lifeplace environments, and indeed agreement on the
method used to bring out the requirements for personal development, i.e. the reflective
process. Discussion with external assessors, internal experts and students themselves took
place before the final version of the module descriptors was approved. These have altered
since first agreement due to continuous monitoring, development and enhancement.


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The modules are intended to prepare the students for the world of employment and encourage
self development. Throughout all of the modules though, the concentration on developing
interpersonal and transferable skills, which have relevance in the workplace, is evident.
In designing the modules we took account of employers‟ needs to have employees who can
think for themselves, people who know when and why to challenge the accepted practices and
indeed when to keep quiet. They want people who are independent but who can also work
effectively in teams, people who can add value quickly to an organisation and indeed have
some knowledge of the area in which they choose to work. They want people who have an
interest in what they are doing, are motivated and committed, who recognise the value of
customer service on the reputation of an organisation (and that applies to non customer-facing
organisations as well as those who deal face to face with their customers).
These modules, and indeed the programme itself, are attempts to develop people who can do
in part all of the above but who also want to continue their own wider development (in addition
to those skills required for employment). This motivation to progress in itself, it is suggested,
can also be valuable to employers. The modules are compulsory for students on the
Caledonian degree, and are also non compensatory for those students because they form the
underpinning of the self development of the students and are essentially the focus of the
programme, but they are open to students of other programmes as option choices.


5.0    The evaluation of the PDP modules
The modules have been monitored and evaluated during the first two years of the project.
Questionnaires were developed which were specific to the programme and modules. In
addition focus groups, individual student interviews, Student Staff Consultative Group
comments, reflections of module leaders and the programme leader and external assessors
comments were utilised in order to provide a comprehensive view of the success or otherwise
of the modules. Running the modules proved difficult in the first year due to lack of resources
and in the second year due to inexperienced staff, however, the ideal of workshop-based,
practical classes is also proving difficult due to class sizes (either too small or too large) which
do not allow for effective learning.


5.1 Questionnaires, Focus groups and Interviews
Questionnaires were distributed at the end of each semester. These allowed students free
comment on aspects of the modules. They were specifically designed with the core modules in
mind and asked the following questions:
Did you like the module? If not why not, If yes why?
Did you attend all classes? If not, why not?
Was there anything that troubled you on the module? What?
What could improve the module?
Did you like negotiating hand-in dates and topic choices?
Did you attend your personal interview with your advisor? If not, why not?
Please comment on anything about the modules that is not covered elsewhere.


To date 57 students have completed the questionnaires
Three focus groups took place, all done at the end of semester B in 2002/3. They were held
with the level 1 group, the level 3 day class and the level 3 evening class. In the level 1 day
class we had 2 students, in the level 3 day class 8 students and in the evening 7 students. The
comments made brought out problems in student attendance and the clarity of some of the
content needed attention but on the whole the comments were constructively critical. In year 2
semi-structured and directed interviews were done with 7 students. 3 had already graduated
from the programme (2 with Honours), 2 were full time and 2 were part time evening
students.
Some of the comments made by students, in the answers to the questionnaires and within
interviews and focus groups are shown below.

                                                                                                  4
*      Module has potential and it allows students to develop themselves and to use and
       develop their skills.
*      I can‟t believe how much I learned from this. I was shocked at my original mark for one
       of the assignments and went home really upset but as I read the comments made by
       the lecturer and tried again, this time I knew much more what was expected of me and
       even before getting my final mark I knew that what I had produced was far superior to
       what I had done the first time.
*      The module was interesting and I actually learned something. It was good that we
       could negotiate topic choices etc. Made me think about what I was doing, what my
       goals were and how I was going to manage to achieve them.
*      This module encourages you to be individual but you still learn from the group.
*      A good module which if I had had this level of support and the content earlier in my
       studies would not have failed so much.
*      I realised the value of the core modules once I had left.
*      The PDP modules were excellent. They made me examine why and plan for success. I
       got good positive feedback.
*      I have more confidence and I have belief in myself and want to do better.
*      I am more diplomatic now; I notice a difference in my attitude. You can
       see the difference in me; the goals really helped.
*      PDP is good but personal reflection and critical incidents are too personal
*      I have transferred the skills to the workplace and to the people there. The modules
       have helped with other modules too.
*      I understand more and have gained beneficial practical and transferable skills
*      I can use if for lifeplace planning to achieve things outside work.
*      The core modules helped to mature me. I know my strengths and weaknesses. I
       learned to modify my behaviour.
*      The group work helped me learn to adapt to different people – be more tolerant.



