Size and significance….

I’m alarmed that some students seem to find 2000 words a huge challenge, and I wouldn’t want to lose the requirement to write at some length on one topic, because to do so would, in my view, dilute the academic integrity of the subject.”

Indeed Rob, like you, I am also alarmed by the perceived challenge in writing 2000 words, and fully agree that to be unable and unasked  to do so (especially at Master’s level) would very much dilute the academic integrity of the subject.  I also feel that many of the conversations around these issues can be patronising, and belittling.  Personally I would feel insulted if anyone thought that because I was a busy teacher, that I couldn’t actually write a coherent, well developed and sustained argument of 2000 words or more.  I guess I see the benefit of approaches like the patchwork text in bigger, and perhaps more professionally driven pieces of work.  I’m doing quite a lot of thinking at the moment about the traditional dissertation requirement, especially in the context of postgraduate professional development, and wonder if there is scope there for some smaller, but still significant and sustained pieces of work, to be then brought into some sort of relationship through a unifying commentary…  perhaps it’s the size (or at least the significance?) of the patch that matters?

A Rich Tapestry

To borrow from Rob, while we may have discussed patchwork today, I think we all agree that what we had today could have been described as a rich tapestry…

However, sewing analogies aside, I would like to think I speak for everyone that was there, in saying first of all that Peter Ovens led our discussions and deliberations in a supportive, and developmental way.  Thank you Peter – it was a wonderful day. 

Your point about reflective and professional learning is I think, quite a valid one Rob.  It was interesting to see the participant list as comprised of health and educational professionals.  However, in the course of our discussions today, an interesting thought/insight? occurred to me.  For those who are members of CARN, they may have been following a discussion through the JISC email list about the “acceptability” of action research PhD theses (which for many of us is really a non-question, in a way).  I began to wonder about the acceptability of patchwork texting as a PhD thesis, and wondered if anyone in the group was aware of it anywhere.  Then suddenly, in the afternoon, it dawned on me that PhD by publication (a well accepted process) is just that – a series of independant, but carefully chosen “patches” which are submitted with some sort of unifying commentary.  To quote one set of regulations 

The candidate should present a portfolio of between four and six interconnected, published research papers contextualised by a coherent narrative. Such publications may include papers, chapters, monographs, books, scholarly editions of a text, technical reports, creative work in relevant areas, or other artefacts.”


So maybe we could see its applicability in a wider context too?

Patchwork or Tapestry

Interesting. I can see plenty of positives here, but one of the disadvantages is hinted at in the reference to “perceived difficulties in assignment formats such as the essay”. I wouldn’t for a moment suggest that the essay is the only legitimate form of response, and indeed, I have developed alternative means of assessment in modules I teach. But, at least in the humanities, the essay still represents a very useful way of synthesising and re-presenting learning for assessment, and demonstrably develops higher level skills. It’s difficult to see how subjects such as English and History could fulfil the requirements of the benchmark statements without resorting to the essay.
I wonder about the metaphor too- aren’t patchworks by definition made of random bits of material? The unifying commentary might provide a way of organising those random bits, but they still remain, to a degree, random. Might “tapestry” be a better metaphor?”

Hi Rob

it’s interesting to note perhaps that much Patchwork Texting comes from professional learning courses, such as education, health and social care professional development programmes.  In these areas, there is often a challenge to incorporate practice development with academic development and learning.  Evidence for that learning often comes in various shapes and sizes, and is often unforeseen and unplanned for.  I was thinking about your description of patchwork as random, but I think (although not having the art/craft-knowledge of patchworking!), that while for example the bits may have started off as a bag of random bits, it is the considered choice of precisely WHAT bits to use, in order to make a quilt (for example), rather than simply a collection of random bits securely stitched together, that stops the bits from actually being random.  Each is seen (despite its initial perceived randomness) as contributory to the whole.  The whole informs the choice of the bits, just as the bits inform the shape of the whole.  So I guess I think that patchwork is the term…

I have never used patchwork texting as an approach, although I think it offers an interesting and valid perspective to some other forms of assessment in certain circumstances.  I also believe that the essay provides the opportunity for the demonstration of the synthesis and re-presentation of learning, and would hate to see its demise.  I just think this approach might provide some useful opportunities in professional development learning.  Tomorrow’s workshop should be interesting. 

