Considering wellbeing within the placement module assessment

Allán Laville (Dean for D&I and Lecturer in Clinical Psychology) and Libby Adams (Research Assistant), SPCLS

Overview

This project aimed to design a new alternative assessment to form a part of the MSci Applied Psychology course which puts emphasis on the practical sides of training as a Psychological Wellbeing Practitioner (PWP). This included utilising problem-solving skills and wellbeing strategies.

Objectives

  • This project was funded by SPCLS Teaching & Learning Enhancement Fund and aimed to design an alternative assessment to be used as a part of the MSci Applied Psychology course to support student wellbeing.
  • The project aimed to incorporate an assignment into the curriculum which provides students with transferable problem-solving and wellbeing management strategies which can be used in future mental health support/clinical roles.

Context

The above project was undertaken as within IAPT, Psychological Wellbeing Practitioners (PWPs) are required to work in a fast-paced environment seeing multiple patients back-to-back throughout the day. Students on the MSci Applied Psychology course are required in their third year to undertake a work placement 1 day a week in the first term increasing to 2 days a week in the second term. Students are also required to undertake 1 full day of training per week. The aim of the project was to embed an assignment which focusses on managing wellbeing within the curriculum.

Implementation

Allán Laville (Dean for Diversity and Inclusion) brought to light the concept of incorporating wellbeing within the curriculum and contacted Libby Adams (Part 4 MSci Student) to see whether she would take part in the development of the new assessment. Libby Adams was included here as she previously trained as a Psychological Wellbeing Practitioner and first-hand experienced challenges managing the demands of the PWP role as a trainee and in turn managing her wellbeing.

Libby Adams’ experience

The project was developed with my own challenges in mind, to build upon this we then met with current and past MSci students to gain insight into the challenges they faced. We were then able to condense information and incorporate them within our concept of a wellbeing blog. We then considered how we could problem-solve ways around the areas that could not be included in the blog. At the second stage we met with clinical staff and educators to share our idea and gain feedback on the feasibility of implementation within IAPT services. The final project design was then formed with the above feedback in mind.

Impact

Views from current MSci students on the benefits of the project:

“I think maintaining our own wellbeing is such a critical part of caring professions, and I think that making it a clear and mandatory part of the course you’re not only helping students look after themselves for this year, but also for their future careers as well.”

Relating to the outlined objectives the project successfully designed a prototype assessment which considers the importance of maintaining wellbeing and utilising problem-solving skills. The project will have a positive impact on the individual not only in their placement year but also if they choose to go into a clinical career after university as skills are transferable.

Traffic Light Mood Tracker

Students are required to complete the traffic light system to indicate how they are currently managing their wellbeing. They are required to complete these three times for each blog, once before the reflection, after they have built an action plan based on their reflection and then in the last term of the academic year reflecting on their progress.

Reflections

Allán Laville’s reflections:

The project addressed a key consideration within both University training as well as within the psychological workforce, namely, the importance of explicitly considering the wellbeing of our practitioners and therapists. I am delighted with the outcome of the project and it would not have been possible without Libby. Her commitment to psychological therapies and intrinsic motivation to support others, always shines through!

Libby Adams’ reflections:

The student-staff partnership is key to improving the overall teaching and learning experience. The partnership allows the member of staff to lead as the expert by knowledge and the student to lead as the expert by experience. Such partnerships allow the development of concepts and improvements in teaching and learning which enhance the student and staff experience.

Follow up

In the future we aim to share our findings with other MSci courses and IAPT services with an aim to increase conversations about practitioner wellbeing and highlight its importance within clinical roles. We hope that strategies used in this project can extend beyond students and be used across IAPT services to maintain wellbeing, improve performance and decrease stress and burnout.

Clinical skills development: using controlled condition assessment to develop behavioural competence aligned to Miller’s pyramid

Kat Hall,  School of Chemistry, Food and Pharmacy, k.a.hall@reading.ac.uk

Overview

The Centre for Inter-Professional Postgraduate Education and Training (CIPPET) provide PGT training for healthcare professionals through a flexible Masters programme built around blended learning modules alongside workplace-based learning and assessment.  This project aimed to evolve the department’s approach to delivering one of our clinical skills workshops which sits within a larger 60 credit module.  The impact was shown via positive student and staff feedback, as well as interest to develop a standalone module for continuing further learning in advanced clinical skills.