5.2 Student Staff Groups and Externals’ remarks
Four student staff consultative groups meetings were held; November 2002, March 2003,
November 2003 and March 2004. There were 4 students present at the first meeting and 3
lecturing staff (including programme leader) and 5 students present at the second with 3 staff
members (same as before) . Only 1 student was present at both meetings but all levels of the
programme were represented including the evening students. In year 2 there were 2 students
present at the first meeting and 3 lecturing staff and 5 students present at the second with 4
staff members (this time also including the programme leader). Only 1 student was present at
both meetings but all levels of the programme were represented including the evening
students.
The external examiner also gave comments on the core modules at the end of each year.
These were made after he had perused a selection of coursework across all levels and also
after discussion with the module leader/ programme leader as regards the intentions of the
modules. His comments centred on commending the „well designed and effective activities‟ but
that there was some improvement that could be made to marking schemes the focus/
weighting of assessments. He commented that the modules were „excellent modules with good
outcomes‟ and was particularly impressed by the „good practice in formative feedback and feed
forward‟. He was pleased that although there was considerable flexibility, the programme
leader was still demanding high standards. He continued to offer advices in the second year
but his report continued to commend the modules and stated that the improvement measures
being taken amounted to „good practice and natural enhancement‟. Both the informal
comments that he made and indeed the formal annual report were utilised.


5.3 Programme/module leader reflections
The concerns of the module and programme leaders also had to be faced. Problems such as
the difficulty with student understanding of the concept of the student-centred learning, the
value of reflection, the understanding of the relevancy of the content, the independent nature

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of the programme, the necessity to gain and or improve basic skills and the need to think
about what they were doing. However, the programme leader also had practical considerations
to contend with such as absenteeism of students, the lack of motivation of the students and
indeed the question of whether many of them should actually be in higher education in the first
place. These more practical considerations were important to the decision-making on how the
modules might be improved and enhanced and of which changes should be made and why.
Resources (or lack of) also played heavily on the way the modules could be developed and run
and indeed to the amount of support that could be afforded to each student. These types of
modules are by their very nature resource intensive.
In addition to the resource issue there is some concern over the most appropriate
organisational academic unit in which to house this general degree programme. This is not
unlike other universities but it has had an effect on the staff turnover supporting these
modules. It had also to be recognised that the tutors were also on a learning curve since
modules of this sort had not been attempted before in the university and therefore there was
some necessity for action research and ongoing experimentation which allowed the modules to
be adapted and improved but which also allowed time for the high turnover of the tutors to be
taken into account.
On occasion we experienced doubt about the value of the modules especially when confronted
by a student who was convinced that there was little value in them and felt that his/her time
was being squandered on “common sense” with no real academic worth. In addition, at the
beginning, marks were particularly low and pass rates well below what the programme leader
perceived as an acceptable standard. However, as time passed and confidence gained both on
the part of the student and the tutors real improvement was observed.

Despite the intention to have independent learning and flexibility the modules required more
explicit instructions and direction and there was a need to reconsider the amount of work that
was expected of each student. The intention of the design of the modules was that the
students should learn things that would have takeaway value and could be transported with
them to the next part of their life and thereafter utilised as and when required. Regurgitation
and rote learning were not the intentions of these modules. The need to ensure that feedback
was constant and ongoing was a primary task for all tutors delivering the facilitation and
learning materials.


6.0    The Improvements
All of the above information, gathered from students, lecturers, and externals has allowed
continuous improvement of the modules. Changes have been made to not only what is taught
in the modules but how it is taught and importantly how the students gain explanation and
understanding of the concepts and practice their skills. Teaching staff continue to find better
examples to explain some difficult concepts and provide support within the workshops.
There were positive responses from students on the value of the core modules and indeed the
value of the flexible nature of the programme. One major concern for the students appeared to
be the very independent nature of the modules, the personal nature of the reflection and the
amount of choice that they have the opportunity to make use of. Students appear to struggle
with all of the above since their experience of educational curriculum is that of a didactic,
instructional nature.

Staff felt that a major contributor to the problems with the modules was the lack of resources
put into the programme in the first year to be able to run the core modules the way they
would have wished. In that year the programme leader was also the only member of academic
staff involved. This was improved by year 2 but as alluded to above new staff then had a
learning curve which meant that immediate improvement was not observed.

