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Failure to Follow Instructions Impairs Novel Assessment Strategy


MODULE TITLE: An Introduction to Physiology: Human Cells and Tissues
TARGET AUDIENCE: 175 Stage 2 Science, Stage 2 Radiography Students
COLLABORATOR(S): Dr. Mark Pickering


This module is delivered in semester one and serves to provide students with an introduction to the structure and function of the four kinds of tissue that make up the human body, i.e. muscle, nerve, connective tissue and epithelial tissue.  Teaching is delivered in the form of formal lectures and Computer Assisted Learning (CAL) laboratory sessions. Each CAL session deals with a different tissue and the students use Digital Slidebox, which is a commercially available virtual microscope system, to explore the tissues' fine structures within captured images loaded into the system. The continuous assessment component has historically taken the form of a submitted laboratory notebook in which the students were required to provide labelled sketches of the main features of the tissues and to write a description of the structure and the function of those tissues


The laboratory notebook exercise has been perceived by some students to be a "colouring competition" and those without artistic abilities were at a disadvantage. Although not so, we decided to modify the assessment on foot of that feedback. Rather than submission of a notebook near the end of the semester containing a report for all four CAL exercises we decided to adopt an approach whereby students would generate four separate reports and upload them separately to the virtual learning environment. The reports would include captured images (snapshots taken with the Digital Slidebox) rather than hand drawn sketches. The goal was to avoid the "colouring competition" criticism. Each snapshot is generated with a unique snapshot identification number which is a ten digit code and students were asked to provide the codes to confirm or otherwise that students were using their own snapshots.

The Innovative Approach

Students were instructed to capture images, insert them into a Submission Template, add appropriate labels, provide a description of the tissue in the image and list the snapshot identification numbers. Thus, the innovative approach was to facilitate the generation of a report which did not require the students to draw anything. A set of explicit ‌Instructions was provided on the virtual learning environment to which the students were directed which included a screenshot illustrating the location of the numerical code. The template had three columns; one for student name, one for student number and one for a list of ten digit codes. One task for the module coordinator was to copy and paste the codes into an Excel worksheet which was configured to highlight entries with matching codes, i.e. to spot snapshot sharing and ensure that students were submitting their own work.


The resultant grades were similar to those of the traditional laboratory note book. But, the major finding of this study was a stark inability of students to follow instructions posted on the virtual learning environment. They could enter their name and student number but many did not provide a simple list of snapshot identification numbers. There were entries such as “Image 1 smooth muscle”, “Image 2 cardiac muscle” etc. Some provided the full web link of the snapshot and not just the unique ten digit code. Failure to provide the codes required an email to the students to ask for them or a significant volume of editing was performed so that the Excel worksheet only included ten digit codes.

A startling 84%, 85% and 68% of students did not complete the submission template as required for the first, second and third submissions, respectively. Two separate reminders were posted as virtual learning environment announcements, one each during the submission windows for the second and third reports. At the beginning of the fourth CAL session a verbal description of the requirement was provided by the module coordinator. The failure rate was dramatically reduced but still 22% failed to complete the template properly.

The inability of the students to provide the required information resulted in an excessively increased workload for the module coordinator and, as a consequence, we shall return to pencil and paper laboratory reports next year.