Objectives

The aim of this project was to use controlled condition assessment approaches to develop behavioural competence at the higher levels of Miller’s pyramid of clinical competence 1.

Miller’s Pyramid of Clinical Competence

The objectives included:

  1. engage students in enquiry by promoting competence at higher levels of Miller’s pyramid
  2. develop highly employable graduates by identifying appropriate skills to teach
  3. evolve the workshop design by using innovative methods
  4. recruit expert clinical practitioners to support academic staff

Context

Health Education England are promoting a national strategy to increase the clinical skills training provided to pharmacists, therefore this project aimed to evolve the department’s approach to delivering this workshop.  The current module design contained a workshop on clinical skills, but it was loosely designed as a large group exercise which was delivered slightly differently for each cohort.  This prevented students from fully embedding their learning through opportunities to practise skills in alongside controlled formative assessment.

Implementation

Equipment purchase: As part of this project matched funding was received from the School to support the purchase of simulation equipment which meant a range a clinical skills teaching tools could be utilised in the workshops.  This step was undertaking collaboratively with the physician associate programme to share learning and support meeting objective 2 across the School.

Workshop design: the workshops were redesigned by the module convenor, Sue Slade, to focus on specific aspects of clinical skills that small groups could focus on with a facilitator.  The facilitators were supported to embed the clinical skills equipment within the activities therefore promoting students in active learning activities.  The equipment allowed students the opportunity to simulate the skills test to identify if they could demonstrate competence at the Knows How and Shows How level of Miller’s Pyramid of Clinical Competence.  Where possible the workshop stations were facilitated by practising clinical practitioners.  This step was focused on meeting objectives 1, 2, 3 and 4.

Workbook design: a workbook was produced that students could use to identify core clinical skills they required in their scope of practice and thus needed to practise in the workshop and further in their workplace-based learning.  This scaffolding supported their transition to the Does level of Miller’s Pyramid of Clinical Competence.  This step was focused on meeting objectives 1 and 3.

Impact

All four objectives were met and have since been mapped to the principles of Curriculum Framework to provide evidence of their impact.

Mastery of the discipline / discipline based / contextual: this project has supported the academic team to redesign the workshop around the evolving baseline core knowledge and skills required of students.  Doing this collaboratively between programme teams ensures it is fit for purpose.

Personal effectiveness and self-awareness / diverse and inclusive: the positive staff and student feedback received reflects that the workshop provides a better environment for student learning, enabling them to reflect on their experiences and take their learning back to their workplace more easily.

Learning cycle: the student feedback has shown that they want more of this type of training and so the team have designed a new stand-alone module to facilitate extending the impact of increasingly advanced clinical skills training to a wider student cohort.

Reflections

What went well? The purchase of the equipment and redesigning the workshop was a relatively simple task for an engaged team, and low effort for the potential return in improved experience.  By having one lead for the workshop, whilst another wrote the workbook and purchased the equipment, this ensured that staff across the team could contribute as change champions.  Recruitment for an advanced nurse practitioner to support the team more broadly was completed quickly and provided support and guidance across the year.

What did not go as well?  Whilst the purchase of the equipment and workshop redesign was relatively simple, encouraging clinical practitioners to engage with the workshop proved much harder.  We were unable to recruit consistent clinical support which made it harder to fully embed the project aims in a routine approach to teaching the workshop.  We considered using the expertise of the physician associate programme team but, as anticipated, timetabling made it impossible to coordinate the staffing needs.

Reflections: The success of the project lay in having the School engaged in supporting the objectives and the programme team invested in improving the workshop.  Focusing this project on a small part of the module meant it remained achievable to complete one cycle of change to deliver initial positive outcomes whilst planning for the following cycles of change needed to fully embed the objectives into routine practice.

Follow up

In planning the next series of workshops, we plan to draw more widely on the University alumni from the physician associate programme to continue the collaborative approach and attract clinical practitioners more willing to support us who are less constrained by timetables and clinical activities.

Based on student and staff feedback there is clearly a desire for more teaching and learning of this approach and being able to launch a new standalone module in 2020 is a successful output of this project.