I have a number of papers on this if anyone is interested – just drop me a mail

What is a Patchwork Text approach to curriculum and assessment in HE?

The Patchwork Text (PT) approach is a blend of several things.  It is an attempt to take account of the variety of different ways in which individual students learn and are able to present their learning.  It is also a coursework format in which a set of short pieces of writing or ‘patches’ is built up gradually, week by week.  Each patch can be shared with other students in small group discussions.  The format may require different kinds of writing e.g. a story, a reflection on a personal experience, a book review, a commentary on a lecture, the application of a particular theory to a specific piece of professional practice, notes from a field trip, etc. to represent diverse kinds of learning and/or content in the module.  Increasingly, electronic media are being used to diversify the forms of expression and communication of learning.  This aspect of PT enables a student to express their knowing in a range of ways.  It can also facilitate students’ process of self-exploration and self-questioning, to make explicit the nature of their learning ‘journey’ as a form of personal engagement with the course content, particularly if one of the requirements is to keep a reflective journal.  The PT approach can require a sharing of patches, to encourage collaborative learning and formative peer feedback, to enrich the learning process and develop a learning community.  These pedagogical aspects imply particular kinds of planning and organisation of content and time.  The PT assignment produced at the end of the module for summative assessment is a composite text based on each student’s own patches, with a requirement for some kind of integrative writing or ‘stitching’.  This is usually a reflective, unifying commentary which draws on further reading, including other students’ patches, to produce a personal synthesis which addresses the main aims of the module. A powerful resource for creating a cohesive structure for the PT and the writing of the stitching is the student’s reflective journal or Blog, kept throughout the module.

The idea of the Patchwork Text is partly a response to perceived difficulties in assignment formats such as the essay or the portfolio. The essay focuses on a relatively narrow range of skills and presents a time-consuming task at the end of a module.  Students writing the essay well before the end may not attend later sessions, while those who leave the task and do it in a rush, in stressful conditions, do not achieve their potential.  Such situations foster an instrumental and selective attitude to the ideas presented in the course, some of the characteristics of the well known approach in HE called surface learning.  The portfolio solves these problems but creates others as it usually lacks a requirement to create an overall synthesis, and is thus suspected in many quarters of being an easy option, and an inadequate basis for demonstrating academic achievement. 

The Patchwork Text draws on several theoretical dimensions, including a constructivist theory of meaning and an interactionist theory of teaching and learning.  It also expresses a democratic-political purpose: to encourage explicitly an assignment format in which students can draw upon a broader range of abilities to embody their understanding, and thus to enable greater diversity and inclusiveness in HE, broadening access to qualifications for a wider range of students.  It fosters an honesty of students’ presentation of ideas by making explicit the uncertainty and subjectivity of our understanding, rather than prompting the pretence (as in an essay format) of having mastered a new (for them) field of study.  It legitimates the dynamic quality of personal knowledge as always in a state of becoming.  It also creates explicit opportunities for students to learn from and through dialogue with each other as well as the tutor, and to reflect on a range of learning experiences and diverse theoretical resources, so as to create their own personal links and create their own meaning for their own purposes.  These are prominent features of deep learning.                                                                                                                Peter Ovens

Developing Patchwork Texts : a radical approach to curriculum and assessment in higher education

We invite you to join us on Friday 10th July, at 10.30 in Woodlands




The Patchwork Texts approach to curriculum and assessment has been developed in a range of courses at different academic levels across several universities. 

Instead of doing a summatively assessed, end-of-module assignment, students write short pieces (patches) at regular intervals across a module, collaborating on formative peer assessment.  Then they create a composite, multifaceted document containing patches, stitched together with a reflective, integrative commentary.

Action research has been used to develop this approach over several years.


Session outline


·       An introductory description and rationale of the Patchwork Text (PT) approach

·       A detailed case study of how the approach improved students’ learning in one module

·       Illustrative examples of the approach in several other modules

·       Discussion of participants’ own modules which use, or have the potential to use a PT approach

·       Exploration of the use of different forms of discussion, writing and other media which can be included in the PT process

·       Consideration of students’ learning needs, interests and ways of knowing

·       Pedagogical implications of PT, for example: learning to ‘let go’ as a possible change to tutor-student relationships

·       Workshop on adapting modules to develop the approach

·       Taking an action research stance towards developing practice

·       A reflective overview of some values and principles of the approach.