In year 1 the small improvements that were made mid-year improved the modules as
evidenced by the number of students saying that they thought the module was useful and that
they liked it after semester B (not noticeable in semester A). There were still some negative
comments but many of them came from the same person; the value of knowing the context
(Davis and Queen, 2003; Davis, 2004). Because of the small number of students who took

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part in the evaluation the comments by one student skewed the results. If the very negative
comments made by this one person were excluded the feedback would be seen to be
constructively critical, which had many points for improvement and positive encouragement
which assisted the team in staying positive. In addition students were able to see quickly that
their comments were being taken seriously (feedback given at SSCG meeting and in class).
In year 2 some of the main issues appeared to centre on the confusion of the relevancy of the
modules, confusion surrounding the assignments and having too much work to do. Other
issues appeared to be conflict within the classes between students and new lecturing staff,
confusion by the lecturing staff as to what was to be taught and the steep learning curve of the
staff themselves who were new to the programme, the modules and in one case to the
university. Despite the hope that things would have run smoother, having more lecturing staff
in place, half-way through the year the two part-time lecturers had to be replaced by two new
ones and the learning curve began again. It was obvious that the level of improvement in the
modules would be reduced by this unfortunate turn of events but despite this some
improvement was evidenced.
In year 3 improvements include redesign of some of the assignments including reducing the
number of reflective entries that students had to make and re-ordering of the syllabi to give
more time to concepts which appear to cause the students most difficulty. In addition to this
the level tutor system was discarded in favour of a Director of Studies system. A Director of
Studies has therefore been allocated to all students, to ensure equity of student numbers per
member of staff, and to ensure that greater control is kept of student attendance on core
modules.
It is considered that the modules have been successful from both student and tutor
perspectives although still in need of development and enhancement. There appears to be a
resounding appreciation of the flexibility and negotiable hand-in dates and topic choice. Most
students said that they could manage and organise their life better and the ability to choose
what they wanted to study allowed them to tailor the assignments and make them relevant to
their own personal development and employability. The real potential of the modules however,
was evidenced by those who had already completed them and realised only afterwards the
value of them. Students currently undertaking the modules tend to be somewhat critical of
them and often fail to see the relevance to their academic studies however, from the evidence
we have there is a noticeable change in attitude once they have completed. We have evidence
(both written and verbal) to suggest that it is only after completion that the students really
appreciate what they have learned and the skills that they have developed. There is evidence
that this is also being transferred to the workplace and lifeplace.


7.0    Future development
This project is now entering its third year. The team is working hard to address positively the
issues raised and the core modules have been altered to reflect the results of the analysis done
from the evaluations. Hopefully more meaningful reflection can be made within the reflective
accounts and the personal development plan can be made more useful, i.e. that the students
themselves will use goals that are more relevant to their own success. It is hoped that when
students have gone through the whole three/four years of the programme their skill-sets
should be noticeably different from students on programmes that do not concentrate on skills
and personal development. It is anticipated that this difference will be evident to employers.

PDP will probably continue to play a major part in 21st century education and if this type of
module can be evaluated to show benefit to a) the students and b) the society in which they
operate and belong (including the workplace) then inclusion of this type of module and
learning opportunity within programmes of self-development will be considered an important
part of the higher education curriculum and an improvement on the development of
employability skills in graduates. This will then provide added value to employers and
employees alike and will have a bearing for curriculum and policy decision makers. The
intention is that this year the personal development file will be developed with all students
which will contain elements of the students‟ work that they themselves wish to gather and
retain but also that information which the tutor might also wish to retain. This will include a

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copy of the students‟ transcript. It will also be necessary to utilise whatever web based
solution in which the university chooses to invest, however, the Caledonian degree will
incorporate this into its philosophy and practice of core PDP provision.


There is the question of follow up research however. This will be required to trace the students‟
careers so that tracking the success or otherwise of these students as they leave the HE
environment and enter the world of work will be enabled. How this will be done has not yet
been finalised and some assistance in this area is required so that a longitudinal study can be
undertaken to ensure that this procedure is rigorous and valid. We need resources to be able
to do this. However, if valid and reliable information can be gained it will provide useable
information for policy makers and curriculum designers for the future.


References
Davis, M. and Queen, J. (2004) Evaluating the quality of the student experience, paper
   presented at the Scottish Educational Research Association Conference 2004, Perth:
   Scotland
Davis, M. and Queen, J. (2003) Focused Feedback - Focused Quality, paper presented at the
   Scottish Educational Research Association Conference 2003, Perth: Scotland
Davis, M. (2004) Accrediting Personal Development Planning: A review of current practice on
   the Caledonian Degree paper presented at the Scottish Educational Research Association
   Conference 2004, Perth: Scotland
Davis, M. (2002) An Investigation into Non-Completion of Year One Business Students in a
   Post 1992 Higher Education Institution, MEd. Thesis, Glasgow: Strathclyde University.
Dearing, R. (1997) The National Committee of Inquiry into Higher Education, accessed at
   http://www.leeds.ac.uk/ncihe/nr_001.htm
Moxley, D. et al (2001) Keeping Students in Higher Education: Successful Practices and
   Strategies for Retention, London: Kogan Page Ltd.
Yorke, M. (1999) Leaving early: Undergraduate Non-Completion in Higher Education, London,
   Falmer Press
Yorke, M (2001) Formative Assessment and its Relevance to Retention, in Higher Education
   Research and Development Vol. 20, no. 2 July 2001




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