Links and References

Miller, G.E. (1990). The assessment of clinical skills/competence/performance. Acad Med, 65(9):S63-7.

Connecting with the Curriculum Framework: Using focus groups to diversify assessment (Part 2)

Dr Madeleine Davies and Michael Lyons, School of Literature and Languages

Overview

The Department of English Literature (DEL) has run two student focus groups and two whole-cohort surveys as part of our Teaching and Learning Development Fund‘Diversifying Assessments’ project. This is the second of two T&L Exchange entries on this topic. Click here for the first entry which outlines how the feedback received from students indicates that their module selection is informed by the assessment models that are used by individual modules. Underpinning these decisions is an attempt to avoid the ‘stress and anxiety’ that students connect with exams. The surprise of this second round of focus groups and surveys is the extent to which this appears to dominate students’ teaching and learning choices.

Objectives

  • The focus groups and surveys are used to gain feedback from DEL students about possible alternative forms of summative assessment to our standard assessed essay + exam model. This connects with the Curriculum Framework in its emphasis on Programme Review and also with the aims of the Assessment Project.
  • These forms of conversations are designed to discover student views on the problems with existing assessment patterns and methods, as well as their reasons for preferring alternatives to them.
  • The conversations are also being used to explore the extent to which electronic methods of assessment can address identified assessment problems.

Context

Having used focus groups and surveys to provide initial qualitative data on our assessment practices, we noticed a widespread preference for alternatives to traditional exams (particularly the Learning Journal), and decided to investigate the reasons for this further. The second focus group and subsequent survey sought to identify why the Learning Journal in particular is so favoured by students, and we were keen to explore whether teaching and learning aims were perceived by students to be better achieved via this method than by the traditional exam. We also took the opportunity to ask students what they value most in feedback: the first focus group and survey had touched on this but we decided this time to give students the opportunity to select four elements of feedback which they could rank in order or priority. This produced more nuanced data.

Implementation

  • A second focus group was convened to gather more detailed views on the negative attitudes towards exams, and to debate alternatives to this traditional assessment method.
  • A series of questions was asked to generate data and dialogue.
  • A Survey Monkey was circulated to all DEL students with the same series of questions as those used for the focus group in order to determine whether the focus group’s responses were representative of the wider cohort.
  •  The Survey Monkey results are presented below. The numbers refer to student responses to a category (eg. graphic 1, 50 students selected option (b). Graphic 2 and graphic 5 allowed students to rank their responses in order or priority.

Results

  • Whilst only 17% in the focus group preferred to keep to the traditional exam + assessed essay method, the survey found the aversion to exams to be more prominent. 88% of students preferred the Learning Journal over the exam, and 88% cited the likelihood of reducing stress and anxiety as a reason for this preference.
  • Furthermore, none of the survey respondents wanted to retain the traditional exam + assessed essay method, and 52% were in favour of a three-way split between types of assessment; this reflects a desire for significant diversity in assessment methods.
  • We find it helpful to know precisely what students want in terms of feedback: ‘a clear indication of errors and potential solutions’ was the overwhelming response. ‘Feedback that intersects with the Module Rubric’ was the second highest scorer (presumably a connection between the two was identified by students).
  • The students in the focus group mentioned a desire to choose assessment methods within modules on an individual basis. This may be one issue in which student choice and pedagogy may not be entirely compatible (see below).
  • Assessed Essay method: the results seem to indicate that replacing an exam with a second assessed essay is favoured across the Programme rather than being pinned to one Part.

Reflections

The results in the ‘Feedback’ sections are valuable for DEL: they indicate that clarity, diagnosis, and solutions-focused comments are key. In addressing our feedback conventions and practices, this input will help us to reflect on what we are doing when we give students feedback on their work.

The results of the focus group and of the subsequent survey do, however, raise some concerns about the potential conflict between ‘student choice’ and pedagogical practice. Students indicate that they not only want to avoid exams because of ‘stress’, but that they would also like to be able to select assessment methods within modules. This poses problems because marks are in part produced ‘against’ the rest of the batch: if the ‘base-line’ is removed by allowing students to choose assessment models, we would lack one of the main indicators of level.

