Frequent formative assessments in nursing
What’s the story?
The module has designed into it a variety of formal opportunities for students to gain feedback on their work. These feedback opportunities encompass a variety of formative assessment techniques, including: tutor, peer- and self-evaluation.
| Faculty: HLS
| Department: Clinical Health Care
| Module name and Code: U40528 Nursing Children with Complex Care Needs
| Level: 5
| Number of students:
| Module leader: Julia Winter (at the time of the evaluation, now Sandy Oldfield)
| Contact details: firstname.lastname@example.org
Aspects of the assessment compact scrutinised in this case study
This case study concerns an intervention concentrating on three Compact clauses:
Clause 2.1 – “Assessment is central to the curriculum, and there should be no distinct boundary between assessment, teaching and learning. All academic staff will therefore be encouraged to regard assessment as a fundamental and integral part of programme design, and one that is intended to shape and develop learning, as much as to judge and measure it.”
Clause 2.5 – “students are given supportive, constructive and timely feedback as an essential part of their learning … and have a clear sense of what they need to do to improve, with subsequent opportunities provided to act on the feedback and to put the advice given into practice”
Clause 2.6 – “activities (e.g. marking exercises, self and peer-assessment, etc.) specifically designed to involve students in assessment, to encourage dialogue between students and their tutors, and students and their peers, and to develop their abilities to make their own informed judgements (assessment literacy).”
What aim(s) did you have in changing your assessment approach?
The assessment design aimed to maximize opportunities to:
- give students feedback on their work
- improve students’ final coursework performance (feed forward)
- provide opportunities for "soon to be qualified nurses" to rehearse the feedback skills they will need to use with junior staff and students in their practice
What change(s) did you actually make?
There has been a big shift of emphasis to formative assessment in this module. Early in the semester students work in groups on a case study assignment. They receive both peer and tutor feedback in class on their responses to the case study. Each group then prepares a presentation based on their group case study work for peer, tutor and (optionally) self-assessment. There are also two formal, formative assignments, known as Formative Part A and Formative Part B, in which students submit drafts of parts of their final coursework for self-assessment and tutor feedback.
Figure 1 shows the assessment structure.
How did you evaluate this intervention?
At their final class session for semester 2 the group broke up into five small groups that were asked to discuss and report back on the following:
- Thinking about the feedback processes above, for each of the three feedback types – self, peer and tutor – please respond (on the group feedback form) to the following question:
- What did you learn from this type of feedback?
- (If possible you might comment on how you made use of it)
The groups’ written feedback were collated, compiled and analysed for key themes.
What do students say about this intervention?
- The evaluation of tutor feedback was almost uniformly positive. Tutor feedback on student work was built in to every stage of the assessment and feedback process in this module and students were very aware of it. This was a highly valued element of the module.
In this module, like many others, students may receive feedback from more than one tutor. The extent of students’ understanding of assessment (assessment literacy) has a bearing on their expectations of the nature of feedback. Sometimes they may need to interpret and respond to apparently contradictory feedback from various tutors and/or peers. Some apparent contradiction is inevitable when students receive feedback from multiple people (tutors and peers), but in many cases what appears to be contradiction may turn out not to be. Not all students will recognise this and they will need support in interpreting the feedback and knowing what action to take.
What is important is having a dialogue to achieve understanding. One group expressed how they knew this was supported in this module:
“Tutors are supportive though, so if we ask, they give us an answer.”
- Students greatly appreciated engaging with marking criteria in self-assessment exercises. However, several groups indicated they need more guidance on this. The response to this must recognise the limit on the extent to which marking criteria can be fully explained. Providing exemplars is often more effective than greater explicit articulation of criteria. As student assessment literacy develops they will understand the inexact nature of standards.
- Peer feedback on the presentations was not valued as much as it could/should be. A contributing factor was no doubt the format of the presentations day, which students found long, tiring and sometimes repetitive. However, another salient comment was made by one group, which said:
“We aren’t necessarily looking for the same things as tutors – so we base our criticism on how interesting we find the presentation.”
This suggests that students might need more guidance and experience working with the presentations criteria.
Finally, some negativity about peer feedback can be attributed to students not seeing the relevance of this activity to future assignments. As a final year module for most of the cohort it’s a bit of a stretch for them to believe that they have much to gain from feedback on presentations per se. However, it might be possible to establish a more direct link between this and subsequent pieces of work within the module.
What has been the impact of this change in assessment?
There is an unusually high level of formal feedback given in this module. Although the tutor feedback workload seems like it might be more than normal, by agreement with the students this burden has been shifted, to formative assignments where it matters most, with only minimal feedback on summative work. Moreover, the final summative assignment is easier for tutors to mark having seen elements of it already and the standard of work students produce is higher than previously. The assessment design, of formal formative assignments all leading towards a final piece of summative course work, is both obvious and clear to the students and highly valued by them for the quality and quantity of feedback they gain.