Some thoughts on assessment in the Ethics module

This post is a result of a few short notes I made on my phone a few months ago, and then forgot about. I came across it the other day and thought I’d put it up here.

The way we currently assess students has no equivalent in practice. For some of our modules (e.g. Management), it makes more sense to allow students to write the test in a computer lab where they have a set time limit but can find what they need online. When would anyone of us be expected to know how to write up a business plan without being able to consult other sources? This would allow us to highlight in another way, that memorising content is not an appropriate strategy to be an effective physiotherapist in the real world. In case anyone is wondering, I’m not suggesting that students don’t need to be able to recall facts…they will obviously still need to memorise some stuff, particularly in the clinical components of the curriculum (e.g. you need to know what hypertonus is before you can address it). But there are definitely some areas of the curriculum where memorising facts is an terrible idea.

The “Professional Ethics” module is one of these areas. Currently assessed in a written examination format, this module has so many alternative approaches that could be more realistic and effective, including small group discussions (my current preference). Students would have to prepare in advance, familiarising themselves with the main concepts that the exam will cover (which would be provided to them beforehand). The exam could take place over a 30 minute period with the examiner guiding the conversation through a set number of topics that cover various important themes in professional ethics and ethical reasoning. Each group of students would certainly have a different conversation, so consistency would be hard to determine e.g. did all groups actually have the same exam?. A marking rubric is one way that could be used to ensure that each student is assessed on a range of the same themes as every other student e.g. participation, comprehension, communication skills, conflict resolution, etc.

I imagine a series of a few of these small group discussions taking place over the course of the year, potentially with different formats and objectives. There would be no summative assessment at the end of the year, only a few formative assessments during. I”m going to start putting together a proposal for the department to change the way the professional ethics module is assessed.

Any feedback or comments around this idea would be most welcome.