In addition, the aims of some modules are best measured using exams. Convenors need to consider whether a student’s work can be assessed in non-exam formats but, if an exam is the best test of teaching and learning, it should be retained, regardless of student choice.

If, however, students overwhelmingly choose non-exam-based modules, this would leave modules retaining an exam in a vulnerable position. The aim of this project is to find ways to diversify our assessments, but this could leave modules that retain traditional assessment patterns vulnerable to students deselecting them. This may have implications for benchmarking.

It may also be the case that the attempt to avoid ‘stress’ is not necessarily in students’ best interests. The workplace is not a stress-free zone and it is part of the university’s mission to produce resilient, employable graduates. Removing all ‘stress’ triggers may not be the best way to achieve this.

Follow up

  • DEL will convene a third focus group meeting in the Spring Term.
  • The co-leaders of the ‘Diversifying Assessments’ project will present the findings of the focus groups and surveys to DEL in a presentation. We will outline the results of our work and call on colleagues to reflect on the assessment models used on their modules with a view to volunteering to adopt different models if they think this appropriate to the teaching and learning aims of their modules
  • This should produce an overall assessment landscape that corresponds to students’ request for ‘three-way’ (at least) diversification of assessment.
  • The new landscape will be presented to the third focus group for final feedback.

Links

With thanks to Lauren McCann of TEL for sending me the first link which includes a summary of students’ responses to various types of ‘new’ assessment formats.

https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/online-education/assessment-strategies-students-prefer/

Conclusions (May 2018)

The ‘Diversifying Assessment in DEL’ TLDF Mini-Project revealed several compelling reasons for reflecting upon assessment practice within a traditional Humanities discipline (English Literature):

  1. Diversified cohort: HEIs are recruiting students from a wide variety of socio-cultural, economic and educational backgrounds and assessment practice needs to accommodate this newly diversified cohort.
  2. Employability: DEL students have always acquired advanced skills in formal essay-writing but graduates need to be flexible in terms of their writing competencies. Diversifying assessment to include formats involving blog-writing, report-writing, presentation preparation, persuasive writing, and creative writing produces agile students who are comfortable working within a variety of communication formats.
  3. Module specific attainment: the assessment conventions in DEL, particularly at Part 2, have a standardised assessment format (33% assessed essay and 67% exam). The ‘Diversifying Assessment’ project revealed the extent to which module leaders need to reflect on the intended learning outcomes of their modules and to design assessments that are best suited to the attainment of them.
  4. Feedback: the student focus groups convened for the ‘Diversifying Assessment’ project returned repeatedly to the issue of feedback. Conversations about feedback will continue in DEL, particularly in relation to discussions around the Curriculum Framework.
  5. Digitalisation: eSFG (via EMA) has increased the visibility of a variety of potential digital assessment formats (for example, Blackboard Learning Journals, Wikis and Blogs). This supports diversification of assessment and it also supports our students’ digital skills (essential for employability).
  6. Student satisfaction: while colleagues should not feel pressured by student choice (which is not always modelled on academic considerations), there is clearly a desire among our students for more varied methods of assessment. One Focus Group student argued that fees had changed the way students view exams: students’ significant financial investment in their degrees has caused exams to be considered unacceptably ‘high risk’. The project revealed the extent to which Schools need to reflect on the many differences made by the new fees landscape, most of which are invisible to us.
  7. Focus Groups: the Project demonstrated the value of convening student focus groups and of listening to students’ attitudes and responses.
  8. Impact: one Part 2 module has moved away from an exam and towards a Learning Journal as a result of the project and it is hoped that more Part 2 module convenors will similarly decide to reflect on their assessment formats. The DEL project will be rolled out School-wide in the next session to encourage further conversations about assessment, feedback and diversification. It is hoped that these actions will contribute to Curriculum Framework activity in DEL and that they will generate a more diversified assessment landscape in the School.

Connecting with the Curriculum Framework: Using focus groups to diversify assessment (Part 1)

Dr Madeleine Davies, School of Literature and Languages

Overview

The Department of English Literature (DEL) is organising student focus groups as part of our TLDF-funded ‘Diversifying Assessments’ project led by Dr Chloe Houston and Dr Madeleine Davies. This initiative is in dialogue with Curriculum Framework emphases engaging students in Programme Development and involving them as stakeholders. This entry outlines the preparatory steps taken to set up our focus groups, the feedback from the first meeting, and our initial responses to it.