Peter Ovens has overlapping areas of theoretical interest, practical development, research and writing about:

·       philosophical, curriculum and pedagogical aspects of science learning and teaching and assessment, in early years and primary school settings as well as in higher education

·       curriculum development and assessment in higher education

·       the use of action research and reflective approaches to personal, professional development in a wide range of contexts.

He was awarded a National Teaching Fellowship in 2005

Patchwork Text: Alternative Approaches to Assessment, and more. A reminder to book your place

For those who have not come across the Patchwork Text, it may conjure up images of sewing, creativity, artistry, and this is in fact not a bad way to conceptualise this creative approach to the assessment of student work through the iterative process of peer feedback and review on a number of pieces of work, or patches, which are then combined in a way that Richard Winter describes as “A sequence of varied texts – ‘patches’ – that illuminate a professional theme, ‘stitched together’ through a reflexive and critical synthesis  (Winter et al (1999) Professional Experience and the Investigative Imagination; The ART of Reflective Writing)

It is often cited as an approach to assessment that is particularly suited to the area of practice-based learning and assessment, and as such, may be of interest to colleagues in FoH as well as FoE.  The Northern CARN day on Friday 10th July, Woodlands, 10.30, provides a wonderful opportunity to learn more about this approach to assessment in a workshop-based, collaborative event, led by Dr Peter Ovens, who has been awarded a National Teaching Fellowship for his work on this.

Please contact Jill Cochrane  ( for more details, and to book your place on the day (essential to do this by Friday 3rd please, to facilitate catering)

It’s been a while…

… since I posted.  It’s funny how you go through phases where there doesn’t seem to be ONE spare moment!!

However, it seems appropriate to take a minute or two this evening to update people on the Northern CARN study day event, which is being held here at Edge Hill on Friday 10th July (Woodlands, Room 4, 10.30 – 2.30)  This day will focus on Patchwork Text, led by Dr Peter Ovens, (who was awarded a National Teaching Fellowship for his work on this in 2005), and has been organised by Jill Cochrane, on behalf of the Faculty of Education CARN group.

If you would like to attend this event, please contact Jill Cochrane ( so that attendance, and catering can be arranged.  Unfortunately, we will have to limit numbers on account of the venue, so make sure to let her know, if possible, by Fri 3rd July.  The event is open to colleagues from all faculties (and may be of particular interest to those in the FoH involved in practitioner research)

We look forward to seeing you there.

Doc Soc Away Day: the verdict

It was an excellent day, marred only by my inability to tri-locate so that I could be present at all three presentation groups this morning.  I really liked the way in which we simply read from our text – no powerpoint to hide behind, just the stripped down beauty and richness of our written text.  It was also good to listen to each other, and to realise that it’s really quite a privilege to hear someone reading their own writing.  It’s not something that we do often – is it?  We hear people talking around their text, presenting and discussing ideas around their text, but the elegant simplicity of the honest reading of our written text is a very different experience both for the reader and for the listener. 

I think we all listened more respectfully today, and dealt with each other kindly (do you think so Sam?), and yet spoke with honesty and integrity.  This morning was one of the richest academic experiences I’ve had in some time. 

Thanks to everyone.

Doc Soc

I’ve just been finishing up a few bits and pieces, and printing out the “stuff” I’m going to read tomorrow.  I’m really looking forward to it, and glad I decided to make time for it.  Interestingly (well, to me anyway – tomorrow, others will be the judge of that), I have decided to read some of my blog postings (augmented).  I have been using them as stimuli for “real” writing…I say this very “tongue in cheek”, and am reminded of my primary school teacher who had a great love of Baroque music, and a strong belief in teaching all children to read and play music.  She taught us all recorder, and at the tender age of 9 and 10, we formed a rather wonderful Recorder Consort.  We played in concerts and festivals, and were really rather well known!  I remember her telling me once (many years later) that a parent once came into school to discuss a child’s progress with her and  said “Katy is doing so well on the recorder, I’m thinking of starting her on a musical instrument”. 

I guess that’s a little like the blogging Vs real writing debate/discussion.