Patchwork Text – reviewing my own understandings

Before the Christmas break I was reading around the theme of ‘patchwork text’. Patchwork text was Winter’s answer to many of the problems of essay writing (1999). Patchwork text is a gradually assembled set of small activities, which are stitched together by a reflective commentary. It is the reflective, overarching commentary that separates the approach from a traditional portfolio. In addition the patchwork requires a collaborative, social element, such that the learner aligns, develops and challenges their-own understandings. The BA Learning Technology Research course has used patchwork text for each module. Moreover the delivery team built upon patchwork text by incorporating high degrees of technology and communication through technology. This brand of the patchwork text has been called patchwork media. The media may be seen to enhance two particular strands of the patchwork approach. First, it enhances collaboration in the production of activities, the formulation of views and positions and the formation of arguments. The role of technology in this collaborative step should not be underrated, McKenzie (2006) for example noted pragmatic problems in executing deep enough collaboration in a face to face situation (e.g . timetabling, layout, absenteeism), Second it allows learners to use a wider range of genres and creative voices, anecdotally I have seen much value in good genre play in allowing the learner to step outside themselves and their own perspective. After four years of working with patchwork it has been useful to, albeit casually, review my own understanding. I was reassured to remind myself that the patchwork approach which does not place the student as master, but rather apprentice, which internalises knowledge rather than externalising it and which embraces individual values in the formulation of positions is in keeping with the view of social science which says that “those who study the social world are, at the same time members of that world and bring to it their own values and positions, moreover ” (QAA, 2000, 3.3). This is reflected in some of the social science subject benchmarks – for example for education students should have “the ability to use their knowledge and understanding critically to locate and justify a personal position in relation to the subject”. Through both collaboration and through reflection the student can immerse in this accommodative learning process. In her use of the method McKenzie captures this immersion of self in to learning by the additional learning outcome added to an existing module : “reflect on what has been learned in the module in order to revise personal frames of reference and promote self exploration” (McKenzie, 2006, p.153) Some of the well-touted benefits of Winter’s approach •Panic and Pace – learners can avoid the rush at the end of term for one assignment •Failure is less likely to be concealed – timely interventions can be made when the learner is visible. •Equal attention can be applied to different aspects or themes within a course, rather than focusing on the essay topic. •Inclusiveness (fair access to broad-based curriculum) – the utilization of a range of activities gives a fairer chance to many (though not always to all). •Learning style – a range of learning activities can assess a range of learning styles. •There is a focus on the product and process of learning. •Learner control can be used – within patchwork there are opportunities for high degrees of choice and even learning design. In my own practice I have concerns that an over familiarity with ‘the ropes’ allows complacency and short cuts to systemically occur thus diluting some of the benefits. The activities become the objective of learning not a celebration and account of the process, the stitching becomes ‘the essay’ and worryingly, description can slip in to the place of reflection. None of these things are incurable but they are observed difficulties First thoughts in response include: Higher degrees of guidance in scaffolding reflection (What is in a stitching?) Greater clarity over what the expectations of patchwork are Modelling and/or exemplification of patchwork to ensure learners can visualise the approach The need to challenge attitudes that activities should products of perfection. Refs: McKenzie, J, The student as an Active Agent in Disciplinary Structure: Introducing the Patchwork Text in Teaching Sociology. Pp152 in Innovations in Education and Teaching International. 40 (2). QAA (2000) Subject benchmark for Sociology. Section 3.3 Winter, R (1999) The Patchwork Text; A Radical Re-assessment of Coursework Assignments (Innovations in Education and Teaching International, Special Issue)Vol. 40, No. 2, May 2003

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