Objectives

  • To involve students in developing a more varied suite of assessment methods in DEL.
  • To hear student views on existing assessment patterns and methods.
  • To gather student responses to electronic methods of assessment (including learning journals, blogs, vlogs and wikis).

Context

We wanted to use Curriculum Framework emphases on Programme Review and Development to address assessment practices in DEL. We had pre-identified areas where our current systems might usefully be reviewed and we decided to use student focus groups to provide valuable qualitative data about our practices so that we could make sure that any changes were informed by student consultation.

Implementation

I attended a People Development session ‘Conducting Focus Groups’ to gather targeted knowledge about setting up focus groups and about analytical models of feedback evaluation. I also attended a CQSD event, ‘Effective Feedback: Ensuring Assessment and Feedback works for both Students and Staff Across a Programme’, to gain new ideas about feedback practice.

I applied for and won TLDF mini-project funding to support the Diversifying Assessments project. The TLDF funding enabled us to regard student focus groups as a year long consultative process, supporting a review of assessment models and feedback practices in DEL.

In Spring Term 2017, I emailed our undergraduate students and attracted 11 students for the first focus group meeting. We aim to include as diverse a range of participants as possible in the three planned focus group meetings in 2016-17. We also aim to draw contributors from all parts of the undergraduate programme.

To prepare the first focus group:

  • I led a DEL staff development session on the Diversifying Assessment project at the School of Literature and Languages’ assessment and feedback away day; this helped me to identify key questions and topics with colleagues.
  • I conducted a quantitative audit of our assessment patterns and I presented this material to the staff session to illustrate the nature of the issues we aim to address. This tabulated demonstration of the situation enabled colleagues to see that the need for assessment and feedback review was undeniable.

At the first focus group meeting, topics and questions were introduced by the two project leaders and our graduate intern, Michael Lyons, took minutes. We were careful not to approach the group with clear answers already in mind: we used visual aids to open conversation (see figures 1 and 2) and to provide the broad base of key debates. We also used open-ended questions to encourage detail and elaboration.

Group discussion revealed a range of issues and opinions that we would not have been able to anticipate had we not held the focus group:

  • Students said that a module’s assessment pattern was the key determinant in their selection of modules.
  • Some students reported that they seek to avoid exams where possible at Part Two.
  • Discussing why they avoid exams, students said that the material they learn for exams does not ‘stick’ in the same way as material prepared for assessed essays and learning journals so they feel that exams are less helpful in terms of learning. Some stated that they do not believe that exams offer a fair assessment of their work.
  • Students wholly supported the use of learning journals because they spread the workload and because they facilitate learning. One issue the students emphasised, however, was that material supporting learning journals had to be thorough and clear.
  • Presentations were not rated as highly as a learning or assessment tool, though a connection with employability was recognised.
  • Assessed essays were a popular method of assessment: students said they were proud of the work they produced for summative essays and that only ‘bunched deadlines’ caused them problems (see below). This response was particularly marked at Part Two.
  • Following further discussion it emerged that our students had fewer complaints about the assessment models we used, or about the amount of assessment in the programme, than they did about the assessment feedback. This is represented below:

To open conversation, students placed a note on the scale. The question was, ‘Do we assess too much, about right, not enough?’ (‘About right’ was the clear winner).

Students placed a note on the scale: the question was, ‘Do we give you too much feedback, about right, or too little?’ (The responses favoured the scale between ‘about right’ and ‘too little’.)


The results of this exercise, together with our subsequent conversation, helped us to understand the importance of feedback to the Diversifying Assessment project; however, subsequent to the focus group meeting, the DEL Exams Board received an excellent report from our External Examiners who stated that our feedback practices are ‘exemplary’. We will disseminate this information to our students who, with no experience of feedback practices other than at the University of Reading, may not realise that DEL’s feedback is regarded as an example of best practice by colleagues from other institutions. We are also considering issuing our students with updates when assessed marking is underway so that they know when to expect their marks, and to demonstrate to them that we are always meeting the 15-day turnaround. The external examiners’ feedback will not, however, prevent us from continuing to reflect on our feedback processes in an effort to enhance them further.

