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PESCA: introducing personal development planning at Exeter

This case study, by Sue Prince of the University of Exeter, was produced as part of the LTSN Generic Centre PDP project in 2001. It is one of a
series of nine case studies on the use of PDP across a range of disciplines.

PESCA is an electronic profiling system created and developed over a number of years at the University of Exeter. ‘PESCA’ is an acronym for the five key areas of development that sit within the profile: personal, employment, social, career and academic.

PESCA is a tool to encourage students to record their achievements, skills and goals, to provide evidence of their development and to assist them to analyse and evaluate their own strengths and weaknesses in each of the specified areas. Although records are created within each of the personal, employment, social, career and academic categories, because PESCA is a database system it can easily create different ways of reporting the information it holds. Therefore students can generate their own curriculum vitaes, reports for their personal tutor, action plans and career plans which can be shown to other individuals or agencies such as careers advisors.

PESCA was trialled in the School of Law at the University of Exeter during the academic year 1999/2000. The aim was to encourage its use by students as a tool for their own personal development and also as an element of their degree relating to their feedback to their personal tutor.

PESCA enabled students to keep a record of the skills they were developing in each of their first year subjects, namely Criminal Law, Contract Law etc. With regard to their personal development, PESCA clearly relates to the need for autonomy outlined in the law benchmarks. The capacity to develop independent learning skills was also clear. At the end of each term students generated a report, which was e-mailed to their personal tutor, detailing their progress and their own individual strengths and weaknesses, which the personal tutor could then compare to feedback from subject tutors to draw a clear picture of where a student needed direction and guidance. Students could then discuss their PESCA termly profile during meetings with their tutor.

PESCA was given to over 200 first year law students at the beginning of the autumn term. Students were asked to enter basic information about themselves, their school, qualifications, hobbies, work experience and their degree programme onto their PESCA disk.

What skills and capabilities are you setting out to develop?

The academic section of PESCA required students to consider their own skills development in relation to the learning outcomes for each module. They could therefore see what the module tutor was expecting and relate this to their own personal development. A summary of the development of these strengths and weaknesses was then generated on a termly basis by the student for discussion with their personal tutor.

In order for PESCA to become a compulsory element of the degree programme in Law but not to be formally assessed it was decided to place it within the personal tutor system. Students were asked to consider more generally their progress in terms of strengths and weaknesses on a termly basis. This report was e-mailed to the personal tutor in advance of the termly meeting each personal tutor is required to have with their tutees.

By the time of the termly meeting the personal tutor should have been able to consider two documents which will help to inform his/her discussion with the student; the evaluation report from the perspective of the student and the internal report based on workshop/tutorial performance. The personal tutor is therefore able to have a constructive discussion based on a comparison of both perspectives.

How has it worked for you?

During the academic year students were asked for feedback on their use of PESCA. The end of year questionnaire found that 91% of students had used PESCA at some point during the year. Whilst approximately 30-40% had used it to record their skills, information for their curriculum vitae and their personal strengths and weaknesses, by far the greatest usage had been of those aspects which related to the termly evaluation which was required by their tutor. Almost 90% of students questioned had used the package to help with this requirement. The termly evaluation was the only aspect of the package which was seen to be ‘compulsory’. Therefore it seems that the majority of first year students were driven by assessment when using PESCA.

Students were divided on the usefulness of PESCA – those that had difficulties tended to be put off by the IT before being put off by the requirement to reflect – over half of students using PESCA experienced technical difficulties.

We received some very positive student feedback which went directly to the main aims of the PESCA package: “I am updating PESCA on a weekly basis. I find it useful with regards to keeping a check on my progress…It is surprising how fast time is going here. If I were not to keep a weekly record I am sure I would not be able to remember all that happens. It is certainly helpful to set personal goals and then work towards them.”

The immediate aim is to overcome the technical problems and the frustrations associated with them so that students are not put off as soon as they encounter PESCA. Work has also been continuing on the development of the tool, in the light of student feedback, so that the reflection required is clear and students can see their own progress and development. Time has also been spent on determining how PESCA can be most appropriately supported and more importantly valued by academic staff.

There are huge costs associated with setting up the system and ensuring that it works effectively – it involves a change of culture. We have been developing this system at Exeter for at least the last three years and are still continuing with developmental issues at every level. Clear benefit is that it provides a structure to things that might be happening anyway or maybe are not happening but need to.

Last Modified: 30 June 2010