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Adapting assessment to go online

Guest posts

Faculty: Health, Medicine and Social Care
School: School of Medicine
Category: Teaching and research

7 May 2020

Nicky Milner, Director of Medical Education, HEMS, shares how she successfully moved assessment online for the PG Cert Medical & Healthcare Education. She recommends adapting to the new learning environment but maintaining the key aspects of the original plan, summarising key information to minimise student confusion and dissatisfaction, and using strategies that foster a trustful and supportive relationship with students.

I am the course leader for the PG Cert Medical & Healthcare Education. The course currently has 113 part time students who are all employed in various frontline clinical roles, with many being employed in intensive care settings. Like many, my students must find ways to balance personal, professional and academic demands. Understandably, this has become significantly more stressful as we face the wide-ranging challenges of the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak. This mini-case study describes how I adapted my assessments in response to the outbreak.

The PG Cert modules run simultaneously for three separate cohorts (Cambridge, Chelmsford and distance learners). This inherently creates challenges around engagement and provision of academic support. In part, these are mitigated through the provision of the core course content as a mixture of background theory, interactive activities and links to supplementary material which creates an inclusive learning package and aims to encourage online discussions between peers in the diverse learning community. 

Whilst the course content is identical for each cohort, the modes of delivery vary, with face to face workshops for Cambridge and Chelmsford cohorts and as a shorter webinar using BigBlueButton for distance learners. The course contains a blend of asynchronous and synchronous learning activities which provide a dynamic, interactive and supportive learning environment. This works well for this course and offers flexibility for my students who often work on shifts.

Maintaining regular communication with students is always important, however I didn’t overload them with Canvas announcements when they were busy or stressed but acknowledged that they were more reliant on my support. I personalised my announcements to remind students that I would prioritise their requests and summarised important information relating to their assessments. I made administrative processes quicker and clearer by creating clear links to live Google sheets for students to sign up for poster assessments.

Rather than change the goal posts at a late stage of the module, when students were committed to the assessment, I changed the mode of delivery for the oral poster defence onto a digital format using BigBlueButton. The distance learning cohort was already familiar with this system from attending the webinars, and were already prepared to be assessed in this format. This meant that a potentially vulnerable cohort of remote learners was unaffected by this change. Students who learn face to face had been introduced to this system briefly in a previous workshop, as part of my contingency planning, and their presentation sessions were broken into smaller groups to allow for technical support to be provided if necessary. They were also offered the flexibility of recording their presentation, which some completed during a break in their shift. Adopting this flexible student-centred approach meant that most students managed to complete or are in communication with me to complete their presentation.

The curriculum critique remained unchanged since it was a written assignment and students had invested time and effort throughout the trimester. The Turnitin class was opened earlier than planned to allow students who were self-isolating or anticipated significant increase in their workload the opportunity to upload their completed assignment early. To date (one month before the deadline) 13 out of 113 submissions have been made – this is more than would be expected meaning that students have had the opportunity and support to potentially successfully complete their module assessments, at a time where perhaps many would struggle.

To summarise, in addition to minimising the risk of confusion and dissatisfaction for students, I found that this has enhanced my relationship with not only my students, but also my use of digital technology. Adapting to changing environments with as little disruption to the original plan was possible, and resulted in space to provide a deeper level of underpinning support which was needed – and valued – by my students.

For more guidance, best practice and practical ideas for teaching and assessment visit our Good teaching practice and innovation web pages.


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