Following the focus group meeting, we decided to test the feedback we had gathered by sending a whole cohort online survey: for this survey, we changed the ‘feedback’question slightly to encourage a more detailed and nuanced response. The results, which confirmed the focus group findings, are represented below (with thanks to Michael Lyons for producing these graphics for the project):

A total of 95 DEL students took part in the survey. 87% said they valued the opportunity to be assessed with diverse methods.

Assessed essays were the most popular method of assessment, followed by the learning journal. However, only a small proportion of students have been assessed with a learning journal, meaning it is likely that a high percentage of those who have been assessed this way stated it to be their preferred method of assessment.

On a scale from 0-10 (with 0 being too little, 5 about right, and 10 too much), the students gave an average score of 5.1 for the level of assessment on their programmes with 5 being both the mode and the median scores.

34% found the level of detail covered most useful in feedback, 23% the feedback on writing style, 16% the clarity of the feedback, and 13% its promptness. 7% cited other issues (e.g. ‘sensitivity’) and 7% did not respond to this question.

66% said they always submit formative essays, 18% do so regularly, 8% half of the time, 4% sometimes, and 4% never do.

40% said they always attend essay supervisions (tutorials) for their formative essays, 14% do so regularly, 10% half of the time, 22% sometimes, and 14% never do.

Impact

The focus group conversation suggested that the area on which we need to focus in DEL, in terms of diversification of assessment models, is Part Two assessment provision because Part One and Part Three already have more diversified assessments. However, students articulated important concerns about the ‘bunching’ of deadlines across the programme; it may be that we need to consider the timing of essay deadlines as much as we need to consider the assessment models themselves. This is a conversation that will be carried forward into the new academic year.

Impact 1: Working with the programme requirement (two different types of assessment per module), we plan to move more modules away from the 2000 word assessed essay and exam model that 80% of our Part Two modules have been using. We are now working towards an assessment landscape where, in the 2017-18 academic session, only 50% of Part Two modules will use this assessment pattern. The others will be using a variety of assessment models potentially including learning journals and assessed essays: assessed presentations and assessed essays: vlogs and exams: wikis, presentations and assessed essays: blogs and 5000 word module reports.

Impact 2: We will be solving the ‘bunched’ deadlines problem by producing an assessments spread-sheet that will plot each assessment point on each module to allow us to retain an overview of students’ workflow and to spread deadlines more evenly.

Impact 3: The next phase of the project will focus on the type, quality and delivery of feedback. Prior to the Focus Group, we had not realised how crucial this issue is, though the External Examiners’ 2017 report for DEL suggests that communication may be the more crucial factor in this regard. Nevertheless, we will disseminate the results of the online survey to colleagues and encourage more detail and more advice on writing style in feedback.

Anticipated impact 4: We are expecting enhanced attainment as a result of these changes because the new assessment methods, and the more even spread of assessment points, will allow students to present work that more accurately reflects their ability. Further, enhanced feedback will provide students with the learning tools to improve the quality of their work.

Reflections

Initially, I had some reservations about whether student focus groups could give us the reliable data we needed to underpin assessment changes in DEL. However, the combination of quantitative data (via the statistical audit I undertook and the online survey) and qualitative data (gathered via the focus groups and again by the online survey) has produced a dependable foundation. In addition, ensuring the inclusion of a diverse range of students in a focus group, drawn from all levels of the degree and from as many communities as possible within the cohort, is essential for the credibility of the subsequent analysis of responses. Thorough reporting is also essential as is the need to listen to what is being said: we had not fully appreciated how important the ‘bunched deadlines’, ‘exams’, and ‘feedback’ issues were to our students. Focus groups cannot succeed unless those convening them respond proactively to feedback.

Follow up

There will be two further DEL student focus group meetings, one in the Autumn Term 2017 (to provide feedback on our plans and to encourage reflection in the area of feedback) and one in the Spring Term 2018 (for a final consultation prior to implementation of new assessment strategies). It is worth adding that, though we have not yet advertised the Autumn Term focus group meeting, 6 students have already emailed me requesting a place on it. There is clearly an appetite to become involved in our assessment review and student contribution to this process has already revealed its value in terms of teaching and learning development.