January 19, 2001

VUSN web-based assessment provides flexibility, feedback

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Nursing students take an exam using the Internet. The new program allows the students to schedule when they take tests and offers almost immediate feedback on the results. (photo by Dana Johnson)

VUSN web-based assessment provides flexibility, feedback

A teaching format originally created for students living at a distance – those who travel to campus less frequently for concentrated classes and access many learning resources via the Internet – is now being heralded as a viable option for the traditional student as well.

For more than a year, the Vanderbilt University School of Nursing has been exploring teaching strategies to better serve its students using Internet and web technology. One such experiment focuses primarily on test taking.

It’s a change that has received accolades from students and instructors alike.

“We have broadened our learning resources by intensely investigating web-based learning,” said Jerry Murley, director of Instructional Technology at VUSN. “We wanted to explore how to make assessment a better tool for learning. We wanted students to receive immediate and detailed feedback and learn from it. And we wanted instructors to learn more about the needs of their students from the testing process.”

“The impact of what can be done surpasses expectations,” he said. “We are moving the test out of the classroom and allowing for more student/teacher interaction.”

Murley said the web-based learning model allows students to schedule their own exams during a seven-day period. Under this format, students receive feedback about the theory behind the answers, not just a listing of correct answers. It also provides faculty direction for improved teaching based on a standard analysis of the individual and aggregate test results.

“We initiated computerized testing for several reasons,” said Mary Jo Gilmer, Ph.D., MBA, RN, course coordinator for Human Experience of Health and Illness Across the Lifespan.

“Testing takes up a lot of class time and we wanted to free up that time for questions and further elaboration of course content. This testing format also offers students flexibility in scheduling tests to better meet their learning needs.”

“With the way the tests are administered, we are able to determine content areas that are challenging to students based on computerized reports and adapt our teaching strategies for more concentration on the concepts that require more attention,” she said.

Carina Benavides, 25, a first-year nursing student, said the new testing format has proven very helpful to her.

“It has really allowed me to plan and prepare for the exam better,” she said. “There are so many limitations you have if there is one time frame to take a test. Coming into the test this way, you are not thinking about your exam during a lecture, when you should be listening. The main benefit is the convenience this allows all of us.”

Students taking tests using this model also know their test scores immediately following the test as well as a breakdown on their performance on each section/topic of the exam.

“This is great because you really remember the answers and rationale for the answers, versus having to take more time to set up a session with the instructor to review the test,” Benavides added.

Creators of the system said this format allows students to optimize class time.

“Students need to focus on new concepts and application during class time, not worry about an exam immediately before or after class interaction,” Murley stressed. “Plus, individual’s optimal learning and testing times vary. Our model allows a student to decide when it is best to take an exam without being confined to a traditional class period.”

Travis Dunlap, 31, also a first-year nursing student, said the flexibility has been the biggest benefit for him.

“I am able to set up my own study time and schedule for the test,” he said. “I am able to see the answers to the questions I missed and focus on my weak areas. I think this program is fantastic.”

“They really work with you on this new format,” Dunlap said. “They ask us input for the program. They want to know what we think. That’s been great too, knowing that it’s a system to help us and we are an integral part of the design.”

Murley said the new test-taking format has received positive feedback and is opening doors for nursing faculty to offer assessment alternatives to students. Faculty can also contribute their insights to the development of a new technology-supported teaching model.

“This effort is moving us to a whole new way of looking at teaching,” Murley said. “People from different disciplines are bringing various talents together, stimulating creativity, and most importantly, improving teaching.”

The model used in Gilmer’s course is part of a larger project funded with a grant from HealthStream. The purpose of the grant is development of improved methods of assessing and tracking student learning over the Internet in support of nursing education.