Staff and students have been collaborating to drive a peer-supported approach to promoting and developing self-reflection and skills related to personal development planning (PDP).
PDP is part of the guidance from the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (HE), so that all university students have opportunities to reflect on their learning and achievement as well as to plan for their personal, educational and career development. At The Open University, as all study is carried out at a distance, we are committed to finding ways in which students can be brought closer to one another to increase the value of their studies.
All programmes in the Faculty of Wellbeing, Education, Language and Sport include reflection on academic learning and many students also have experience of professional reflection and development supported by their employers. Rather than seeing University-guided PDP as additional, we wanted to see how personal, professional and academic reflections could be integrated into our programmes, deepening student appreciation of the relationship between their studies, practice and career aspirations.
Student coaches were in the driving seat of what and how support was offered, recognising the flexibility they themselves needed alongside studying.
Students and staff have been working together across Language and Education modules to offer flexible support for students to extend, deepen and link elements of PDP. Students were invited to become peer PDP coaches based on their engagement with PDP, either as a result of volunteering for PDP pilots or their reflective parts of End of Module Assessments.
Coaches began their work through a training day which included agreeing a set of criteria to work towards through an academic year of peer PDP support. Student coaches were in the driving seat of what and how support was offered, recognising the flexibility they themselves needed alongside studying. Peer PDP coaches are offered a digital badge in response to evidence of their activity and contributions.
Coaches have supported forum threads on module websites, led webinars, created resources and offered feedback on activities and resources being created to further integrate PDP within and across modules. They have also supported careers fairs hosted by the University Careers team.
Two experienced peer PDP coaches from 2018-2019 have gone on to train as peer PDP mentors (working towards their own set of criteria for a peer PDP mentoring digital badge) and are supporting new peer PDP coaches across a wider range of modules across 2019-2020. We currently have 12 peer coaches and 2 mentors and a sustainable model of peer PDP coach recruitment and support in order to support entire programmes.
Students have been motivated to engage with PDP through interacting and engaging in activities led by peers.
As a result of this initiative, supported students have been encouraged to recognise the value of personal development planning to making explicit the benefits of their academic studies as an integrated part of their lives. Students have been motivated to engage with PDP through interacting and engaging in activities led by peers and this has increased a sense of community and belonging associated with discussing the shared experiences of and value of study. We expect that this greater sense of student connectivity is improving students’ module completion, achievement and empowerment to make decisions about progression from module to module.
At the same time, student coaches and mentors have reported, through their training and experiences, significant developments in their academic, digital and employability skills. Additionally, they have explained how they acquire a deeper working understanding of personal development planning and how their work as coaches is providing them with resources for personal and professional practice which they will carry with them beyond their time as coaches.