Improving clinical assessment: evaluating students' ability to identify and apply clinical criteria

C Redwood, T Winning, D Lekkas, G Townsend
European Journal of Dental Education: Official Journal of the Association for Dental Education in Europe 2010, 14 (3): 136-44

AIM: There is ongoing concern by health educators over the inability of professionals to accurately self-assess their clinical behaviour and standards, resulting in doubts over a key expectation of effective self-regulation in the health professions. Participation by students in the assessment process has been shown to increase the understanding of assessment criteria in written assessment tasks. How this might transfer to the clinical setting is the focus of this study. This paper is part of an ongoing investigation of the impact on learning of a series of activities that provides students with opportunities to discuss and apply criteria and standards associated with self-assessment in clinical dentistry. Our aim was to evaluate whether participation in these assessment activities improved the ability of first-year dental students to recognise behaviours demonstrated by 'peers' in videos of clinical scenarios and to relate these to the assessment criteria.

MATERIALS AND METHODS: A series of three workshops in conjunction with weekly clinical assessment activities in Semesters 1 and 2 were use to support first-year students' learning of clinical assessment criteria. The design of the workshops was based on the principles of social constructivist theories of learning and the concept of tacit knowledge. Accordingly workshop activities were planned around videos that were specifically constructed to illustrate procedures and behaviours typical of those observed by staff and tutors in the first year of the dental course at The University of Adelaide, Australia. First-year students viewed the videos prior to and after the workshops and recorded observed behaviours that related to the assessment criteria that were used in their clinical practice course. Student learning outcomes were assessed 10-14 weeks after the initial workshop and again up to 42 weeks later. To check whether learning resulted from repeated viewing of the videos without formal discussion, a reference group of third-year students who did not attend the workshops also viewed the videos two times, separated by 12 weeks, and recorded observations in the same way.

RESULTS: There was no consistent evidence that repeat viewing of the videos in isolation resulted in improved recognition of 'peer' behaviours by third-year dental students. Results for the first-year students indicated that the workshops and clinical assessment activities had a significantly positive effect on the ability of students to identify 'peer' behaviours related to the criteria used for clinical assessment. In particular, students' recognition in others of knowledge and professional behaviours improved significantly. This improvement was retained over the year and students were able to recognise these behaviours in other scenarios relevant to their year level.

CONCLUSIONS: This early exposure to the process of clinical assessment, coupled with ongoing self-assessment and tutor feedback throughout first year, improved the ability of first-year students to identify and apply some key assessment criteria to observed 'peer' behaviour, and this ability was retained over time.

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